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While the PBS drama, “Mercy Street,” is bringing the real-life Civil War stories about Alexandria, Virginia, to television, the city has plenty going on in its present day setting. For starters, dogs are as welcome as their human counterparts, thanks to pet-friendly hotels and businesses. The culinary scene is forking over what is referred to as “contemporary comfort” food, with dishes extending beyond—but not excluding—delicious Southern fare. And history stays alive, too, as preserved 18th-century buildings contain chef-driven restaurants, independently owned stores, museums and art galleries.

Take a look beyond Mercy Street with this guide to spending three perfect days Alexandria, Virginia.

King Street

King Street | Photo courtesy of K Summerer, Visit Alexandria

King Street

Start your long weekend in Alexandria with a walk. Running along Alexandria’s historic Old Town district, this mile-long “Main Street” is lined with boutique shops, restaurants, bars and eateries. It’s easy to take a leisurely stroll here, but if time might be limited, a free trolley service runs between Union Street and the King St-Old Town Metro station, making several on and off stops en route.

“Buy local” is a major retail focus in Alexandria, and King Street complies with specialty stores in close proximity. For home décor, The Hour is a boutique curated with vintage cocktail and barware that pays tribute to the Mad Men era with trays, shakers and stemware. fibre space provides a knitting sanctuary with U.S.-made yarns and fibers, while Stitch Sew Shop provides a sewing workspace and sells patterns, embroidery kits and garment fabrics. For Fluffy and Fido, The Dog Park has treats, toys, beds and clothing.

Stitch Sew Shop | Photo courtesy of S. Stanton, Visit Alexandria

Stitch Sew Shop | Photo courtesy of S. Stanton, Visit Alexandria

Good eats have their place, too. Casa Rosada Artisan Gelato, a gelateria owned by an Argentinean family, prepares ice creams with Argentinean and American-influenced flavors (try the Malbec). BRABO Tasting Room at Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa is noted for its signature mussels, flatbreadpizzas and artisan charcuteries and cheeseboards. Near King Street, Restaurant Eve creates various multi-course tasting menus in a banquet setting where patrons have included the Obamas; the presidential couple celebrated their wedding anniversary here. For a pre-dinner drink, PX provides a lounge setting for kicking back and sipping on experimental cocktails.

 

Torpedo Factory Arts Center

Torpedo Factory Art Center | Flickr CC: Cliff

Torpedo FactoryArt Center

Based along Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront, this former World War II naval munitions plant and storage space for governmental documents has been producing artistic talent since 1974. This facility houses 82 working artist studios with tenants including printmakers, photographers, painters, and other artists experienced in just about any medium from ceramics to stained glass.

The center also contains seven galleries, two workshop studios, an archaeology museum and a cafe. General admission is free. Plus visitors who feel the urge to create can sign up for classes at all skill levels offered through The Art League School.

For meal options, nearby Virtue Feed & Grain is a hip American tavern based inside an 18th-century granary. Adjacent to the art center, Vola’s DocksideGrill and the Hi-Tide Lounge, a waterfront seafood restaurant and tiki bar named after Vola Lawson, a popular civic leader in Alexandria.

 

 

Old Town Market

Old Town Farmers Market | Photo courtesy of Michele Herrmann

Old Town Farmers Market

Open for business at Market Square Plaza every Saturday morning year-round, this farmers market on King Street has been a fixture in Alexandria since 1753. In fact, George Washington sent produce grown at his Mount Vernon estate here to be sold. Nowadays, a cornucopia of farmersand vendors set up tables and stalls with seasonal produce, cut flowers, cheeses, baked goods and specialty goods like soaps, crafts and fabrics. Bring a bag to pick up fruits, vegetables, or tasty goodies to savor right here or to go.

Del Ray

Del Ray | Photo courtesy of C. Davidson, Visit Alexandria

Del Ray

This colorful neighborhood is noted for being family friendly, holds a farmers market on Saturdays and gets nicknamed “Well Ray” due to containing many wellness-related businesses. Its restaurant scene is just as eclectic.

Fans of fromage will find delight at Cheesetique, a gourmet shop with a restaurant and wine bar with amazing mac and cheese combos and cheese plates. Found inside Sugar Shack Donuts, the speakeasy Captain Gregory’s is an intimate cocktail setting with a rotating menu of novelty and traditional drinks paired with a selection of Sugar Shack Donuts like a Samoa Donut Sundae. It’s best to make reservations ahead of time. Meanwhile, Stomping Ground draws upon its Southern owner’s roots to present seasonal and sustainable takes on classics like buttermilk biscuits, plus offers more health-minded options. Live Oak gets its culinary inspiration from Charleston to serve brunch and dinner courses, from fried green tomatoes to slow smoked short ribs, and offers a Fried Chicken Monday special with all the fixings but frugal on cost.

 

Apothecary Museum

Apothecary Museum | Photo courtesy of Erik Patten

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Founded in 1792, this family-owned apothecary dispensed medications at this location from 1805 through 1933, when its doors were closed for good. Much of its inventory remains, and makes a visit to this now museum quite fascinating. On the wall, shelves are lined with jars of various sizes, their labels offering a history lesson on what remedies were administered back in the day. The clientele are historically significant, as well: George and Martha Washington and General Robert E. Lee were all customers. During theCivil War, the Union Army got its hospital supplies from here. Guided tours take visitors up to the second floor for an eye-opening look at cabinets and stands with medicines whose names appear to be straight out of a Harry Potter novel (Dragon’s Blood, anyone?).

port-city-brewing

Port City Brewing Co. | Photo courtesy of Bubby

Breweries

Alexandria’s ties to brewing go back to the 18th century, as beer was a safe and accessible drinking source for its Scottish founders. The city also had the largest pre-Prohibition breweryin the South, the Robert Portner Brewing Company, which closed in 1916. It wasn’t until 2011 that brewing made a comeback in Alexandria, with the opening of Port City Brewing Co. In Alexandria’s West End, this craft brewery/tasting room has won international accolades for its sudsy creations, from its Belgian Wit ale, to a Holiday Tidings ale with Maryland wild honey and Virginian wheat.

Scheduled to open in December 2016, Portner Brewhouse will be run by Catherine and Margaret Portner, the great-great granddaughters of brewer Robert Portner, as a German-American restaurant with a craft beer test kitchen program for up-and-coming brewers. Alexandria also has a self-guided brewery walking tour, with maps available from the Alexandria Visitors Center.

Carlyle House

Carlyle House | Photo courtesy of C. Davidson, Visit Alexandria

Carlyle House

This Georgian-style home has seen a lot of history. Built by a Scottish merchant named John Carlyle, the home eventually would be owned James Green, a furniture maker, who had a hotel built on site. At the forefront of the Civil War, Union troops seized Alexandria, took control of the hotel, and turned it into a hospital. Nowadays, the Mansion House Hotel no longer stands, but the second floor of Carlyle House has an exhibit about the hospital. It features photos, artifacts and stories about the Civil War nurses, doctors and soldiers who served.

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Tagged: Destinations, Virginia

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Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann

Michele writes about women's travel, destinations, culinary, and cultural topics for various outlets and has ventured as far as Fiji, to date. She also muses her tales on She Is Going Places.

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