Things to Do in South Old Town Alexandria

Think “Old Town Alexandria” and visions of bustling King Street come right to mind. But step off King and explore the southern part of the neighborhood to find a treasure trove hidden gems and local favorites, from top restaurants to historical hotspots, waterfront parks to yoga boutiques, this neighborhood has something for everyone.

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots in South Old Town so that you can spend the day exploring the neighborhood like a local. For an extra dose of fun, hop on a Capital Bikeshare and make a weekend of your explorations.

 

Coffee & Breakfast

Whether you want a breakfast sandwich or a strong cup of coffee, you’ll want to fuel up for your day in South Old Town. Luckily, we have you covered.

Abyssinia Mart

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New in 2016, Abyssinia Mart has been generating buzz as the go-to spot for coffee in South Old Town. The shop has a small lounge for seating and offers special events including authentic Ethiopian Coffee ceremonies and wine tastings in addition to Ethiopian goods and specialty coffee.

Firehook Bakery

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For a heartier breakfast, Firehook Bakery on South Washington Street is a must for a pastry or breakfast sandwich made on warm and fluffy fresh baked bread. The bakery started in the DC region and has a loyal following of “breadies” in the area.

South Old Town Historic Sites

South Old Town is packed with fascinating history to explore, from museums to memorials, cemeteries to special events and everything in between. After breakfast, immerse yourself in these historic sites and stories for a fun and informative morning activity.

The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum

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The Lyceum is the perfect place to start for a background on all things Alexandria. The building—one of the country’s best examples of Greek Revival architecture—has been everything from a Civil War hospital ward to a private residence. Today, The Lyceum collects and interprets artifacts and history from all periods of the City’s past, from before its founding in 1749 through present day. Exhibits include displays of furniture, historical records, art, newspapers, and tons of other interesting artifacts and special exhibitions including some throughout 2016 and 2017 highlighting the Civil War stories that inspired PBS’ Civil War medical drama Mercy Street, which will reopen in December 2016.

 

Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial   

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“I am thankful there is a beginning. I am full of hope for the future. A power mightier than man is guiding this revolution; and though justice moves slowly, it will come at last.”

Harriet Jacobs, freedwoman, author, educator and dedicated aid-worker in Alexandria during the Civil War. Quote as seen on plaque at Freedmen Cemetery

Between 1864 and 1869, the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Union-occupied Alexandria to escape from bondage, but did not live long in freedom. Visitors can experience a memorial park that commemorates the free African-American men, women and children interred on its grounds. Based on the Gladwyn Record, the name and age of each freedmen buried in the cemetery is poignantly etched into beautiful bronze panels. Few things can resonate like the power of stepping back and seeing the scope of all the names together.

The Memorial also features artist Mario Chiodo’s sculpture “The Path of Thorns and Roses,” an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom. The Memorial’s bas-reliefs depicting the flight to freedom were done by local sculptor Joanna Blake, and tell vivid stories of what life was like for the freedmen. It’s best to take your time at Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial to appreciate the intricate details of the park.

Alexandria National Cemetery

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One of the oldest national cemeteries, and maybe even the oldest, the Alexandria National Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to visitors daily. The cemetery includes the graves of Civil War soldiers and is a short walk from Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial.

“Chew Grape” Mural

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Off the beaten path on the corner of St. Asaph and Gibbon Streets in South Old Town, visitors can find a faded original historical mural that reads “Chew Grape,” an advertisement for chewing tobacco. This cool and mysterious hidden gem offers a unique glimpse into what life in Alexandria once looked like.

 

Lunch

All that walking around earned you lunch from one of South Old Town’s top eateries. We’ve rounded up our top options whether you’re looking to sit inside or take a picnic to go.

District Taco

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Just the mention of the restaurant alone can make your mouth water, and this casual Mexican eatery definitely won’t disappoint. A DC region favorite, District Taco has all the standard offerings that you can customize to no end with seemingly limitless salsa and topping options.

Picnic at the Park With Society Fair

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On a sunny, blue-sky day in Alexandria, few things compare to a picnic in South Old Town’s Jones Point Park. To start this adventure, stop by Society Fair on South Washington Street for creative and convenient picnic options including sandwiches, salads, sides, desserts, drinks and more. They even offer premade picnic basket options, perfect for a date or group gathering. You can also stock up on goods at Balducci’s on Franklin Street for more grocery store offerings.

Daytime Dessert

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Add something sweet to your picnic at Fleurir Chocoaltes on Jefferson Street for artisan chocolates homemade in small batches. The chocolate shop offers everything chocoholics crave, from caramels to truffles, chocolate bars to holiday specials. I wouldn’t blame you if you just spent the whole day here, either.

 

Outdoor Afternoon on the Waterfront

South Old Town sits on one of the most beautiful parts of the Potomac River, including Jones Point Park. Take some time in the afternoon to explore the waterfront in South Old Town, starting at Jones Point and working your way north towards King Street.

Jones Point Park


Then and now: “This spot is notable because this is the location of the Southern DC Boundary Stone (you can see the cutout in the stone wall in the original photo).” Image Credit: flickr user Jason Powell

After District Taco or with your picnic in hand, head to Jones Point Park on the waterfront, where the original boundary marker for Washington, DC, can still be seen under a glass casing today. The park includes the historic Jones Point Lighthouse, the only remaining riverine lighthouse in the Chesapeake region and one of the only ones left in the country. Part of the National Parks System, Jones Point is the perfect place to celebrate the NPS Centennial in 2016 and get outside. Explore the paths around the lighthouse, shoot hoops under stunning views of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, bike along the Mount Vernon Trail or choose your own adventure along the Potomac River.

Windmill Hill Park

Walking north from Jones Point Park, you can follow the waterfront path all the way to Wolfe Street through Windmill Hill Park. Perfect for families and dog-owners, the park has a small playground, an open playing field, an off-leash dog area and a basketball court. If you walk to the pier on the waterfront across from the park, you’ll often find people fishing in the Potomac.

Wilkes Street Tunnel 

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Featured as one of the Top 10 Places to Instagram in Alexandria, the Wilkes Street Tunnel is known to local bikers and photographers and is a must-see by bike or foot.

 

R&R (Relaxation & Retail)

Phew! Now that you’ve actively explored so much of the neighborhood, take the afternoon to unwind with health and wellness and a little bit of retail therapy for home goods and décor.

Marcela’s Yoga Boutique

Marcela's Yoga BoutiqueImage Credit: Marcela’s Yoga Boutique Facebook Page

Marcela’s Yoga Boutique isn’t your average yoga studio. The cozy, independently-owned boutique offers a wonderful collection of affordable gifts that nourish the mind, body and soul including books, candles, teas, essential oils, art, clothing, accessories and more. The yoga classes, workshops and events include offerings like a Yoga, Wine & Cheese event, a Thai Yoga Massage workshop and more.

Fountains Day Spa

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Fountains Day Spa is the ultimate way to treat yourself to an afternoon of relaxation. The spa offers luxury treatments like couples massage, reflexology, facials and seasonal specials in a cozy and welcoming space, and the staff could not be nicer.

Holistic Touch

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Unwind and really reward yourself with services from Holistic Touch Center, including massages, acupuncture, skin care and body treatments, and more. Holistic Touch offers monthly and weekly specials with can’t-miss deals, with a caring and friendly staff that will make you want to keep coming back.

Jeanne Griffin Interior Design Studio & Boutique

Jeanne Griffin Interior DesignImage Credit: Jeanne Griffin Interior Design

Jeanne Griffin’s boutique is a lifestyle pop-up venue held in a beautiful second story pied-a-terre, offering fabulous one-of-a-kind and limited edition finds from personal accessories, gifts to home décor. For information on appointments and special events please call, check the website or follow on Instagram.

Patina Polished Living

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Be warned: Patina Polished Living is one of those places where you will fall in love every single thing in the store. The shop is a great resource for one-of-a-kind pieces, including furniture and home décor.

 

Dinner and a Show

Whether you’re with friends, family or on a date, you can grab dinner from one of Alexandria’s top restaurants and catch a play nearby at The Little Theatre of Alexandria for a memorable night in South Old Town.

Southside 815

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Southside 815 is the place to go if you’re craving classic Southern comfort food, with all the staples like meatloaf, pot roast, ribs and fried chicken that rival your family recipes. The restaurant also features nightly specials and fun events, and with 13 TVs it’s the perfect place to catch a game or grab a drink with friends.

Faccia Luna

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Faccia Luna is a greatplace for families to grab dinner or have pizza night, with handmade wood-baked oven pizza, homemade pastas, fresh salads, sandwiches and more, there’s something for everyone at Faccia Luna, and it’s all fresh and delicious.

Trattoria da Franco 

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Trattoria da Franco has been a South Old Town tradition since 1985, serving up authentic homemade Roman cuisine with tradition Italian décor that will genuinely make you feel like you could be in Europe. Perfect for date night, make it extra special by planning to eat in during Opera Night on the last Sunday of each month, featuring different performers from the Kennedy Center.

The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Little Theater of Alexandria Credit FacebookCredit: Little Theatre of Alexandria Facebook Page

Founded in 1934 and moved to its current location in the 1950’s, The Little Theatre of Alexandria is the oldest award-winning theater in the DC Metro region, and one of the few community theaters in the country with its own building. Check out their calendar to see the most current and upcoming shows.

 

 

For more Alexandria neighborhood guides, click here.

 

Header Image: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria