Autumn looks good on Alexandria, where fall foliage frames historic red brick buildings, art festivals fill the streets and farmers’ markets overflow with fresh seasonal produce and handmade artisan wares. You can pedal along the Potomac River waterfront under a canopy of changing leaves, sip locally-sourced wine and craft beer or—if you dare—venture along cobblestone streets on a candlelit tour of Old Town’s haunted hotspots. With so many fall festivities, there’s no better time to paint the town than during Alexandria’s most colorful season:
1. King Street Art Festival
Image credit: Visit Alexandria
Named one of “America’s Best Small Art Festivals,” the annual King Street Art Festival transforms Alexandria’s historic main street into a world-class outdoor art gallery filled with pieces by more than 200 artists from September 17-18, 2016. As you stroll six blocks lined with festival booths, head to the Art League’s annual Ice Cream Bowl Fundraiser, where you can scoop artisanal ice cream from bowls handmade by local artists. You can also participate in hands-on art activities at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
2. Fall Festivals and Cultural Events
Image credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria
Fall brings out the best in Alexandria’s vibrant arts and culture scene, from craft markets to film festivals and historic home tours. See 18th century crafts demos (plus fire-eaters!) at Mount Vernon’s Colonial Market & Fair; take in local and international cinema at the 10th annual Alexandria Film Festival; or indulge in Virginia wine tastings, live blues and Potomac river views at the Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour.
Other top fall events include the Scottish Heritage Outlander Day at Carlyle House on September 17th complete with traditional dances, music, storytelling, vendors and more, including references to the popular book series and TV show “Outlander”. The 75th Annual Historic Alexandria Homes Tour on September 24th is your chance to get a glimpse inside the brick walls of six beautifully preserved homes and gardens, all within walking distance of one another. This year, the 2nd annual Alexandria Live Music Week is back and bigger than ever happening September 30-October 8 at over 60 Alexandria venues.
3. Groundbreaking New Exhibition at Mount Vernon
Image credit: Mount Vernon
This fall, the highly anticipated Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on Sept. 24, 2016. Days later on October 1, Mount Vernon will open a groundbreaking exhibition called “Lives Bound Together Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” focusing on the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved people. The exhibit explores these personal stories while providing insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery in 7 galleries spanning 4,000 square feet with over 150 artifacts. You’ll see household furnishings, art works, archaeological discoveries, documents, and interactive displays that show how closely intertwined the lives of the Washingtons were with those of the enslaved people.
Pair your Mount Vernon visit with a tour of Alexandria’s African-American history sites, as the city’s history tells America’s story from Colonial times, to Civil War through Civil Rights. See the site of one of the earliest sit-ins and explore Alexandria’s Civil War-era stories of freedom that inspired the national PBS drama “Mercy Street.”
4. Farmers’ Markets
Image credit: C. Martin for Visit Alexandria
Celebrate the fall harvest season with a visit to one of Alexandria’s five farmers’ markets, where booths brim with seasonal produce, homemade jams and jellies and freshly-baked artisan bread. Have you tried Amish cheese? How about salty empanadas or sweet apple cider doughnuts? You’ll find them and more at the markets—and can pick the perfect pumpkin while you’re at it.
5. Halloween Events
Image credit: Potomac Riverboat Co.
Celebrate the spookiest time of year in Alexandria, a city with a remarkable past whose spirits continue to haunt its streets today. Alexandria has earned its reputation as a Halloween hotspot with nearly 20 events that stretch across the month of October. Brave souls partake in spook-tacular events including late-night ghost tours along Old Town’s cobblestone streets, the Bark or Treat Halloween Canine Cruise and the dog- and family-friendly annual Del Ray Halloween Parade on October 30th for a guaranteed “ghoul” time.
6. Art on the Avenue
Image credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Art on the Avenue is a multi-cultural arts festival celebrating our community’s diversity through the arts in the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. This festival is held on the first Saturday in October, rain or shine!
Every year, over 50,000 visitors stroll down Mt. Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, Alexandria, between Bellefonte and Hume Avenues – people are greeted by over 300 artists (jewelers – silversmith & beaders, woodworkers, pottery makers, soap crafters, glass makers, unique painters, sculptures, fabric artists), musicians (Irish, folk, rock n’ roll, country and more), and food vendors (hot dogs, BBQ, Indian, crab cakes, chocolate bananas dipped on a stick, homemade cider donuts). Kids activities have always been a vital part of the festival — stuff your own scarecrow, paint a pumpkin, lotus flower design, weave screen art, to name a few.
7. Fall Race Season
Image credit: Flickr user Thomas Cole
Cooler weather spells race season in Alexandria, where hundreds of runners hit the streets for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, the George Washington Patriot Run and many smaller races. With scenic routes along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, through historic Old Town and across the Potomac, Alexandria is sure to inspire a PR. Not ready to race? Join one of our many running groups like Joggers and Lagers, hosted by Pacers and Port City Brewing Company, for fun runs and rewarding suds. Many Marine Corps Marathon competitors and their fans will be staying in Alexandria, conveniently located between the start/finish line in Arlington and the race expo in National Harbor.
8. Fall Fashion and Shopping
Image credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria
In the fall, shoppers stroll Old Town’s brick-lined streets in search of the perfect scarf, boot or cozy sweater at one of the city’s many independent boutiques tucked into historic rowhouses. It’s a shopping adventure—and it amps up with the Old Town Boutique District’s Shop & Stroll event.
9. Seasonal Sips
Image credit: Portner Brewhouse
Sisters Catherine and Margaret Portner are drafting Alexandria’s newest chapter in craft beer history by reviving the past, bringing back their great-great grandfather’s Robert Portner Brewing Co. as Portner Brewhouse, a pre-Prohibition-inspired brewery, restaurant and Craft Beer Test Kitchen™ opening late fall 2016. Headquartered in Alexandria, the Robert Portner Brewing Co. was the South’s largest pre-Prohibition brewery and Alexandria’s largest employer from 1869 until 1916. Exactly 100 years later, Robert Portner’s great-great granddaughters are brewing up old family recipes and contemporary German-American cuisine at this new locale. Can’t wait for the opening? Join the Portner Brewhouse Mug Club now and rest easy knowing soon enough, you’ll be a local. Do it soon, too! Only 250 of the mugs were handmade by a ceramic artist.
You can also drink in the season at the annual Oktoberfest Parking Lot Party from Alexandria’s own Port City Brewing Company for a weekend of live music, food trucks, and of course, beer! For an artful drinking experience, the Art League’s Art on Tap event on November 4th pairs craft beers with local art and bites from Alexandria restaurants. Cheers!
10. Mount Vernon Trail
Treasured by cyclists, runners and walkers, the Mount Vernon Trail winds along the Potomac River from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate to Old Town Alexandria and beyond. Its wooded course and waterfront vistas make for a stunning combination, especially when fall foliage is coloring the trail in deep reds and golden yellows. From Old Town, access the Mount Vernon Trail via Union Street.
Find more information about fall events in Alexandria here.
Header image credit: C. Martin for Visit Alexandria