Wander along Mount Vernon Avenue for raved-about restaurants, outdoor drink spots and frequent street festivals to see how Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood earned its motto, “Where Main Street Still Exists.” Minutes from Old Town Alexandria and steps from neighboring Arlandria, home of the famous Birchmere, Del Ray marches to the beat of its own drum with a passion for wellness and a creative streak energizing made-for-strolling streetscapes. Here are our top picks for how to experience Del Ray.
Grab Coffee and Morning Treats
Pick up a cup of joe on the go or linger at one of Del Ray’s buzzing breakfast and coffee spots. St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, the neighborhood hub on Mount Vernon Avenue known as “Del Ray’s living room”, serves pastries and pick-me-ups to fuel book clubs, musicians and those craving company while working remotely. Stay through lunch for sandwiches from next-door Market 2 Market. Set in a bright-lit industrial space just off the avenue, Swing’s Coffee Roasters has drawn coffee connoisseurs since opening as the D.C. roasters’ new headquarters in 2013. On most Fridays, the century-old brewing institution offers public cupping sessions to catalog the coffee’s journey from ground to mug.
At Junction Bakery and Bistro on Mount Vernon Avenue, pair your latte with a buttery croissant, Brioche cinnamon roll or fresh-baked monkey bread. Head to Bon Vivant Café + Farm Market for farm-to-table fare and specialty sips like golden milk and bulletproof coffee. Light-filled Nectar Coffee & Wine Bistro on Hume Avenue supplies your usual java along with alternative options like mulled cider and Irish coffee, frozen lemonades and whimsically-topped waffles.
Dine and Unwind Along the Avenue
Del Ray’s dining scene is brimming with tempting options, from casual hang-outs to date-night destinations. Brunch on French bistro fare at Del Ray Café, set in a 1920s historic home. Or, revel in the dairy-rich offerings at Cheesetique, including their award-winning pimento grilled cheese and crave-worthy Mac ‘N Cheesetique. Sample Chef Jonathan Till’s Washington Post-lauded creations at Evening Star Café, from the sweet chili-glazed duck to the luscious Tres Leches Apple Crisp.
Grab a burger with sweet potato waffle fries and marshmallow dipping sauce at Holy Cow, and choose a charity where the restaurant will donate a portion of your payment. Next door, Sushi Bar is a chic, adults-only spot tailor-made for a date night over sashimi and sake. For more seafood and creative cocktails, drift over to Catch on the Ave for bites like pan-seared pork and shrimp dumplings and their “Fight the Scurvy” libation. Steps from Mount Vernon Avenue, try Live Oak Restaurant for elevated Southern dining, then end your meal on a sweet note at The Dairy Godmother, a regional destination for creamy Wisconsin-style frozen custard and confections.
Raise a Glass al Fresco
Say “cheers!” as you watch the world go by at one of Mount Vernon Avenue’s signature outdoor drinks spots. Relax under twinkling lights at Evening Star Café’s patio, The Front Porch, complete with Bourbon Slushies in the summer and table-side firepits in the fall. The Garden, open since summer 2019, blends an extensive drinks list with a family and pet-friendly atmosphere. On Saturday mornings, stop by The Garden for Swing’s coffee, fresh beignets and a jazz soundtrack. For craft beer or moonshine, grab a glass and a grilled cheese at Arlandria’s nearby biergarten, Hops N Shine.
Experience Community Events and Festivals
All year round, locals and visitors alike flock to Del Ray’s festivities. Monthly April through October, First Thursdays bring a transformation to the streets with outdoor themed parties ranging from “Unmask Your Superhero ” to “Dog Days in Del Ray.” Art on the Avenue, occurring with the first tinge of fall the first Saturday of October, showcases the community’s creative spirit in an artistic bonanza of more than 300 creators along Mount Vernon Avenue. Every June, locals and visitors can experience an endorphin boost at Well Ray with free fitness classes, health demonstrations and exhibits. In addition to regular happenings like the weekly farmers market, the seasonal fun continues with events that draw a crowd from Halloween through the holidays.
See Bursts of Creativity Along Unique Streetscapes
Del Ray pops with personality and color that sets it apart from the rest of the city. Stroll by murals capturing aspects of Alexandrian’s history, from the old St. Asaph Racetrack on Cheesetique’s “postcard” painting to famous former Alexandrian Jim Morrison mugging on St. Elmo’s exterior. While Old Town stands out for its colonial and Victorian architecture, Del Ray contains Art Deco details hidden in plain sight, including walls studded with decorative stone pilasters.
For more hidden treasures, wander over to the fanciful Poetry Fence at the corner of Windsor and Dewitt, featuring an ever-rotating book bank and a collage of recipes, comic strips and sketches surrounding a whimsical garden. Stop by the neighborhood’s creative headquarters, Del Ray Artisans, to see their monthly exhibits and engage hands-on at a workshop. See something in a window that catches your eye? Pop into shops like Top it Off and pick up something to take home.
Header Image Credit: Cameron Davidson for Visit Alexandria