From new riverside dining to immersive new public artwork and tours that highlight the city’s African American history, there are plenty of new things to do in Alexandria, Virginia, just minutes from Washington, D.C., in 2021. Keep reading to learn about the food trends that are dominating new restaurants, the emerging arts and dining district of Old Town North and the new gallery showcasing the artistic spirit of Indigenous artists across North America.
New Happenings Enrich Alexandria’s Thriving Waterfront
Two Waterfront Eateries Add Hundreds of Outdoor Dining Seats
Alexandria’s waterfront dining scene continues to grow with hundreds of outdoor seats at two new concepts from Alexandria Restaurant Partners: Ada’s on the River and BARCA Pier & Wine Bar. Ada’s on the River opened in January 2021, drawing design inspiration from Ada Lovelace, a 19th-century female mathematics pioneer, and featuring a menu centered around meat, seafood and vegetarian dishes cooked to perfection in the wood-burning oven.
BARCA Pier and Wine Bar will open near Ada’s in spring 2021. BARCA Pier will be a seasonal outdoor eatery inspired by Barcelona’s beach bars and made from carved-out shipping containers, with a menu consisting of mainly Mediterranean small plates, infused with Greek, Italian and Moroccan flavors. BARCA Wine Bar, which will be open throughout the year, will boast an intimate, sophisticated setting and vast selection of unique and domestic wines from around the world.
Immersive Public Art Installation Inspired by City’s Evolving Shoreline
Groundswell, the 2021 temporary public art installation from Brooklyn-based artist Mark Reigelman, will be on display from late March to November 2021 as the third installation in the City of Alexandria’s annual Site See public art series presented by the Office of the Arts. Reigelman was inspired by Alexandria, Virginia’s history as a bustling port city in the 18th and 19th centuries when drastic measures were taken to extend the city’s shoreline. New land was built upon intentionally sunk wooden ships and thousands of timber pilings that crept further into the Potomac River, creating a fluctuating new boundary. Groundswell introduces an element of play to the city’s changing shoreline with an immersive ecosystem of 102 raw wood pilings topped with etched blue mirrors that shimmer like water. The grayscale ground mural reflects the underwater topography of the river near this site.
Experience the Tall Ship Providence with Specialty Cruises, Virtual Classes and New Pier
Alexandria’s newest waterfront attraction, tall ship Providence, will continue to set sail with expanded educational programs and cruise schedules in 2021. This celebrity tall ship, which has appeared in the international blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean, is a full-scale reproduction of one of the most renowned ships in the Continental Navy. This year, the Tall Ship Providence Foundation will build a brand-new pier and visitor center at Waterfront Park, bringing Providence closer to the action at the marina and King Street when it opens this summer. In the meantime, Providence will expand virtual classes on topics including maritime, nautical and colonial history. The 2021 cruise season kicks off in May with specialty cruises featuring themed tastings with craft beer, wine, rum and more.
Opportunities Abound for TV and Film Buffs
Alexandria kicks off 2021 by celebrating its blockbuster connections following late 2020 premiere of Wonder Woman 1984, which filmed in Alexandria’s Landmark Mall in 2018. Through February 28, 2021, fans can pose for a picture in front of a seven-foot-tall drum prop from the shopping mall scene, emblazoned with the iconic Virginia is for Lovers logo, located in an Old Town window display near the waterfront. Then, check out Wonder Woman-themed offerings from local businesses like cocktails, donuts and tattoos. Explore these special offerings and all things “Wonder Woman” on Visit Alexandria’s web hub, including behind-the-scenes photos and a featurette highlighting star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins’ time filming in Alexandria.
Plus, learn more about Alexandria’s celebrity connections, from Dave Grohl to Hoda Kotb and beyond. TV and film fanatics can even mask up and stroll through a cinematic self-guided tour through sites with ties to the big and small screens, including “West Wing,” “J. Edgar,” “Mercy Street” and “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” reality star Monte Durham’s new salon, Salon Monte.
New Black History & Culture Experiences Uplift Undertold Stories
Pre-dating the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, the City of Alexandria, the Office of Historic Alexandria and Visit Alexandria had a renewed commitment to racial equity, with major projects and programs underway, including the City’s hiring of their first Race and Social Equity Officer, Jaqueline N. Tucker, in 2019. In 2020, new Black history experiences included the Duke Street Black History Trail, Courageous Journey: Alexandria’s Black History Driving Tour, a waterfront African American Heritage Trail and an Underground Railroad-themed tour from Manumission Tour Company.
Black history and culture experiences are expanding in 2021. In January, the Office of Historic Alexandria launches a new online video series about African American changemakers called “Agents of Change.” In the spring, look for a new anthology edited by Alexandria Black History Museum director Audrey Davis, Alexandria at War 1861-1865: African American Emancipation in an Occupied City, which examines the African American experience in Civil War Alexandria.
In the summer, the new southern route of the African American heritage waterfront trail will launch in the form of an online StoryMap that can be viewed from home or from a mobile phone while walking the route. Also this summer, Freedom House Museum plans to reopen, following the City of Alexandria’s purchase of the museum in 2020 and a series of renovations and COVID closures, to tell the story of the thousands of men, women and children who passed through the slave trading firm. Upon reopening, and through the end of the year, the museum will feature a traveling exhibition from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture entitled “Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality” which features profiles of 30 individuals, more than 100 evocative objects and multimedia interpretive content.
Intertribal Creatives Collective Celebrates Art and Voices of Indigenous People
Intertribal Creatives is a collective launched in December 2020 by Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a nonprofit that supports Native American communities. Intertribal Creatives’ mission is to serve as an accessible, layered resource to both the local and broader Native community by allowing Natives to connect with other Indigenous people throughout the country. In December, Intertribal Creatives made a splash with their pop-up gallery and market at Founder’s Hall in Old Town, featuring visual art, handmade jewelry and other forms of self-expression from Native artisans, entrepreneurs and creatives from around the country. As the gallery space is undergoing renovation for a soft reopening this summer, Intertribal Creatives launched a fair-trade online gallery and store in January 2021.
Sustainability Trend Grows at Shopping & Dining Destinations
With growing climate and environmental crises, the responsibility for businesses and consumers to make sustainable and environmentally conscious choices is bigger than ever. This was the driving force for Anna and Justin Marino as they opened Mason & Greens, the D.C. area’s first zero-waste grocery and sustainable dry goods store, opened at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 in a bright and airy King Street space and quickly adopted a strong virtual presence. The shop’s expanding collection will include herb, vegetable and flower seeds, an abundance of local produce and plastic-free, plant-able greeting cards, so you can watch your sentiment grow into wildflowers.
Just two blocks away, Nicole McGrew’s eco-friendly women’s fashion boutique Threadleaf is expanding her commitment to sustainability, launching a larger gardening selection and adding vintage housewares and garden objects to her line-up of responsibly-made fashion. She will also host a series of virtual workshops, launching on February 25, on topics ranging from plant-based dying to farming to discussions with designers on their sustainability practices.
These locally owned stores are complemented by Patagonia, a certified B Corporation, outdoor clothing outlet and environmentally conscious national brand, which repurposed the former Old Town Theater location as a retail space in fall 2020. Once it is safe to host indoor events, Patagonia will begin presenting community events that are in line with the company’s environmental values.
Also new to Old Town in fall 2020, Vía Volcán Coffee is a micro-roastery and café utilizing single-origin coffee grown on the family’s farm located on the slopes of the Barú Volcano in Panama. The farm is run with an eye toward the environment, with a portion of the farm consisting of virgin rain forest which has remained untouched, filled with tropical birds and even the occasional mountain lion. Those considering the environmental benefits of forgoing meat will savor the 100% plant-based menu at PLNT Burger, new to the Carlyle Whole Foods since October 2020 as part of a regional chain co-founded by “Top Chef” alum Spike Mendelsohn. Open since early spring 2020 at 804 N. Henry St., Elizabeth’s Counter sources plant-based and sustainable ingredients for scrumptious fare that vegans, vegetarians and non-vegans can enjoy. Don’t miss the plant-based donuts—this is the former Sugar Shack spot, after all.
Engage with New Outdoor Art Across Alexandria’s Neighborhoods
In addition to the 2021 temporary waterfront public art installation entitled Groundswell from Brooklyn-based artist Mark Reigelman, the four sculptural figures of Olalekan Jeyifous’ 2020 installation Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies was relocated to a temporary new home in Alexandria’s Parker-Gray neighborhood near the Durant Arts Center and King Street Metro. The installation, on loan from the artist, links the city’s industrial history with the labor of free and enslaved African Americans.
In Alexandria’s West End, Burke Branch Library will feature a large-scale commissioned piece by artist team Project One Studio, planned for spring 2021 through the city’s Office of the Arts. In Del Ray’s Pat Miller Neighborhood Square, look for the spring installation of a piece by artist Kirk Seese, through a partnership of several Del Ray organizations
New murals throughout Alexandria provided bright spots in 2020, starting with Old Town’s “Come Together” mural on the side of Rubini Jewelers at 632 N. Washington. Painted by Alexandria high school students Shelby Bavin and Caroline Mitchell in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the painting offers a twist on Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” as the Black and white hands meet as a symbol of solidarity. Find Rives Wiley’s stunning sunset-inspired mural outside Del Ray Asian fusion spot Kaizen Tavern. Nearby, visit a new painting on the Arlandria Tenants and Workers United building north of Del Ray, completed by a youth team along with artist Maspaz.
Emerging Arts and Dining District in Old Town North Continues to Blossom
Long home to favorite local restaurants and The Art League School, the rapidly evolving neighborhood of Old Town North is gaining attention as an up-and-coming dining and arts district with the highly anticipated debut of MetroStage and its talented collection of performers and award-winning shows in 2022.
In 2019, Old Town North welcomed a major new development at 530 First Street from EDENS, a developer known for creating leading-edge dining and entertainment destinations like the Mosaic District in Fairfax and Union Market in D.C. Anchored by West Elm and a stained-glass plinth piece by artist Tom Fruin, and welcoming Oak Steakhouse and Hinata Sushi Bar and Grill in the development’s first year, EDENS is coming to life with a slate of new openings.
Crank up the heat at Wooboi Chicken or relish the bohemian digs of popular duo Sisters Thai and Magnolia Dessert Bar, while warming up with some classic curries and delectable treats. A Del Ray staple for decades, St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub graces Old Town North with a similar living room vibe and expanded breakfast offerings at its just-opened sister shop. Recently opened Cut and Shave Barbershop and East Coast-based pet store chain Loyal Companion, coming soon in February, enhance EDENS’ expanding retail scene.
Near the EDENS development, you can get a taste from chefs who were recently featured on Food Network’s “Chopped” at Chef Chris Edward’s newly opened Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen (“Chopped” winner) and Chef Mimi Huynh’s Sunday in Saigon and Yagút St.
New Eateries Diversify Alexandria’s Dining Scene
In addition to two new standout waterfront eateries, Alexandria’s culinary scene continues to boom with nearly 30 recently opened and coming soon concepts to explore in 2021. Keep an eye out for an expanding pan-Asian food trend with new Vietnamese pho restaurant on King Street Pho Nam, which opened in October 2020; up-and-coming Sushi Jin Next Door, a regional sushi chain which just opened its West End location; Sisters Thai and Magnolia Dessert Bar, the recently opened Thai restaurant and bakery duo in Old Town North and more.
Plenty of creative cafés are taking your morning cup of joe to a new level–in October 2020, the Chewish Deli added a brick-and-mortar operation to their bustling food truck business of hand rolled, New York-style water bagels, while Mae’s Market & Café, opening in February 2021 from Stomping Ground owner Nicole Jones, will introduce the concept of an all-day food market in Old Town’s Atrium building.
Diners can now follow the national and global craze of hot fried chicken with Old Town North’s Wooboi Hot Chicken, featuring a Southern and Japanese-fusion twist. Sweets lovers can snag a mid-day pick-me-up from beloved Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats at its new permanent home at the historic Ice House on Commerce Street, coming this spring. And don’t forget to raise a glass with your furry friend beside you at recently opened dog-friendly bar Barkhaus or check out locally famous cocktail creator Jack Caminos’ upcoming Old Hat Bar.
Be on the lookout for additional cafés with a twist, flavorful fast casual spots, Italian-inspired eateries, sweet spots and more.
Budding “Shop Small” Experiences Accompany the Arrival of National Brands
With hundreds of independent boutiques, Alexandria’s retail scene continues to adjust to the times with expanded online shops during COVID-19 and innovative ways to shop small, while also welcoming newly opened national retailers. In 2020, King Street additions included eco-conscious outdoor clothing brand Patagonia and FatFace, a British lifestyle clothing and accessories retailer, while Rocket Fizz opened in Alexandria’s West End, boasting 2,000 different kinds of retro candy and 300 types of soda.
Independent shops continue to innovate with the expansion and new home of Old Town Books, a female-owned local bookstore that started as a pop-up at the waterfront and will relocate this spring to 130 S. Royal Street. In November 2020, Made in ALX, an Alexandria-based makers market, opened its virtual doors to support local artists, creators and makers during the tough holiday season. “Cocktail Queen” and owner of The Hour, Victoria Vergason expanded her online offerings while revamping her store from an antique shop to a modern showroom in October 2020. Earlier in 2020, the sister-in-law duo behind Mint Condition unveiled their latest concept Mint Collective, offering everything from beauty products and dog accessories to affordable clothing pieces.
Micro-Wedding Trend Embraced by Versatile Event Venues
Instead of postponing their wedding, some couples are embracing the micro-weddings trend as opportunity to have an intimate, ultra-romantic day without breaking the bank, and this trend is thriving in Alexandria. Couples can explore Alexandria’s pristine micro-wedding spots from secret gardens at the historic Carlyle House and the tranquil 18th-century English garden with iconic magnolias at The Rectory on Princess Street. Scenic waterfront settings like Hummingbird’s patio are complimented by a delightful oyster roast. Achieve every Pinterest-worthy detail you’ve ever dreamed of at Alexandria’s chic eateries and buzz-worthy rooftops like the rooftop terrace with panoramic waterfront views at Café 44. Find unforgettable intimate spaces in spacious venues such as under the historic tree at George Washington’s Mount Vernon or on the steps of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.