Alexandria, perched on the edge of the Potomac River, is a town of cobblestone streets, colonial history and a stone's throw from outdoor adventure. Thanks to its location alongside the Potomac River, Alexandria occupies a significant spot in the history books as one of the nation's oldest port cities, and for its proximity to the U.S. capital, boasts connections to more than one American president.
Centuries-old buildings lend cobbled avenues an atmospheric frame, the former housing sophisticated restaurants, jazz clubs and shops in the Old Town. Over 4,000 homes and buildings in Old Town such as Gadsby's Tavern Museum, where George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were once imbibing patrons, have been conscientiously preserved in Alexandria, assuring the survival of its historic heart. Popular also in these parts are guided walking tours (ghosts optional), though even without a knowledgeable narrator it's relatively easy to find area highlights, from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and the Carlyle House.
Alexandria's restored waterfront, once a ship-building center, is now home to riverside parks and boat tours. Also on the riverfront is Torpedo Factory Art Center, once a factory with torpedo casings as its focus, now a colorful art co-op. For a closer look at the Potomac, book a spot on one of the local tour boats that cruises the river, or sign up for a kayaking venture through a watery stretch of the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex (which includes in its scope forest, marsh and resident bald eagles).
Bikers and hikers will want to try the 18- mile Mount Vernon Trail, which follows the Potomac River south to George Washington's home for which the route is named, Mount Vernon. Along the way, stop at Jones Point Park to visit a 19th century lighthouse; for those hoping to see first and foremost the aforementioned estate (second in presidential sights only to the White House) without the miles of footwork, steer southwest of Alexandria via paved road to Mount Vernon, the grounds open to walkers and the house viewable on tours. Also of interest in this general vicinity is the restored distillery of our nation's first president (firewater for sale) and gristmill, as well as the Pope-Leighey House (designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright) and Woodlawn Mansion (which belonged to Washington's nephew).
Alexandria is eight miles from Washington, D.C., right off the Capitol Beltway (I-95 and I-495), exit 1-B.