Alternative transportation: If the Metro doesn’t appeal to you, a scenic way to get to Old Town is the Potomac water taxi, a ferry boat with service between Georgetown in DC and Old Town Alexandria. It’s a 45-minute ride each way. Tuesday through Thursday, round-trip tickets cost $24 for adults and $12 for kids (ages 2 through 11); Friday through Sunday, it’s $26 for adults and $14 for kids; under age two is free. The ferry operates every two hours April through October. It departs from Georgetown starting at 12:30 PM. The Georgetown dock is at 31st and K streets, Northwest, and the Alexandria dock is Cameron and Union streets. Tickets can be purchased online here.
Historic Old Town Alexandria has managed to maintain its small-town appeal while making room for upscale restaurants, cafes, shops, and boutiques. Originally settled in the late 1600s, the Old Town neighborhood, much as it stands today, was designed and laid out in 1749—the original cobblestone streets and Colonial houses are just some of the historical remnants you’ll see. The neighborhood’s main thoroughfare is King Street, heading east from the Metro stop to the Potomac River; it’s about 16 blocks. The walk is nice, but for those who want to save their feet, there’s a free trolly that rides the length and makes stops along the way. And although King Street certainly has a lot to see and do, don’t be shy about exploring side streets—lots of cute shops, boutiques, and cafes have cropped up off the beaten path in recent years.
An American in Paris (1225 King St.; 703-519-8234). This boutique stocks clothing, accessories, shoes, and bags for women and girls. True to its name, the shop carries American and European labels, and there’s even a fashion consultant on hand to help you shop—ooh la la!
Crate and Barrel Outlet Store (1700 Prince St.; 703-739-8800). If you take the Metro to Old Town, the King Street stop is just steps from the Crate and Barrel Outlet Store. We know, we know—Crate and Barrel’s a chain. But we just can’t turn down a good bargain! Stock up on flatware, glassware, kitchen items, and furniture at prices that won’t break the bank.
Gold and Silver de Cristina (103 N. West St.; 703-706-9536). Even though this jewelry store isn’t exactly on the main drag—it’s just a block off—it’s hard to miss: The shop is painted bright yellow. Don’t be put off if the door is locked; Cristina has probably just gone into the back, but if you knock she’ll let you in. The tiny space features many of the proprietor’s own handmade pieces. She sells everything from necklaces and earrings to brooches and cuff links.
The Hangar (1325 King St.; 703-706-9536). This all-you-could-ever-want-from-aviation gift shop is a great place to take the kids. From US Air Force Monopoly and build-your-own gliders to Top Gun flight suits and classic aviator sunglasses, this place is every pilot and wannabe’s dream.
The Shoe Hive (115 S. Royal St.; 703-548-7105). This women’s shoe boutique takes the beehive theme to the details: In addition to yellow honeycomb patterns painted on the walls, clusters of shoes organized by designer are marked by bottles of honey bearing the designers’ names. Among the brands the store carries are Michael by Michael Kors, Butter, Betta Carrano, Diba, Salpy, and Dr. Scholls. Stop in here for anything foot-worthy, from rain galoshes to strappy sandals.
Treat (114 S. Royal St.; 703-535-3294). If you’re visiting Alexandria on a weekend, be sure to stop in at Treat, a weekend-only shop that sells designer clothing and shoes at a fraction of the original price. This sample-sale boutique, as the shop calls itself, stocks labels including Nanette Lepore, Milly, Theory, Cynthia Steffe, and Bettye Muller. The selection changes weekly, but the store can usually outfit sizes 0 to 12. Treat is open Friday and Saturday from 11 to 7, Sunday noon to 6.
Hard Times Cafe (1404 King St.; 703-837-0050). The King Street location of this Texas-style chili spot is the original of a growing franchise that now boasts 16 restaurants—and counting. Though it carries a full menu from appetizers to desserts, Hard Times is best known for its chili, said to be based on a 100-year-old family recipe. In addition to offering four varieties of chili, Hard Times has three chili specials—Chili Bubba (corn bread drenched in chili and topped with cheddar, tomatoes, onions, and sour cream), Frito Chili (Frito chips covered in chili), and the Chili Changa (tortilla with cheese topped with chili)—for just $8.29 each.
The Majestic (911 King St.; 703-837-9117). This updated diner is an Old Town staple. Complete with its original art-deco façade, black-and-white checkered terrazzo floor, and tin ceiling tiles, the Majestic serves American comfort food—excellent roast chicken, juicy meatloaf, and homey desserts such as strawberry shortcake and milkshakes. Also on the menu, a real throwback: egg creams.