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How to Spend a 24-Hour Staycation in Alexandria, Virginia

The quick getaway across the Potomac is full of seafood spots, sightseeing, waterfront tapas, and much more

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Old Town Alexandria, Virginia waterfront
Old Town Alexandria’s scenic waterfront.
Photo by: VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Missy Frederick is the Cities Director for Eater.

There’s a reason tourists often end up staying in Old Town, Alexandria rather than D.C. proper when visiting our city — it’s a cute, convenient area with its own history, activities, and delicious restaurants, with easy access to Mount Vernon and National Harbor. And for the non-tourists among us, a little overnight in the town can be a refreshing break from the routine. Here’s the best way to spend a 24-hour staycation in Alexandria.

9:30 a.m. Get to know Old Town North

Earlier risers can spend a little time before brunch exploring the northern portion of Old Town, which has seen a spurt of development over the past couple of years. If you’re staying in Old Town, you’ll need a quick Uber to get to this side of town. Kick things off with a cup of coffee (and a pastry if you’re starving) at St. Elmo’s newest location. Right in that development, there are a couple of cute shops that open at 10 a.m., including PlantHouse for greenery and Made in Alx for local arts and crafts.

Freshly shucked bivalves at Hank’s Oyster Bar.
Hank’s Oyster Bar/Facebook

11 a.m. Brunch at Hank’s Oyster Bar

This Alexandria standby (which relocated from its King Street digs a couple of years ago) is a great option for brunch — think hangtown fries, lobster rolls, shrimp-garnished Bloody Marys, and more. Hank’s is also one of the area’s best options for cocktails, so it’s definitely worth it to make bruch a boozy ones. Order oysters for the table, of course. The restaurant is known for its cute touches, like starting each meal with a bowl of Goldfish crackers and ending it with chunks of dark chocolate.

Another idea: The relatively new Urbano 116 makes a solid breakfast taco and Eddie’s Little Shop and Deli sends out slow-roasted ribeye sandwiches; Yunnan by Potomac is more of a lunch/dinner place that doesn’t open until noon, but is a lovely serene spot for noodles from the southwest region of China

12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wander Old Town

Here is your chance to explore this area in earnest. If you decide to start the day with just coffee, the Old Town Farmers Market operates until noon on Saturdays. But you’ll probably be arriving a little after that, and you’ll have your pick of things to explore. There’s the Torpedo Factory, a working studio where local artists create, waterfront boat tours, an apothecary museum, Black history tours and plenty of cute shopping (be sure to check out vintage glassware store The Hour, Old Town Books, hip convenience store Foxtrot, and a whole slew of antique stores and boutiques). Take advantage of the free trolley to around the area.

3 p.m. Late Lunch/Drinks and Snacks at Barca

Barca Pier & Wine Bar breathes new life into the site of a former shipping pier on the Potomac.
Barca Pier & Wine Bar breathes new life into the site of a former shipping pier on the Potomac.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

A major draw for hanging in Old Town is lunch or dinner on the waterfront, but that used to mean sacrificing food for views. Luckily, recent years have brought some openings where the menu actually competes with the atmosphere. Barca’s a great spot for Spanish tapas like croquettes, patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo, and a nice variety of wines and cocktails (if you’re here on a weekday, happy hour starts at 4:30 p.m.).

Another idea: Greek restaurant Taverna Cretekou has a gorgeous patio; snack on some schnitzel from Old House Cosmopolitan

4:45 p.m. Ice cream interlude, followed by drinks at the People’s Drug

Who says dessert can’t come before dinner? Alexandria has tons of options to choose from when it comes to ice cream — a few standout selections include local favorites Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Goodies, Casa Rosada Artisan Gelato (for the obvious), and exciting Ohio-based import Jeni’s, just to name a handful (custard fans could even hop neighborhoods into nearby Del Ray and try President Joe Biden’s favorite, the Dairy Godmother).

Next, it’s time for a drink. Check out the People’s Drug, a cute (tiny) cocktail bar that offers seasonal drinks like a watermelon whiskey smash, riffs on classics, and even a frozen Aperol spritz.

A quick bite and drink at People’s Drug.
People’s Drug/Facebook

Another drinks idea: Raise a celebratory glass at champagne bar Brut

7 p.m. Dinner at Nasime

Wander beyond the curtains in the quaint, narrow Nasime and you’d almost convince yourself you had stepped into Japan. This restaurant features exquisite cooking and a rather affordable tasting menu ($95 per person) from Ginza, Tokyo-trained Yuh Shimomura. Expect six courses (including dessert), usually involving jewel-like sashimi, a grilled item, and a shareable bowl of soup or noodles, among other dishes (a recent menu offered a duck and maisutake mushroom udon and seared wagyu short rib with truffle shoyu sauce).

Other ideas: Romantic Vermillion and bustling Thompson Italian are also strong dinner bets — try the cacio e pepe gimlet at the latter

9 p.m. Activity Interlude: Ghost Tour

Learn about the “haunted” history of Alexandria (and continue to wander the streets of Old Town) by embarking on one of these festive tours (link is to the original, which offers tours as late as 9 p.m., but there are other competitors out there).

The rustic bar at Old Hat.
Old Hat/Facebook

11 p.m. Nightcap at Old Hat

Old Hat actually has a haunted history connection and is a stop on some ghost tours. But even those less interested in the spooky can enjoy this place (open till midnight on the weekends), which takes drinks seriously — given the Cynar Bang Bang, a frothy egg white-spiked concoction, a whirl.

Other ideas: Waterfront Vola’s is also open until midnight. Alexandria also has a couple of Irish Bars including Daniel O’Connell’s and Murphy’s (open until 2 a.m.), both of which often feature live music.

Where to stay: Morrison House, the Hotel Indigo, the Grace, the Lorien (it has a spa), and the Alexandrian are all in the heart of Old Town; Visit Alexandria has a comprehensive listing of hotel options.