alexandria cheat sheet

History, proximity, community—these are just some of the traits that make Alexandria, Virginia, an idyllic destination. Stroll down charming King Street in Old Town Alexandria and you can feel the ghosts of the Founding Fathers who once frequented the area while surrounded by more than 200 locally owned shops, restaurants, and businesses. To help visitors make the most of a visit to the area, we asked The Scout Guide Alexandria editor/owner Sarah Phillips to share recommendations for where to stay, sightsee, sip, and more during a trip to her town.

Where to Stay

According to Phillips, Morrison House (116 South Alfred Street) is a quaint choice in the heart of Old Town with just 40 rooms. The recently redesigned grand entrance sets the tone for an elegant stay, in proper Old Town style. Its sister hotel, The Alexandrian (480 King Street), is a bigger property with more amenities—and a secret courtyard—right off King Street. Last but not least, with its luxurious spa and renowned restaurant, Brabo, The Lorien (1600 King Street) is where the locals like to indulge in a staycation.

How to make the most of Mount Vernon

Every person coming to Alexandria for the first time must start with Mount Vernon, says Phillips of George Washington’s home, which is located less than 10 miles from Alexandria. For those who love to exercise, the gorgeous Mount Vernon Trail, which can be picked up right from Old Town, is perfect for walking or biking. Don’t miss the opportunity to tour the mansion, visit the onsite farm animals, and stroll through more than 20 museums and exhibits for an immersive American history lesson. Feel like unwinding after your tour? You’re in luck: the happy hour at the Inn at Mount Vernon is a well-kept secret that lasts from 4 to 8 p.m. during the week and includes tasty snacks.

Where to shop and sightsee

Phillips recommends that you make sure you set aside at least half a day to explore the King Street Mile, which many consider the greatest street in America. This walkable, cobblestone thoroughfare is teeming with restaurants and boutiques, right down to the waterfront. Before you start your journey, stop in for coffee at Misha’s (917 King Street)— an Old Town staple—or an ice cream sundae from Pop’s Old Fashioned (109 King Street). Treat yourself with visits to Bishop Boutique (815-B King Street) for fashionable apparel at a reasonable price point, She’s Unique (205 King Street) for a piece of jewelry, and Bellacara (1000 King Street) for exquisitely curated cosmetics. Don’t miss The Hour (1015 King Street), which boasts an extensive collection of vintage barware and glasses, or paper goods boutique Penny Post (1201 King Street), for cards, calendars, and more. End your walk at Tall Ship Providence, an 18th-century sloop, which you may even step aboard, then head over to the waterfront Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 North Union Street), the nation’s largest collection of working artists’ open studios. More must-visit retail is just a short walk away—The Shoe Hive (127 South Fairfax Street), which offers a stylish mix of current and classic shoes, clothing, and accessories for women, and Tsalt (106 North Saint Alsaph Street), where you’ll find an inspiring selection of contemporary women’s styles.

Where to Eat

Phillips says the best spot for breakfast is Stomping Ground (2309 Mount Vernon Avenue), which locals flock to for the biscuits (Sarah recommends ordering one with butter and honey) and excellent coffee. This spot is very popular, so be prepared to wait in line. If you’re seeking a healthy fix, check out Grateful Kitchen (727 North Henry Street) for organic smoothies and juices. La Fontaine (119 South Royal Street) is Sarah’s choice for a leisurely lunch of crepes and rosé.

For dinner, locals like to frequent Landini Brothers (115 King Street), a white tablecloth Italian restaurant that has been run by the same family for decades. Sarah recommends the penne alla Romana and their dirty martini, which she says is the best in town.

For a special night out, “Cedar Knoll (9030 Lucia Lane) is the best-kept secret in Alexandria,” says Phillips. “The food is worth the trip, and paired with sunset views on the water, it is not to be missed.” While everything on the menu is memorable, she highly recommends the lobster cappuccino.

Where to Toast the Town

If you’re seeking the best IPAs and sours around, head to Aslin Beer Co. (847 South Pickett Street), an expansive brewery with an arcade. While there, look for a beer Phillips collaborated on called Unicorn Vomit, a New England IPA-style brew. If you love Moscow mules, you’ll want to order one at The People’s Drug (103 North Alfred Street), which was originally founded in 1905 and today serves as a modern general store/lunch counter/happy hour spot with craft cocktails and locally-sourced fare. For margaritas (and chips and salsa, of course) visit Mexican restaurant Urbano 116 (116 King Street). If you’re up for an adventure, visit the lively bar at The Light Horse (715 King Street) in the center of Old Town, where Phillips says to “Order the Pixie Rainbow Fancy Bubbles, just because.”

Photography by Sarah Marcella. For additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience in Alexandria, Virginia, follow The Scout Guide Alexandria on Instagram.