It’s time to get out of Washington and head for Old Town Alexandria, the charming colonial city a few miles down the Potomac. Red-bricked Old Town is older than the nation’s capital, tracing its history to 1749, and it’s full of colonial buildings, antique shops, galleries and fun restaurants. Wander down cobblestone alleys and browse the artisan stores, stopping in at the recreated Gadsby’s Tavern or historic Christ Church, which was attended by George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Kids and adults alike enjoy watching local artists working in their studios at the waterside Torpedo Factory. For a special lunch, we really like Restaurant Eve; no reservations are required if you eat at a table in the bar.
Metro is the easiest way to get there -- take the Blue or Yellow lines to King Street, and look for the free shuttle buses that run to the historic district. (It’s a 15- to 20-minute walk otherwise, and an enjoyable stroll past small boutiques.) Parking can be a problem on weekends.
Some history buffs will want to continue their exploration of the founding fathers by making a trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s nearby estate. It’s reachable by boat (the Potomac Riverboat Company runs quick cruises down the river), car or public transportation; catch the Metro from King Street to Huntington, where you can get Fairfax Connector bus 101 to the estate’s front gate.
Others, though, will want to head back to Washington, and we suggest a tour of the recently renovated National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum in the revived Penn Quarter neighborhood. Both museums are open until 7 p.m. daily, so there’s no need to rush back. (Note that this area includes the Verizon Center, home to the Washington Wizards basketball team and the Washington Capitals hockey team, and is likely to be crowded on game nights.)
There’s plenty of shopping and entertainment nearby, including the ever-popular Greek small-plates restaurant Zaytinya, modern four-star Indian cooking at Rasika, Spanish tapas at Jaleo and gourmet brick-oven pizzas at Matchbox. Proof is one of the city’s top restaurants and wine bars, and offers a by-the-glass selection that will delight oenophiles. For cocktails, we like the attractive courtyard bar at Poste, inside the Hotel Monaco, and the wildly inventive cocktails at PS 7’s and Rasika. Those preferring pubs to pomegranate martinis can check out the quiz nights and live music at Fado Irish Pub, the selection of draft beers at R.F.D. Washington, or Iron Horse Tap Room, a fun two-level bar that offers shuffleboard, Skee-Ball and other amusements along with a display of vintage motorcycles and accessories.