Occoquan, Va., is nestled along the tree-lined Occoquan River, from which it draws a name that means “at the end of the water” or, as more recent linguistic studies suggest, “a grove of trees.” It’s a town as serene as it sounds — except for a few hopping times a year.
The Prince William County town, about 25 miles south of the District, is a quaint community of about 1,000 filled with rich history, eclectic architecture and dozens of local merchants. (No chain stores here.)
On Feb. 13, you have an opportunity to get a taste — literally — of what Occoquan has to offer, especially if you’re partial to chocolate. At the third annual Chocolate Walk (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), more than 40 shops and restaurants will offer chocolate samples.
“I enjoy creating and sharing my gourmet chocolate treats almost as much as I enjoy meeting all the fun and crazy chocoholics that come through the town,” says Omar Nazarei, owner of NazBro Chocolates, which is participating in the event for the second year.
The big yearly draws to Occoquan, however, are its Arts & Crafts shows. More than 10,000 people are expected to descend upon the town June 4-5 and Sept. 24-25 to browse contemporary and country crafts from hundreds of local and far-flung artists.
In this town with history dating to the 1700s, you can easily find yourself hanging out for a day or weekend. Here are a few tips so you won’t get overwhelmed:
The Secret Garden Cafe
404 Mill St.
Before a busy day of boutique browsing, fuel up with breakfast from the Secret Garden Cafe. Menu highlights include homemade challah French toast and the hearty Spanish Breakfast: fried eggs, pork sausage, cilantro lime rice, black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and flour tortilla. (If you’re eating chocolate all afternoon, this may not be a good idea.) The cafe also offers an inexpensive Sunday brunch buffet ($14 for adults, $8 for age 12 and younger), but it isn’t available on craft show weekends.
Mill House Museum
413 Mill St.
As the only remaining structure of the town’s automated gristmill, built in the late 18th century, the Mill House Museum now holds hundreds of items in its one-room gallery. Civil War-era photographs, medical instruments and household items, as well as artifacts from the 1755 Occoquan Iron Works, make the museum a must-see for Occoquan first-timers. Admission is free, though donations are accepted.
Puzzle Palooza Etc.
403 Mill St.
Upon entering this shop in the business district of Historic Occoquan, visitors find themselves surrounded by floor-to-ceiling jigsaw puzzles. From simple children’s puzzles to challenging murder mystery and 3-D puzzles, Puzzle Palooza Etc. has something for everyone. After finishing a puzzle, head to the back to pick up some glue and storage to preserve your masterpiece.
201 Mill St.
In summer, visitors can experience Occoquan by paddle board or kayak during a two-hour tour on the Occoquan River — the same waterway traveled by historical figures such as John Smith, as well as troops during the Civil War. Tours begin at Madigan’s Waterfront restaurant and travel north past the Occoquan Mill ruins. Officials expect a newly revitalized park along the river to be ready by spring. Be on the lookout for such wildlife as geese, eagles, ospreys and beavers.