Once a bustling Colonial port city and home to George Washington and Robert E. Lee, Alexandria is steeped in history. But its charming Old Town neighborhood isn’t just for Revolutionary War and Civil War buffs. With new restaurants, a vibrant arts scene and a beautiful waterfront, the area makes for an excellent (and Metro-accessible) day-trip destination.
Held each Saturday morning in Old Town’s Market Square plaza for more than 260 years, the Old Town Farmers Market offers an abundant feast for the eyes and taste buds. George Washington once sent produce from Mount Vernon to the market; today, you can find more than 70 local vendors selling fruits, vegetables, baked goods and handmade crafts. Expect to find juicy tomatoes and peaches, as well as exotic vegetables (try King Mushrooms Farm’s maitake mushrooms) and such hearty baked breads as Bread & Water Company’s onion rye. If you missed breakfast, try a delicious homemade smoothie or yogurt from Coulter Farms. Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon. 301 King St.
Three museums, within a few blocks of the district’s visitor center, where you can buy passes for all of them for $15, offer a sense of life in Old Town when it was still young. Carlyle House, an 18th-century mid-Georgian mansion, served as a headquarters during the French and Indian War. There, Major-General Edward Braddock suggested levying taxes on the colonies to help cover the cost of war — inspiring the slogan “no taxation without representation” and calls for revolution.
Nearby, Gadsby’s Tavern was a favorite dinner spot for a number of Founding Fathers. Children may especially enjoy the Stabler-Leadbetter Apothecary Museum, where such old-time herbal remedies as powdered dragon’s blood and unicorn root seem straight out of Harry Potter. Carlyle House, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m. 121 N. Fairfax St. 703-549-2997. novaparks.com. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday and Monday 1 to 5 p.m. 134 N. Royal St. 703-746-4242. gadsbystavern.org. Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday and Monday 1 to 5 p.m. 105-107 S. Fairfax St. 703-746-3852. apothecarymuseum.org.
After a morning spent strolling Old Town’s cobbled streets, you’ll crave something salty and satisfying. Dine on the fish and chips at Eamonn’s, an Irish-style pub and younger sister to chef Cathal Armstrong’s Restaurant Eve. Served in a simple white paper bag, the cod is soft and juicy, with a decadent fried coating. Try it with the traditional seasoning, salt and vinegar, or taste one of Eamonn’s special sauces: The Marie Rose, with ketchup, mayo and Tabasco sauce, is deliciously spicy, and the Chesapeake (mayo and Old Bay seasoning) is a fresh take on a classic flavor. Fries here come thick-cut and greasy.
Small cod, $3. Small chips, $3. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 728 King St. 703-299-8384. eamonnsdublinchipper.com.
Once a naval munitions factory, the Torpedo Factory Art Center now hosts more than 160 artists in 82 studios that are open to the public. Standouts include Lisa Schumaier, who uses mixed media to create surprising scenes and life-size animal sculptures, and James Steele, a digital photographer whose high-contrast landscapes present fantastical dream worlds. Any artist with an open door will discuss his or her process with patrons, who can also watch them at work during free demos on Saturdays. With a variety of jewelry designers and makers of craft goods, the Torpedo Factory is also a prime place to pick up a souvenir. Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays until 9 p.m. Free artist demos Saturdays 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. 105 N. Union St. 703-746-4570. torpedofactory.org.
Stroll down to Old Town’s Waterfront Park and enjoy an unbeatable view of the Potomac. Grab a cone from nearby Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream or picnic on the park’s green lawn as boats pull into the harbor.
Wrap up your day with a traditional Southern dinner at Magnolia’s, with food by chef Hans Fogleman. The shrimp and grits ($29) offer a contemporary take on a classic comfort food, with grilled prawns and a spicy Gouda-and-cornmeal mix. Other standouts include the flavorful rockfish ($34), served with asparagus and chorizo, and the bacon-wrapped dates (with dollops of that Southern favorite, Ranch dressing). Dine inside, in the 30-seat dining room, or outside on bustling King Street. Open for dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday. 703 King St. 703-838-9090. magnoliasonking.com.
You might walk right past this speakeasy-style bar, which has no sign to mark its entrance. Look for a red door just off King: If the blue light’s on, PX is open for business. Knock, and a server will guide you to an upstairs lounge with wood-paneled walls, floor-length mirrors and a gilded chandelier straight out of the Roaring Twenties. Order the Wet Money ($14) with Espolon Blanco Tequila, New Amsterdam Vodka, Blue Curacao, passion fruit, lime juice and salt water: Smooth and refreshing with a slightly sour tang, it provides the perfect end to a busy day in Alexandria. Wednesday through Saturday nights. 728 King St. barpx.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the head chef of Magnolia’s on King. The restaurant’s head chef is Hans Fogleman, not Brian Rowe.