First lady Michelle Obama, wearing a hat and sunglasses, stands in line at a Target department store in Alexandria, Va., Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, after doing some shopping. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Michelle Obama’s excursion to Target in Alexandria last night — captured for posterity by an Associated Press photographer who covers the White House — is part of a pattern by the first lady: She gets out of the bubble as often as she can.

According to news reports, Obama has also gone shopping with friends at Tysons Corner. She takes her staff out for burgers at Shake Shack. She has bought supplies for her dog at Petco.

Since the family arrived in Washington in January 2009, the first lady has made time to slip away and she has often spoken about a desire to enjoy the city unencumbered.

“I would love, and so would the president, to be able to walk up and down the Mall, not at night but in the middle of the day, when there are millions of people there, and experience it in the way that you’re used to experiencing it,” she told Conde Nast Traveler last year. “Even a simple dinner date snarls traffic for blocks. It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to that restaurant, and everyone’s going to get mad, ’cause I’m there eating my hamburger.’ ”

In a statement Friday, White House officials said it is not uncommon for Obama to slip out without her husband to run an errand or go to a restaurant.

Other first ladies have also tried to maintain a private life outside the White House gates. Hillary Rodham Clinton went for walks in a cap and sunglasses. Laura Bush made antiquing outings in Georgetown.

“It is possible to have friendships and a very, very normal life” in the White House, Bush said in an interview on C-SPAN last year. “Really, I knew the White House could be a home.”