Old Town Alexandria lives up to its name with its classic late 18th- and early-19th-century architecture. It has preserved cobblestone blocks near Prince and King streets, the most famous being Captain’s Row, a popular spot for engagement photos, as well as traditional brick streets.
The community is hardly a sleepy little place, however; it has a cosmopolitan downtown vibe.
Many shoppers come to Old Town seeking luxury home decor and ladies’ fashions, but as they explore King Street they find more to love.
The street is lined with top restaurants and high-end boutiques — most of which are independently owned, offering customers one-of-a-kind services.
But the shopping isn’t all small-scale. National chains such as Lululemon, Banana Republic and Anthropologie are also among the area’s retail options.
“Even if I’m just running errands, any route I take is visually stunning,” said Candace Gibson, who’s lived in Old Town Alexandria for almost two years. “Every building is beautiful in its own way.”
Gibson chose to move to Old Town when she relocated from Atlanta for her job at Discovery Communications. A native of Charleston, S.C., she found comfort in Old Town’s brick sidewalks and historic charm and liked the cozier feeling that the area has compared with the District. “Old Town has a lot of Southern flavor,” she said.
Narrowest house: Old Town Alexandria was founded by Scottish merchant William Ramsay. The land was selected and auctioned off in 1749, with the help of 17-year-old George Washington. Alexandria quickly became a major port town, and it was among the nation’s 10 busiest by the end of the 18th century.
It took on an important industrial role during World Wars I and II, when the U.S. naval torpedo station was established on the waterfront. The city designated Old Town as a historic district in 1946 — the third in the United States at the time, according to Visit Alexandria.
Many aspects of the community’s history are woven into the fabric of everyday life.
A farmers market at Old Town’s market square is said to be the longest-operating one in the country, and it’s where George Washington sold his goods. It’s open every Saturday, year-round.
Another popular destination is the Old Town waterfront, which Claire Mouledoux, 10-year Old Town resident and director of communications at Visit Alexandria, called “a great place to stroll and take in the city’s energy.”
Outdoor dining is popular on the waterfront, which offers boat cruises, bars and for the artistic-minded, the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Founded in 1974 in an old munitions plant, the Torpedo Factory now is home to the largest collection of publicly accessible working art studios in the United States. The public can come meet, watch and learn from 165 artists as they work in 82 studios and six galleries, according to Visit Alexandria.
And one of Old Town’s claims to fame is its “spite house” at 523 Queen St., called the narrowest house in the country. The little blue house, measuring only seven feet wide, was built in the 1830s by John Hollensbury, who was tired of people and carriages loitering in the alleyway adjacent to his home.
Haven for dog lovers: Mouledoux said it’s easy to get to know people in a community like Old Town, whether it be neighbors, shop owners or perhaps even notable residents like Braden Holtby, goalie for the Caps, or Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
The best way to meet people in this neighborhood? Get a dog. Old Town Alexandria calls itself “one of the most dog-friendly cities in the entire country.” From elite dog-training schools, numerous dog parks and the local favorite doggy happy hour at the Hotel Monaco, dogs really are “part of the fabric of who we are,” Mouledoux said.
Outdoor enthusiasts may take a liking to the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail, which takes the form of Union Street in Old Town but is largely separated from car traffic to the north and south. The trail is popular with runners and bicyclists, because of its unrivaled views.
The trail runs south to the Mount Vernon estate, also known as George Washington’s home. From April through October, you can also take a river cruise to the estate.
Lovers of craft beer will enjoy Alexandria’s own brewery, Port City Brewing Co., just two miles from Old Town. Neighborhood residents can often be spotted with Misha Coffee’s iconic orange cups in hand.
Mouledoux’s watering hole of choice? Daniel O’Connell’s, an Irish restaurant and pub that tends to cater to an older crowd than its rowdier counterpart, Murphy’s Irish Pub.
Living there: According to Stephanie Landrum, executive vice president of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Old Town doesn’t have official boundaries but is considered to be the area bordered by Slaters Lane to the north, the Potomac River to the east, Interstate 495 to the south and Holland Lane to the west.
While Alexandria is heavy on single-family homes city-wide, rowhouses rule in the heart of Old Town. Mouledoux, who lives in an older condo building on the north side, said that new homes with all the latest amenities are becoming a trend, and are ushering in millennials to a baby-boomer dominated area.
In the past 12 months, 438 homes sold in the Old Town area, at prices ranging from $145,000 for a 386-square-foot studio unit to $3.2 million for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom luxury condo at the Oronoco, according to Kristin Stone, an agent with Happy Home Group. Currently, 105 homes are on the market, from a 500-square-foot studio priced at $190,000 to a four-bedroom, six-bathroom home dating to the 18th century for $5.2 million, Stone added.
Schools: Jefferson-Houston Elementary, Lyles-Crouch Elementary, Maury Elementary, George Washington Middle and T.C. Williams High (Minnie Howard campus for ninth grade, main campus for 10th through 12th grades).
Movie buffs may recognize T.C. Williams High School from the classic football film “Remember the Titans,” starring Denzel Washington.
Transit: The King Street Metro station, on the Blue and Yellow lines, is on the west edge of Old Town, about a 25-minute walk from the waterfront. Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak trains stop at an adjacent station.
The free King Street trolley stops every two blocks from the Metro station to the waterfront, running every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. until 10:15 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.
The Braddock Road Metro stop is walkable from the north side of the neighborhood. Reagan National Airport is a short drive away. The Potomac Riverboat Company transports guests via water taxi from the waterfront to the Mall and to Maryland’s National Harbor, according to Visit Alexandria.