Family Weekend: Old Town Alexandria

Many parents are familiar with traditional sites around D.C., but not everyone knows about Old Town Alexandria, Va., a historical area with cobblestone streets, old-fashioned shops and a busy waterfront.

Old Town Alexandria is a short ride away, and those without a car can reach it by Metro. DASH, a free shuttle service, is offered on the weekends outside of the King Street stop. DASH will take metro passengers into the heart of Old Town and makes several stops along King Street.

Old Town is a historically rich area of Virginia. The town’s history can be traced back to 1669, when the Scotsman John Alexander purchased the land from an English ship captain. The area has been shaped by such prominent figures as George Washington, George Mason and Robert E. Lee.

Perhaps the greatest attraction is the Torpedo Factory Art Center by the waterfront. This old factory, which once manufactured torpedo shell casings and other weapons and was active during World War II, is now host to more than 160 artists who work in the factory’s 83 studios. While walking through the center, people can watch artists busy with the creative process displaying their works.

The Torpedo Factory offers a wide array of art forms, including jewelry designs, photo and slide shows, pottery and porcelain works, silk designs and paintings. The factory has several exhibits open until the end of October, including Helen Banes’ “Journeys” – a collection of fiber and bead jewelry – and “Our Cups Runneth Over,” presented by D.C.’s Kiln Club.

The Torpedo Factory, located at 105 N. Union St., is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

While Old Town lacks Georgetown’s variety, it is home to major shopping venues such as Banana Republic and Benetton, as well as boutique shops such as American in Paris. Old Town also offers an array of specialty shops, including Khazana Trading. This store features handmade furniture, jewelry boxes, trays and other crafts from Pakistan, Turkey and Kashmir, India.

The more adventurous family members may choose a more active approach to discovering Old Town. The town offers bicycle, boat and walking tours. Potomac River boat tours offer a new view of the national memorials while enjoying a breezy boat ride.

Old Town also has a variety of restaurants ranging from sidewalk cafes to a variety of ethnic tastes. King Street offers a wide range of restaurants, including Thai food at Siam 815, Italian at Ristorante Geranio and Scottish food at The Scotland Yard. The Austin Grill is another option and offers a more intimate, casual Tex-Mex atmosphere.

Seafood restaurants are also popular, and Old Town boasts a variety of options: the Chart House, Fish Market, Potowmack Landing Restaurant and The Wharf.

History buffs should be especially excited by the sights of Old Town, including Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, at 134 N Royal St. The two taverns date back to 1770 and 1792 and were the choice taverns for George Washington and his guests.

A day trip or casual evening excursion to Old Town Alexandria is sure to offer hours of enjoyment for everyone in the family.

For information about boat tours, call the Potomac Riverboat Company at (703) 548-9000. For information about bicycle tours, call 202-966-8662 or visit the Ramsay House Visitors Center at 221 King St.

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