Jaime once told me that his idea of camping was a Holiday Inn Express, so when I decided to surprise him with a weekend getaway, I knew the build-up was going to be fun. I ensured he knew we were going somewhere, but the not knowing where was perfectly agonizing for him. I was sure to drop hints, like "I’m sure the park rangers are getting our tent ready” and “Be sure to pack bug spray.” Needless to say, I was called some less than family-friendly names in the most loving of fashions. The day finally came, and it was time to hit the road for our surprise weekend in Alexandria - but how do we get there without him knowing where we are going?
Between Williamsburg and Alexandria is the city of Fredericksburg - a quaint area with a historic downtown featuring adorable architecture, unique restaurants, and boutique shopping. It is also home to Jaime’s favorite eclairs at Paul’s Bakery. To throw him off the scent of our final destination, I put the address to Paul’s Bakery in our GPS. Little did I know he would start texting all of our friends about how excited he was to explore Fredericksburg!
As I began driving, my phone started blowing up with messages in our group text on recommendations of things to do and see while in Fredericksburg. When we reached the bakery, Jaime was so surprised and excited. Paul’s Bakery limits the number of customers in the shop and has clear social distancing markers for your safety. We picked up two eclairs and enjoyed them in our car. Once we were done, I told Jaime we needed to stop for gas because we had more driving to do!
At this point, I really had no choice but to tell him where we were going, and the smile immediately came across his face. Because of his job, Jaime has spent a lot of time in northern Virginia and loves it there. We arrived early at the Hilton Old Town, but our room was ready to check-in. The hotel staff was very helpful in explaining Covid-19 protocols and safety measures. Barriers were in place between staff members and guests, social distancing markers in place around the lobby, and hand sanitizer was readily available. When we reached our rooms, there was a surprise at our door. After cleaning and sanitizing each room, the housekeeping team seals the room with a sticker to give you confidence that you will have a safe stay.
After settling in, it was time to start our adventure. We hopped on the Metro at King Street Station and made our way to our first stop - the National Mall. After turbulent years and the devastating events of January 6, it was awe-inspiring to be on these grounds. We started at the U.S. Capitol Building. I’ve spent many days advocating with my senators and representatives, and Jaime is a regular Congressional visitor as well, so we were ill seeing the house of democracy, the beacon of American freedom, surrounded by multiple fences, barbed wire, and guards. Although not the image many would imagine when contemplating a romantic getaway, we both felt it essential to see this moment in history.
We then walked from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Washington Monument along the grassy path seeing families and their dogs, friends playing frisbee, and couples having picnics. The Washington Monument towers above the city as if the founding father was keeping a watchful eye on the seat of government. Beyond the Washington Monument is the National World War II Memorial, a stunning collection of granite pillars representing each state and territory at the time of the war.
As we continued our exploration, we came upon one of my favorite sites in Washington D.C. - the Lincoln Memorial. This towering structure looks like a temple from the ancient world. The architectural features such as the fluted columns and decorative detail always leave me inspired. Standing on the Lincoln Memorial's steps is truly emotional, as this is the site where Marian Anderson sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and where Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King made the “I Have a Dream” speech. Standing in the presence of these moments in history is something everyone should experience. The figure of President Lincoln should be imposing, but his presence is reassuring, flanked by his inaugural address and the Gettysburg address.
We completed our tour by exploring the Korean War Memorial, a collection of 19 steel statues of soldiers representing a cross-section of America, on our way to the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial. Appropriately titled “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” this memorial depicts Dr. King in a regal yet stern posture as he watches the progress of our country’s struggle with racial equity.
All this walking worked up quite the appetite! We decided to make our way to the Metro for a stop in Dupont Circle. After browsing countless restaurants, we decided to keep things light and go for tapas at Boqueria. One Yelp review cited this restaurant as being great for people watching, and we could definitely see why, with its wonderful patio, perfect for outdoor dining. The interior was beautifully designed with bright colors, spacious tables, and comfortable seating. Jaime and I decided to split the croquetas (crispy-fried croquettes of mushrooms and Serrano ham), coles de bruselas con chorizo (Brussel sprouts with chorizo in a bright lemon sauce), and gambas al ajillo (shrimp in olive oil and slow roasted garlic). The moment the first dish touched our table, my mouth began watering. It simply smelled amazing! Each dish was fantastic, but the shrimp was certainly a standout - with Jaime and I soaking up each drop of the garlic oil with their delicious, crusty bread.
Needless to say, it was time for a break, so we made our way back to our Alexandria home base. Just across King Street from the Hilton Old Town is a wonderful coffee shop called For Five Coffee Roasters. The entire place gives off a modern, urban vibe that is very welcoming and comfortable. The baking case looked too good to pass up, so along with our flat white and chai latte, we picked up a stuffed Fruity Pebbles cookie. A flat white is almost always my go-to when trying a new coffee shop. The deceptively simple drink is made of steamed milk and espresso, so it allows you to experience the flavor of the coffee and experience the barista's technique. Our drinks were fantastic, and the cookie really blew our minds! It maintained the taste, and the crunch, of Fruity Pebbles cereal, while still delivering a chewy cookie.
We spent some time resting and contemplating our next move - who am I kidding? I took a nap - before landing on the topic of where to go for dinner. Seafood sounded light and tasty, so we made our way to Hank’s Oyster Bar. Everyone here was wonderful, with great recommendations and service. We decided on local oysters, Old Bay shrimp, and the most fantastic sesame green beans. It’s not too often a vegetable steals the show, but Jaime and I vowed to recreate these when we got home - they were that good!
After a good night’s rest, it was time to explore Old Town Alexandria. We began our day at a favorite of Jaime’s - Table Talk. This restaurant has a diner feel, with an “everybody knows your name” environment. The breakfast menu features all your classic favorites, such as pancakes, corned beef hash, and build-your-own breakfast sandwiches. The home fries were a standout for me, with their crispy exterior, fluffy center, and yummy seasoning.
With a full stomach, we made our way down King Street. There is an abundance of shopping to be done as you traverse these cobblestone streets! Our first stop was at Penny Post Paper Goods. This quirky shop was right up our alley, with humorous cards, whimsical office supplies, and fun art and décor. There’s an empowering quality to much of their merchandise, with items featuring powerful women, marginalized groups, and LGBTQ icons.
Next, we explored Red Barn Mercantile. This family-run business specializes in home furnishings, décor, linens, and gifts. We were particularly impressed by their selection of Virginia-inspired gifts! If you’re looking for a souvenir from your trip to Alexandria, but don’t want a refrigerator magnet or snow globe (hey, there’s a place for those, too. No one’s judging.), we would highly recommend stopping. Everything from tea towels, cutting boards, and local culinary products can help you remember this special trip.
As we reached the end of King Street, we came across the most charming waterfront park. Locals and guests alike were enjoying the ample outdoor seating, grassy areas, and views of the Potomac River. It was great to sit amongst the boats and reflect on our trip so far. Just off of the waterfront is Torpedo Factory Art Center. This multi-level facility is truly a fascinating concept. Established in 1974 in an old munitions plant, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the nation’s largest collection of working artists open studios under one roof. Here you will find artists at work on paintings, sculptures, stained glass, jewelry, print work, and more. You’re able to not only view their work and purchase it if you fall in love, but you can also speak directly to the artist about their inspiration and techniques. In addition to the over 80 art studios, you’ll also find galleries, classes, and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum housed in the building.
For a quick mid-day snack, we stopped at Vola’s Dockside Grill. The menu here is tremendous, and the view of the Potomac can not be beaten. Since we weren’t incredibly hungry, we simply split the crab dip and coconut shrimp appetizers, but goodness do I wish we were hungrier. The crab dip was fresh and creamy with a crisp, delicious homemade cracker. We will definitely have to revisit this space on our next trip. After one more trip to For Five Coffee Roasters (what can I say, we really liked it), we decided to rest and prepare for dinner.
I have to say that this was one of the moments I was most excited about. Laporta’s Restaurant is a favorite of our mutual friends and came highly recommended. The restaurant staff was remarkably kind, welcoming, and enthusiastic about their product. We began with the mushroom rounds, a combination of sautéed mushrooms and a lemon cream sauce. I think we both could have dove happily head-first into this dish! Jaime enjoyed the special, grilled salmon over tricolor tortellini, while I had barbeque hanger steak and macaroni and cheese. I’m not usually one to order something so decadent, but it jumped right off the menu, and both options were spectacular.
The Laporta’s Restaurant experience was all the more magical because of live music. Growing up around New Orleans, the sounds of a live band live in me. There is something energizing and mesmerizing about sitting and listening to talented musicians. The Sharon Clark Trio brought tributes to jazz and Motown with elegant piano arrangements and smooth vocals. Ms. Sharon Clark could not be more charming, with a simple brilliance to her voice and tremendous storytelling ability. After not having access to live music for so long due to COVID-19, this was a welcomed treat and one that the restaurant handled well with ample distance between guests and the band.
The next day, we had one last stop in Alexandria - Brunch! Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal of the day (though I’ll never turn down food), so we’ve made it our mission to find the best brunch in every town we visit. With a bit of research, we found The Warehouse to be our brunch destination. The beautiful historic building begins your experience, with architectural features framing previous high-profile guests' caricatures on the walls. The menu was a surprise to us, as there was a definite New Orleans influence with beignets, etouffee, and alligator features. I enjoyed the seafood omelet with crab, lobster, and crawfish, while Jaime ordered one of his favorite Louisiana dishes, crawfish and shrimp etouffee. Both were wonderful, packed with seafood, and carried an authentic Louisiana flavor. A simple but special touch added by The Warehouse was the offer of complimentary champagne or strawberries and cream. Since we were going to be driving home after brunch, we each opted for the strawberries, and they were a phenomenal, slightly sweet ending to our meal.
What began as a simple weekend getaway to safely get away during COVID-19 definitely turned into Alexandria stealing our hearts. The community's pace is perfect, with access to the hustle-and-bustle of Washington D.C. or the quaintness of Old Town. There is so much to see and do, you will undoubtedly leave entertained, enriched, and if you travel like us, with a full belly.
See you again soon, Alexandria.