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Virginia: Alexandria, Family Vacation Ideas - Kayaking, Archaeology Digs, and Living History.Located just five miles from the DC, the city atmosphere is eclectic and lively with an energizing spirit that shows. It offers a small town atmosphere with easy access to Washington DC museums, entertainment, and events.
For visitors the pace is unhurried and friendly, reminiscent of a Southern lifestyle. Residents walking dogs have time to answer questions and share insider tips on where to get an ice cream or a free doggie biscuit. On one of our morning walks along the Potomac we discovered a delightful flower garden in a park just north of the Torpedo Factory and watched kayakers navigating the Potomac.
The family friendly atmosphere makes the city an ideal base for a vacation in the area or a business trip with kids included. We have assembled a short list of the best things to do and see with kids.
Meet at Shooter's Hill. The Masonic National Memorial at the top of Shooter’s Hill remains the sedentary guardian of the city. While it may seem like an odd suggestion for a family outing, it is an experience worth a try. Guides take visitors through a sequence of rooms explaining customs and rituals and answering questions. Bonus points: The culmination of the tour is a chance to take the customized elevator very top of the tower where on a clear day it is possible to see Washington, DC, the Potomac River and the surrounding countryside. (George Washington Masonic National Memorial. 101 Callahan Drive (King Street and Russell Road) 22301-2751. (703) 683-2007)
Dig for history. Alexandria Archaeology is devoted to urban archaeology. From its home base and museum within the Torpedo Factory staffers conduct a variety of fascinating programs ideal for families including family dig days at various locations throughout the community. Discovery: On the backside of the Masonic Temple there is an ongoing dig site where archaeologists along with volunteers are searching for more clues Alexandria’s past. During the best weather months there is an opportunity for kids to assist in the process. (Alexandria Archaeology Museum. 105 N. Union St., 3rd Floor. Alexandria 22314. (713) 838-4399 or
See upstairs and downstairs. Built in 1753, Carlyle House is a snapshot of Colonial America. A short distance from the heart of the city, its regal appearance sets the scene. The beginning point is a 10-minute video that offers a new look at urban slaves. It seems that the Carlyle family was one of the largest slave traders in the area and a personal friend of George Washington. Guides conduct daily tours of the house revealing more about the early days in Alexandria. (Carlyle House Historic Park. 121 North Fairfax St. 22314. (703) 549-2997 or

What ails the kids? A quick stop with a historical twist, the Stabler-Leadbetter Apothecary Shop opened its doors in 1792. Now a museum, it acts as a time portal providing very real glimpse into the past. On display artifacts from early medical care in the area, journals, daybooks and antique glass vials – all possessions of early residents. Discovery: We learned that red candles were once placed in windows to signify the plague and green to signify all was well. (Stable-Leadbetter Apothecary Shop. 105-107 South Fairfax St. (703) 836-3713)

Absorb history by the foot in Old Town Alexandria. For dedicated historians there are numerous walking tours that unveil the city’s rich yet often mysterious past. Of special interest to families, the ghost tours. For example on “Alexandria's Original Ghost and Graveyard Tour” participants creep along shadowed streets following the lantern light of an 18th century costumed guide who relates stories of ghosts, spirits, and legends. Bonus points: Alexandria Colonial Tours has created new family-friendly activities presented by clever guides who love sharing the fun part of American history with kids. On Alexandria’s Old Town Scavenger Hunt young adventurers hunt through the brick streets to learn about founding father George Washington and Colonial patriots from our past. Maps and clues included. (Alexandria Colonial Tours Ltd. (703) 519 1749 or

Kayak the Potomac with your kids. For families that love the water this is the company to contact. They offer a rich menu of options from cold water clinics in the off season to moonlight trips under the summer stars and everything in between. There is plenty to be enjoyed along the Potomac River and within the DC basin. Discovery: Glide into the quiet, hidden channels of Dyke Marsh, downriver from Alexandria or secure a kayak seat and view the Washington, DC fireworks from the Potomac. (Atlantic Canoe & Kayak Company (301)292-6455 or Virginia Town Square Fountain

Peek in a shop along King Street. The variety is entertaining; clever and creative is the unspoken rule in Alexandria. For example: the Silver Parrot oozes cleverness with an assortment of gifts and handmade jewelry from around the world-fun stuff. One of our family’s favorites is Ten Thousand Villages, a shop with handmade crafts from more than 35 countries. Museum-like in assortment, browsing is encouraged and free coffee provided. Bonus points: Making a purchase helps life slightly better for third–world artisans. (Ten Thousand Villages 824 King Street (703) 684-1435).

Watch artists create. On the waterfront in Alexandria there is new energy. Mimes and street performers entertain crowds most days and clever posters announce future art classes and theatre venues. At the heart of the area is the Old Torpedo Factory where almost 200 artists work in studios open to the public. Created through by collaboration with local artists and the City of Alexandria, the Factory is considered by many to be the largest and most successful commercial visual arts center in the United States. Discovery: Built by the Navy in 1918 to manufacture – you guessed it torpedoes – today it is pure fun for art lovers. (Torpedo Factory. 105 North Union 1(703) 838-4565 Street and Torpedo Factory Art Center, 5 Cameron Street or

Visit George Washington’s place. Visiting Mount Vernon is a must as well as a delight for families with children because throughout the year there are exceptional living history encounters. Mount Vernon is the colonial home of America's first president, George Washington. He lived on the estate for more than four decades. The perfectly-kept grounds depict the lifestyle of an 18th-century gentleman farmer who was also president. Tour options include the inside of the mansion, plus the estate's outlying buildings and include the slaves' quarters, gardeners' sheds and stables. Bonus points: During the summer months the variety of unique programs for kids as well as families is amazing. The staff and docents love American history and their passion for retelling history benefits visitors.  (George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens on the Potomac River about eight miles south of Alexandria. (703) 780-2000 or VA Waterfront

Location on the planet. Alexandria is located in the greater Washington DC area, across the river from National Harbor and just off the Capital Beltway (I-95 and I-495) which encircles the District of Columbia. Enjoy stress-free travel with four convenient Metro stops, dependable bus service, Water Taxi, and Free King Street Trolley.
Make it happen. The best way to experience Alexandria is with a "Key to the City", available at the Alexandria Visitors Center at Ramsay House. The key pass provides free admission to nine historic sites and includes special offers and deals at area attractions, shops, and restaurants. NEW! Alexandria presents a special Civil War commemorative Key to the City with bonus features. To get more family vacation planning information at

Family Vacation Planning Details

Ride the Dash about Shuttle. From the Metrorail depot at the King Street station in Old Town Alexandria (or anywhere along the route) hop on the free “Dash about Shuttle” which loops the city, stopping along King Street on its way to the historic market square. Bonus points: For those driving, metered parking and city parking lots are free on weekends and evenings after 5 p.m. (703) -370-DASH or

Sample wine at Gadsby’s Tavern. A surviving tribute to Colonial Alexandria, this historic restaurant served and entertained the George and Martha Washington and their friends. The contemporary menu includes recipes typical of the era such as venison chops, stew and Sally Lunn Bread. They have and extensive wine list that is organized by state and list includes boutique wines from Virginia. Discovery: I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the home state wines. Before springing for a bottle you may proceed to the bar a secure a taste. Try the Prince Michelle merlot or chardonnay. For sure to experience a sense of place order the apple wine by Horton Vineyards. Bonus points: To add to the experience an actor in period garb meanders throughout the dining area conversing in the first person as if it was an evening in 1771. Clever and engaging the actor does much to improve the dining experience. 138 N. Royal Street. (703) 548-1288. Museum located at 134 N. Royal (703) 838-4242 or

Content and images by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the family Travel Copyright updated 2017.