Alexandria, VA: Exploring Our new Home

Welcome to the National Capitol Region! Or the DMV. Or the Greater Washington area. Different names, same area. It’s the nation’s fifth largest metropolitan area, and our new home.

When I accepted the job offer that would uproot us to DC, we knew we wouldn’t get the chance to come tour the region firsthand before picking a place to settle. Jessica was seven months pregnant, meaning traveling long distances wasn’t really considered safe and painfully uncomfortable. So we instead used our millennial superpowers of “internet search” and “mutual friend connections” to get a feel for the area.

Fortunately, info on the region isn’t really that hard to come by. It’s a rapidly growing area that is frequently included on “top places for _______” lists (USA Today, Forbes, etc.). We browsed blogs and housing websites, trying to get an idea for what kind of community we wanted to join. We helped narrow our search by focusing on these five questions:

  • What kind of housing stock is available for 30% of our income?
  • What kind of amenities were within walking distance? Can we easily and safely walk to restaurants, parks, and entertainment options?
  • Griff will need a place to frolic. Any dog parks near by?
  • I don’t want to drive to work – are there reliable transit options available?
  • Is there a bikepath nearby?

We tried finding something in the District but couldn’t find a ‘hood that suited our needs and was also in our price range (Takoma Park came close, though). So we expanded our search to the ‘burbs. Alas, I never thought I’d be a suburbanite – but with baby #1 on the way, the time to consider such an Armageddon-like scenario was upon me. Surely there were some suburban (with emphasis on the “urban”) neighborhoods in the nation’s fifth largest metro area?

Turns out, the National Capital area really came of age post-WWII, meaning auto-oriented development dominates most of the region. Tysons, Rockville, Reston, Springfield… all pleasant and affordable areas, but not quite our jam.

We found what we believe to be the perfect balance in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s a historic city filled with history, character, and amenities. Ready for a tour? Here are some of our favorite aspects about our new home. Enjoy!

Alexandria Panorama (MP, 2018)
Alexandria Panorama

Our Neighborhood: Carlyle

Carlyle is Alexandria’s contemporary answer to historic Old Town. I haven’t uncovered the full picture of it’s history quite yet, but from what I can gather it was a master-planned Transit Oriented Development that has been continuously growing for the past ~20 years. We enjoy the great transit access, walkable environment, and nearby charm of Old Town.

Lincoln at Old Town (MP, 2018)
Our current home, the classic example of blasé DC-area architecture.
Alexandria National Cemetery (MP, 2018)
Our front yard consists of some lovely greenspace: African American Heritage Park and Alexandria National Cemetery.
John Carlyle Park (MP, 2018)
Griff and I enjoy evening walks around John Carlyle park, which is anchored by this pavilion and splash pad.

Old Town: A Historic Port City

Old Town is the heart of Alexandria. Local leaders have done well to preserve the historic fabric of the neighborhood, which was designated a National Landmark Historic District in 1966. Beautiful rowhomes, historic ties to the revolutionary war and civil war, local restaurants, and the waterfront make it a top tourist stop.

Captain's Row, Alexandria (MP, 2018)
Captain’s Row – Perhaps the most picturesque street in Alexandria.
Queen Street, Alexandria (MP, 2018)
Walking around Old Town is like taking a step back in time. Often times, residents will fly the colonial flag, further solidifying the feeling.
King Street, Alexandria (MP, 2018)
King Street, designated one of APA’s Great Places in America, is the key commercial corridor of Old Town. We’ve enjoyed taking casual strolls down the street, picking – at random – local restaurants to try.
Torpedo Factory (MP, 2018)
Built in 1918, a decommissioned torpedo factory now serves as a home to artist lofts and galleries. It’s art deco design and large windows make it hard to believe torpedoes were once manufactured here.
Alexandria Waterfront
Alexandria served as a bustling port city through the 1800s. Recent redevelopment efforts have added housing, retail, and greenspace along the banks of the Potomac. Boating is still popular – we’ve taken a water taxi to Georgetown.]

Top Spots Around Town

Life in Alexandria isn’t limited to Carlyle and Old Town. Here are some other notable sights, landmarks, and places we enjoy visiting.

IMG_20181003_073538
This is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. I had no idea of this prominent monument until we physically arrived in Alexandria. Turns out it’s a pretty dominating presence.
IMG_20180917_082135
I travel to this Federal Revival train station that was built in 1905 nearly every day for my commute. The Virginia Railway Express takes me direct to Union Station in DC.
PANO_20180916_190115
The Mt. Vernon trail takes cyclists and joggers from DC to Washington’s estate just south of Alexandria. It winds along mashes of the Potomac. This unique section is a remnant of Alexandria’s industrial past.
Wilkes Tunnel, MP (2018)
Strangely beautiful, this tunnel that once served as a rail passage between the port and railyard (where our apartment is located). It’s since been turned into a bike passageway to the Mt. Vernon trail, a convenient connector I frequently use.
Jones Point Lighthouse (MP, 2018)
Once the southernmost point of the District of Columbia, this historic lighthouse was “designed as a navigational aid to help ships avoid shifting underwater shoals on the Potomac River.” Its grounds played host to a number of uses over the years – including a shipyard for WWI shipbuilding and a classified Army communications center – but has since been acquired by the National Park Service and is the anchor for one of my favorite running routes.
Port City, Alexandria (MP, 2018)
Touted as the first post-prohibition microbrewery inside the Beltway, Port City offers up some great selections of beer that includes my current favorite, the Optimal Wit.

And with that, I’ll conclude the tour of our new home. Perhaps someday I’ll geek out and learn more details about how this place came to be. But that’s it for now.. thanks for reading!

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