The Complete Guide to Alexandria, VA: Your Best Getaway an Hour From DC

alexandria waterfront
Jon Bilous/Shutterstock
Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Sometimes you just need to get the hell out of the District. Yet for some reason, most of the soulless, prefab suburbs surrounding DC just don’t appeal as road-trip material (something about their utter lack of charm springs to mind). If you hop on the GW Parkway, however, you end up in Alexandria, VA, just eight miles later. This fantastic little town is teeming with great restaurants, historic homes, boundary-pushing cocktail bars, and killer coffee shops. Getting there is way cheaper (and easier, and faster) than nabbing a flight to Charleston, but it’s a similar escape. Bookmark this guide for the next time you need to remove yourself from the craze of the city -- even for just an evening after work.

Courtesy of Hank's Oyster Bar

<strong>Hank's Oyster Bar</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Hank’s serves up a <em>double</em> dose of happy hour: not only are oysters $1.25 from 3-7pm on weekdays, but it dishes up a half-price raw bar from 10pm-midnight. These guys offer a variety of local oysters, like Salty Wolfe, Hayden’s Reef, and Rappahannock.

<strong>Jackson 20</strong> (<a href="; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

It’s easy to make a full-on meal out of Jackson 20’s happy hour offer, on weekdays from 4-7pm. You’re drinking $3 canned beers or $5 bubbly if you fancy. Pair these up with $6 apps -- we’re strongly in favor of the deviled farm eggs, BBQ sliders, and fried green tomatoes.

the daisy at brabo
<strong>The Daisy at Brabo |&nbsp;</strong>Laura Hayes/Thrillist

<strong>BRABO</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Despite its fancy digs, BRABO lets its hair down at the bar. Fresh mixologist talent has ushered in a playful drink list that incorporates unusual elements, like a scoop of sherbet (why not?).&nbsp;Our favorite drink is the Daisy: this tall margarita includes jalapeño-infused‎ tequila, Benedictine, blood orange syrup, lime, and pineapple. Expect to see new drinks regularly -- the menu changes with the seasons.

<strong>Mason Social</strong> (<a href="; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

You could get a textbook classic cocktail at Mason Social and be very satisfied. But more adventurous drinkers should start with the restaurant’s signature drink -- the Parker Gray, in which Earl Grey tea-infused rye only needs sweet vermouth and some bitters to feel dangerously smooth. The bar also plays around with cool techniques like fat-washing: the Midnight Snack&nbsp;combines peanut butter-washed rye with Chambord&nbsp;for an ultra-sophisticated liquid version of a PB&amp;J. Pad your stomach for more cocktails with bar snacks like carnitas nachos. Nobody should ever turn down a plate of carnitas nachos.

<strong>Magnolia's On King</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Ah, the sign of a cocktail bar worth a damn: it only serves one <a href="…; target="_blank">vodka</a> drink. At the Palm Lounge inside Southern newcomer Magnolia’s On King, bartenders cling to the classics,&nbsp;while embracing trends that won’t fade. They build drinks with edgy lead spirits like calvados, cognac, and aquavit instead of the go-tos, and they make use of super-fresh ingredients. We ordered two of the Oaxacan Negroni,&nbsp;made with Vida mezcal, Cynar, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino,&nbsp;and mole bitters -- but hitting the respectable whiskey list is also a valid option.

<strong>Captain Gregory's</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Ready your mind for elixirs like red miso- and banana-infused bourbon, because Captain Gregory’s has more jars of cool potions than an apothecary. Tucked in the back of Sugar Shack Donuts, this speakeasy-style bar has amassed a list of close to 100 original cocktail recipes that it offers six at a time to customers. Outfitted like a sailor’s garage, this spot also makes its own vermouth, bitters, and tinctures. We like the Blind Coffee Farmer, featuring house-made dark roast coffee liqueur, galangal bitters, black pepper bitters, cream, and nutmeg. Make a reservation via text if you want in.

<strong>Bar PX </strong>(<a href="; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

This sultry cocktail den, from the capable hands of Todd Thrasher, sits atop&nbsp;fish-and-chip shop Eamonn’s&nbsp;A&nbsp;Dublin Chipper. It's&nbsp;an homage to&nbsp;rum and all things tiki, so hit this spot when you’re feeling island-inspired sips. The cocktail names are a little ridiculous -- "I Want to Brand Myself as Fiery Balls," for instance.

port city brewing
Courtesy of Port City Brewing

<strong>Port City Brewing Company </strong>(<a href="; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Alexandria is home to the "Small Brewing Company of the Year," according to the Great American Beer Festival. Take advantage&nbsp;by hitting up its&nbsp;tasting room, where it launches new and seasonal beers. The space is also open daily for tasters, flights, pints, growlers, six&nbsp;packs, cases, and kegs to go, and there are typically about 12 beers available to try in a beer garden setting.

<strong>Rustico</strong> (<a href="; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

If you prefer to explore an expertly curated list, hit Rustico.&nbsp;The lengthy draft list is divided into categories like "toasty and nutty" and "smoke," and it’s updated online daily, so you can stalk your prey. All draft beers are available as 2oz taster pours -- which encourages building flights. Take time to thumb through the beer bottle list to find rarities like a Deschutes Brewery beer that’s been aged for a year in pinot noir oak barrels. Unsurprisingly, the guy behind the suds is none other than Greg Engert of Bluejacket and ChurchKey.

planet wine bar
<strong>Planet Wine |&nbsp;</strong>Greg Powers

<strong>Evening Star Cafe</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

If it’s wine you’re after, book seats at Evening Star Cafe’s Tuesday Supper Club, which goes down on the first Tuesday of every month. The dinner series takes place at a communal table feast alternating&nbsp;between family-style dishes and individual plates, expertly paired with wines by sommelier Ben Kuna. If you like what you sip, they'll&nbsp;even turn those cash registers on&nbsp;so you can take a bottle home.

<strong>Sonoma Cellar </strong>(<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Although the owners play favorites by featuring the namesake wine region predominantly, you’ll also find some choice wine selections from other regions, including Virginia. Experience the breadth of the list by opting for the "select" or "reserve" tasting of five 1oz pours. During warmer months, the best seat in the house is in the al fresco wine garden, where there's often live music -- plus, dogs are welcome.

chef at restaurant eve
Laura Hayes/Thrillist

<strong>Restaurant Eve</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

This place is spectacular.&nbsp;The service and charming dining room together will make you feel almost like&nbsp;royalty, and then the crisp veal sweetbreads with candy onions start emerging from the kitchen.&nbsp;Also,&nbsp;check out the "Irishman’s Filipino-Asian Inspired Tasting Menu" -- &nbsp;we have chef Cathal Armstrong’s Filipino wife to thank for this tastebud-awakening feast.

pasta at hank's pasta bar
<strong>Hank's Pasta Bar |&nbsp;</strong>Laura Hayes/Thrillist

<strong>Hank's Pasta Bar </strong>(<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

If you’re in need of a solid date spot, you can’t do much better than Hank’s, where you can book an outdoor table for two under a nectarine tree and sample from 15 house-made pastas, like classic fettuccine Bolognese, or linguini with white clam sauce. This new restaurant from chef/restaurateur Jamie Leeds&nbsp;also has a handsome bar, so consider warming up for your big meal at its aperitivo hour.

<strong>Vermilion</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Vermilion can be as fancy or as&nbsp;casual as you make it, making it a flexible pick for date&nbsp;night. At $65, the four-course tasting menu is pretty reasonable, and includes stunning dishes like beef &amp; oyster tartare, black garlic gnocchi with escargot, roast duck, and&nbsp;speculoos fritters with caramel pear butter for dessert. If you’re feeling more chill, you can pull up bar stools for a laid-back date of burgers, hush puppies, and beers. Date night wins all around.

fish and chips at eamonn's
<strong>Eamonn’s a Dublin Chipper |&nbsp;</strong>Laura Hayes/Thrillist

<strong>Eamonn's A&nbsp;Dublin Chipper</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

You don’t need to jump across the pond for perfectly executed, deafeningly crunchy fish &amp; chips. Go for the basa, also known as catfish -- it’s gargantuan -- and load up on chip dips like tartar, curry, and the Marie Rose (a combo of ketchup, mayo, and Tabasco). And clearly, if you don’t order a Guinness, you’re doing it wrong. &nbsp;&nbsp;

<strong>Haute Dogs &amp; Fries</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

These are no dirty water dogs. There’s the&nbsp;Banh Mi variation with all the trimmings; the&nbsp;Duck, Duck, Dog&nbsp;with hoisin sauce; and the&nbsp;N.Y. Reuben dog, featuring&nbsp;grilled sauerkraut, Swiss, and brown mustard. You can also get a Chicago or&nbsp;Coney dog if you’re feeling nostalgic. Make it a meal with fried pickles, tater tots, or sweet potato fries -- and a shake, of course.

<strong>La Mexicana Bakery &amp; Taqueria</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

This place is an excellent deal: expect to pay around $10 for a set of three tacos (mmm, carnitas) and a glass of house-made horchata. Be joyful: it has menudo, and a good menudo at that. The Mexican soup is&nbsp;textured and delicious, featuring both beef tripe and hominy.

ice cream at killer esp
<strong>Killer ESP |&nbsp;</strong>Laura Hayes/Thrillist

<strong>Killer E.S.P.</strong> (<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Killer E.S.P. (which stands for espresso, sorbet, and pie) &nbsp;is the coolest third-wave cafe we’ve encountered in eons. This place feels like a little oasis hidden in plain sight. There are so many different nooks to disappear into, including two outdoor seating areas. Killer E.S.P. rocks a bohemian feel, largely due to the art and twisting vines covering the walls. Pair powerful coffee from Stumptown with treats from well-known local producers like Dangerously Delicious Pies and Julia’s Empanadas.

<strong>Sugar Shack Donuts</strong>&nbsp;(<a href="…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

Tickle that sweet tooth at Richmond import Sugar Shack Donuts. This is one of the <a href="…; target="_blank">best donut shops</a> in the DMV, and for good reason. It's&nbsp;always experimenting with flavors, but you can’t go wrong with old standbys like red velvet, bacon maple, and sea salt caramel. Wash down a half dozen with Zeke’s Coffee, a roaster out of Baltimore.

the hour bar cart
<strong>The Hour |&nbsp;</strong>Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Shop & do

The Hour (address and info)
This is the ultimate spot to find cool, vintage cocktail glasses and barware pieces to stock your home bar. These guys carry a collection of roughly 10,000 pieces of 20th-century glassware, so you’re bound to find something that speaks to you. You can stop by Friday through Sunday.

Escape the room (address and info)
The locked-up phenomenon that’s become more popular than Rose’s Luxury has an Old Town location, so make a reservation with your friends, and use your wits to escape a room full of puzzles and locks before you return to pillaging bars and restaurants. This location has a literary theme, offering both a Sherlock Holmes room and an Edgar Allan Poe room -- which will be debuting April 28th. It’ll be the least painful team building exercise you ever complete (just in case you’re sick of trust falls).

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Laura Hayes is a DC-based food, drink, and travel writer who also contributes to Washington City Paper, Food Network, Arlington Magazine, and others. Find her at Captain Gregory’s with a box of donuts and a bourbon-based cocktail. Or follow her on Twitter @BTMenu.