Northern Virginia is renowned as the state's Cultural Region. It houses the memorials, monuments and relics from the earliest days of United States history. However, while the history buffs are out touring the remnants of early Americana, the region’s charming historic towns serve as the perfect setting for relaxed day trips. Need proof? Northern Virginia is where the stressed clerks, servants and political candidates come for a quick getaway to enjoy some boutique retail therapy, soulful food and some of the most vibrant entertainment in the Central East Coast. Here are 5 shopping-dinner-entertainment itineraries for each of Virginia’s Cultural Region destinations:
Alexandria serves as the beating heart of the Potomac River waterfront. The historic city served as the adopted hometown of President George Washington, but today has added modern flair to its classic 18th-century style.
Shopping: King Street
The King Street corridor of Alexandria was hailed as one of the most stylish shopping destinations in the D.C. region by the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, ensconcing it as one of the must-stop retail destinations in the United States. Blocks of boutique retailers radiate out from Alexandria's historic Market Square with something for every shopper. Whether it is the European designs from An American in Paris, the international collection of cosmetics at BellaCara or the hand-selected spices and tea at the Spice & Tea Exchange of Old Town, visitors will be treated to a shopping experience from some of their best dreams.
Dinner: Del Ray Café
Susan Hale Thomas /susanhalethomas.com
The Del Ray Café provides an innovative eatery built around a simple concept. Their aim was to provide the best of French country cuisine using the freshest of American produce in the perfect farm-to-table experience. Visitors can enjoy simple fare like a charcuterie platter with in-house made pâté or get truly sumptuous with lemongrass sautéed lobster served with a saffron and oyster mushroom broth.
Entertainment: The Birchmere
In musical circles, The Birchmere is often accompanied by words like "legendary" or "iconic." At first, visitors might not understand why. It is, without a doubt, a beautiful building on Mount Vernon Avenue with an event calendar full of famous or otherwise high quality acts, but what has made this building so precious is it's propensity for launching musical careers. It is said that every night a star is born at The Birchmere.
Located just across the river from Washington, D.C., Fairfax County is the play place of politicians and presidents alike. With eclectic dining, innovative entertainment and a fascinating history, visitors will find Fairfax County at the heart of any fine Virginian vacation.
Shopping: Tysons Corner Centre
© Fairfax County Virginia
Just minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., Tysons Corner Centre is the shopping centre of choice for the nation's politicians when it comes to style, fashion and selection. This Fairfax County shopping district in Tysons, Virginia offers up a peerless collection of more than 300 different department stores, boutiques and specialty stores that include big retail names like Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Louis Vitton, Gucci and Neiman Marcus.
Dinner: Mike's American Grill
Mike's American Grill in Springfield, Virginia is the restaurant that stands out among all others in Fairfax County. In fact, many visitors return to Northern Virginia just to go back to Mike's again and enjoy their favourite dishes like the pale ale marinated Drunken Rib Eye or the Virginia trout in chardonnay and citrus sauce.
Entertainment: Angelika Film Centre & Café
The Angelika Film Centre & Café elevates the movie theatre experience to the next level with their elegant and stylish eight-screen cinema. It serves as the exhibition hall for some of the highest quality and most cutting edge art, independent and specialty films in the theatre genre. The auditorium utilizes the latest in digital projection and sound technology that is experienced from the comfort of their plush velour seating while noshing on the inspired menu of Chef Lee Anne Wong's global fusion menu, which brings ostentatious new meaning to dinner and a show.
Like Fairfax County, Arlington sits immediately across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Connoisseurs of history will enjoy Arlington for the Arlington National Cemetery and The Pentagon, headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, while other visitors will find the abundant arts, dining and theatre scene well to their liking.
Shopping: Lee Heights Shops
Under the awnings of Lee Heights Shops, shoppers will find the most unique collection of stores on the East Coast. With nary a department store in sight, visitors get the real small town shopping experience with the selection of a large metropolis. Whether it is getting pairing recommendations at Arrowine Cheese and Spirits, sifting through designer apparel at Lemon Twist and Lemon Chiffon or enjoying the carefully crafted canvases at Waste Knot Needlepoint Shop, there is certain to be several bagfuls of souvenirs awaiting Arlington shoppers.
Dinner: Whitlows on Wilson
Whitlows on Wilson
Although Whitlow's on Wilson has been an Arlington institution for more than 25 years, it is also something of a Frankenstein's monster. The booths and the trim work are from St. Patrick's Cathedral, the chairs are from the old Arlington Country Courthouse and the bar top is made from a bowling lane from Baltimore. Whitlow's collects a little bit of history all over that is best experienced while enjoying their traditional Peruvian Lomo Saltado or iconic Roast Turkey Dinner.
Entertainment: IOTA Club
Although the IOTA Club is a physically small music bar on the banks of the Potomac, it is a distinctive spot on the local live music scene. Intimate in setting, the IOTA Club dips their hands into a bit of every genre, focusing heavily on roots-style music like alt-country, blues, bluegrass and folk, but also featuring some hip hop, rock and electronic performances. It is the type of low-key club that attracts big potential talent looking to make their big break.
Prince William & Manassas
Prince William County and its largest city of Manassas sit further away from the Potomac and the nation's capital beyond. Visitors will find plentiful parks and natural landscapes as well as quaint towns dripping with Virginian culture while still maintaining a distinct collection of modern shopping and dining options.
Shopping: Old Town Manassas / Historic Occoquan
There are two major shopping hubs in Prince Williams County - Historic Occoquan and Old Town Manassas. The quaint town of Occoquan not only drips with charm, but it's historic district is home to more than 60 specialty shops, antique stores and art galleries along the Occoquan River. These one-of-a-kind shops are considered Virginia's best hidden gems.
Alternatively, the Old Town of Manassas features an array of unique boutiques like hand-crafted furniture, local art galleries and gourmet wine shops all woven intricately among its Civil War historic sites.
Located in the heart of Old Town Manassas, Malones is elevating the dining standards of Northern Virginia. With a focus on local ingredients, the award-winning Chef Wesleigh Lin provides a contemporary twist to fine dining through dishes like pan-roasted cornish hen marinated in garlic, shallots and lemon zest or the braised oxtail fettuccine with seasonal root vegetables and whipped mascarpone.
Entertainment: Hylton Performing Arts Centre
The Hylton Performing Arts Centre is the crowning jewel of theatres in Virginia. The 7,800 square metre multi-venue space provides a unique space for community performances as well as shows what a community can achieve when they put their heads - and their wallets - together. On any given night a number of performances are available, from opera in massive Merchant Hall to visual art in the Buchanan Partners Art Gallery or cabaret in the Gregory Family Theatre.
Although Loudoun County hosts a collection of lesser known Civil War sites, it is more famous as Virginia's wine country. Winding through lush farmland and surprisingly modern towns, Loudoun's Wine Trail takes visitors to nine wineries that showcase the county at its best.
Shopping: Leesburg Corner Premium Outlet
"Exceptional brands, extraordinary savings." That is the motto of Leesburg Corner Premium Outlet, and it lives up to it. This line-up of 110 outlet stores in Loudoun County provides 25% to 65% off at their assortment of stores, which include Anne Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Kate Spade New York and Nautica. For the budget-conscious fashionista, Leesburg Corner is a must-visit.
Dinner: Carolina Brothers Pit Barbeque
North Carolina native and pit master Danny Hurdle brings a taste of the Carolinas to Ashburn, Virginia. You can tell that pit master Danny has a real passion for pig just from one taste of his barbeque. The baby back ribs and pulled pork at Carolina Brothers all contain the essential flavours that make Carolina-style barbeque so beloved all over the United States. The subtle spiciness, the hint of hickory smoke and, of course, the secret sauce that is slathered on the meat are all keys as to why Carolina Brothers Pit Barbeque is so finger-licking addicting.
Entertainment: Wine Tour by Reston Limousine Service
As they say, "when in wine country, drink wine." However, instead of designating a driver, why not let someone else do it - and do it in style. The Wine Tour by Reston Limousine Service not only transports parties around Loudoun Country's plentiful wineries in their luxurious limousines, but they do it at an affordable place. There's no better way to experience all that Virginia has to offer than soaking in the beautiful sights on the road with frequent breaks for the rich bounty of the vine.
Have you enjoyed a girl's weekend in one of these charming Virginia towns? Do you have a favorite boutique or place to dine out? Let us know - comment below!