Why Alexandria, Virginia Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: Courtesy of K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

Alexandria was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.

Alexandria, Virginia, has the charm of a small town and the food and entertainment scene of a big city. Its well-preserved history, trendy vibe, and proximity to the power of Washington, D.C., afford the suburb its unique flavor.

The suburb’s historic charm is a huge draw, and it’s one of the main reasons the city was ranked first on Money magazine’s list of “The 20 Best Places to Go in 2018.” From cobblestone streets to 18th- and 19th-century architecture, Old Town Alexandria has no shortage of history.

History is a big piece of Alexandria, but the city also has a younger, up-and-coming side. Located about 5 miles from D.C., Alexandria has clearly picked up on the restaurant, community event, and coworking trends seen across the Potomac River.

Every day, I walk 10 blocks down King Street from my little two-bedroom apartment to my office in Old Town, and every day, I get to watch this trendy, yet traditional city evolve.

I walk past the King Street staples, like Misha’s, a coffee shop that smells of roasting espresso, and Bishop Boutique, whose fabulous window displays force me to stop in every payday. There’s a steady stream of new businesses, like the newly opened Village Brauhaus, an Oktoberfest-themed beer hall; and inq, a soon-to-open tattoo parlor, which aims to offer customers getting tattoos a spa-like experience.

Sure, a walk down King Street only covers a fraction of the 15 square miles the city has to offer, but it’s a representative of combined history and new development throughout Alexandria that make it one of the coolest places to live and visit in 2019.

Median rent price:

$1,709, according to Rent Café.

Median house price:

$510,800, according to Zillow.

Price per square foot (compared to city):

$371, compared to $540 in Washington D.C., according to Zillow.

Walkability score:

60, according to Walk Score. The most walkable neighborhoods in Alexandria are Braddock Road Metro, Southwest Quadrant and Old Town North.

Median household income:

$93,370, according to Census data.


160,530, according to Census data.

What the suburb is known for:

Alexandria is known for its history, and for being George Washington’s hometown. The city has more than 140 locations linked to Washington alone, according to Visit Alexandria, the city’s tourism board. Even if history isn’t your thing, strong historic regulations mean the city’s charming character is well-maintained. Think cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and restaurants housed in historic buildings, including a Starbucks housed in a building that was built in the 1700s.

Credit: Courtesy of M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Hidden gem:

Del Ray. When most out-of-towners think of Alexandria, they think Old Town. Granted, Old Town contains many of the city’s tourist attractions. Still, don’t overlook the Del Ray, a small community just 10 minutes from Old Town. The up-and-coming neighborhood is full of young families and dogs, and boasts its own main street of shops and restaurants on Mount Vernon Avenue. Pro tip: If you’re in the area to see springtime cherry blossom, skip the Jefferson Memorial and head to Del Ray. The blooms are comparable, if not better, plus the blossoming trees are dispersed between cute houses and suburban streets, rather than wedged between thousands of tourists fighting to get a perfect Instagram shot.

Place that makes you happy to live there:

The waterfront. Old Town has a stretch of waterfront for your every whim. Head to the base of King Street for lively restaurants and crowds or to Oronoco Bay Park to relax on a bench and take in views of the Potomac River.

Favorite activity for families:

The parades. Alexandria’s parades always draw big crowds and show how community-oriented the city is. Major ones include the Del Ray Halloween Parade, the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, the George Washington Birthday Parade, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Favorite hangout for young professionals:

The People’s Drug. It’s a small restaurant, with just enough space for about 25 people, but the food and cocktails are amazing. Get the people’s burger and a French 75 cocktail, and soak up the chic ambiance.

Favorite place to catch a movie:

AMC Hoffman Center 22. Tickets are only $6 on Tuesdays, and you can become a member for $15 a year.

Favorite teen hangout:

Teens like to wander up and down King Street—usually with ice-cream cones from Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Co., Nicecream, or Dolci Gelati—or hang out at Market Square, especially in the summer when the fountain is running.

Favorite outdoor lounge spot:

True to its name, Augie’s Mussel House on the Patio has a great outdoor patio, with lounge areas and firepits, plus a draft beer-centric menu. They’re closed for construction at the moment, but say they’ll reopen by summer. In the meantime, head to Sonoma Cellar for a courtyard patio and a glass of rosé.  

Favorite date spot:

Hi-Tide Lounge. Start with dinner at Vola’s Dockside Grill then head to their attached bar, Hi-Tide, for a nightcap (or three). My boyfriend would probably date one of their mojitos, if he wasn’t already dating me.  

Average commute/traffic report:

Most people drive in Alexandria, and the traffic that comes along with living so close to D.C. can get bad, especially on George Washington Memorial Parkway, Route 1, and Interstate 495. Public transportation is an accessible—if erratic—alternative to driving. Still, most of Alexandria’s metro stations are close to the end of line, so you can usually get a seat.

According to Data USA, the average commute time is 29.6 minutes, with about half of commuters driving alone and about 20 percent taking public transportation. There are four metro stations spread throughout the city, with trains arriving every eight minutes during peak times, according to WMATA. Note: all Alexandria metro stations will be closed for platform maintenance this summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Favorite local bookstore:

For even more area history, head to Old Town Books.

Favorite place to get coffee:

Killer E.S.P. It’s also a great spot to work, read, or eat a piece of pie. (Write that down: Get the pie at Killer E.S.P.)

Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:

At Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant and Bar, there’s always a big crowd, multiple rooms and bars with a lot of sitting and standing room, plus live music on the weekends.

Favorite alone spot:

GRAPE + BEAN. Whether you’re looking for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, GRAPE + BEAN is a good alone spot. They have locations in Old Town and Rosemont.

Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:

The Torpedo Factory Art Center. This giant art gallery was a World War I torpedo factory, when it was built in 1918. Now, it’s home to more than 165 artists, who work, exhibit, and sell their art in studios throughout the building’s three floors.

Signature food:

Stomping Ground. Get the not-so-classic chicken biscuit. Thank me later.

Favorite boutique:

Bishop Boutique. The clothes are dreamy.

Most walkable area:

King Street. As if I haven’t raved enough about it.

Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor activity:

Mount Vernon Trail. It’s scenic and runs along the Potomac River, from George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, which is about 10 miles south of Old Town, to D.C.

Credit: Courtesy of Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Favorite spot for an Instagram:

The new public art piece on the waterfront “Mirror Mirror” is highly Instagrammable. Think a giant, interactive semicircle of mirrors and rainbow lights. Just try not to go on a Saturday afternoon.

Favorite brunch:

Favorite free activity:

Old Town Farmers Market. It’s held in Market Square every Saturday year-round, from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.

Favorite grocery store:

Alexandria has just about every grocery store chain you could think of—Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Giant, Harris Teeter, etc. Just be careful when you go—they all get crowded at peak hours, like right after work, or on the weekends. For thrifty grocery shoppers, the Aldi in Del Ray has the best prices.

Favorite place for a workout:

Again, Mount Vernon Trail is your best bet for a free run or bike ride, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more, there are boutique yoga, Pilates, and fitness studios. I recommended trying ClassPass, where you pay a flat fee to take classes at a variety of studios. If you don’t need to feel your legs for a couple of days, try Solidcore, OrangeTheory Fitness, or Barre3.

Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:

King Street is a must-see. There are a ton of shopping and restaurant options, but you can’t go wrong taking your guests to one of Alexandria Restaurant Partners’ six Alexandria locations.  

Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:

The worst places are King Street and any of the directly adjacent streets. If you only need to park for two hours, there are free spots on most streets a couple of blocks north and south of King Street. For a longer visit, there are parking garages that always have room.  

What the neighbors say:

“I love living in Alexandria because you have the unique situation of being in a rural area, yet connected to the city… It’s the biggest little city I have ever been exposed to.” —Chad Sparrow, 39, owner of Common Plate Hospitality restaurant group.

“I love that I have my locally owned coffee shop, bars and salons where people know my name, but don’t feel trapped in a small town, a feeling I am very familiar with having grown up in a very small town in Nebraska. I have felt so at home in Alexandria in less than a two-year time period that I even made the move to open my own business, and the community support has blown me away.” —Anna Perault, 23, owner of Toastique.

“Living in Alexandria, for me, is not only a family tradition but a rare opportunity to experience small town living in the nation’s capital. Waking up and being able to walk to coffee, the drug store, the cleaners, grocery stores, your child’s school and hear train whistles in the distance is surreal.” —Amy Eggers, 45, fourth-generation Alexandrian.

“There’s always something to do on King Street. It’s a community of active locals who like to have fun.” —Jenn Gould, 23, resident.

“The interweaving of art, music, poetry, smiles… volunteers and lots of history.” —Renée Adams, 68, poet, lifelong Alexandrian.

“Alexandria has the tight-knit community of small-town America combined with the serendipitous, stumbled-upon happenings of a major city. I love being able to wander Old Town’s historic streets, pop into one of countless top-notch restaurants and enjoy the quiet allure of a place I’ve come to call home.” —Cody Mello-Klein, 26, reporter.

Favorite annual event:

Well Ray. Local fitness studios put on a free health and wellness festival in Del Ray every summer. In addition to pop-up yoga, Pilates and spin classes, it features health and lifestyle tents with massages, nutritional counseling, athletic wear, and more.

What I miss about the city living in a suburb:

The distance. Alexandria seems a bit far from friends who live in D.C., but you can get there in 15 minutes by car or metro. Just be wary of traffic.

What I never miss about the city:

Traffic. Forbes ranked D.C. drivers third worst in the country for a reason.

Favorite local home store:

Red Barn. You should also check out its sister store, Penny Post, for your stationery, wrapping paper, and desk supply needs.

Favorite local garden store:

Greenstreet Gardens, for those who were born with green thumbs, and those who weren’t.

Favorite local diner:

For a family spot that’s been around forever, head to Table Talk Restaurant. If you’re up for a newer, slightly fancier restaurant, with giant portions, try The Executive Diner.

Favorite neighborhood for yard sales:

Del Ray

Favorite house/garden walk:

Alexandria has two annual home and garden tours. One is in Old Town in April, and the other is in Del Ray in May.

Credit: Courtesy of K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

Favorite dog park:

If you have a dog, Alexandria is your suburb. It’s the 16th most dog-friendly city in the U.S., according Rover, and the city has an official dog park master plan. My favorite unfenced dog park is Founders Park, along the waterfront, but there are also plenty of official, fenced dog parks. Check out Simpson Stadium Park and Dog Run Park at Carlyle.

Favorite salon/spa:

Alexandria has so many salons, it’s hard to pick just one. Wisp Salon, on Hooffs Run Drive, earns the number one review on Yelp. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly blowout—no cut or color—check out the newly opened Drybar on King Street.

Favorite resale and antique store:

Current Boutique is a great consignment store for clothes, and The Antique Guild earns the number one review on Yelp for best antique store in Alexandria.

Why do you think your suburb is cool?:

Alexandria has the same up-and-coming trends in dining, entertainment, and community events that you’d get across the river in D.C., without the crowds or chaos of a big city. It’s quaint, rich in history, and a good place to live, regardless of whether you’re a millennial fresh out of college; newlyweds looking to buy their first house; or a senior about to retire. Alexandria is a cool place to be, and based on how things are headed, it’s only going to get cooler.

Credit: Apartment Therapy