Virginia

Virginia is a large, diverse state that varies widely across the cities within it. I've been to a few places and lived in Arlington around the DC Metro area for several years. Was a great place to live and tons of stuff to do in that area.

My Favorites


1. Arlington

The Pentagon

Highlights: Parks, monuments, food, street festivals, nightlife
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Clarendon or Ballston
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I very much liked living in Arlington. Close enough to the downtown DC easily accessible by metro, but just far enough out in the suburbs to avoid the congestion. Best of both worlds. And of course it was cheaper than living in the city. There are nearby parks, restaurants, and nightlife.

See & Do

  • Clarendon. Popular neighborhood and going out spot with young professionals. Bars, restaurants, live music. Great spot if you want something different from DC. Often food and street festivals during warmer months.
  • Ballston. Another popular neighborhood with bars, restaurants, and movie theater in the mall.
  • Rosslyn. More business oriented, but there are some restaurants and historical sites. Can walk across to Georgetown from here (about a mile). One of the tallest escalators down to the metro.
  • Iwo Jima Memorial. Monument to WWII. Beautiful views at night of the monuments across the river.
  • Arlington Cemetery. Burial site recognizing military heroes and such.
  • The Pentagon. Pretty sure you can go for a scheduled tour, but you can see it from the outside.
  • Crystal City. Mostly busy during the work week and mostly dead during the weekend, you wander the underground mall and sometimes find wine festivals, outdoor film screenings, and good food.
  • Pentagon City. Shopping area, live music.
  • Shirlington & Columbia Pike. Great up and coming neighborhoods with a cinema drafthouse and some amazing restaurants.

Food & Drink

  • Sushi-Zen. Japanese/sushi.
  • La Tasca. Spanish.
  • Arlington Cinema Drafthouse. Watch a movie, see a standup comedian, eat food, drink beer.
  • The Italian Store. Some of the best Italian sandwiches I’ve ever had. Authentic Italian groceries as well. Gets crowded so don’t come too hungry since you’ll have to wait in line.
  • Kora. Italian.
  • Pines of Florence. Italian.

Nightlife

  • Clarendon Grill. Live music, back patio.
  • Whitlow’s on Wilson. Loved this spot. Live music, pool tables, rooftop.
  • Spider Kelly’s. Multiple rooms, games (i.e. pool, shuffleboard, etc.).
  • World of Beer. Great beer selection, live music sometimes.

Tips

  • Metro. The metro system is pretty good, at least when there isn’t rail work. You can get pretty far out in Virginia and then also into DC. As of my last visit, the line out towards Dulles Airport was partially finished. Easy to navigate. If you stay for an extended period of time, get a SmarTrip card where you can easily recharge your rides online or at the kiosks. Costs a couple bucks and can be picked up at major hubs like Metro Center. Use the WMATA Trip Planner to see when the next train is coming.
  • Airports. There are two in the area, one in Arlington (Reagan) which is domestic and easily accessible by metro and Dulles out in Dulles which is international. A metro line is underway, but in the mean time you can take the Washington Flyer to the metro closer into the city for inexpensive transportation. You can get tickets at the airport when you arrive, just follow the signs for public transportation.

2. Alexandria

Old Town Alexandria

Highlights: Old town
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Old Town
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Alexandria is a beautiful, quaint city with remnants from the days of our forefathers.

See & Do

  • Old Town. Shops, restaurants, nightlife, pier, street performers. King Street is the main drag. The dock is great for street performers.
  • Masonic Temple. Presumably one of the founding temples of this mysterious group that notably held members that included many of the founding architects of the country.
  • Potomac Yard. Shopping area, cinema.
  • Mount Vernon. Technically not in Alexandria, this is the home of George Washington. Take a tour of the beautiful grounds and even take a boat ride or visit the distillery.

Food & Drink

  • Balducci’s. Super market with some unique Italian foods you won’t find in your typical grocery store.
  • The Village Wharf. Seafood.

3. Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag View

Highlights: Hiking, mountains, bears
Suggest Staying: 2-4 days
Stay Around: Skyland or Big Meadows
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It took until after I left the DC Metro area to actually visit Shenandoah several years later. It was on my way, and I only had two things in mind: hiking Old Rag and touring Luray Caverns (which I unfortunately didn’t make it to). Ended up doing more and saw quite a few black bears along with beautiful nature. This is a place you need at least 2 days to see, more if you want to go hiking.

See & Do

  • Old Rag. A fantastic half day hike through forest and boulders with stunning views at the mountain’s peak. Make sure you go all the way the summit. There is a place maybe 10-15 minutes before that looks like the top and also has nice views, but you can keep going. There is a sign at the base of the summit.
  • Skyline Drive. The main road through Shenandoah which eventually turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway once you get to the end of the park. Many overlooks and hiking trails along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for bears.
  • Sunset (Overlooks). Tanner’s Ridge, Timber Hollow, Crescent Rock, Spilter Knoll.
  • Hawksbill Gap. Popular.
  • Hawksbill. Popular, highest peak in the park.
  • Whiteoak Waterfall. Look on map at Skyland to find.

Tips

  • Wildlife. Watch out for bears and snakes. I encountered quite a few bears, keep your distance. They mostly eat acorns and berries, but they’re bigger and faster than you, so don’t provoke them.
  • Lodging. Skyland has food, beer, cabins, and is a bit more touristy/convenient. It’s farther north, closer to Old Rag. Big Meadows is near the visitor center, a more traditional campground, gets cell reception, and near nice spots for sunset.
  • Old Rag: Getting There. Takes about 4-6 hours to hike 9.2 miles roundtrip. Plan to go in the morning and spend the day. It takes about an hour just to get there from the above mentioned campgrounds, as it’s not along the park’s main road, or even really clearly on the park map. Take Skyline Drive north to 211, go east to 231 south, then follow signs for Old Rag via 600, 601, or 602.
  • Old Rag: The Hike. Start 0.8 miles on the road, 2 miles through forest, 1.3 mile rock scramble, and 4 miles down the mountain and along a flat road to get back. You can also go back the way you came once you reach the summit if you still have energy and want to climb down the rock scramble and not walk along the boring flat road.
  • Old Rag: Bring With You. It’s a long strenuous elevated hike. Bring 1-2L of water, snacks, and a headlamp just in case you get caught there in the dark. Bring a jacket as it can be windy and cooler up at the top.

Other Considerations


Virginia Beach

I never actually made it here, but many friends have told me they love it. Best obviously over the summer when you can enjoy the beach.

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