Authored by Jamie Nolan
Welcome to the first edition of Brightmark’s new sustainable travel guide series! I’m excited to share some of my favorite sustainable lifestyle spots in my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia.
Alexandria is an ideal home base for anyone who has wanderlust like myself. The historic architecture and charm remind me of some of my favorite European destinations, so it’s easy to feel that you’ve been swept to another destination or time while strolling the streets.
Founded in 1749, Alexandria’s centuries of history as a center for trade and politics, as well as its prime location just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., attracts scores of visitors each year. Alexandria is regularly featured as a top U.S. travel destination, including appearances on Condé Nast Traveler’s Top 5 Best Small Cities in the U.S. 2022 and Travel + Leisure’s 50 Best Places to Travel in 2023. If you’re looking for a great weekend travel destination that fits into your sustainable lifestyle, look no further.
Lowering your footprint: Getting here & getting around
Alexandria is easily accessible via air or train. Reagan National Airport is just a few miles away from Old Town, where you’re likely to want to spend most of your time. After your arrival, hop on the train (the Metro, as it’s called locally) via the yellow or blue lines to the King Street Station. From there, you can pick up the free King Street Trolley that runs every 15 minutes from the Metro station, along King Street, down to the Potomac waterfront.
The most eco-friendly transportation option into Alexandria is to travel via Amtrak train. Upon arrival, you’ll find that the Alexandria Amtrak Station is directly adjacent to the Metro station, so it is also a quick walk to pick up the Trolley.
if your destination isn’t along the trolley route, the Alexandria DASH bus system is completely free for all riders. All of the recommendations included below are easily accessible via bus, trolley, or on foot, fitting perfectly into a more eco-friendly trip.
When considering how to find sustainable accommodation options, I prioritize staying at either a hotel with green practices and goals, or in a private apartment (Airbnb, VRBO, or another ) that will allow me to take my own familiar actions, like reusing linens and recycling.
Options below meet these criteria: I’ve included two Autograph Collection hotels by Marriott, which has set 2025 Sustainability and Social Impact Goals built upon the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Not to mention, all of the hotels under this brand are incredibly well-appointed and stylish—fabulous for design lovers.
Traditional hotel stays
Morrison House: Location: 116 South Alfred Street
About the space: Award-winning hotel in the middle of Old Town with a particularly excellent in-house restaurant and bar. This is one of my favorite places to grab a cocktail and hang out in front of the lobby fireplace.
The Alexandrian: Location: 480 King Street
About the space: It doesn’t get any closer to the action than this prime location. I love the courtyard in particular—during the winter, they have igloos and fire pits. At the least, pop in to check out the lobby (it’s so gorgeous).
Private property rentals
The George of Old Town: Location: 506 Cameron Street
About the space: Rent out this fully renovated, historic home on property once owned by George Washington—either the whole 6,000 sq. foot home for a group or by individual room.
Sonder Del Ray: Location: 2415 Mount Vernon Avenue
About the space: Located in the quaint, friendly Del Ray neighborhood, these minimalist studio and one-bedroom apartments are a perfectly quiet home base for your visit.
Liberty House: Location: 232 N. Alfred Street
About the space: CNBC named this the 2022 Hottest Vacation Home in America, and it boasts a 97 walk score. Need I say more?
Sustainable shopping options abound in Alexandria. In particular, both the historic Old Town neighborhood, as well as the more residential Del Ray neighborhood boast well-curated secondhand, vintage, and antique shops that allow you to pick up souvenirs while minimizing your impact on the planet.
Mint Condition: Location: 103 S. Saint Asaph Street
About the space: Well-curated designer consignment boutique if you’re looking for a designer label without the impact on the planet and your wallet.
Current Boutique: Location: 1009 King Street
About the space: Offers mid-range and designer trendy, pre-loved women’s clothing and accessories, as well as some new clothing items.
Bellies & Babies: Location: 1913 Mount Vernon Avenue
About the space: The hot spot for pre-loved clothing, gear, and toys for the tot set. There’s also a room devoted to pre-loved maternity clothing–including evening gowns!
10,000 Villages: Location: 915 King Street
About the space: Fair Trade goods, including homewares, seasonal items, and curiosities. I pop in to stock up on Fair Trade chocolate bars!
The George Vintage & Design: Location: 2210 Mount Vernon Avenue
About the space: Mid-century modern vintage furniture and art with rotating stock. Be sure to greet George, the shop dog.
The Hours: Location: 1015 King Street
About the space: Absolutely swoon-worthy vintage barware and glassware shop. Even if you’re not on the market, be sure to stop and check out their gorgeous window displays.
Other fun options
Mason & Greens: Location: 913 King Street
About the space: This should be priority stop number one for the eco-minded Alexandria visitor. They focus on zero-waste, bulk groceries, sustainable dry goods, personal care items, and gifts. Prepare to be amazed.
The Company of Books: Location: 2200 Mount Vernon Avenue
About the space: Drop by this non-profit, secondhand bookstore for a bibliophile’s dream treasure hunt.
Look Again Resale Shop: Location: 900 King Street
About the space: For more of a classic thrift store experience, check out this eclectic shop on the main King Street drag. Proceeds benefit the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington’s vital, community-based programs.
UpCycle Creative Reuse Center: Location: 5380-D Eisenhower Avenue
About the space: While located a bit further away from the other recommendations in this guide, this non-profit stop is worth the trip for craft lovers and makers. Bargain basement prices for upcycled craft materials.
Alexandria’s food and beverage scene has something for everyone. With a large Ethiopian population and many incredible local producers and farmers within a 100-mile radius of the city, options for sustainable dining abound. Here are a few top options.
For coffee and tea
Swing’s Coffee Roasters: Location: 501 E. Monroe Avenue
About the space: Swing’s sources single-origin, Fair Trade coffee, which is both roasted and served on-site in real mugs (they also have to-go cups). The shop also offers up its spent grounds for customers for their home compost systems.
Junction Bakery & Bistro: Location: 1508 Mount Vernon Avenue
About the space: Junction supports local producers and is a fantastic option for coffee, wine, or any meal of the day. They also serve their coffee in real cups for in-house dining. Extra credit for the fact that all employees are paid a living wage.
Port City Brewing: Location: 3950 Wheeler Avenue
About the space: Port City’s best-selling beer, Optimal Wit, is brewed with 100% Virginia-grown wheat, and the company was named Virginia’s first “Green Brewery of the Year” for its sustainability practices. It is also served in practically every restaurant in town in case you’re unable to visit the main location.
Evening Star Café: Location: 2000 Mount Vernon Avenue
About the space: Beloved local Del Ray restaurant, Evening Star features produce grown in its rooftop garden or by regional farmers. It’s split into four separate experiences. Check out upstairs bar No. 9 Lounge for live music or The Front Porch when the weather is nice.
Del Ray Café: Location: 205 E. Howell Avenue
About the space: At this darling French café with the best brunch in town, the menu features organic and local produce. Repeated visits to this restaurant allowed me to convince my husband that we should move here. You’ve been warned.
Railbird Kitchen: Location: 804 N. Henry Street
About the space: One of the best environmental actions you can take is to reduce the number of animal products you consume, and this new spot makes it easy. Many menu options are vegan or can be made vegan. Don’t miss the attached speakeasy Captain Gregory’s—enter from inside the restaurant.
Hawwi Ethiopian Restaurant: Location: 1125 Queen Street
About the space: When I’m in the mood for a super satisfying, vegetable-forward meal, the vegan sampler at this unassuming yet delicious Ethiopian spot is my go-to option.
Murphy’s Irish Pub: Location: 713 King Street
About the space: If you’re in the mood for some fish and chips and a Guinness, you’re in luck—this popular Old Town pub partners with local watermen to ensure its visitors are accessing the best quality, locally caught seafood.
La Fromagerie: Location: 1222 King Street
About the space: This quaint and quiet wine bar and farm-to-table French restaurant features an impressive wine program and supports local food purveyors through its participation in Slow Food DC.
If the weather is great while you’re here, you’re in luck. Alexandria boasts incredible outdoor markets and is one very special destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
Old Town Farmer’s Market: Location: 301 King Street on Saturdays from 7 am to noon
About the space: Locals are proud to share that this is the oldest farmer’s market in the country operating at the same location and that George Washington’s produce was sold here. During the peak season, more than 70 vendors offer fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, cheeses, bread, pastries, fresh pasta, pickled vegetables, cut flowers, potted plants, soaps, jewelry, and art.
Del Ray Vintage Flea Market: Location: Corner of Mount Vernon & E. Bellefonte Avenues on the second Saturday of the month
About the space: Recently named Virginia’s best by Domino magazine for its “groovy ’60s scores—flower-power wall art and macramé plant hangers.” I plan my schedule around this can’t-miss monthly flea market—you should do the same.
Huntley Meadows Park: Location: 3701 Lockheed Boulevard
About the space: An Alexandria visitor’s guide wouldn’t be complete without including our crown jewel—Huntley Meadows Park has some of the best wildlife viewing on the East Coast, attracting birders and wildlife photographers from surrounding states. Preview the wildlife in this very active Facebook group for photographers. This is my favorite place to escape the hustle and bustle.
The sustainability-minded traveler can find plenty of fun in Alexandria, Virginia while maintaining their commitment to the planet. Be sure to consider Alexandria for your next weekend getaway to enjoy this dynamic, small city’s rich history, architecture, restaurant scene, and vintage shopping gems.