Alexandria, VA

Alexandria officials have voted to allow mobile carriers to start installing what’s billed as a faster, and smarter, cellular network.

The Alexandria City Council voted during its meeting this past Saturday, October 19 to approve a 5-year agreements with Verizon and AT&T, allowing the company to install small wireless equipment on street poles to boost 5G cell networks to the city.

Experts say that 5G technology promises data speeds ten times as fast as the existing 4G network. The technology also has the potential to make real-time data sharing things like for “smart city” infrastructure possible, potentially enabling drivers to connect autonomous vehicles to the city’s infrastructure. However, 5G requires cellular companies install many backpack-sized signal devices with antennas across an area to form a network.

The city’s newly-approved agreements require the cellular companies to pay a one-time $750 fee to the city to host the cellular equipment on the public land next to streets, and requires companies pay for whatever electricity is used to power them. The poles themselves can be light, traffic signal, or utility poles — as long as the small equipment doesn’t interfere with existing utilities.

Members voted 6-0 in favor of the contracts after a quick deliberation, with Councilman Mohamed Seifeldein abstaining.

“Alexandria business, residents, visitors, and commuters depend on this enhanced service and connectivity during normal communication use and emergencies especially in critical services in fire, police, and ambulance, and hospital calls,” said Verizon Wireless Real Estate Manager Jeff Ott on Saturday.

The vote makes Alexandria the third Northern Virginia community to permit 5G small cell technology.

“We look forward to deploying the next generation of wireless technology throughout the city, and working again on future collaborations,” said Genelle Newhard, AT&T’s senior real estate and construction manager.

Residents elsewhere have opposed the technology over concerns about health effects of low levels of 5G radio wave emission. Paul Dugan, a Pennsylvania-based consulting engineer at Millennium Engineering, P.C. who testified Saturday, noted there was “a lot of misinformation being circulated among communities” regarding health effects from small cell technology and emphasized that studies have not shown the radio waves cause harmful effects.

“There’s nothing that suggests that the introduction of these small cells is going to elevate the electromagnetic exposure around these facilities,” he said. “These facilities are transmitting on the order of five watts or less. We’re talking about the power of a residential nightlight.”

The permit given to Verizon and AT&T specifies that the companies’ technology installation can “not result in human exposure to radiofrequency radiation in excess of the applicable safety standards specified in Federal Communications Commission regulations.”

When asked by City Councilwoman Redella ‘Del’ Pepper who benefits from the technology, Dugan replied that anyone who lives in Alexandria will be served by the stronger, faster network. Dugan also added that industries like healthcare may be able to innovate with systems like telemedicine systems thanks to 5G.

“It’s going to revolutionize whole industries, healthcare, agriculture, you name it,” he said. “It’s going to transform society.”

“I think we want to see new technology deployed too,” Mayor Justin Wilson told the Alexandria Times last week. “The last thing we want is to be left behind again on broadband deployment. This is the next step to that.”

Pepper thanked the Verizon and AT&T representatives for their work with the city on the initiative and urged them to continue to “work very closely with the city” on 5G going forward.

“In Alexandria, we have an opinion on everything right down to the last curb and last curb cut,” she added. “In your case, it will be every pole that gets removed.”

Image via Christoph Scholz/Flickr

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Old Town’s cobwebs are strung and Del Ray’s carved pumpkins are out, which means it’s Halloween time for Alexandria.

The city is playing host to an ample amount of spooky events this year, including family-friendly parades to a tour of mystery and murder.

The spooky Alexandria events include:

  • Rituals of the Occult on Saturday, October 19 from 7:30-8:30 p.m. offers exploration into “Ancient Druids and Wiccans to Modern Wedding Ceremonies” in the the Ivy Hill Cemetery Burial Vault (2823 King Street) from 7:30-8:30 p.m. exploring ” Ticket sell for $20 and can be ordered online via PayPal.
  • The Haunting of Hill House starting Wednesday, October 23 is a play to be performed at The Little Theater of Alexandria (600 Wolfe Street) based on the 1959 gothic novel by Shirley Jackson about three strangers invited into a haunted house (which also recently became a Netflix series). As of Friday the theater is selling tickets to multiple performances, including Wednesday, October 23, Thursday, October 24, and Friday, October 25. Tickets start at $21. 
  • HOWL-oween Canine Cruise, next Friday, October 25 from 6:30-8 p.m. boards at the Alexandria City Marina (105 North Union Street.) On this canine costume cruise, dogs ride for free, and humans can buy tickets online for $15.75 a piece.
  • Old Town Trick or Treat on Saturday, October 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. will welcome children to trick and treat at the shops and restaurants throughout Old Town. Those in need of costumes who can’t afford any can pick up free outfits from the city’s costume drive between 2-4 p.m that Saturday at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Avenue.)
  • Halloween Pumpkin Hunt on Saturday, October 26 happens at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. and invites families to gather at the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden (614 Oronoco Street) to go on a scavenger hunt for treat-filled Halloween crafts, as well as make their own, visit a sticker station, listen to spooky stories, and participate in a costume parade. Tickets can be bought online and range from $5 for adults; $15 for children ages 1-18; and free for infants.
  • Halloween Rock Show at Port City on Saturday, October 26 from 6-10 p.m. at the Port City Brewing Company (3950 Wheeler Avenue) will host three local rock bands (Triadem, Surfin’ Satan and the Beach Demons, Rabid Flash MoB) for a free concert. Attendees are encouraged to wear a costume, and enter to win the best Halloween outfit.
  • Del Ray Halloween Parade on Sunday, October 27 from 2-4 p.m. will also throw a free parade, beginning on Mt. Vernon Avenue and continuing down to the fields at Mt. Vernon Recreation Center. Awards will be given the best costumes with best pet costume, best decorated home, and best decorated stroller, among other categories.
  • Halloween in Old Town on Sunday, October 27 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. will lead participants on a décor detour around Old Town before embarking on a “Ghost and Graveyard Tour” led in lantern light by an 18th century clad guide who will tell the city’s best ghost stories. The event is free but attendees are asked to RSVP on social media.
  • Special Halloween Ghost Tours on October 29, 30, and 31 go from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Alexandria Visitor’s Center (221 King Street.) Tickets can be ordered online and cost $15 for adults and $8 for children. Adults over the age of 65 or who have student or Military ID can buy discount tickets for $15.
  • Trick-or-Treating at Carlyle House on October 31 from 4-6 p.m. at the Carlyle House (121 N. Fairfax Street) offers one last chance to enjoy the holiday and welcomes children to trick or treat in the historic house.
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Alexandria’s Archeology Museum is inviting the public to come see its new exhibition on ships long-ago sunk to build the city’s waterfront.

This Saturday, October 19, the public will be able to see for themselves how archeologists and volunteers have worked to excavate and restore four of the ships in time for Archeology Month.

The museum will open the free exhibition from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at its public lab at 105 North Union Street.

“Recent development along the waterfront has led to significant discoveries by archaeologists, including the remains of four historic ships,” the museum wrote in its description of the upcoming event.

“Follow the story of the city’s archaeologically recovered maritime heritage from excavation to preservation,” it added. “View a 3D model of one of the historic vessels and find out how archaeologists are answering questions about the age and use of the ships, as well as what role they may have played in Alexandria’s early economy.”

The exhibit is sponsored in part by the Historic Alexandria Foundation.

Those who need accommodations for disabilities can request them by contacting the museum at [email protected] or call 703.746-4399 or Virginia Relay 711.

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Alexandria fire engine (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

First responders can eat for free at an upcoming event in Del Ray.

Southern cuisine destination Live Oak (1603 Commonwealth Ave) is hosting a free breakfast and coffee for firefighters, police officers, and EMTs on Monday, October 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The meal includes free pancakes, bacon, sausage, and coffee, per a restaurant spokeswoman.

“Jeremy and I host the First Responders Brunch every year at Live Oak because we want to show our gratitude to all the folks that put their lives on the line daily for us,” said Justus Frank, Executive Chef and co-owner of Live Oak.

“They work in relatively thankless jobs, and even a small gesture such as free eggs and coffee can help them to feel appreciated,” said Frank.

Officials expected to attend the event include Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley and Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter.

The restaurant is asking that people interested in attending register online.

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(Updated on 10/16/19) Some Alexandria Library patrons are browsing more than just books: these days they’re also checking out discussions about death.

Hannah Risley, the librarian at Duncan Library, is in charge of adult programs from dance workshops to movie nights to book clubs. But last year, she wanted to try something different.

“Essentially what a Death Cafe is you come and you discuss death,” said Risley. She told ALXnow she got the idea from the D.C. Public Library, which also runs a version of nationwide discussion group, as does Arlington Public Library.

Attendees to the library program sit and discuss anything related to death while Risley provides “light moderation.” Over the past year, she said groups of nurses and EMTs have talked about end of life care, while others have come in to chat about estate planning and the afterlife.

The next meeting will take place on Saturday, November 23 from 3-4 p.m. People interested in attending the free event are encouraged to register online.

With an average of 25 people joining each month, Risley says attendance is “bonkers” and that the Death Cafe has become her most popular program. Most people are “curiosity” walk-ins, drawn by the name and the Dia de los Muertos skull on the library flyer. Others have been referred there by a local therapist handing out flyers.

Risley emphasized the Del Ray library program is not a therapy group, but said talking about all things death can help “release nervous energy” about the taboo topics.

It’s also inspired another Death Cafe program at the Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library.

Beatley librarian Andrea Castillo hosted her first death discussion in January after attending one of Risley’s and one in D.C.

“I was very curious about attending that first one, but I was also afraid to tell people about it because I thought people would think I was strange or morbid or obsessed with death,” she told ALXnow.

Since then, she’s organized half a dozen of the group discussions where she says attendance has been “widely variable” with as many as 15 adults, and as few as four. Her most recent meeting in August attracted 10 death-discussers. Over the past year members have talked about confronting the reality of losing loved ones, green burials, and what end-of-life doulas can do to help.

Back at Duncan, the library provides Risley the event space for free, and guest speakers volunteer their time so the program’s cost is low. Risley uses the kettle from her wedding shower to make tea and pays $30 a month out of her own pocket to bake cakes for the attendees.

“Nothing speaks to a gathering of the living more than the sharing of food and drink,” she quipped.

At Beatley, Castillo says she spends about $10-$15 per session with the funds covered by the Friends of the Beatley Central Library, and occasionally her colleague librarians, Stacy Arth has volunteered to bake cake.

The discussions at Duncan prompted Risley to start compiling the information into a hand-out for patrons. The document contains resources from how to talk about end of life plans to defining do-not-resuscitate orders, to free and low-cost services to make wills. In the future she hopes to expand and post the document online.

“Next year I will try something new and try a death-themed book club,” added Castillo. “Before my August death cafe I read Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal‘ and several of the attendees had also read and enjoyed the book.”

Castillo’s next Death Cafe sessions are from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 23 from 7-8 p.m. and December 18.

Both librarians told ALXnow that holding the group has also helped them personally.

Castillo completed a graduate certificate in applied thanology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore this year, and said between her studies and the group she’s found it’s not so weird to be interested in death after all.

“Trying to imagine the dying process and life going on without me is still hard for me to wrap my head around. However, as I’ve gotten more open to talking about it, I find that others are in the same boat,” she said. “I want to help make death less taboo to talk about. It’s going to happen to all of us one day. Let’s talk about that! Let’s explore it! Let’s face our anxieties and fears together!

Risley’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with advanced cancer last year before later going into a full remission.

“I feel like I was probably the most prepared daughter on the face of the planet to tackle that,” said Risley, adding that “the goal as laid out by Death Cafe is the more you ask about it, the less you worry about it.”

Image courtesy of Andrea Castillo 

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Metro is moving forward with plans to develop the areas around the Huntington station in Fairfax County, just south of Alexandria.

The transit agency announced it would tap Stout & Teague as the property’s “master developer” by preparing and dividing the 12-acre site into parcels that could be then sold or leased to other developers.

Christian Dorsey, who chairs the WMATA Board of Directors and the Arlington County Board, called this developer stewardship system of the land long destined for redevelopment an “innovative approach” during the agency’s meeting late last week, during which members unanimously approved the contract.

Back in June, WMATA invited companies to bid for the chance to develop 12 of the 30 acres of land around the Metro station which recently re-opened after a lengthy closure to rebuild its deteriorating station platform.

The transit agency’s plan called for taking down the garage on the south side of the property and replacing the north garage with two mixed-use buildings — one building to the north of the Metro station, and one to the south.

With the Board’s blessing, Stout & Teague has the green light to prepare the hilly land for buildings, and work with Fairfax County to re-zone the land for mixed-use development, Metro’s Vice President of Real Estate Nina Albert said during the meeting.

“They have agreed to not participate in any future development, but instead to work with us to market and sell these properties,” she said, referring to the developer.

Metro previously contracted with Fairfax-based Stout & Teague in 2002 to develop a section of the agency’s land into the apartment complex The Courts at Huntington Station, along with several townhouses the developer finished in 2011.

A few years later, Metro tried to interest developers in another, 1.15-acre part of the land to no success.

Now, Albert says the time to develop the rest of the land is right considering the station’s rail connections to Amazon’s second headquarters and the its eventual connection with Richmond Highway’s bus rapid transit line.

“There’s a lot of dynamic activity occurring and we should be planning now for what the station could be, and envisioning that,” she said.

Because re-zoning is typically an 18-month process in Fairfax County, efforts to re-level and prepare the sights for sale are expected to finish by 2023.

Maps via Metro

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Port City Brewing and Gadsby’s Tavern Museum are gearing up to host a special night in memory of the mysterious woman who once perished on the shores of Alexandria.

The two local institutions are pairing up to for an event for “foodies and history nerds alike,” per the city’s website. Attendees can learn about the story of a woman who arrived sick on a ship in 1816 and whose husband swore the local doctor to secrecy about their identity — only inscribing “Female Stranger” on her gravestone after she died in Gadsby’s Tavern on October 14, 1816.

On Monday, October 14, Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant at 138 N. Royal Street will host people interested in hearing the tale over a four-course dinner beginning 7 p.m.

The dinner event will feature the Port City Brewing’s dark “Long Black Veil.” The beer first debuted in 2015 and the brewery said it was “inspired” by the veil worn by the woman and the enduring questions about her real identity.

Tickets to the event cost $85 each and can be ordered online. Attendees must be 21 years or older.

In the meantime, spooky spiritualists and skeptics can check out the historic grave for themselves in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Cemetery. A part of the long inscription reads:

To the memory of the Female Stranger, whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October, 1816. Aged 23 years, and 8 months. This stone was placed by her disconsolate husband in whose arms she sighed out her last breath, and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold dead ear of death.

Two hundred years after death, visitors still leave flowers on the mystery woman’s grave stone, while some say she still haunts the tavern.

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Alexandria is continuing its “After Work” Friday concert series with a folksy, maritime performance.

The Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum (201 South Washington Street) will continue its fall concert series tomorrow (Friday, October 11) with D.C. area-based folk singer duo Darriel and Jocelyn Day and Maryland-based string instrumentalist Donna Korn, who was trained in Irish and Classical violin as well as viola, bouzouki, and mandolin.

Tickets are free for the concert in Old Town and no registration is required, though attendees are asked to donate what they can to support the band will be from 6-8 p.m. tomorrow night.

Darriel is most known for his Silver Spring-shanty band Scales and Crosstones which performs at Renaissance fairs, and together the couple have a repertoire of sea shanties, working songs, and Scottish folk music.

The concert series includes performances every second Friday of the month, some at the Lyceum and others at the Lloyd House at 220 North Washington Street.

The concert series is joint project of The Office of Historic Alexandria and The Folklore Society of Greater Washington (FSGW.)

Organizers noted in a press release that beer, wine, and “light refreshments” will be available during the event.

On Friday, November 8 the concert series will return to Lyceum with a different kind of folk band — INÃ — that specializes in traditional African Diaspora music in Cuba and Brazil with an emphasis on drumming and vocal harmonies.

Next month’s concert on Friday, November 8, will feature Cuban and Brazilian folk by INÃ, also at the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum.

Photo via the City of Alexandria

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Businesses in Alexandria are asking residents to donate costumes for low-income kids ahead of Halloween.

The 13th annual drive is being organized by the Del Ray Business Association (DRBA). Costumes for older kids — “tweens and teens” — are in particular demand, organizers said.

“We are so appreciative that the community donates so many costumes each year,” said Stacy Biddinger, a Del Ray resident who has volunteered with the DRBA to coordinate the distribution for the last four years.

People with costumes to drop off can leave them at the Pat Miller Neighborhood Square, at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and Oxford Avenue, now through Oct. 26.

Last year, Biddinger said people donated over 200 costumes for families in need.

“It’s that generous support which ensures all area kids who want to dress up for Halloween have the opportunity,” she said.

Those looking to browse this year’s selection can chose a costume on Saturday, October 26 from 2-4 p.m, at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Avenue).

Residents can also donate by buying costumes from the organization’s Amazon wishlist and delivering them to the association.

The drive is led by volunteers, but Biddinger said the association usually sets aside $500 to buy some costumes in larger sizes.

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As Alexandria readies updates for its city-wide transportation plan, the city opened up the floor to other local government experts for lessons learned.

During a community forum last night (Monday) about Alexandria’s new transportation plan, city staffers hosted transit leaders from D.C. to Columbus, Ohio for a discussion on what Alexandria should focus on.

“This is a really exciting time to be in transportation,” said Director of Transportation and Environmental Services (TES) head Yon Lambert, who referenced the projects to build a new Metro station entrance at Potomac Yard, as well as Amazon’s headquarters and the new Virginia Tech campus.

Scooters Are Here to Stay

One new feature of the upcoming master transit plan, renamed “Mobility Plan,” will be the e-scooter program City Council members are considering expanding.

“When they first started they were like big toys,” said Jordan Davis, who heads the Smart Columbus smart city program in Columbus, Ohio and who noted that nowadays many people are using scooters for practical, routine trips. “So I think they’re here to stay.”

When asked by the moderator, about half the 80-member audience indicated they had used e-scooters and e-bikes.

(Data) Sharing is Caring

TES Principal Planner Jennifer Slesinger said one part of the new master plan will focus on smart mobility. Panelists encouraged planners to make real-time data a part of that.

Davis said said if cities publish provide real-time road condition data, navigation apps like Waze or Google Maps can help cut down on cut-through traffic — like the kind experienced on Taylor Run Parkway, Duke Street, and Seminary Road.

Hillary Orr, Alexandria’s Deputy Director of Transportation, previously told WTOP that the city plans to redirect cars out of neighborhoods and back to “arterial” roadways, and use sensor technology to allow buses longer green light time to prioritize transit riders.

Linda Bailey, who leads D.C. Department of Transportation’s embattled Vision Zero initiative, said real-time data could also allow cities to set up systems where delivery trucks can reserve and pre-pay for curb parking, and drivers can also tap into information about local parking garages.

“I have seen a parking garage that is never full just around the corner here,” she said of the Carlyle Place parking garage, adding that “information gaps” are one of the things technology addresses well.

You Can’t “Build” Away Congestion, But You Can Build Safety

Several panelists echoed the famous phrase that planners can’t “build” their way out of congestion problems.

“The only way out of our congestion is to get out of our single-occupancy vehicles,” said Atherton.

When residents asked what role ride hailing companies play in this, considering some studies show they increase road congestion, ride sharing service Via’s Greater D.C. Area General Manager said he’s “in favor” of congestion taxes like New York City’s new cruising tax to encourage more shared rides rather than single-passenger trips.

But experts said safety could be built: Atherton noted some simple solutions like sidewalks are “pretty nuts and bolts.” Bailey said keeping roads narrow and building fixtures like poles in people’s peripheral vision encourages motorists to drive slower.

The D.C. officials said everyone needs to “remember physics.”

“We need to look at force and mass in order to avoid and mitigate crashes to keep people safe,” she said.

Alexandria released a public survey this summer to guide the plans, which will last another decade, as Alexandria Living reported. Posters shared during Monday night’s meeting indicate that the new plan is being designed around the survey responses, in which residents asked for “safety, accessibility, and ease” in their transit modes.

But don’t hold your breath to see the new document: planning discussions are expected to continue into Spring 2020.

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Tonight, the Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum is hosting a history lesson on on how the year 1619 shaped Virginia.

The year marks the founding of the Virginia Assembly, the first African slaves forcibly transported to Virginia’s shores, and the arrival of the first ship of European women to the colony. And tonight, Tuesday, October 8, three historians will discuss the significance of those pivotal moments for the state, and the country, 400 years ago.

The free event will begin at 7 p.m. in the The Lyceum at 201 S. Washington St.

Panelists include Dr. Nick Gaffney, Professor of History at the Professor at the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and a member of the Commemoration Committee to raise awareness of the history of slavery and the accomplishments of African Americans since then.

The professor is slated to discuss slavery and the significant of Virginia’s first enslaved African who were brought to the state in 1619 during tonight’s panel.

Gaffney will be joined by Dr. Jim McClellan, also a Professor of History at NOVA, who will talk about the founding of the Virginia Assembly and its European influences, as well as what the English settlers’ treatment of Native Americans in Virginia had to do with the events in 1619.

A third Professor of History at NOVA, Dr. Lynette Garrett, will join the panel discussion to speak about the role of women in colonial Virginia.

The event comes after a few months after the New York Times published a groundbreaking edition, the “1619 Project,” to examine the stories of slavery and the legacy of the slave trade today in America. Groups of African Americans have also been holding their own private ceremonies grappling with the beginning of slavery in the U.S.

A separate event celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Virginia Assembly in July was boycotted by the Virginia Black Caucus, which protested President Trump’s planned speech in light of what they said was his history of racist remarks and policies.

As with any part of Virginia, Alexandria has its fair share of local history intertwined with the legacies of slavery: from local man John F. Parker, who was born to slavery and later became the principal of Snowden School for Boys in Alexandria, to the city’s legacy of segregated housing.

Interested attendees who can’t make it to tonight’s panel have another opportunity tomorrow morning, October 9, when the NOVA Alexandria Campus (5000 Dawes Avenue) hosts a second panel discussion on the topic.

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The City of Alexandria is among the country’s best small cities, according to new rankings.

Condé Nast Traveler magazine ranked Alexandria the No. 3 small city in the U.S. Charleston, South Carolina ranked first on the list, which was based on votes from 600,000 readers about cities with a population under 350,000 people. Santa Fe, New Mexico ranked No. 2.

“Washingtonians are all in on the secret, but it’s no surprise the rest of the world is catching up: Alexandria, Virginia, the charming, historic city just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital, draws travelers and would-be residents alike,” the magazine wrote. “Most folks start to imagine moving there just after setting foot in Old Town, once they’ve strolled the red brick sidewalks, clocking street after street of perfectly preserved rowhouses from the 18th and 19th centuries.”

The ranking included a a sun-washed photo of restaurants Vermilion and Vaso’s Mediterranean Bistro on King Street.

Alexandria beat out Savannah, Georgia (fourth place) and Key West, Florida (fifth place) and Aspen, Colorado (sixth place) in the list of top ten cities.

“When you visit, scope out King Street, packed with boutiques, restaurants, and specialty shops, before landing at the waterfront,” the magazine advised. “End the day at Gadsby’s Tavern, where some of our founding fathers used to drink, and don’t mind the actors in colonial garb performing for you.”

Washington, D.C., meanwhile, ranked No. 5 among large cities on the list.

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