Its red roof shining from the banks of the Potomac River, historic Mount Vernon bears the torch of gentleman planter and inaugural commander in chief George Washington via the home where he lived for 40 years. It takes about three hours to explore the estate, a visit which begins with a walk through the grounds and a short film before proceeding to a guided tour of the mansion. There, time-travelers visit 1799—the year Washington died—as recreated by preserved original furnishings and detailed reproductions. The home's windows look out on 50 acres of plantation, with 12 original structures, gardens, and a forest trail hemmed with holly and laurel. The museum and education center weaves a rich audio-visual tapestry of the general's life, filled with 23 theaters and galleries and 700 original artifacts that include his famous dentures.
As the Potomac River flows in the distance, George Mason’s historical Georgian mansion overlooks sprawling fields, hiking trails, and a 250-year-old boxwood allée. A senior statesman, Mason laid the foundation for this site in 1755, building his new family home just yards away from the site of his grandfather’s house. Though the original 18th-century carriage roads, tree banks, and wide vistas have since disappeared, experts have reconstructed much of the property’s original splendor through archaeological digs; the written memoirs of George’s son, John; and the testimonials of kidnapped time travelers.
Today, trained guides lead guests on tours of the mansion, which features more than 50 pieces of art and furnishings detailing the life of the politician, his wife Ann, and their family. As guests learn about Mason’s role as the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and as an advocate of freedom of the press and religious tolerance, they walk through opulent halls and rooms designed in French modern, neoclassical, and Chinese styles. In addition to tours, the house and grounds host seasonal events such as an old-fashioned candlelit Christmas celebration, a spring kite festival, and an autumn séance to summon the Great Pumpkin.
More than 150 varieties of wine, beer, and spirits flow freely into souvenir glasses, slaking thirsty throats with unlimited sips as guests nibble artisanal snacks at the National Harbor Wine and Food Festival's tasting stations. More than 100 international wines and local libations activate palates, and guests venture to the tasting theater to take in a seminar from wine pairers and gourmet chefs. Live steel-drum music sets the beachy airwaves quivering as attendees relax in the whiskey-and-bourbon lounge and experts demonstrate how to hand roll cigars, a skill that impresses friends and stops rival spies from secretly filling the cigar with live wolverines.
When the Old Town Theater was remodeled in 2012, the owners discovered an architectural gem that waited 98 years to be uncovered. Throughout the theater, they found pressed tin dating back to the venue’s inception as a vaudeville and silent-film house in 1914. The most amazing discovery, however, was a grand staircase that had been left out of the building plans since the 1930s. Now the theater pays homage to its roots, even while offering modern amenities such as spacious seating, a professional light-and-sound system, and a television that shows stuff in color.
The Metropolitan School of the Arts - formerly the Metropolitan Fine Arts Center - was founded more than 14 years ago. This multidisciplinary performing-arts organization takes a holistic approach to teaching and encouraging performance-arts skills, creating performance opportunities in dance, music, and theater for a diverse population of students of all ages and abilities. Its students have gone to perform on Broadway, at The Juilliard School, and in highly esteemed companies, such as the Mark Morris Dance Company, The Washington Ballet, and Ford's Theater and Signature Theater. Youth programs include year-round programs in dance, theater, music, music-theater, and acting, as well as a performing-arts program in the summer, all for children as young as 2. Adult classes range from basic to advanced, including ballet, jazz, and tap lessons, plus yoga and ballet-barre fitness workouts.
Since it was first settled in 1669, and officially established in 1749, the city of Alexandria has played a crucial role in American history. It has existed as a tobacco trading post, a busy port, home to a large free-black community, and a Civil War supply center for Union troops. Famous figures such as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and Mama Cass once claimed it as their hometown. Now, more than 260 years since the town’s first historic buildings were constructed, visitors can tour them year-round—with the aid of interpreters dressed in American colonial and Victorian garb.
The Alexandria Archaeology Museum displays artifacts unearthed from the city’s streets; the Alexandria Black History Museum welcomes visitors into African American heritage exhibits; and the Fort Ward Museum, a preserved Union fort, hosts regular Civil War reenactments and slumber parties. Along the town’s winding streets, visitors can also step over historic thresholds at Lee-Fendall House and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum; Carlyle House Historic Park, a Union hospital during the Civil War; and Gadsby's Tavern Museum, a favored haunt of founding fathers, journalists, and military officers. Historians and staff also bring history into the present through weekly activities such as fencing classes at the tavern, farmers’ markets at Market Square, restoration workshops, 18th century fashion shows, and film screenings.