One of the sometimes humorous ironies of my being a longtime travel writer is that I have a lousy sense of direction. So I was delighted to discover two Decembers ago that the walk from the King Street Metro stop in Old Town Alexandria is a straight 2 ½ mile shot along King, ending at the Potomac River at which point even I knew to stop walking.
As I strolled King and took in the holiday decorations and cute boutiques and restaurants of this one-time colonial port I vowed to return, as any town with this manageable and idiot-proof a walk would be suitable for my family. And while I wont be heading to Old Town this month, heres an idea: you and your family go for me on New Years Eve.
Heres what I would do if I were you fly into Washington National or ride the rails into the Alexandria Amtrak Station (about a seven-minute walk from the King St. Metro, itself a mere two stops from the airport, so bye-bye rental car) and select as your home base one of several very reasonably-priced hotels, especially when compared to D.C. hotel rates this time of year. Three spots to consider, with their starting rates indicated, are the Residence Inn Marriott ($309/night), the Embassy Suites ($153/night) and the Hampton Inn ($120/night). All three are clustered near the Metro and Amtrak stations and as of this writing had space for two adults and at least two children within a single room on the night of December 31. And all three provide your family with a free hot breakfast on New Years Day.
Assuming you and yours dont want to drag your luggage around D.C. before heading to Alexandria which is doable if you all packed light, though perhaps not desirable try to get an early check-in at your hotel mid-morning on the 31st, Metro into Washington, D.C. for the day and return to Alexandria early evening for what may be one of the most pleasant surprises in the mid-Atlantic a booze-free, mostly indoors New Years celebration called First Night Alexandria (www.firstnightalexandria.org) $20 per adult for an all-access ID badge, kids 12 and under free that yields a magic show, acoustic blues and Zydeco dance performances, face painting (provided by students from a local high school) and much more. For the sake of convenience and for those with senses of directions like mine, all events are clustered at venues on or around King Street.
First Night Alexandria culminates with midnight fireworks at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, a short walk from any of the hotels I suggested. Perhaps the best part of the night is that you can escort your kids back to the hotel quickly and easily without navigating a gaggle of inebriated New Years Eve partiers. Of course, your hotel does permit tippling if you care to partake after the kids go to bed, at which point it's only a few short hours until your free hot breakfast, some New Years Day sightseeing if you have the strength, and your trip home.