The Birthplace of American Cuisine: 6-Day Virginia Itinerary

Come visit the places where American cuisine began and still thrives today.

Oyster harvester in Virginia
Oyster tasting at Pleasure House Oyster Farm in Virginia Beach
Shops along historic King Street in Alexandria, Virginia
Old Town Alexandria
Rockafellers restaurant, seafood, Virginia Beach, waterfront
Waterfront dining at Rockafeller's Restaurant in Virginia Beach
Alexandria, dining, waterfront, Virginia, USA, restaurants, food
Waterfront dining in Alexandria
crab, steamed crabs, crab feast, Virginia Beach, dining, seafood, Virginia, USA
Steamed crabs
Del Ray, Alexandria, Virginia, neighbourhood, mural, street scene, dining, outdoors, shopping, downtown, USA, Capital Region
Outdoor dining in Alexandria
Oyster harvester in Virginia
Shops along historic King Street in Alexandria, Virginia
Rockafellers restaurant, seafood, Virginia Beach, waterfront
Alexandria, dining, waterfront, Virginia, USA, restaurants, food
crab, steamed crabs, crab feast, Virginia Beach, dining, seafood, Virginia, USA
Del Ray, Alexandria, Virginia, neighbourhood, mural, street scene, dining, outdoors, shopping, downtown, USA, Capital Region

When the first colonists landed in Virginia, they knew they had found something special. They soon discovered the wealth of the Chesapeake Bay waters; the lush, forested mountains of the west; and the rich, fertile land that lay between. They dipped into the waters, dug into the land and brought forth America’s famed bounty to their tables, beginning our nation’s long and storied love of food. Come visit Virginia and discover the origins of American gastronomy and taste how today’s culinary crusaders are building off the backs of history to create a new, acclaimed American cuisine.

Day 1

Start your journey in Virginia Beach, just 3.5 hours from Washington DC and the site where the first English colonists landed in America. Work up an appetite by hiking or biking First Landing State Park’s miles of trails and climb to the top of the lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington — America’s first president —  for fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean. Now you’ve worked up an appetite for some of the region’s incredible seafood.

Combine lunch with an overview of the area’s culinary scene by taking an excursion with Taste Virginia Tours. Visit local culinary hot spots, along with a variety of Virginia spirits producer — including craft beer, wine and distilled — and get a history lesson about the birthplace of American cuisine along the way.

Time to get out on the water. If you want the absolute freshest fish, there’s no better way than to catch it yourself. Enjoy an afternoon of world-class fishing on a charter trip, then bring your catch to one of the beach’s catch-and-cook restaurants, and they’ll prepare it exactly how you want. Don’t worry if you strike out, the local fishermen have you covered.

Virginia Beach offers a wealth of wonderful places to lay your head for the night. From the ocean-front rental homes in the laid back Sandbridge area, to the bustle of the boardwalk, it’s easy to find a place that suits your ideal beach style. Make sure to catch the sunset with King Neptune. With a majestic presence only he can muster, the 24-foot-tall bronze statue presides over Virginia Beach’s ocean-front park at 31st Street and Atlantic Avenue, where you’ll often find live music and entertainment to serenade the day’s end.

Day 2

Farm-to-table fare is readily available in Virginia Beach. Commune, a sustainable eatery, bakery and cafe in the heart of the ViBe Creative District, sources more than 90 per cent of their ingredients from local farms and producers that use sustainable techniques. Every morsel is made from scratch! Afterwards, do a little shopping and taste-testing in the area. Find treasures like Three Ships Coffee, who roast their own beans, and Chesapeake Bay Distillery, featuring locally made vodka and rum.

You’ve experienced the fresh local food, now it’s time to head for the farms to discover its origins. Take a New Earth Farm Tour and get your hands a little dirty, just like the colonists did, while learning about local produce, sustainable farming and cooking. You can learn to make cheese, shear sheep or take a cooking class led by some of the area’s top chefs.

Once coveted by the English aristocracy for its size and salinity, the famous Lynnhaven oyster is a local legend. You can try yours, pulled fresh from the Chesapeake Bay, direct on a table placed in the water. Just take a boat tour with Pleasure House Oysters out to their oyster farm where you’ll learn all about the tasty little bivalves that are making a major comeback in Virginia.

Then take a kayak tour out to Blue Pete’s. Located on five gorgeous acres near the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Blue Pete’s has been serving up fresh seafood since 1972, in a cosy, casual atmosphere designed to show off mother nature’s beauty. Once you try the food, you’ll discover that kayaking there is only half the amazing experience!

Having seen first-hand where all the great food is sourced, it’s time to relax and let the fabulous chefs do the work. Dine at the AAA Four-Diamond Terrapin, credited for launching the farm-to-table movement in Virginia Beach, or Blue Seafood & Spirits, lauded by visitors on Yelp and TripAdvisor. The chef-owned and -operated restaurant serves the freshest, local seafood available — and their chocolate bread pudding finishes off the meal perfectly.

Day 3

After breakfast at Bay Local Eatery — where the crabmeat-topped “Bloody Blue Mary” is a must — it’s time for a day trip to the Greater Williamsburg region. First stop is Virginia’s original capital city, Historic Jamestowne, the birthplace of America and the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of the first brewery there and at the same time, some 400-year-old yeast. Historians and beer lovers alike are looking forward to the new beer Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery intends to make with the yeast. For now, you can tour the town site to explore the ruins and learn more about the first settlers.

Virginia’s second capital, Williamsburg, has also been an influential city in American history, not just for culture and politics but for food as well. Explore the historic town, from rolling vineyards to brick-lined streets, via the Williamsburg Tasting Trail. From award-winning wine and micro-brewed beer to ancient mead and distilled spirits, you’ll discover some of the best handcrafted alcoholic beverages in the region. The first settlers believed that alcohol served many great purposes, from healing the body to giving energy to the weak and elderly. Today, you’ll find it served up alongside some of the finest culinary offerings in America.

Back in Virginia Beach, before saying goodbye, it’s a must to sit down for steamed blue crabs at a locals’ favourite like Margie and Ray’s Restaurant. First established in 1964 as a small country store and tackle shop, Margie and Ray’s serves some of the best seafood you’ll find anywhere in the US — no doubt one of the reasons it’s so popular with local farmers!

Day 4

Time to set out for Alexandria, just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital. Old Town Alexandria is a nationally recognised historic district known for its rich history, beautifully preserved 18th- and 19th-century architecture and vibrant waterfront. It’s also the place George Washington called home. Colourful row houses and century-old buildings with storied pasts serve as an extraordinary backdrop and home to acclaimed, chef-driven restaurants. Think American South-inspired comfort food with a focus on local and regional products. There’s a reason Alexandria has been featured in The New York Times and Food & Wine magazine!

Begin your taste of the town with some authentic American comfort cuisine featuring creative culinary twists. Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque serves up signature dishes such as barbecued devilled eggs and baby-back mac and cheese. Nearby, Hen Quarter puts a fun twist on chicken and waffles by adding compressed watermelon, honey pearl butter and Tennessee bourbon maple syrup. Try Whiskey & Oyster — set in the Carlyle District, the restaurant features a 20-foot oyster bar and outdoor dining with fire pits. Or check out Magnolia’s on King for all-day brunch starring treats like bananas Foster French toast.

Now you’re fuelled up and ready to explore King Street, a walkable mile recognised as one of the “Great Streets of America.” Charming one-of-a-kind boutiques feature everything from flatware to footwear. A stop at the Torpedo Arts Factory on the waterfront end of King Street will introduce you to local artists and their wares featured in more than 80 studios and galleries in this former World War II torpedo plant.

By now you’ve probably discovered first-hand the value of an overview. For dinner, take your taste buds on an Old Town Food Tour by DC Metro Food Tours — an ideal way to discover Old Town Alexandria’s heritage, culture and vibrant food scene. Sample celebrated dishes and locally crafted beer at chef-driven restaurants and artisan-owned speciality shops such as Columbia Firehouse, former home of the 1871 Columbian Steam Engine Fire Company, or Virtue Feed & Grain, an 1800s feed house, while your guide provides a taste of America’s rich history and points out historic hotspots.

Don’t forget the final course! Alexandria has long been known as a dessert destination and now you can easily combine your love of sweets with a nightcap. Try Triple Craft’s adult milkshakes like Chocolate Kahlua or Vanilla Bourbon or Casa Rosada Artisan Gelato for a Malbec wine-flavoured treat. Elizabeth’s Counter represents the ultimate blending of sweets and spirits with their sister store and speakeasy, Captain Gregory’s, hidden inside the bakery. Afterwards, catch live music at any of the many venues located along King Street or a well-known artist at The Birchmere, America’s legendary music hall.

Alexandria has a variety of accommodations to fit every budget, from boutique hotels like The Autograph Collection Morrison House and Hotel Indigo to well-known standards such as the Hilton Alexandria Old Town.

Day 5

Start your day with breakfast in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighbourhood with avenues made for strolling, independent shops and a thriving restaurant scene. Try the Del Ray Café for its casual French cuisine or the fresh-baked goodness of Junction Bakery.

Take the morning to walk in George Washington’s footsteps. Pause in Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, the president’s drinking spot of choice; Christ Church, where Washington worshipped; and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, one of the oldest pharmacies in America.

Indulge your thirst with one of the colonist’s favourite beverages. Port City Brewing Company gets its name from Alexandria’s rich and colourful origins as a thriving colonial seaport. Take their “Grain to Glass” brewery tour and learn the art of craft-beer making.

Now that you have the lay of the land, head to Alexandria’s historic waterfront. Set sail on a sightseeing cruise to take in stunning views of DC's famous monuments from the water, without all the crowds. Or hop on a Bike and Boat Tour to George Washington’s Mount Vernon with the Potomac Riverboat Company. You’ll bike your way south along the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, tour the historic estate and grounds, then catch the boat cruise back north on the Potomac for riverfront views. While visiting the world-famous estate, stop at the famous Mount Vernon Inn to taste Colonial-inspired dishes, including their renowned peanut soup. And don’t miss a tour of George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery®, once the largest distillery in America. You’ll want to grab a sample of the whiskey they’re making today the same way George did all those years ago.

Wind down your day at an Alexandria waterfront restaurant over a plate of local seafood. Try Hummingbird at the Hotel Indigo, celebrity chef Cathal Armstrong’s energetic bar and kitchen inspired by the American spirit of cherished traditions — think clam bakes, crab balls, fish fries and oyster roasts. Vola’s Dockside Grill offers a fabulous view of the marina, while Fish Market Restaurant on King Street serves up their Chesapeake-style seafood with a little history in a renovated warehouse more than 200 years old.

Day 6

Delight in breakfast at BRABO Tasting Room, the celebrated gourmet restaurant of nationally-renowned chef Robert Wiedmaier, before heading west on a day trip to Loudoun County, known as DC’s Wine Country®.

Just 25 miles from Alexandria, Loudoun County’s winding roads weave through rolling green hills dotted with horses. Here you’ll find more than 40 award-winning wineries and wine tasting rooms, along with breweries, distilleries and restaurants so distinct they are worth the drive alone.

Visit Breaux Vineyards, one of Virginia’s largest wineries with glorious vineyard and mountain views available from the tasting room and landscaped terraces. Then head to Bluemont Vineyards sitting high on an eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s said that on a clear day, you can even see the Washington Monument from the tasting room.

Grab lunch at the Wine Kitchen in Leesburg — a wine bar with a rotating menu that features the freshest ingredients from the region. After, make a stop at the Leesburg Premium Outlets® for a few shopping finds.

Back in Alexandria, celebrate your final night in Virginia by dining where past US presidents have dined. Try for yourself the classic American dishes of Gadsby's Tavern or Vermilion. Wrap up the evening at Blackwall Hitch and let the live music wash over you as night falls over the river.

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