Just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, Arlington is brimming with history, culture, and indoor and outdoor activities. The city is walkable and easily accessible thanks to its convenient Metro across the region. There are also many out-of-the-box things to do, given all the county’s charming neighborhoods, beautiful parks, tasty restaurants, and breathtaking historical landmarks in the city and nearby. Whether you are a well-weathered local, visitor, or thinking about buying a house in Arlington, VA, here are 16 unique things to do in and around the Arlington area.
A must see in Arlington, VA, is the Iwo Jima Memorial, dedicated in 1954 to the all Marines who’ve given their lives defending the United States. Afterwards, The Crossing Clarendon is a great place to stop for some tasty treats and possibly a little shopping.
Vian Borchert, an international artist, art critic, and art educator recommends both, saying “I am an art and history lover, and if you love these two, then the city of Arlington is for you! For me, the Iwo Jima Memorial is one of the most picturesque places in Arlington, VA. The memorial stands on higher ground surrounded by ample green hills overlooking the most beautiful views of Washington DC from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial.”
From there Vian further recommends, “A short drive up Wilson Blvd takes one to ‘The Crossing Clarendon’ for a fun outing to dine and shop in this vibrant outdoor shopping city-center. Considering I am a coffee lover, ‘Tatte Bakery & Café’ is a winner for me when it comes to a multitude of delicacies and culinary delights. Tatte’s French bistro ambiance makes me feel as if I am in Paris sipping on a café au lait while enjoying some of my favorite pastries such as pistachio croissant and ‘Orange Upside Down Cake’ which are beyond delicious!”
Visit Arlington’s four-acre Quincy park is a sensory-rich environment for everyone. This park features six tennis courts, a basketball court, and a sand volleyball court. There is plenty of space to play, whether you’re looking to get your exercise in, take a nice stroll with your dog, or picnic at a reservable shelter.
“My family’s favorite thing to do is play on the fields at Quincy Park. We’ll throw a frisbee, hit tennis balls, and kick soccer balls. We love that we can bring a bag full of sports equipment to entertain the whole family,” says Steven Inge, Arlington resident and founder of Wedmatch.
The Francis Scott Key Bridge, known as the Key Bridge to locals, spans over the Potomac River, connecting DC and Virginia. This beautiful arch bridge is a well-known landmark in the community and has hundreds of locals crossing daily. The bridge was coined as a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Both sides of the bridge allow pedestrians to also cross from areas in Georgetown and Rosslyn, with amazing views.
Fine art and portrait photographer, Jessica Monte, says she likes to “go out for an early run across the Key Bridge, down to the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Along the way, I can take in views of the Potomac River, Georgetown University, the Kennedy Center, and the Washington Monument.
“Since I love the outdoors, I also enjoy hiking and kayaking at Theodore Roosevelt Island Park,” recommends Jessica Monte. The island was previously known as Mason’s Island in the 1930s. The once-neglected farmland is now known as Theodore Roosevelt Island, a memorial park dedicated to America’s 26th president. Miles of trails, dry-wooded uplands, and swampy, wet bottomlands honor the great outdoorsman.
Today, visitors can get the inside scoop on the island through ranger-led programs. Visitors can schedule safaris with Rangers and Park Volunteers to explore the historical features and nature of the island. Wildlife viewing, walking, running, and kayaking or canoeing the Potomac River beside the island are some of the many other activities to participate in.
Jessica Monte swears that you can’t go wrong with District Taco. Swing by District Taco’s original food cart located in Rosslyn (a neighborhood in Arlington), since 2009 for some delicious, homemade, Yucatan-inspired food by Osiris Hoil, founder of District Taco.
“If you happen to be by the Arlington Cemetery,” says Matt Sutton, Brand Coordinator of USA Guided Tours from DC, “you should definitely check out the overlooked Merchant Marine Memorial, on Mount Vernon Trail, with great views of Washington, DC.”
The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial commemorates World War I sailors of the United States Navy and the United States Merchant Marines. The memorial also honors those who have experienced devastating issues in maritime disasters while serving their country. The memorial can be seen beside the Mount Vernon Trail in Lady Bird Johnson Park. Locals love to visit this park to see flowers, ride bikes, and take an afternoon stroll beside the Potomac River.
Close to the Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial, Matt Sutton also recommends visiting “the other side of Mount Vernon’s riverfront trail, where the Potomac Overlook Regional Park offers amazing scenic views and a nature center.”
This park has nearly 70 acres of land, providing access to breathtaking views of the Potomac river and local wildlife, such as various species of birds. Hike as many miles of trails as possible while following interpretive displays to learn about Virginia’s flora and fauna.
In the up-and-coming Ballston neighborhood, Matt recommends skating at “the Medstar Capitals Icepex, the official training center for Washington Capital’s NHL team. Here, you can rent a pair of skates, take lessons, and join pick-up games year-round.” So drop in on the ice to pick up some new hockey moves, go in for a fun public skate session, or watch a Capitals practice free and open to the public.
Matt further recommends visiting Crystal City’s neighborhood to see the unique “Synetic Theater, which offers innovative theater performances that spotlight dancers and acrobats.” The theater is loved by locals for its ability to blend innovative techniques of stage lighting, choreography, costume designs, and music into a single story that captivates audiences of all ages and walks of life.
Established May 13th, 1864, Arlington National Cemetery is one of two national cemeteries that is run by the United States Army. Almost 400,000 people are buried here on nearly 640 acres. There are numerous historical sites to see at the cemetery, according to Daniel Minchew, founder and private tour guide of DC with Daniel:
“I absolutely love taking visitors through the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Witnessing the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, visiting President Kennedy’s Grave, and walking among over 400,000 burials of famous and regular women and men, which instills a deeper appreciation for their service. Every December, volunteers conduct Wreaths Across America, a wreath-laying ceremony over every grave site.”
Located just outside of DC, the Pentagon Memorial, known as the United States Department of Defense, is open to all visitors. Fun fact: the five wedge-shaped sections of the Pentagon represent the five branches of the US Armed Forces. Daniel provides another helpful tip saying, “With prior arrangement, book a free 45-minute tour inside the Pentagon using this link.” You can request tickets 14 to 90 days in advance. Tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable military members in full-dress uniforms. According to many locals, there are some great photo opportunities and souvenirs.
According to Matt Richard, Arlington County Fair Chair, Arlington’s fair happens to be “One of the largest free urban fairs on the east coast.” Held in Thomas Jefferson Community Center, the fair has been providing high-quality entertainment to the Arlington community and surrounding neighborhoods for over 40 years. Over 84,000 people visit the county fair each year. “Whether it’s our diversity of food vendors, the competitive exhibits entered by members of our community, or the rides and games for kids of all ages, it truly brings out the best of Arlington,” says Matt.
Cathy Hix, President of Arlington Historical Society, describes visiting the John Ball House as one of her favorite things to do, “When you come to Arlington, drive past the skyscrapers and travel back in time, by visiting the Ball Sellers House, one of the best-known secrets and oldest existing houses in the county, you will be transported to 1750 when The Ball Family lived in this tiny structure.” The historic home is located at 5620 Third Street, South, in the Glencarlyn neighborhood. The residence has housed three generations of family members. Today, the farmhouse has been restored to its colonial appearance. Inside tours of the oldest house in Arlington county are free on Saturdays, from April through October.
When visiting the historical museum, you’ll see all of Arlington’s history in a self-guided tour housed inside the oldest existing schoolhouse in the country. Built in 1891, there are 12 separate exhibits, including a new Public Health and Medicine in Arlington exhibit. Cathy says she always makes it a point to visit the museum because, “It reminds me of all the history in this tiny county, that our past helps us do better in the future.”
Brewery Running Series holds national 5k-ish events around the country for runners, joggers, and walkers, including dog owners, running strollers, spectators, and more. All participants complete a friendly and untimed competition around a local brewery. In Arlington, Virginia, Tanner Mason, VA Events Director of Brewery Running Series, explains that the race “starts and ends at the Board Room VA, where you can enjoy a refreshing pint after your race. All participants can get a swag item.”
Mosaic park is filled with exciting features, including a multipurpose court, rain gardens, a lawn area, a play equipment section, and a colorful climbing wall. The park’s entryway also greets you with an interactive water feature. Photographer and Arlington local, Marie Elizabeth, recommends “the climbing wall; it’s a great way to let out energy. As a bonus tip, grab a coffee at Compass Coffee nearby.”
USA Guided Tours was named a local expert of Arlington on Redfin. Check out the article we were featured in: 16 Unique Things to do in Arlington, VA | Redfin (originally published on Dec 15, 2022 by Holly Hooper)