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Area Tourism Has Something for Everyone

For residents and visitors, history can be fun while educating.

Residents and officials of both the City of Alexandria and southeastern Fairfax County's Mount Vernon district find the history of the area both a source of pride and income. Because they are touted as the home and hometown of America's first president, those who take up residence in either locale are soon engulfed in the nation's history, from its inception through to the present day.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille defined tourism and underlined its importance to the area during the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association's 2004 Annual Meeting. "Have people come to the city, stay in the city, enjoy the city and leave their money in the city," he said.

His statement could easily apply to not just Alexandria, but also the entire area from the Occoquan River to 14th Street Bridge and the Potomac River to the I-394 corridor. Within those confines are such historic landmarks as Gadsby's Tavern, one of George Washington's favorite haunts; Carlyle House, the home of an Alexandria founder; Christ's Church, where Washington attended services; Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason; Washington's own home and farms at Mount Vernon Estate; Woodlawn Plantation, the home of Nellie Custis Lewis, Martha Washington's granddaughter; forts of the Revolutionary and Civil wars; the National Masonic Memorial and the first national cemetery, before there was an Arlington; and a host of other historic enticements for visitors and residents alike.

In the more modern vein, area tourists can enjoy the picnic areas scattered along the George Washington Memorial Parkway as well as Pohick Regional Park; nature trails that offer everything from bird watching to hiking and biking; or shopping in Old Town, Del Ray and at the numerous gift shops.

There are also events galore all during the year. Many of these draw tourists from throughout the nation. Some activities are year-round while others are geared to a given month.

Examples of ongoing activities to enjoy include: river excursions on a variety of cruise boats; ghost tours of Old Town Alexandria; visiting the city's collection of museums; and mixing learning and fun at various historic sites.

Something every newcomer to the area is quickly made aware of is Alexandria's link to its Scottish heritage. Each December, a Scottish Walk Celebration starts the holiday season. However, there is also a large tradition of English and Irish dating back to its founding residents. Alexandria holds the first St. Patrick's Day Parade in the Washington region. A wide variety of other heritages are celebrated throughout the year, many in the summer — favorites are the Italian and African American festivals, with new additions every year.

A host of activities in both Alexandria and Mount Vernon keep everyone busy during the winter holiday season. These include:

* Holidays at Mount Vernon, featuring colonial decorations, foods and celebrations at the Estate;

* A Plantation Christmas and Family Holiday Buffet at George Mason's home, Gunston Hall;

* Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria candlelight tours;

* Holidays on The Avenue in Del Ray;

* The Holiday Parade of Boats on the Potomac River, an evening extravaganza of elaborately-lit boats from throughout the region that are judged for their illuminated decorations.

Alexandria's holiday season culminates Dec. 31 with "First Night" activities that encompass the entire city. This family-oriented event has a wide array of venues and entertainment — there is truly something for everyone.