Summer is winding down, which means work schedules for those of us in Washington, D.C. will pick up significantly soon. And while most people think escaping the rush of the city requires a several hour drive, there are actually great opportunities to relax and unwind in relative proximity. In fact, just a little bit south of the Beltway is one of the quaintest, coziest towns around, sitting alongside a gently flowing river, full of old-time shops and genial residents. And it’s a breeze to get to.
Occoquan, Virginia is only 13 miles south of the Springfield Interchange on 495, approximately 25 miles from the heart of Washington, D.C. It’s also the perfect spot to get away from city living. The town is small, with under 1,000 residents. It resides on the edge of Belmont Bay, which feeds into the Potomac River. Alongside the town runs the Occoquan River, giving any spot in town a view of the water. The city limits of Occoquan are under a square mile in size, but in that tiny package is plenty for visitors to do.
The town is one of the oldest in Virginia, founded in 1765 as an industrial area, and it maintains that feel. It originally flourished around the construction of the nation’s first grist mill, where grain is ground into flour. The mill itself burned to the ground in a fire in the early 1900s, but the old administrator’s building now operates as a museum, with historic artifacts from Occoquan. It resides at the end of Mill Street, on a faded brick sidewalk. The very small stone building is open every day, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The heart of the town is Mill Street, so leaving the museum and heading east will take you through what Occoquan is now best known for. Although its past was industrial, it has since, in recent decades, redeveloped as a bit of an artists’ enclave. Artisanal shops dot the main street, selling everything from homemade pottery to hand-stitched purses.
One of the most prominent artist spots is the Artists’ Undertaking Gallery, a co-op established back in 1977. At 309 Mill Street a group of artists set up studios in what was once an abandoned funeral home.
Now nearly 20 artists participate in the co-op, and their work is always on display. Better yet, in the main gallery, the artists are often there, ready to take questions and discuss their work with visitors. The gallery is open seven days a week, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
As the town has developed a name for itself in the craft world, one of its biggest draws is coming up. The Fall Crafts show takes place next month, on September 29th. The main street in Occoquan will be closed down, and artisans will set up tables and showcase their wares street side.
If walking around Occoquan leaves you feeling a bit fatigued, at the southern end of town is the Coffee House of Occoquan, which conjures up nostalgia of old-time America. Located inside a white, clapboard house, the coffee shop reminds patrons to enjoy their coffee, and not rush.
Right down the street from the Coffee House is Madigan’s Waterfront, one of a couple restaurants in town that sits waterside, right up against the river. With docks for boats and tables for patrons right along the gently lapping water, Madigan’s is one of the many places in the town to relax in peace.
Lastly, if you come to Occoquan on Saturdays from now until October, you’ll be treated to one of the best farmer’s markets in the area, with produce coming right from the outskirts of the city, and local vendors selling unique treats like bite-sized waffles, kettle corn and crab cakes bursting with Maryland blue crab. The farmer’s market is open from 8:00 a.m. to noon, and is located on Mill Street, right in the heart of town.
So before this summer completely comes to an end, and work picks up, head to Occoquan to remind yourself that life doesn’t always need to be so busy.
Latest posts by David Covucci (see all)
- The Decatur House's War of 1812 Exhibit Covers D.C. Lore - August 23, 2013
- Film Festival Brings The Drive-In Back To D.C. - August 14, 2013
- Unprecedented Putt-Putt at the National Building Museum - August 8, 2013