The Avenue, Yoga, Cafes and Ugly Duplexes

I moved to the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria a few months ago,  so I thought I might as well post a few pictures from my new hood.

A little background information: According to the Del Ray Citizens Associations (there is such a thing) Del Ray was founded in 1894 as a D.C suburb for government and train station workers, thanks to its proximity to Potomac Yard. Nowadays, Del Ray’s official motto is”Where Main Street Stills Exists” and it does somewhat embody a nostalgic, 1950s old-timey Americana train town feel, at least on the surface. There’s a well-defined main street home to an independent hardware store, a post office, community school and recreation center, several churches, about a dozen non-chain restaurants, half a dozen cafes, early to mid 20th century bungalows and duplexes and even a cheese and butcher shop. There aren’t really any more train workers around, but I’d say at least 75% of adults in the 22301 zip code of Del Ray work for the Federal or local government. If you like NPR, coffee culture, over-priced craft beer, liberal politics, independent restaurants, easy access to bike trails, a sense of place/community (even if carefully crafted) and a small-town vibe, Del Ray is a pretty nice neighborhood. Lots of young families with fancy strollers and fancy looking dogs, a healthy dose of yipsters (who are kind of like yuppies in terms of income and education, but slightly edgier and artsier) and older couples who’ve been around since before Del Ray started gentrifying.

It may not be particularly complex or layered in comparison to other urban neighborhoods, but I like it. It’s quiet, peaceful and pleasant but if I want Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Ethiopian, Afghani, BBQ, sushi, Italian, seafood, dessert, ice cream or coffee, it’s less than a one mile walk.  I’ve mentioned before that Del Ray appeals to my sense of nostalgia — it’s one of the few suburban neighborhoods in the D.C area laid out as a small town rather than as a sprawling suburb — so there’s a Main Street with actual people and operating businesses and single family houses, duplexes and apartment complexes off the main avenue. If you live in Del Ray, you can walk to the downtown area. Also, it’s nice to be so close to D.C (as if I ever actually go into the city…) without having to deal with the whole limited parking situation, which is my biggest stressor when I drive into the City. Plus, I found a great little cafe to “work” (blog) out of…St. Elmo’s on Main Street. It’s just the right size AND there is live music almost every night…bands made of mostly elderly guys playing slightly folky/jazzy-type music. Here’s an example of what you can expect at St. Elmo’s Cafe on a typical weekday evening:

There are two zip codes in Del Ray: 22301 and 22305. 22301 is the wealthier, whiter, yuppier of the two while 22305, also known as Chirilagua or Arlandria, is home to a significant Central American population, Asian and Latin supermarkets and businesses and a large affordable housing complex. I’ve explored both pretty extensively. but today I’ll be posting my 22301 pictures. These are mostly from Mount Vernon Avenue or right off the avenue.

P.S. Anyone have any other interesting neighborhoods you want to explore with me???

Homes of Del Ray:

Typical duplexes of Del Ray. I don't know why, but I find these pretty unattractive. And definitely not attractive enough to pay almost $500,000 for!

Typical duplexes of Del Ray. I don’t know why, but I find these pretty unattractive. And definitely not attractive enough to pay almost $500,000 for! Most of these are World War II era and somewhere around 1,000 square feet. They are in different states of repair/disrepair and I’d say they are the predominant type of housing in Del Ray.

More examples of Del Ray Duplexes.

More examples of Del Ray Duplexes. Sure , they have plenty of character, but there’s just something about them that seems, I don’t know, kind of  dumpy.  But who knows…maybe they’re really nice on the inside?

I liked this house.

I liked this house. There aren’t too many newer developments right in Del Ray, but the ones that have been built have been built mostly in that brick and siding outer suburb style,  so I don’t know if in 20 years Del Ray will look just like Centreville or some other outer suburb.

A typical Del Ray house.

A typical Del Ray house. One of the nice things about living in the inner suburbs is that the houses are not as “cookie cutter” as they are in the outer suburbs. You get a little more originality and differentiation than you might in Fairfax or Loudoun. The houses in Del Ray vary from tiny (under 1,000 square feet) to stately.

A small townhouse development on a residential Del Ray street.

A small townhouse development on a residential Del Ray street. I wouldn’t mind living here…

A lonely swing and partial porch.

A lonely swing and a partial porch. Some of the homes in Del Ray have a slightly abandoned feel, something you don’t see too often in the western suburbs. I guess when your 1,500 square foot house is worth almost $1 million, you don’t exactly have money left over for home repairs thanks to taxes, especially if you bought your home 50 years ago when Del Ray was a more blue collar type of place.

Another novel thing about the inner suburbs is that every now and then you see a house that's not in great shape. Sure, this might bring down home values, but I think it also adds a little character!

Another novel thing about the inner suburbs is that every now and then you see a house that’s not in great shape. Sure, this might bring down home values, but I think it also adds a little character! I think that it gives you a sense of place’s age. In the outer suburbs, it can be harder to judge the age of a community.

Egg of Del Ray and Del Ray apartment complex.

Egg of Del Ray and Del Ray apartment complex. Is it just me or is there something a little, I don’t know, sexual, about this statue?

Typical Del Ray residential side street right off Mount Vernon Avenue.

Typical Del Ray residential side street right off Mount Vernon Avenue. I loved the screened in porches!

Potomac Yard. This area of Alexandria used to be a train yard, but now it's been converted into an upscale development of townhouses and condominiums. There's also the relatively new Potomac Yard Shopping Center.  Potomac Ray is technically a different neighborhood, but it's a short 10-15 minute walk from Del Ray.

Potomac Yard. This area of Alexandria used to be a train yard, but now it’s been converted into an upscale development of townhouses and condominiums. There’s also the relatively new Potomac Yard Shopping Center. Potomac Ray is technically a different neighborhood, but it’s a short 10-15 minute walk from Del Ray.

Businesses of Del Ray

There are probably at least three yoga studios, a Pilates studio, a gym and dance studio on Mount Vernon Avenue. Definitely a very fitness/mind-body oriented kind of place.

There are probably at least three yoga studios, a Pilates studio, a gym and dance studio on Mount Vernon Avenue. Definitely a very fitness/mind-body oriented kind of place. Too bad I’m not one for yoga or others slow-moving mind-body type exercise practices…

One of several yoga studios in the Del Ray neighborhood.

One of several yoga studios in the Del Ray neighborhood. How do people have patience for yoga???

A cheese shop/restaurant.

A cheese shop/restaurant. I’ve never actually been inside because I figure it’s beyond my price range, but there is something nice about living in a place with specialized shops rather than multiple sprawling shopping centers.

Butcher shop! How many of these do you see in the 'burbs???

Butcher shop! How many of these do you see in the ‘burbs??? I guess for a place like this to survive, you need a population that 1.) Believes in small businesses, 2.) Is slightly nostalgic for the times of yesteryear and 3.) Is willing and able to pay prices specialization results in.

Gluten free pastry/dessert shop. That should tell you all you need to know.

Gluten free pastry/dessert shop. That should tell you all you need to know. It seems that gluten intolerance/allergy is a sign that you’ve made it in the world nowadays.

Side outside wall of a Del Ray community arts/craft shop.

Side outside wall of a Del Ray community arts/craft shop. There are a few colorful murals on the Main Avenue strip.  Del Ray is a lot like other suburbs in lots of ways, but I like to think it’s a little more colorful and creative than others.

Bike shop/workshop.

Bike co-op/workshop. I haven’t gone in here either, but I’ve seen a few bike tours leaving from here. I’ll have to check it out sometime.

You can even get your tarot cards read.

You can even get your tarot cards read. Not sure how a business like this survives or if it’s some kind of front for another kind of businesses, but I’m kind of tempted to go in and see what my future holds.

Garden Store.

Garden Store. Inside this shop sells plants and other novelty/artisan items like candles, organic soap, scarves, etc. You know what kind of shop I’m talking about. Every small town has one of these.

Old-timey hardware store.

Old-timey hardware store.

The hardware store at night.

The hardware store at night. I think that the viability of small businesses in a town tells you a lot about the kind of people who live in a community.

Chocolate shop on Main Street.

Chocolate shop on Main Avenue. I haven’t tried this place yet…I guess I’ll have to do a taste-test of Del Ray over the spring/summer!

The weirdest shop I've ever seen. Here you will find a mix of old comic strips and "exotic" plants. Very strange, and I can't help wondering how the older gentleman who runs this place makes any money!

The weirdest shop I’ve ever seen. Here you will find a mix of old comic strips and “exotic” plants. Very odd, and I can’t help wondering how the older gentleman who runs this place makes any money! Inside it’s cramped, dark  and slightly eerie and I couldn’t help feeling like I’d stepped into a strange and little-known Indie film.

For reasons inexplicable to me, this tiny, cramped Mexican restaurant is always packed...and there's often a line out the door.

For reasons inexplicable to me, this tiny, cramped Mexican restaurant is always packed…and there’s often a line out the door. The food is fine, but I wouldn’t say it’s particularly memorable? What is it about Taqueria el Poblano that people are willing to shiver in the cold for 20-30 minutes waiting for a table? There is a another (much larger, emptier) Mexican restaurant just a couple blocks down.

The Del Ray Variety Shop. Here you  can find everything from yarn to school supplies to home supplies.

The Del Ray Variety Shop. Here you can find everything from yarn to school supplies to home supplies.

Miscellaneous Del Ray:

I really liked this window.

I liked this window.

Lots of bikes in Del Ray.

Lots of bikes in Del Ray. I can’t wait until the weather warms up and I can start my exploratory bike rides again!

Alley way.

Alley way.

Residential bike lane.

Residential bike lane.

Del Ray Baptist Church, across the street from the Alexandria Country Day School.

Del Ray Baptist Church, across the street from the Alexandria Country Day School. I saw the steeple in the distance and walked toward the church up a hill where I found lots of quiet, birds chirping and unexpected stillness.

Scooby-Doo Van!

Scooby-Doo Van! This was parked in a perfectly nice single family home.



Categories: Alexandria, D.C, Suburbs

Tags: , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Such a pretty neighborhood. (Yeah, except for those duplexes.)

    (Um, did you mean to say the houses in the inner suburbs is that the houses are _not_ as “cookie cutter” as they are in the outer suburbs?)

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