One of the fastest emerging regions in the DC area, the list of things to do in Fairfax County VA is constantly growing. Whether you’re in the mood for history, the outdoors, arts and culture or food and fun, you’ll find it all in Northern Virginia‘s Fairfax County.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA
At the top of any MUST-GO list of things to do in Fairfax County, VA is visiting Mount Vernon—George Washington’s first home.
Also worth visiting: Ferry Farm – George Washington’s Boyhood Home
The magnificent mansion, the glorious gardens, and the view overlooking the Potomac River are reason enough to visit, but there’s so much to see that you could easily spend the better part of a day there.
Mount Vernon offers visitors an excellent opportunity to learn more about the life of George Washington from several points of interest.
- Mansion Tour (look for the Key to the Bastille)
- Garden and Grounds (four separate gardens)
- Washington’s Tomb (final resting place of George and Martha)
- Slave Memorial (commemorates the lives of the enslaved who lived and toiled at Mount Vernon)
- Museum & Education Center (23 galleries and hundreds of artifacts)
- Outbuildings (includes blacksmith shop, spinning house, stable, smokehouse, etc.)
- The Farm (4-acre farm site)
- Distillery and Gristmill (fully functioning reconstructions. Tours on weekends Apr-Oct.)
Lucy Burns Museum
9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, VA
Two fascinating stories are told in this museum: the Occoquan Workhouse Prison and its 91-year history and the story of the suffragists imprisoned there in 1917.
The Prison Story
The Occoquan Workhouse was built to reform prisoners through good food, hard work, and fresh air. It was constructed without guard towers, walls, concertina wire or cell blocks and the prisoners built the prison. It became a working farm and produced so much milk that the workhouse sent the extra to DC school children for lunch. Prison milk, can you imagine?
Eventually, the prison added other industrial endeavors with a working forge, laundry, radio station, and barbershop and added walls, guard towers, and concertina wire. But the prison had open dorms, not individual cell blocks.
The cellblock open for visits at the museum is where prisoners were put in solitary confinement, were on suicide watch, or couldn’t be in gen pop due to safety concerns. The first few cells were for the complex cases.
The Suffragists Story
The most famous prison inmates here were the suffragists who picketed on the White House lawn in 1917. At that time, the White House wasn’t locked down like it is now, so picketers could stand on the front lawn and knock on the front door. The suffragists were at the White House every day, and President Wilson and the public began to tire of it.
As the protests wore on into the year, the number of arrests increased and the population of the Occoquan Workhouse (designed for 30 prisoners) increased to over 100 by the fall. The guards beat them, gave them dirty clothing to wear and rotten food to eat. When the women went on a hunger strike in protest, it led to repeated and painful force-feedings.
Everything came to a head on November 14, 1917, the “Night of Terror.” Guards were ordered to brutally torture the protesting inmates; they were cruelly beaten and abused. Lucy Burns was chained to the top of her cell forcing her to stand all night. Dorothy Day was slammed twice over the back of an iron bench. and Dora Lewis was knocked unconscious after being thrown into an iron bed, causing her roommate, Alice Cosu to have a heart attack.
Long story short: the public became outraged and the suffragists were released from prison. Ultimately, President Wilson announced his support for the suffragist movement and eventually, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment passed.
Workhouse Arts Center (Studios, Galleries & Events)
9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton VA
The Workhouse Arts Center is a cultural arts center in a repurposed prison complex. The adaptive reuse project has brought a sunny new life to the campus, turning former dormitories into studios, galleries, and classroom spaces.
Visitors can chat with working artists, shop for unique gifts, view the galleries, take art classes, and attend special events.
Special events include theater productions, live musical events, and the 2nd Saturday Art Walk—a fantastic opportunity to chat with the artists and see what they’re creating.
Great Falls Park
9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean, VA
Just 30 minutes from Washington DC lies Great Falls Park—a breathtaking hidden gem— where the rushing waters of the Potomac River surge over jagged rocks into a narrow gorge. It’s spectacular!
There are three overlooks within a 10-minute walk from the parking lot and visitor center, and there’s a park sign describing the overlook views. (See below for my favorite spot.)
Overlook 1: Partial view of the falls, rocky terrain, sandy, uneven viewing area, not wheelchair accessible.
Overlook 2: Good view, large viewing platform, wheelchair accessible.
Overlook 3: Best view, two viewing platforms, flood pole, wheelchair accessible.
Although the park says overlook 3 has the best view, I didn’t necessarily agree. It has the broadest view with the most cascades, but I thought the most exciting view was at the first overlook if you’re willing to scale a few rocks.
Climb out onto the boulders to witness the thundering rapids crash over the river cliffs. It’s incredible.
Along with seeing the “Great Falls,” allow extra time to walk the trails, view the old canals, and discover the crumbling remains of the now-vanished city of Matildaville.
Sweeten Your Day With a Chocolate Tasting
River Sea Chocolates
4520 Daly Dr Suite 100, Chantilly VA
This small bean-to-bar chocolate factory offers creative hand-crafted chocolate treats, tastings, tours, and classes. The owners source their cacao beans from small-scale sustainable growers in Colombia, Venezuela, Fiji, India, Nicaragua, Peru, Tanzania, and the US.
The beans are sorted, roasted, and turned into delectable artisan chocolate goodies at River Sea Chocolates and the results are nothing short of scrumptious.
I thoroughly enjoyed my chocolate tasting—I spent $100 on chocolate to take home afterward.
The Perch at Capital One Center
1805 Capital One Drive, Tysons, VA
Hang out under the stars at The Perch—a brand new green space in the sky. The sky park is connected to the Watermark Hotel on the 11th floor and is an all-new hotspot for fun.
Enjoy the park-like setting with live performances (5 nights a week), outdoor games including putt-putt golf and a dog park. And be sure to grab a sip and a snack at Starr Hill Biergarten.
Where to Eat in Fairfax County VA
Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA
If you’re visiting George Washington’s Mount Vernon (and you absolutely should,) time your visit to allow a meal at the Mount Vernon Inn before or after. Reservations are recommended.
The early American ambiance and classic menu favorites are too memorable to pass up.
If you try nothing else, make sure you order the famous peanut soup and some hoecakes. So good!
1825 Capitol One Dr. South, Tysons, VA
This chef-driven and Japanese-inspired restaurant is one of the hottest spots in town. Located in the 11th-floor lobby of the new Watermark Hotel, it’s a feast for the senses—from the first sophisticated and creative bite to the last.
Start with one of the expertly curated cocktails. Then dive into a few of the fusion dishes, many of which are designed to be shared.
Everything is beautifully presented, and the fresh ingredients come together in the perfect medley of flavor.
Where to Stay in Fairfax County VA
7599 Colshire Dr, Tysons, VA 22102
This new-build luxury boutique hotel in Tysons brings urban chic to DC Metro’s Fairfax County with its sophisticated modern and artful design, attention to detail, and infinite thoughtful touches.
The guest rooms are exquisitely decorated—I felt as if I walked into my own personal spa with a cozy bathrobe, plush slippers (to keep), and thick, fluffy towels.
Other special touches in the room include twinkling chandelier lighting, a Nespresso coffee machine, a mini-fridge, a laptop-sized safe, curated daily sweets, and Malin+Goetz premium bath amenities.
The gorgeous purple couch was the perfect spot to tuck in with one of the books I found in the room before melting into the cozy bed with its luxurious sheets.
The Archer Hotel is a truly memorable hotel in Fairfax County VA.
For help in planning things to do in Fairfax County VA, reach out to Visit Fairfax at https://fxva.com