First Night Alexandria

After taking advantage of a great deal from Certifikid, my family signed up for our first adventure at First Night in Alexandria. It’s the largest family-friendly, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration in the area sponsored by the City of Alexandria. Held rain or shine, all the events are held indoors throughout Old Town, Alexandria.

Activity Options

Our first stop was to the Durant Arts Center to collect our badges. Professor Arts Safari was here along with the T.C. Williams High School Choir and the fun hunt table. This is where you pick up clue sheets for the fun hunt around town. The questions relate to the City of Alexandria’s history and were created by two T.C. Williams students. The challenging hunt lasted 3 1/2 hours. Prizes for children and adults ranged from cold hard cash to a hotel stay, restaurant gift certificates and a riverboat cruise.

I took my child next door to the Jefferson-Houston School where there was a moon bounce, carnival games and tables full of Think Fun group games. Volunteers were present helping kids throw the baseball through the hole or slam the hammer to ding the bell.

Our next stop was to The Sugar Cube. The confectionery offered “Countdown to Midnight” cookie decorating. Each child got a sugar cookie to decorated with an assortment of colored frostings and sprinkles. My little baker couldn’t wait to eat her creation.

One of our favorite places to hang out is Hooray for Books. The independent store had several story time sessions by Miss Megan. She started off by asking the children what they were thankful for in the year and then responded by saying “hooray!” Miss Megan was very engaging with the kids and read to a full house.

The animal lovers in us went to King Street Garden Park for Whisker Wonderland. Kids can decorate already stuffed catnip snowmen with markers and keep them for their own cat or donate it to the kitties at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. A good deed earned my daughter the choice of a sticker or temporary tattoo. There’s also a dog cut out photo op and treats to purchase.

From all the walking, we decided it was time for a break. We would have loved to have had time to visit the hub of activity at the Torpedo Factory. The Art League and Alexandria Archeology Museum had chalk graffiti, arts and crafts, and face painting. The Paper Source gave demonstrations in stamping and envelope making while Ten Thousand Villages hosted an hourly story time.

But instead, we grabbed a bite from the food trucks. Outside the Torpedo Factory was Popped Republic who specialize in flavored popcorn and also had beverages. Red Hook Lobster Pound served lobster rolls, clam chowder and whoopee pies. Outside Jefferson-Houston School was Doug the Food Dude selling pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken chili, and hot cocoa. Kids were lining up at DC Slices who offered four kinds of pizza, mozzarella sticks, wings and drinks. I can’t vouch for the first two trucks, but Doug the Food Dude was pricey at $6 for a grilled cheese and chips. A slice of buffalo chicken pizza with a complimentary addition of fresh basil and a soda totaled $5 at DC Slices. Boy was it yummy! Along King Street are several kid friendly dining options with my favorites being Bugsy’s and King Street Blues.

All filled up, it was time to embark to the evening portion of the event. Fifteen minutes before Mike Rose “The Magic Kinda Guy” started his show, the Little Theatre of Alexandria was full to capacity. We took a standing room spot and discovered 100 people outside waiting for the second of six shows to start. We didn’t stay the entire 30 minutes because while Mike was funny and sarcastic, his crass sense of humor was not appropriate for young children. His tricks were clever, but comments like “WTF” from his mouth are disturbing, especially considering some kids know what the acronym means.

The Masonic Temple had stuff for kids and adults to both enjoy like the Amazing Clowns. Head clown, Teddy, brought his gang to twist balloon animals. Local mom and businesswoman, Barb Scheeler, was on hand with Let’s Make a Face – Face Painting. There were three face painters and we waited 45 minutes in line to be seen. Note that we were also there right when they opened the event. The nice thing though is that children get their whole face painted, not just a cheek. Children over age 12 and adults who want their face painted pay $10. We had hoped to see some music as there were several shows going on at the same time. Even with the volunteers, the signs pointed us in the wrong direction and the show times were inaccurate. We missed the Irish Breakfast band, but got a peek at Junkyard Saints performing funk and New Orleans style music and dancing. If you’re craving the munchies, the dining room sells sandwiches, chips, candy, coffee and bottled water.

Our family was going from 2 to 10pm and we were all tuckered out. A few other events worth seeing are the Christ Church service, performances by Mister Don, How-to-Cowboy: Jokefest, and the Virginia Bronze Handbell Ringers of Northern Virginia. The Seaworthy Small Ships had a class on model boat building. This is the only activity outside of the regular admission that required an extra fee.

Getting Here

If you are taking metro, take the blue or yellow line to King Street. The metro runs until 2am on New Year’s Eve. From there, you can walk or hop on the free King Street Trolley which runs from the foot of King Street to the metro. At 6pm, DASH busses that run east and west on King Street are free.

Most residential zones allow you to park for 2 hours before you have to move. There is metered street parking as well as parking lots and garages in the area. Visit the City’s website for locations. We parked on the street and walked to most of the venues. Old Town has a flat surface with the distance from one end to the other being a mile.

Good to Know

  • I cannot stress this enough, get here early. We went to many events right when they opened and are glad we did. Activities vary with events offered throughout the day and some only at night. Plan accordingly so you don’t miss out.
  • Tickets purchased online can only be picked up at the Durant Center. You can also purchase tickets here or at designated businesses found on the website. All forms of payment are accepted.
  • Buy your tickets several weeks in advance to receive a discount.
  • Admission badges are a steal at $20 per person. Kids 12 and under are free and do not require a badge. However, children must be accompanied by a parent. Active duty military receive free admission with their military ID.

The Bottom Line

While it’s not something my family would do on an annual basis, First Night Alexandria is something everyone should experience. It encompasses over 100 acts in all areas of the performing arts. There were so many family friendly events that we had to pick and choose our activities. We weren’t up late enough to catch the fireworks at midnight, but we had a blast ending the year thanks to First Night.

Photos by Kathleen Molloy

Photo of author

OK Editorial Team

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