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Visit a place, and you touch its soul. Arlington, Virginia’s lineup of icons and landmarks persuasively earn its claims to being a place where history and hipness intersect. A traditional Arlington tour might include national treasures like the Marine Corps War Memorial or the Air Force Memorial. But you’re the type who wants something off the beaten path. We gotcha, there’s nothing more exciting than locating the overlooked, best-kept secrets that no one else seems to know about.
Here are places that make Arlington truly one of a kind:
Dark Star Park
Show up at 9:32 a.m. Aug. 1. That’s when shadows cast by the poles align with permanent forms in the shape of the shadows on the ground. The date marks the day in 1860 that William Henry Ross purchased the land that later became the Rosslyn neighborhood. Nancy Holt is the creator behind internationally acclaimed Dark Star Park, first built in 1984 and restored in 2003. It was Arlington’s first contemporary work of public art-- and sort of like the UK’s Stonehenge that is aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstices—Dark Star Park has become a capital area cultural icon.
Built in the 1740s, the Ball-Sellers House Museum shows how the middle class used to live in Virginia’s Colonial era. Step back in time, and envision farmer John Ball, his wife Elizabeth, and their five daughters spinning wool. Or hear about William Carlin, a tailor for George Washington, who also lived in the house back then. Visit free every Saturday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. from April through October and the summer holidays of Independence, Memorial, and Labor Days.
Gas ‘n God
It’s a Sunoco Gas Station. And it’s underneath a church! Longtime residents nicknamed it “Gas ‘n God.” Located at 1830 Fort Myer Drive, underneath the Arlington Temple United Methodist Church, this is a gas station beneath a church that promises to help equip you “for the next stage in your life’s journey.” Arlington Temple says it may be the only church in the United States built on top of a gas station, and the lease income means all donations go to ministry and mission.
Lyon Hall’s Restroom
“Insider tip: best bathroom in Arlington,” wrote a TripAdvisor reviewer.
It’s not every day that online reviewers urge you to check out the restaurant’s bathroom. So it is at Lyon Hall, a restaurant more well-known as a classic French brasserie that serves freshly baked bread, house-cured charcuterie, and handcrafted cheeses on a daily basis.
“They also have an interesting open bathroom where the men's and women's bathroom can see each other when washing your hands,” wrote one reviewer on Yelp. Said another, “Crazy bathrooms, as you wash your hands, you can see into the bathroom of the opposite sex as they too wash their hands. It's bizarre if you've never experienced it before.”
Just across Arlington’s Army Navy Drive from Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, you can easily access via tunnel the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial which honors the 184 lives lost at the site in 2001.
“You walk across the street to the outer Pentagon parking lot, through a really cool tunnel under the I-395 highway and a walk on a well designated path to the memorial,” wrote blogger Nick Saraceni.
“Never felt so safe with so many service members walking through the tunnel,” wrote one TripAdvisor reviewer.
Embedded within the winding hallways of the Crystal City Shops you’ll find artistic wonders. But this is no cave painting: Gallery Underground, the premier art exhibition space for Arlington Artists Alliance members, displays sculpture; glass; ceramics and jewelry as well as drawings and creations in oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. You can explore artwork that changes monthly and a free opening reception held on the first Friday of every month.
Author: Kathleen Murphy