If you missed Del Ray’s Art on the Avenue festival, don’t worry. Year-round, visitors as well as locals can enjoy the vibrant murals documenting this Virginia neighborhood’s history. I mapped out a self-guided Del Ray’s street art tour that runs 12 blocks down the center of town and features nine murals.
Located just two miles from the historic Old Town Alexandria, Del Ray offers an entirely different vibe. I didn’t run into any tour guides dressed up as Martha Washington or see any cobblestone streets. The neighborhood’s mantra is “where Main Street still exists.” I might add ” . . . still thrives.”
Del Ray is proud of its bohemian roots. It definitely reminded me of Saluda, North Carolina, or Takoma Park, Maryland.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, one-time hippies rediscovered Del Ray’s charms and its low-priced bungalows, Victorians and apartments.”Washington Post
Declaring Mount Vernon Avenue as the neighborhood’s Main Street, Del Ray features independent shops, local chefs, non-franchise coffee shops, and dogs galore. So let’s start this self-guided street with its most beloved mural.
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Dogs of Del Ray Mural
If you have any questions about whether Del Ray residents love their pooches, head straight for the Dogs of Del Ray mural. It is located on the side of the Stomping Ground restaurant at 2309 Mount Vernon Street.
Local Alexandria artist Patrick Kirwin painted more than 100 dogs on the brick exterior. The dogs’ owners provided a donation in order for their dogs to appear on Del Ray’s hybrid version of the “Wall of Fame.”
Poodles, bulldogs, labs, collies, German shepherds, huskies, terriers, pit bulls, and (my favorite) Golden retrievers appear on the mural. Each dog’s portrait includes its name so Del Ray dogs include Betsy Ross, Whiskey, Hennesey, Scout, Olive, Jack, Wesley, and Goldie.
This corner on Mount Vernon Avenue also includes picnic tables so it is clearly a neighborhood gathering place. I imagine on weekends that the owners and their dogs gather to drink a cup of coffee and share some kibble among friends.
Dream Forest Mural
Your next stop should be The Dog Store if you really love your dog as much as you say. But if you have a limited time budget, simply turn the corner to see Alex Cook’s 2013 painting facing E. Del Ray Avenue. The “Dream Forest” mural displays ribbons of tree branches wrapping around each other.
There are red trees, lavender trees, and blue trees, as well as sturdy brown and beige bark trees. The white sun blazes in the distance. Two animals silently approach the woods. You instantly become one with street art if you sit on the bench and chairs nearby.
Dog Tip: Be sure to take advantage of the hospitality and open the post box in front of The Dog Store. Even dogs can read the cheerful message if they have their nose up in the air: “Please take a treat!”
Kids & Dogs Mural
Artist Patrick Kirwin let the dogs out again in Del Ray in his panoramic painting of Kids & Dogs at at the market.
It is a neighborhood with a small-town feel known for kids and dogs. The basis for the mural is a NYC-style grocery with produce spilling out onto the streetPatrick Kirwin
Bright yellow lemons and green limes are stacked high in rows, along with red apples and purple plums.
But what really draws your eye is the people and their pets. Smiling girls are stationed in front of vegetables. A young boy wears a big smile along with his Washington Nationals baseball hat. An older girl steers her scooter.
And multiple dogs cavort among the pails of flowers. The most striking is a little black retriever puppy who is calling all her friends to come out and play.
And the fantastical conclusion of this panoramic market mural is a bike dangling from the corner of the Velocity Bike Cooperative. The store’s slogan: “Building an inclusive bicycling community.”
Greetings from Del Ray Mural
I don’t know if most people under age 40 even remember the thrill of receiving a postcard from a friend or family who was traveling. But when I was growing up, there was nothing more exciting than getting a postcard in the mail. Suddenly, you could picture yourself in the image of the postcard, whether it was Atlantic City, Hollywood, or Tokyo.
Before Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, people recorded their whereabouts (aka “pre-selfie”) by sending a handwritten postcard with a stock photo of where they were visiting. And everyone felt jealous.
Historic Del Ray Mural
I particularly loved this mural created by Chad Brady of “Greeting from Del Ray” based on the old racetrack located in northern Virginia. The “historic” Del Ray painting shows a jockey racing alongside a railroad.
The artist used the old Asaph Racetrack on this vintage postcard painting. It is located at Cheesetique (the place where you buy cheese) at 2411 Mount Vernon Avenue.
St. Elmo Mural
Naturally, all the dogs (and their “hoomans”) in the know congregate at St. Elmo Coffee Pub (established 1996) on Mount Vernon Avenue. When Parker and I passed by around 11 am on a quiet Friday morning, there wasn’t one outdoor table free. I think there was a dog shading himself under the table at every location.
I absolutely loved that the patrons could enjoy a cameo of rockstar Jim Morrison (who lived in Alexandria) painted on the exterior pub’s brick wall as well as a good cup of java when they frequent this beloved coffee house.
Floral Garden Mural
In addition to flowers blooming everywhere in Del Ray, you can also enjoy a floral garden mural. This army-green house shows a tall tree bending across the scope of the house.
The branches wrap around the upstairs window, intersecting the frame. Along the side of the house, a tall fruit tree grows up bearing red fruit.
I was momentarily stunned by seeing the real-life vines intrude on the iPhone image of the painted vegetation. Real life vs. painted image: which looks real? Only the artist Chad Brady knows the answer.]
Del Ray Sunset Mural
Del Ray’s street art on the side of Kaizen Tavern, an Asian fusion restaurant, reminded me of a 1960s-style artist. Over one-third of the artist Rives Wiely’s mural is dedicated to the circumference of a glowing pink ball (aka “a setting sun”). Protruding from the circle are geometric units in purple, blue, and black.
The Japanese element is dictated by the quasi-cherry blossoms floating in the air on a blue background. I could definitely spend some time studying this simplistic image. Instead, I posed Parker in front of the mural at 1909 Mount Vernon Avenue.
Mount Vernon Recreation Center Mural
Our self-guided Del Ray’s street art tour ended at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center. By this point, you have passed the community school. You’ll see benches to rest on as well as children’s play equipment (no dogs allowed).
This mural was created during one of Del Ray’s Art on the Avenue festivals. It is a celebration of the spirit and the community. You really need to slow down and travel down the brick wall inch by inch to read all the names of the special places as well as the sentiment of this little “neighborhood that could.”
This Del Ray mural celebrates lemonade stands, the Del Ray Halloween Parade, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, and “all men are created equal.” (I hope this sentiment extends to all women as well). I particularly loved the carving of “I love Del Ray” in a heart on the large tree. In the branches, I spy two children settled in a branch.
It is no surprise to me that the heart is a symbol that appears throughout the neighborhood. This is a town where people love where they live.
“Eclectic shops and signature events like Art on the Avenue contribute to an artsy ambiance.VisitAlexandria.com
And this is how I felt when I visited Del Ray. I could instantly move into this neighborhood. It felt like “Every Town USA.” Main Street was a place to congregate and see neighbors. Dogs were welcome everywhere. And the street art instantly told me the community’s story.