By Carla Olivo, Marine Spouse

Those stationed at the Pentagon, Fort Belvoir or really anywhere in the National Capital Region, know that you could venture out every day and experience something totally new and unique. From shopping at quaint stores in Occoquan to seeing over 15,000 candles lit to honor America’s soldiers, there is always something to see and do!

Here is PCSgrades’ Northern Virginia Bucket List of “once in a lifetime” things to do and places to see. Share this list and please add to it in the comments below.

Arlington attractions

One of the most popular attractions is President John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The entire site, with a total area of about 3.2 acres, was set aside by the Secretary of the Army with the approval of the Secretary of Defense to honor the memory of the President. The Eternal Flame, lighted by Mrs. Kennedy on the day of the funeral, now burns from the center of a 5-foot circular flat granite stone located at the head of the President’s grave.

More than 400,000 American service members, veterans, and their family members are buried at the 612-acre national cemetery. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is another popular attraction.

Alexandria history

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria is the pharmacy that served Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee among others. It first opened in 1792, and is considered the “Oldest Best Preserved Pharmacy Post Revolutionary War.” Most of what you see on the shelves and in storage of this Colonial and Civil War era drugstore was what was left here when it closed in 1933.

A few blocks away on Fairfax Street in Alexandria is the Carlyle House and Park. Built in 1751, this was the home of wealthy merchant, John Carlyle. The 18th-century mansion and its gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There’s history; then there’s Washington history

George Washington’s family home located along the shores of the Potomac River is the scene of many special programs and events for all ages throughout the year. Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is one of NOVA’s more scenic tourist attractions. In addition, the mansion, the outbuildings, the gardens and the museum bring to life America’s first president and his family.

D.C. isn’t the only game in town when it comes to museums!

The Northern Virginia location of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, near Dulles International Airport, features the massive space shuttle Discovery, the Lockheed SR-71 and various other aircraft, spacecraft and artifacts. Enjoy the IMAX theater, simulator activities and a variety of exhibits geared towards children. Check out the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Visitor’s Guide for more info.

To experience one of the more unique museums in the area, head further south on I-95 to the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico. The state-of-the-art museum used actual marines cast in plaster to form the life-size statues that adorn the stunning lobby. Interactive technology and multi-media exhibits on US-involved wars from 1775 to the Gulf War are featured. You can experience the moments before landing on Iwo Jima and see the actual U.S. flag raised in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. Thousands of artifacts bring to life the values, mission, and culture of the Corps.


Located along the docks of the Potomac River in Alexandria, local artists showcase their work at the Torpedo Factory. This former torpedo plant was originally built during World War I as a munitions factory. Now nearly 100 years old, the site is now home to 160 artisans in more than 80 studios and galleries. You can watch the artists create and add to your art collection by purchasing directly onsite.

Shop til you drop

Not interested in cookie cutter, chain stores? Well, the scenic town of Occoquan is a can’t miss shopping experience. Shop Mom’s Apple Pie for some delicious treats. It’s Christmas year-round at The Golden Goose and the PolkaDot Divas offers a full line of products full of glitz and glam!

More than just wineries

One of the region’s best small-batch distilleries is located near Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania County. The A. Smith Bowman Distillery was founded in 1934 on the day after the end of Prohibition. Until the 1950s, it was the only legal whiskey distillery in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A sight to be seen….but only once a year!

More than 15,000 candles, one for each soldier buried at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery is a sight to behold! The luminaria pays tribute to soldiers who have given their lives for their country. Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA light each candle on Memorial Day weekend. A bugler plays “Taps” every 30 minutes during the evening, and park attendants tell the stories of the soldiers interred there.

Strange but wonderfully weird!

“Most” of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson Is buried in a Lexington, Virginia, cemetery that bears his name. But in a strange twist of events, his arm was buried separately.  In the spring of 1863, Jackson had just launched a devastating attack against Union forces at Chancellorsville. A North Carolina regiment, unable to see who was riding up on them, opened fire and Jackson’s left arm was shattered and later amputated. His body was shipped to Lexington while his arm received its own burial. Also noteworthy, the arm has been dug up and reburied numerous times, but the original simple gravestone remains at Ellwood Manor in Locust Grove

Catch a movie in style!

Finally, the historic Byrd Theatre in Richmond has survived nearly 90 years largely unaltered in appearance, operating almost continuously since 1928 as a movie theatre. The first movie shown at the Byrd was Waterfront, a silent movie with sound added. Patrons had to buck up 25 cents for a matinee and 50 cents for an evening movie. Today the $1.99 ticket price is still a bargain! The 1300-seat Byrd Theatre, named after William Byrd, one of the founders of Richmond, is one of the nation’s finest cinema treasures.

If you have anything to add to our  Northern Virginia Bucket List, please comment below. For all your PCS needs, check out for reviews of on-base housing, local neighborhoods, moving companies, realtors, and mortgage lenders.

Author: Carla Olivo, PCSgrades Strategic Communications Coordinator, lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children. She has checked many of these items off her NOVA Bucket list and says the luminaria on Memorial Day weekend at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery is her favorite, but shopping in Occoquan is a close second! You can follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.