Baltimore Sun

Quaint Occoquan is a world away from nearby bustle

The Occoquan River flows behind the town gazebo. It's the perfect time to visit Occoquan's quiet tree-lined streets.
It's only a short shot from Northern Virginia's bumper-to-bumper I-95 corridor and just a few minutes away from the mammoth traffic interchange known as the "Springfield Mixing Bowl," but the historic town of Occoquan provides quite a respite from the region's hectic suburban bustle.

The village on the Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac, its name a Dogue Indian term meaning "end of the waters," is speckled with tiny shops and cafes that offer relaxing distractions from the everyday grind.

And for those interested in learning about the region's history, it's a perfect time to visit Occoquan's quiet tree-lined streets.

This year marks the town's 200th anniversary, and its Bicentennial Committee is planning a variety of informative programs and celebrations for the coming weeks and months.

Visitors can also glimpse the past at the town's museum and the Prince William County Visitor Center, which is also in Occoquan.

Where to visit

The Mill House Museum (413 Mill St., 703-491-7525): Once the office space for an 18th-century gristmill, the stone structure that houses the Mill House Museum is one of many reminders of the town's once booming industries. Inside the old building, which was attached to the mill that was destroyed by fire in 1924, visitors can explore Occoquan's history through exhibits and photographs that detail life in both antebellum and 19th-century Northern Virginia. Hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.

The Prince William County Visitor Center (200 Mill St., 703-491-4045): Stop by the visitor center to get maps and information on the town, the surrounding area and the state of Virginia. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Where to shop

The Artists' Undertaking (309 Mill St., 703-494-0584): This cooperative gallery, which operates out of the former town funeral parlor, has been offering reasonably priced original art since 1977. Watercolors, pottery, fused glass, pastels and photography are all available at the Mill Street shop. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Elements (313 Mill St., 703-490-8697): Eastern-influenced pottery, funky jewelry and one-of-a-kind home furnishings. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays-Mondays.

The Frame Up (402 Mill St., 703-491-2838): Scale the front-porch steps and walk through the screen door of this shop, and you'll be greeted by a friendly host, the store's resident black cat, as you scan the wide variety of prints from renowned watercolor artist P. Buckley Moss. Custom framing is available, and gift items are also for sale. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

Hawthorne House (404 Mill St., 703-491-5775): Hawthorne House carries a large selection of fine papers and products, including glass and feather quilled ink pens, leather-bound journals and scrapbooks. Invitations, announcements, ribbons and handmade cards are also available. Hours are 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10:30 a.m-7 p.m. Thursdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

Where to eat and drink

The Garden Kitchen (404 Mill St., 703-494-2848): Set back behind the paper store, up a dozen brick steps and next to an outdoor courtyard is a quaint little cafe and restaurant known as the Garden Kitchen. Homemade pies, breads, soups and sandwiches are on the menu at this bright and cheery spot in a 150-year-old house that was once used as a pharmacy and a doctor's office. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sundays-Fridays and 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturdays.

The Occoquan Inn (301 Mill St., 703-491-1888): The Occoquan Inn still retains portions of its original structure, which was built in 1810. The restaurant and tavern is said to have a resident ghost, a Dogue Indian man, who haunts the upstairs floors. Hours are 5 p.m.-9 p.m. daily. Sunday brunch is served each week from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Sea, Sea & Co. (201 Mill St., 703-494-1365): This riverside restaurant specializes in, of course, seafood. Steaks and other land fare, wines and dessert selections are also available. Hours are 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Ye Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe (408 Mill St., 703-494-1622): A purveyor of only Virginia wine, this shop holds daily wine tastings and is host to a local winery every Saturday afternoon. Stop by, take a seat by the fireplace, sample some varieties and ask shop co-owner and self-described "wineau" Mari Spragins' advice on choosing a vintage. Hours are 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.

Getting there

Take Interstate 95 South toward Richmond to Exit 160 and follow the signs to Occoquan.