Off the Beaten Path: Old Town Fairfax

I usually fly right through Old Town Fairfax. The streets are narrow and the traffic heavy so I've never known what the stores had to offer along this small historic district for fear that a split second glance will get me into a fender bender.

But one recent Monday afternoon I was inspired to stop. Who knew you could find home decorations, fine children's clothing, original art, Christian books and gifts, wine, running gear and even a place to get a tattoo. The strip is also home to several eateries, which is part of my criteria for a worthwhile shopping destination. And best of all, Old Town Fairfax has free, public parking, which is rare these days.

Old Town Fairfax, a stone's throw from George Mason University, is a bit reserved for a college town, but that didn't stop me from finding some shopping gems.

The Second Yard, on the corner of Main Street and University Drive, specializes in fabrics for home decor like curtains, furniture and throw pillows. The store also has a wide selection of lamps, framed prints, furniture, home decorations and tableware. I was especially struck by the store's rather wide array of fake foods and drinks ranging from $15 to around $40. (Yes, people will actually use a glass that very convincingly looks like it's filled with a martini as decoration.) I almost reported a spill to an employee only to realize the toppled coffee cup was part of the decor. The store also carries Vera Bradley's plate collection, which includes dinner plates for $24 and square appetizer plates for $22. The designs on the plates mimic the paisleys and swirls you'll find on Vera Bradley bags.

While you're on that block of Main Street, hit Young Elegance, a traditional children's boutique that's been in Fairfax 13 years. Here you'll find dress clothes for boys and girls, who may be in a wedding, bar mitzvah, christening or any other big event in their little lives. Some of the clothes range in price from $18 to $200 and include designers like Frances Johnston and Sophie Dess. You'll also find shoes, jewelry and a few toys.

And you can't miss Circa, a home and garden store housed in an old feed and grain warehouse tucked behind T.T. Reynolds, one of Old Town's eating establishments. The store was opened in 2002 by Betsy Rutkowski after being laid off from the airline industry after 9/11. The store sells a little of everything with a vintage, antique and European feel to them, including furniture, lighting, plant urns, lotions, soaps and framed artwork. Among the things that caught my eye were Cucina hand soaps and lotions for just under $20. Circa also had a large tulip vase, complete with small tubes within the vase to hold up these lazy flowers, for $58. The store also had some fun, artsy plastic plates with pictures of blow fish, turtles and sea horses. A set of four small plates run $36 and a set of four dinner plates go for $44.

So, what stores do you hit while shopping in Old Town Fairfax? Where else do you go when you're shopping off the beaten path? Please post a comment below.

My fiscal fast starts in a few days. Will you join me in not spending any money for a whole week? The fast starts at midnight on July 7 ending at midnight on July 14. I'll report back on how I fare on July 17. Please post a comment that day if you also do the fast. Have any tips for fiscal fasting? E-mail me at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  July 3, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Off the Beaten Path
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