Visit Clifton Virginia: A Charming Small Town Near DC

Updated on March 22, 2024 by Julie McCool

The charming small town of Clifton Virginia is a perfect day trip from Washington DC to enjoy tasty restaurants, local shops, a historic downtown, scenic hiking, and the closest winery to DC. Drive less than an hour from the Nation's Capital to Clifton and you step back in time to small-town America and one of our favorite hidden gems in Northern Virginia.

It's easy to spend an hour or a whole day in Clifton. Enjoy an adult getaway to sip Virginia wine, browse the downtown shops, enjoy casual to fine dining, and soak up a little history. Families will find plenty of diversions too, from a tasty ice cream store to a scenic stream-side hike. You can even reach Clifton on a scenic drive on pretty Virginia Byways.

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Here is your complete guide to more than 20 places to visit, shop, drink, and eat in Clifton VA, plus outdoor fun and things to do nearby. Read on to plan your visit to this lovely Virginia town nicknamed “the Brigadoon of Virginia.”

Visit small town Clifton Virginia for dining, shops, an historic downtown, scenic hiking, and the closest winery to Washington DC.

Fun Things to Do in Clifton VA

Begin your visit in historic downtown Clifton VA, less than one square mile in size but packed with small town charm. There is plenty of free parking, and Clifton's walkable Old Town includes restaurants, shops, parks, and many restored buildings from the early 1900s.

Enjoy a meal or two at one of several excellent Clifton restaurants  When you finish exploring the downtown, take a hike on the Bull-Run Occoquan Trail and visit Fairfax County's first winery.

Explore more Fun Northern Virginia Small Towns to Visit Now.

Here are fun things to see and do in Clifton Virginia, including local places to eat, drink, and shop.

Visit Historic Devereaux Station Caboose

Devereaux Station caboose in historic Clifton VA
Devereaux Station caboose in historic Clifton VA

During the Civil War, the Union Army commissioned the new Devereaux Station on the important Orange and Alexandria Railroad line. A passenger station was built in 1868 and the name was changed to Clifton Station.

With easy train access from the city, Clifton became a commercial and resort community. In fact, three US Presidents stayed at the Clifton Hotel, once a popular resort. Today, visitors can explore the outside of the red caboose, which makes a nice photo spot.

Stroll A Classic American Main Street

If you're a fan of small American main streets, you will be happy in Clifton Virginia. Shops, restaurants, and historic homes line Main Street in the historic downtown. The area covers just a few blocks, so prepare to slow down and savor the details.

A warning—Clifton is on the route of many commuters, so Main Street traffic grinds to a crawl at rush hour. Visit after the rush or on the weekend to enjoy a quieter scene.

Explore the Clifton VA National Historic District

In the 1970s, new buyers began renovating the Victorian buildings that fill Clifton's small downtown neighborhood. Fortunately, the town's designation as a watershed for the Occoquan River prevented the large-scale development that is common in bustling Fairfax County.

Today, Clifton VA is a registered National Historic District and its houses are well-signed and full of interesting stories. Main Street is lined with historic houses, many surrounded by picket fences. Stroll through town and you'll see why Clifton is considered one of the best places to live in Virginia.

Historic signs explain each house's history and offer interesting tidbits. Many of the historic homes are on Main Street, but you'll find more on the side streets, including Chapel, Chestnut, and School Streets. The downtown is small, so it won't take long to learn how Clifton is connected to the Titanic, a Tom Hanks movie, and Nancy Regan.

Historic Homes in Downtown Clifton

The Sleepless in Seattle romance between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan began in the Buckley House, where author Jeff Arch wrote the screenplay.

The Buckley House in charming Clifton VA
The Buckley House in charming Clifton VA

Oscar Woody bought Huckbill in 1910. Two years later he was posted on the Titanic when she sank on his birthday.

Huckbill historic house in Clifton VA
Hookbill historic house in Clifton VA

Historic Commercial Buildings in Clifton VA

The Buckley Store was once the largest store between Alexandria and Front Royal with the charming motto “from a pin to a plow.” Nancy Reagan dined here three times. The former general store is now home to a popular restaurant and wine store.

Buckley Store building on Clifton's Main Street
Buckley Store building on Clifton's Main Street

The Clifton Hotel resort, which opened in 1869, served healthful waters from Paradise Spring to four presidents including Grant and Roosevelt. Notables from Washington DC headed to Clifton for the fresh air, spring water, and a break from the city. Today the popular fine dining restaurant Trummer's occupies the building (details below).

Every small town deserves a classic general store, and the green building by the tracks has served Clifton residents since the 1930s. (A previous general store was destroyed by fire).

Clifton General Store and Main Street Pub
Clifton General Store and Main Street Pub

Clifton's Historic Churches

There are three interesting church buildings in the Clifton Historic District. The ornate Clifton Baptist Church was built in 1910. It's one-room predecessor was a meeting place for members of the feared Confederate troops known as Mosby's Rangers.

Clifton Baptist Church on Main Street
Clifton Baptist Church on Main Street

The land that became Clifton was once inhabited by emancipated slaves. William Harris was one of 16 enslaved people who were freed and granted land in the will of William Beckwith. Harris was an important figure in the growth of Clifton. He donated the land for the Clifton Old School Primitive Baptist Church, which was built in 1871 and is the oldest African-American church in Fairfax County.

Clifton Primitive Baptist Church
Clifton Primitive Baptist Church

The Clifton Presbyterian Church is an attractive stone church built after the Civil War, in 1872.

Clifton Presbyterian Church
Clifton Presbyterian Church

History buffs could spend several hours visiting all of the signed buildings in Clifton. Even casual history and architecture fans will enjoy a walk through town.

Shop Local in Clifton VA

Take a break from history and support the local economy at unique Clifton VA shops. You'll find everything from antiques to modern home goods, casual fashion, wine, and food. You can also shop many of these stores online.

Belle Jar Design

Hunt for up-cycled treasure and gifts at Belle Jar Design, across the street from Trummer's. Read the sign out front to learn why this attractive yellow building is known locally as the “Pink House.” Open Thursday to Sunday; hours vary.

Belle Jar Design upcycled finds in Clifton Virginia
Belle Jar Design upcycled finds in Clifton Virginia

Virginia Mercantile

One of the newer shops in Clifton, Virginia Mercantile offers a mix of modern and vintage products with an emphasis on sustainability. They have a great collection of Virginia-made products. Another section of the store features a Refill Station for sustainable shampoos, soaps, cleaning supplies, and more. Order online or shop in person Tuesday through Sunday.

Virginia-made goods at the Virginia Mercantile store in charming Clifton VA
Virginia Mercantile Clifton VA

The Wine Attic

Head upstairs in the red Buckley Building to browse local and imported wines at the Wine Attic. Tastings are held on weekends. The Wine Attic is open daily; noon to 8:00 on most days but hours vary.

The Wine Attic in downtown Clifton Virginia
The Wine Attic in downtown Clifton Virginia

Clifton General Store

The Clifton General Store sells a selection of groceries and staples, and the kitchen turns out tasty homemade sandwiches and treats. This is a good stop to pick up a snack or a picnic. The store is also home to the Main Street Pub (info below). Open daily, 8:00 to 11:00 or 12:00.

The Clifton General Store in the historic downtown
Clifton General Store

Trattoria Villagio Market

Take a bit of Italy home with you with a stop at the Trattoria Villagio Market. The market sells a variety of imported olive oils and vinegar, spices and sauces, gourmet pasta, and other Italian specialties. You can also purchase prepared food to go, including delicious pizzas and calzones. Open daily, 11:30 to 10:00.

Trattoria Villagio Market in Clifton
Trattoria Villagio Market in Clifton

Play Outdoors in Clifton Virginia

Clifton offers a nice collection of outdoor parks and trails for such a small town. Enjoy stream-side and woodland trails, a small nature preserve, and three golf courses. Families with kids will enjoy Clifton's downtown park with a gazebo, playground, and a big field for running around.

In Clifton, nature lovers can enjoy a wide range of hiking experiences. Take a short walk in the woods or tackle an all-day hike on the 17-mile Bull Run Occoquan Trail. You can even hike a section of the historic Washington Rochambeau Wagon Route.

Clifton Town Park and Playground

Clifton Town Park on Chapel Street is an ideal stop for families visiting Clifton with young children. The park has a large field, a cute playground, a pretty gazebo, and several picnic tables. There is limited parking, but it's a short walk from other parking lots in town.

Playground at Clifton Town Park
Playground at Clifton Town Park

Bull Run Occoquan Trail Scenic Hike

Hike the Bull Run – Occoquan Trail for a fun outdoor adventure in Clifton. Follow Yates Ford Road to the parking lot at the end of the road. A sign marks the trailhead and access to a trail down to the stream. Once you reach the stream—aka Bull Run—you can head north or south, following the Bull Run – Occoquan trail along the water.

The hike is peaceful, shady, and often populated with Great Blue Herons and turkey vultures. The trail is mostly level but the ground is uneven so wear good hiking shoes.

Bull Run - Occoquan Trail in Clifton Virginia
Bull Run – Occoquan Trail in Clifton Virginia

Bull Run Marina and Trail

NOVA Parks maintains a boathouse and dock with access to the Occoquan Reservoir at Bull Run Marina. You'll need a season pass and key, purchased at Fountainhead Regional Park, to use the dock.

The marina is also an entry point to the 17.5 mile Bull Run Occoquan Trail. Hike from the marina south to Fountainhead Regional Park to enjoy scenic woodlands and interesting history. (You can also hike north but the first 2 miles are less scenic.)

One section of the trail follows the Revolutionary War Washington Rochambeau Wagon Route. American and French forces traveled the 600-mile wagon route from Virginia to New England before the climactic Battle of Yorktown.

Find details for the hike in Bull Run Occoquan Trail: Fountainhead to Bull Run Marina Hike.

Washington Rochambeau Wagon Route sign on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail
Washington Rochambeau Wagon Route Sign

Hemlock Overlook Regional Park

A small network of trails crosses Hemlock Overlook Regional Park and leads to the Bull Run Occoquan Trail. The park hosts an education center and camp for kids and corporations. Park restrooms and other facilities are closed to hikers, but you can hike the wooded trails through the property.

Webb Nature Sanctuary

Webb Nature Sanctuary is a small nature preserve maintained by NOVA Parks. There are trails through a hillside meadow and stream bed where you can see birds, flora, and other wildlife. The hillside trails are steep and can be very muddy (sections were impassable on our visit). Access the trails from a small, free parking lot at the end of Chestnut Street.

Golf Courses in Clifton VA

There are three golf courses at the northern end of Clifton Virginia. Fred Couples designed the course at Westfields Golf Club, where golfers enjoy secluded rolling hills and tree-lined fairways. Twin Lakes Golf Course is managed by Fairfax County Parks and offers two 18-hole courses. The Virginia Golf Center is a play and practice center with a driving range, par 3 course, and pro shop. They offer golf instruction and classes for kids and adults.

Clifton VA Restaurants: Where to Eat in Clifton Virginia

Once you've worked up an appetite, choose from a nice selection of local restaurants in downtown Clifton. Clifton restaurants offer a range of dining experiences from very casual to fine dining.

Main Street Pub

The Main Street Pub is an Irish Pub located in the Clifton General Store serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They make delicious BLTs, terrific burgers, tasty fish and chips, and have a nice beer selection and a full bar. There is table and bar seating inside, but we like the outdoor patio when the weather is nice. You can also order food to go from the general store. The pub is open daily from 8:00 – 11:00 or 12:00.

Main Street Pub patio
Main Street Pub patio, Clifton VA

Clifton Cafe

Nearby on Main Street, Clifton Cafe is a European cafe with an impressive creperie menu. They also offer sandwiches, pastries, coffee, and a full bar. Enjoy your meal in the expanded cafe or out on the large patio. The cafe is open Monday to Wednesday, from 7:00 to 6:00; and Wednesday through Sunday, 7:00 to 8:00.

Clifton Cafe
Clifton Cafe

Trattoria Villagio Market and Restaurant

Head to Trattoria Villagio Market and Restaurant, a popular Italian restaurant in Clifton VA, for upscale dining featuring antipasti, tapas, pasta, and more. The dining room spans several elegant rooms and a lovely central courtyard. Visit in winter to enjoy heated outdoor dining in the courtyard. Villagio serves lunch and dinner daily, along with a weekend Sunday brunch. Open daily, 11:30 to 10:00; to 11:00 on Friday and Saturday.

Trattoria Villagio patio Clifton
Trattoria Villagio patio Clifton


The former Clifton Hotel building is now the home of Trummer's. This relaxed fine dining restaurant serves creative dishes that highlight Virginia's local agriculture. Diners enjoy the largest wine cellar in the mid-Atlantic region and a bar serving creative cocktails like their signature Titanic. Trummer's serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday, plus Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch.

Trummers offers fine dining in Clifton Virginia
Trummer's in Clifton Virginia

Peterson's Ice Cream Depot

Looking for a very casual meal or a treat in Clifton? Peterson's Ice Cream Depot is a Main Street institution serving ice cream, sundaes, shakes, hot dogs, and more kid-friendly food. Look for the quirky cow and the train out front, then head to the window to order your food.

There's a large patio with plenty of seating where you can enjoy your tasty treats. Peterson's is open daily in season, 4:00 to 9:00 on school days, and 11:30 to 9:00 when school is out.

Peterson's Ice Cream Depot in Clifton
Peterson's Ice Cream Depot in Clifton

Motier Clifton

Enjoy French pastry and cuisine at Motier Clifton. The new pastry shop took over the space on Chapel Road, just a block off Main Street, that was formerly occupied by Bake and Brew Coffee. Motier is currently open for breakfast and lunch Hours vary; follow the link for details.

Sip Award-winning Virginia Wine in Clifton VA

All this exploring is sure to work up a thirst. Happily, Clifton is home to Paradise Springs Winery, Fairfax County's first winery and the closest winery to Washington DC. The beautiful property offers plenty of room to spread out and sample their tasty Virginia wines.

Visitors can relax on a paved patio, a lovely tasting barn, an enclosed porch, and a huge yard dotted with picnic tables. They offer cheese, bread, and other foods to accompany the wine, or you can bring your own picnic lunch. Paradise Springs Winery is open 11:00 – 7:00 daily; until 9:00 on Fridays.

Tasting Barn at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton Virginia
Paradise Springs Winery Clifton VA

The winery is steps from the Bull Run Occoquan Trail parking, making Clifton an ideal destination for a Hike and Wine Outing in Northern Virginia.

Special Events in Clifton VA

Clifton only has a few hundred residents, but the town swells during special events and festivals. The annual Clifton Day draws a crowd for classic fun at one of the best fall festivals in Northern Virginia. You can even take a free VRE train to town from Manassas for the day.

Clifton also hosts a Spring House and Garden Tour in May, a Fourth of July parade, a Haunted Trail for Halloween, and a Holiday Homes Tour.

Find more local fun in our guide 70 Favorite Festivals in Northern Virginia.

Tips for Your Visit to Clifton Virginia

Here is essential information and tips for your visit to Clifton.

Clifton VA Location and Directions

Clifton Virginia is located in the southwestern corner of Fairfax County, just over 25 miles west of Washington DC. Clifton's western border is the Bull Run stream and, across it, Prince William County.

The quickest route from DC to Clifton is to drive Route 66 west to Stringfellow Road south. We prefer a more scenic route on Virginia Byways. From route 123 south, turn right on Fairfax Station Road. Fairfax Station is a hilly, winding country road that passes horse farms and fields setting the stage for your small town destination.

Where to Stay Near Clifton Virginia

There are no hotels in town, but there are many lodging options near Clifton. The historic town of Manassas makes a good base for exploring the area. The City of Fairfax is less than 10 miles north and also has an interesting, walkable downtown.

When to Visit Clifton

Our favorite time to visit Clifton is on a weekend day. Shops and restaurants are open, and there is no commuter traffic to contend with. Weekdays are nice too, but some shops and restaurants are closed earlier in the week. Whenever you go, avoid driving to Clifton during rush hour if possible.

Helpful Websites for Your Clifton Visit

Fun Places to Visit Near Clifton VA

Clifton is close to several interesting parks, including Manassas National Battlefield. Extend your fun with a visit to these parks, museums, and towns close to Clifton.

  • Fountainhead Regional Park has excellent mountain biking trails and boat access to the Occoquan Reservoir.
  • Elanor C. Lawrence Park includes a historic dairy farm, kid-friendly visitor center, and nice woodland trails.
  • Fairfax Station Railroad Museum interprets the important role that the Orange & Alexandria Railroad played in the development of Northern Virginia.
  • Manassas National Battlefield preserves the site of two important Civil War battles and offers excellent hiking and history. The nearby Winery at Bull Run is a lovely, historic winery in Fairfax County.

In Clifton Virginia, the food and wine are delicious, the town is quiet, and the pace is relaxed. Take your time; have a seat outside the general store or at the town park. Stop for a meal and a hike. Feel that stress melting away?

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Visit the charming town of Clifton Virginia to explore an historic downtown, delicious dining, a lovely winery, and excellent hiking along Bull Run.
Clifton Virginia Day Trip
Visit the charming town of Clifton Virginia to explore an historic downtown, delicious dining, a lovely winery, and excellent hiking along Bull Run.
Clifton Virginia is a perfect DC day trip to small town America with great dining, outdoor fun, history, shops and a winery.