Where to live in DC?
November 13, 2010 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Moving-filter: Where to live in Washington, DC (or its surrounds)?

My girlfriend and I are almost certainly going to be moving to the DC area from Austin, TX in a couple of months. If everything goes according to plan, I'll be working in Rockville. The question then is: where to live? We're open to DC and the close-in suburbs, and will have vehicles but would greatly prefer using public transit.

Stuff we'd like:
- Rent at somewhere under $1500/month.
- Red line or other Metro access.
- A not too sketchy or crappy neighborhood, but also...
- A more urban neighborhood that's not supper stuffy and family-oriented

We're willing to compromise, of course; we don't expect to get a super fancy place right next to the Metro for $500 a month. But while we're okay with living in a place that's a little crappy, we still want to be safe.

What we're really looking to get out of this question is general neighborhoods and streets, but recommendations for specific apartments/locators/online tools/publications are great too. We'd like to narrow down where to start our search, and will be spending some time looking around in the area in a couple of weeks.
posted by malthas to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Most of the red line is relatively swank. From your description, I suggest Cleveland Park (DC). How big an apartment are you looking for? I think you should still be able to score a 1-bedroom in CPark in your price range, especially if you don't mind a bit of a walk to Metro. Parking, however, may be an issue for you, especially with two cars. Parking is a serious problem almost everywhere in the District. So I would recommend looking for a place with at least one parking space included.

By the way, the Cleveland Park suggestion assumes that by "A more urban neighborhood that's not supper stuffy and family-oriented" that you DO want family-oriented but you do NOT want super stuffy. Is that correct? If you want NEITHER family-oriented NOR stuffy, I would perhaps move in the direction of U St (although getting to the red line from that area can be a pain).
posted by hansbrough at 12:35 PM on November 13, 2010

Oh, also, definitely look at Craigslist and also City Paper and the Washington Blade.
posted by hansbrough at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: Actually, as clarification, we'd like a place that's neither too family-oriented nor super-stuffy. We will have two cars, but we can probably get rid of one of them. And a 1-bedroom is pretty much exactly what we're looking for, though we wouldn't have anything wrong with a bigger place.
posted by malthas at 12:37 PM on November 13, 2010

I prefer North Arlington on the Wilson Blvd corridor...neighborhoods include: Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Ballston...all great places to live. Check craigslist and search around online..you can find something for $1500, but you have to look. Can't go wrong (with respect to crime etc) with the places I mention above.
posted by Yunani at 12:40 PM on November 13, 2010

Ah, gotcha. Well, in that case, you might find anything north (I mean, north & west on the red line) of Dupont Circle to be too boring. Dupont itself is a great area that I totally recommend, but you might have trouble finding something in your price range (also parking is even more of a nightmare there than on up the red line). Ditto Gallery Place/Chinatown. And once you get over to the east side of the red line, you almost may as well drive to work. How much of a walk to Metro are you willing to have?
posted by hansbrough at 12:43 PM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: Bethesda's nice, and fits your description, but is probably out of your price range. Unfortunately, the entire west-end of the Red Line is less "urban" than the rest of DC, and is accordingly more expensive. On the flipside, it's also pretty safe (which, again, conversely, means lots of families)

If you're not opposed to using a bus for part of your commute, Silver Spring could be worth looking at too. Important note: The Metro map isn't remotely drawn to scale on the northern portions of the Red Line. Silver Spring is right next to Bethesda. It's not an accurate guide to navigating anything but the Metro system itself.

Craigslist should be your first place to look for housing. A few of the larger managed buildings post listings elsewhere, but 90% of what's out there is on CL. You'll really need to come down here to get a feel for each individual neighborhood. Browse through craigslist beforehand, and figure out what you can afford, and drive through those neighborhoods to see if you like them.

It's also worth doing the math to see if you'll be paying more taxes in DC vs. MD. Maryland and Virginia are both notable for having extremely strong county governments, which results in some unusual taxes being levied. In Arlington, for instance, you need to pay a 5% property taxe on your car.
posted by schmod at 12:45 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: As for distance to the Metro: were I walking, less than a half-mile would be ideal, a mile is kind of pushing it. I wouldn't have any particular problem with biking from home to the Metro, but I have no idea how realistic that is.
posted by malthas at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2010

On preview: I think we're overstating the "blandness" of NW DC just a bit here. Yes, it's very vanilla*, but Tenleytown, Friendship Heights, and Bethesda are all undeniably "urban." I certainly wouldn't hate myself for living there, and would probably would if I worked in that area. It's not DC, but the old "Streetcar Suburbs" all do have plenty to offer, in addition to super-easy access to downtown DC.

Just Up The Pike is a great neighborhood blog from this region.

*literally, although this has changed considerably during the past decade.
posted by schmod at 12:57 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Compared to Texas, driving in the DC area takes FOREVER. It's a pain in the butt, a mess, slow, and always congested! So keep that in mind if you plan on driving to work.

DC is getting much safer, more "gentrified" (read: expensive). The Northwest section is pretty safe, so I wouldn't be too worried. Whereas if you go further south east, not as much.
Cleveland park is nice, but you usually have to pay for parking, so calculate that into your rent. And if parking on the street in DC you need to either get DC plates, or buy a parking permit. I have a student one and it cost me close to $400 for a one year permit. Also, do not leave things in your car if parking on smaller side streets or you run the risk of it getting broken into.

Rockville itself is a nice place to live, and you'll save time commuting to work.
Silver Spring is great for young professionals, but it's on the opposite side of the red line, so taking the metro to Dupont takes quite a while.
Downtown Bethesda is nice (there are bars, shops, and restaurants), but it can be a bit expensive for housing - but you might find some places.
Friendship heights is alright, Van Ness and Tenleytown, meh, are okay.
Chinatown is a fun area, but not on the red line.
Dupont is lots of fun, but very expensive.
Lots of young adults in the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan area, but you also have to pay to park.

Looking into the tax thing is a very good idea.

Again, commuting in DC is a pain in the butt (yet plenty of people do it), so before signing any lease, I highly recommend doing a test run for long it takes to get to work.

Good luck!
posted by Neekee at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: I love Adams Morgan, which is a 10-15 minute walk from the Woodley Park and Dupont Circle metro stops on the red line. It's absolutely full of fantastic restaurants, coffeeshops, yoga studios, farmers markets, art, and city energy. On weekend nights, it gets taken over by drunk 20 somethings, which could be a plus or a minus (definitely a minus for me). So that you can sleep at night, I'd suggest looking at apartments that aren't right next to the main 18th St. strip. Parking is also very hard to come by, so I'd recommend focusing on apartments that come with parking spots. But overall the neighborhood is gorgeous and vibrant and convenient.

If you want to get to Rockville on public transportation, I think living near one of the stops on the west side of the red line is key. If you're interested in more gritty urban neighborhoods, you could look in the Union Station/New York Ave area, though that might be pushing it on the length of the commute. I find Gallery Place incredibly boring, but there are some new buildings in that area. Dupont Circle is wonderful and, as noted, pricey. I think you'd find niceish places near Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Van Ness, and Tenleytown that would also feel fairly urban (less urban the father north you go). I would avoid Friendship Heights -- it's fancy but boring retail. Bethesda always feels more urban and fun than I expect it to. I'm not sure what the housing options are like there. And going north on the red line, you probably will find apartments that are more affordable but feel far more suburban.

Do you know where your girlfriend might be working? That might help narrow things down. And do you have any more specific thoughts about what kind of things you want available in the neighborhood, or what generally makes you happy in a neighborhood?
posted by zahava at 1:22 PM on November 13, 2010

It's been five years or so since I lived in dc, but here are places I would check out: Cleveland park, glover park/upper georgetown (is not directly on the metro but the bus runs up Wisconsin every 15 minutes to tenley metro and easy. Access to the bars and restaurants in Georgetown) mt pleasant (it used to be kind of sketch, but I think the neighborhood has gentrified. My friend lives there and says it's cheap and safe with lots of bars cool restaurants and metro accessible)
posted by bananafish at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: And do you have any more specific thoughts about what kind of things you want available in the neighborhood, or what generally makes you happy in a neighborhood?

Well, I'd say that

absolutely full of fantastic restaurants, coffeeshops, yoga studios, farmers markets, art, and city energy

sounds pretty darn good to me. I do agree also about the drunk 20-somethings, though admittedly I am sometimes that.

I think we're spoiled with our Austin neighborhood, which is a 10 minute walk from downtown without being too fancy and swanky, is a quick bus ride to my office, and is just down the street from coffeeshops and restaurants. What I'd really like to do is replicate what we have here, but I know there's no way we're doing that for our current rent of $1000/month.
posted by malthas at 1:31 PM on November 13, 2010

Adams Morgan would be perfect, but at $1500 you're probably looking at a basement or a one bedroom in a big building. Craigslist is a good source but doesn't have much in your price range -- you might be better off looking at a property management company, like Borger.

If you can go up more towards $2000, Craigslist has some nice looking options in smaller buildings in Adams Morgan/Dupont/U st: here, here, here.
posted by yarly at 2:02 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider Takoma Park.
posted by jgirl at 2:05 PM on November 13, 2010

Not to harsh on Takoma Park, but it's not really an epicenter of urban excitement. Great for families, not so great for someone looking for a dense and lively neighborhood. Compared to other suburbs it's definitely got something going on, but that's compared to suburbs, not to cities.
posted by yarly at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2010

I prefer North Arlington on the Wilson Blvd corridor...neighborhoods include: Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Ballston...all great places to live. Check craigslist and search around online..you can find something for $1500, but you have to look. Can't go wrong (with respect to crime etc) with the places I mention above.

No no no. Way too stuffy for what the OP wants (and I'm typing this from the North Highland neighborhood by Rosslyn). It's incredibly safe and pretty here in NoVa. However, this rap is also stunningly accurate.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:18 PM on November 13, 2010

I'll Nth Cleveland Park. It's close enough to Dupont to be able to go out and have fun, but quiet enough to be nice and safe and cheaper. My ex lived at 21xx Connecticut across from the zoo and I always loved his neighborhood.

(Also: yay! You're moving to DC! We need to have a welcome meetup!)
posted by youcancallmeal at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2010

(actually, make that 29xx Connecticut)
posted by youcancallmeal at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2010

Takoma Park is lovely, but sedate in comparison to the city, and a long way from Rockville on the metro.

The other neighborhoods that I find have a somewhat similar energy to Adams Morgan are U St, Logan Circle, Mount Pleasant, and Eastern Market. None of them is on the red line metro. To get to Rockville, you'd have to take another line a couple stops and then switch to the red, though possibly you could just walk to the closest red line stop. U St and Logan aren't too far from Dupont, Mount Pleasant isn't too far from Cleveland Park, and Eastern Market isn't tooooo far from Union Station. We're talking 20-30 minute walks, or 5-10 minute bus rides to the red line station.

Of the neighborhoods above, U St and Logan both have more nightlife. Mount Pleasant and Eastern Market are prettier areas, full of big trees and gorgeous old rowhouses.

A lot of people also like H St, NE, and you could find places walkable to Union Station. It's got a lot of bars and restaurants and cafes and it seems like it's where a lot of the up-and-coming art scene is these days. I would worry about safety, but everyone's got such different comfort levels.
posted by zahava at 2:37 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: Not to babysit the thread too much, but I'd like to point out briefly that we are both originally from NoVa (Falls Church and Vienna, I grew up there and we both went to high school there) and have a pretty good feel for what it's like. We generally know the area, but haven't really experienced it as adults. Hence the question.

Also I really like the suggestions so far (definitely going to look at Cleveland Park/Adams Morgan)! And this

Browse through craigslist beforehand, and figure out what you can afford, and drive through those neighborhoods to see if you like them.

is definitely a good point and idea.
posted by malthas at 2:37 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FWIW, the people I know who live in Adams Morgan spend lots on rent, and have kind of crummy places. YMMV, but you may be able to get more for less elsewhere.

Also, before committing to Adams Morgan, take a stroll through the place on a Friday or Saturday night, and make sure that you'll be able to tolerate the noise. It gets very boisterous at night on weekends. Don't get me wrong, I like Adams Morgan a lot, but I'm much happer living where I do now.

Chinatown is a fun area, but not on the red line.
Meh. It's fun, but there are lots of tourists, and I'm not sure you'd really want to actually live there. It's also smack dab in the center of the Red Line(Gallery Place and Metro Center). N.B. there's almost no housing here, and the Chinese community moved out ages ago. It's a nice place to visit (and easy to get to from any metro line), but probably not to reside.

Mapnificent should give you an excellent picture of the transit options from any given point in DC. We also just launched Capital Bikeshare, which can be a great way to get to a metro station or to work, if you happen to have a station on both ends of your commute. The system's fairly young, so there are still a few glaring blank spots on their map...

On Preview: I also hear good things about cleveland park. Agreed that Takoma Park is probably a bit sleepy (and bad location) for you. Arlington isn't quite as bad as that rap makes it out to be, and has cool little pockets (I like Clarendon a lot, although methinks it's poorly situated for your commute).
posted by schmod at 2:43 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Given the DC rush-hour clusterfuck, I'd prioritize a shorter commute. Dupont Circle to Rockville is about 25-30 minutes on the Metro, not counting walking time on either end, which can be considerable. (Note that you cannot bring your bike on the Metro during rush hour.) Cleveland Park would be just that much closer, while still giving you relatively good access to nightlife--not in the neighborhood, but within a short Metro or bike ride.

Try driving around DC during rush hour, though. It's possible you'd get some kind of reverse-commute situation, going out to Rockville. But I don't drive, so.

Oh, another thing: there's secure bike parking at Union Station, so maybe that would make Eastern Market/Capitol Hill a better option.
posted by the_blizz at 2:59 PM on November 13, 2010

Reverse commutes from DC to Virginia are usually a cakewalk. To Maryland, things are a bit more hairy, and it really depends on the exact route you take.

I live near Capitol Hill, and love it (and hardly ever feel unsafe). But its also convenient to my work...I'm not sure I could justify an hour-long commute. (The Metro website says 38 minutes from my place to Rockville. YMMV. A direct (but longer) shot on the Red Line will almost definitely be faster than having to transfer)
posted by schmod at 3:05 PM on November 13, 2010

Not to babysit the thread too much

This is far better than the alternative. It might just be a personal opinion, but I find it totally okay to threadsit your own AskMe in cases where you're asking a general question about a subject that you're generally unfamiliar with.

posted by schmod at 3:15 PM on November 13, 2010

I wouldn't dismiss outright living in Rockville itself, given your commute and price constraints. I found it a great place to live as a young professional. Part of the reason was the easy access to all kinds of ethnic markets and restaurants, in particular Asian ones. I enjoyed living there far more than in Takoma Park, which felt a bit bland and not very diverse. Living in Rockville, I would go get my eyebrows done at a Persian salon, have a Korean stylist cut my hair at a nearby Hair Cuttery, ponder whether to pick up a roast soy sauce chicken at the Chinese grocery store or get something from the Lebanese cafe and end up eating Japanese ramen at a shop full of manga.
posted by needled at 3:19 PM on November 13, 2010

Hello, afore mentioned girlfriend chiming in here.

No job offer for me yet. It's looking like we'll have to move "blind" to that part of the equation. So for that reason, being more central to DC is a good idea if I wind up having to commute to VA, or something far from Rockville.

I'm liking the looks of Cleveland Park. We are interested in being near nightlife, but don't exactly want to live on top of said nightlife. We're more "neighborhood pub" than "trendy upscale bar". What we really want to avoid is a neighborhood full of retail stores that close up at 6pm, and neighbors that just go home and go to sleep. Basically we don't want to live in a suburban environment that turns into a no-man's land at sunset.

Being able to easily get to adams morgan/dupont/etc for a night on the town is attractive too, and it looks like it'll be a quick metro ride from most places, especially Cleveland Park.

That Mapnificent tool is sweet.
posted by fontophilic at 3:42 PM on November 13, 2010

Needled makes a fair point about Rockville. Coming from Nova, you've probably experienced similar ethnic-market goodness. But. Strip malls. Rockville is Very. Suburban.

Somebody told me once that Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Ave/355 is the second-longest continuous commercial district in the US.
posted by the_blizz at 3:58 PM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: I live in Mt. Pleasant right around Lamont & 18th St NW and I love it. We're a half mile from the Columbia Heights metro (and all of the convenient shopping things there) and ~1 mile from the Cleveland Park metro (and there's a bus that goes along Park Rd every 12 minutes are so during rush hour that will get you there in about 5 minutes instead of 20). Parking never seems to be too bad. There's a nice farmer's market on Saturdays, a lot of tasty restaurants, a few bars with great happy hours, etc. It's close enough to walk to Cleveland Park (and very close to the zoo), Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan.

There are usually basement apartments available between $1300-1500 - definitely look around on craigslist to see what's available.
posted by SugarAndSass at 4:05 PM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: I'm liking the looks of Cleveland Park. We are interested in being near nightlife, but don't exactly want to live on top of said nightlife.

Do you like to walk places? If you live in Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, or the U St area, you'll have many more easily walkable options than Cleveland Park (unless you live all the way south in Cleveland Park, I guess.)

I wouldn't worry too much about living on top of nightlife in Adams Morgan etc. Unless you live right on 18th st between Florida and Columbia, or shortly off that street, it's not going to be a disturbance. Likewise, living right on or shortly off U St. would be noisy, but just a few blocks away is fine. The fact is, DC has some lively blocks in Adams Morgan/U St, but the immediate surrounding area is quiet enough.
posted by yarly at 4:20 PM on November 13, 2010

Courthouse/Clarendon is in my mind the only somewhat fun yet also Metro-accessible part of NoVa to live in, and Maryland is just boring (sorry).The Adams Morgan/U Street/Dupont/Cleveland Park cluster of recommendations is all pretty good stuff. I personally am extremely fond of the H Street corridor, although it gets less sketchy and more fun a bit farther away from the Red Line I lived sort of in between Capitol Hill and H Street for three years and really loved it - lots of great bars, some decent restaurants, concerts and other art-y stuff happening on H Street, plus reasonable walking distance from either the Red Line (Union Station) or the Blue/Orange Lines (Eastern Market, which is also a fun area).
posted by naoko at 4:52 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far, everyone! This is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for.

Based on this thread and some looking around on Google Maps/Street View---which, yeah, isn't exactly the same as actually driving around an area but it helps a lot---we're slowly starting to narrow down the places where we want to look.

Cleveland Park looks pretty nice, and a little bit more sedate than areas to the south. Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle seem more active, and based on some preliminary Craigslisting, also somewhat significantly more expensive. From what I've been looking at, I'm really digging the vibe I'm getting from the Mt. Pleasant area: it's got plenty of stuff to walk to, but slightly better access to the Red Line (by bus) than Columbia Heights, and cheaper, too.

We're not ruling out living down in the Capitol Hill/Near Northeast area because of the Metro access through Union Station, but it would probably make my commute somewhat longer.

Again, thanks everyone! We're nowhere near done yet, but this has definitely made our looking easier.
posted by malthas at 8:14 PM on November 13, 2010

Former DC resident here. I'll nth the suggestion that you reconsider priorities of commute vs. nightlife. Driving in the DC area can be a nightmare, and that redline trip out to Rockville will seriously start to weigh on you (although it's better than driving).

I lived on Capitol Hill for a year and loved it. I had a ten minute walk to Union Station (on the red line), but I was working three stops away in the city itself. It's not nearly as cheap as it used to be due to gentrification, but I loved being within walking distance of some great bars and the Eastern Market.

Having said all that, I'd suggest you check out some neighborhoods in Maryland that are closer to Rockville, if not Rockville itself. Takoma Park is charming and puts you closer to work. Silver Spring has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years, and I think it's kind of charming if not a little worn down. My sister lives in Wheaton which has kind of a negative reputation, but you could probably rent a house out there for what you'd pay for a one bedroom in Adams Morgan or Capitol Hill. And obviously, once you're in the 'burbs your two car parking situation isn't a problem. You might even consider driving to a redline Metro station and parking for the day. It's pretty affordable if you can't live within easy walking distance of a Metro stop.

Keep in mind that this is DC we're talking about. The traffic is hellish, but the city itself is quite small. Getting to the cool spots on the weekend is relatively easy compared to doing a two-way M-F commute.

Then again, I'm 36 and old and boring and get off of my lawn!
posted by bardic at 10:14 PM on November 13, 2010

Thanks for asking this question! We're also anticipating a move to DC and these answers were very helpful. I've never been to DC so I am working with a blank slate.

I found a couple of DC neighborhood blogs that are interesting to scroll through:

Prince of Petworth
New Columbia Heights

I found these on this blog directory, DC Blogs. A lot of links on that page are to out of date blogs but there are a few links that are to current blogs.

Good luck with the scouting and the eventual move!
posted by collocation at 10:41 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

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