A few cheap towns near DC?
November 29, 2012 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Where should I move in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic US that is within a few hours drive or (better) train ride of both DC and NYC? I'll be working from home and have a few additional "nice to have" requirements inside...

I'm currently in DC. I may have the opportunity soon to port my current position to a telecommute, work from home situation. I'd be keeping the same salary and benefits. I would love to move to a smaller, cheaper town that has at least a faint cultural pulse in terms of book shops, independent cafes and perhaps a walkable downtown area. Those things are merely nice to have and not mandatory for my search, though.

The two mandatory requirements are: (1) reachable to DC within no more than a couple of hours, as I will have at least a monthly commute to the DC metro area for meetings. Bonus points via train. Ideally, it would be somewhere approximately equidistant between DC and NYC, as I will have occasional business in NYC and most of my family resides there or north. (2) At least somewhat cheaper than DC in terms of rent and general cost of living.

I really like some of the towns I've been in north of NYC along the NE Corridor route, such as Rhinebeck and also some of the arty towns in western Mass. Looking for similar suggestions to investigate south of NYC. Any and all ideas welcome. Thanks!
posted by the foreground to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Princeton, NJ
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:47 AM on November 29, 2012

I live on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and WFH for a company based in DC. It's about 90 minutes by train (and about $70 one way, depending on time) from downtown Philly to either Union Station (DC) or Penn Station (NYC). If you wanted to drive it, DC and environs is about 3 hours. The suburb we live in (about 20 minutes from downtown by light rail) is mostly '50s era homes and shops, and reminds me very much of the town my grandparents lived in, up in the mid-Hudson Valley. COL is cheaper than both DC and NYC.
posted by hanov3r at 11:52 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

North of New York City definitely rules out "equidistant between NYC and DC", but Amherst could be a good option. Direct train access to both cities on the Vermonter service.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:52 AM on November 29, 2012

I was thinking Bucks County, outside of Philly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:54 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's South, not North of DC, but Fredericksburg VA hits all your nice-to-haves. Really, you could go all the way to Richmond and live really cheaply (compared to DC) while still having big city amenities and be within a 2 hour train ride of Union Station.

For that matter, you could head to the Eastern Shore of MD or VA and live the beach lifestyle cheaper than what you are spending in DC. You'll probably need to drive in for the monthly meeting though, and it will be 2-3 hours depending on where you are.
posted by COD at 11:56 AM on November 29, 2012

"smaller, cheaper town that has at least a faint cultural pulse in terms of book shops, independent cafes and perhaps a walkable downtown area": Philly could technically be considered to have all of those qualities, but - while I love it dearly - it is still aggressively a CITY, and a bit of an acquired taste for some people. If I were you, I'd look at the following towns in PA: New Hope, Ardmore, Jenkintown, Doylestown, the Mt. Airy section of Philly. Princeton, NJ is also nice.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:57 AM on November 29, 2012

Seconding everybody who says you want to be somewhere in the Philadelphia area.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:58 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for maximum equidistance between NY and DC, you either wanna be in Hamilton, NJ (which is pretty bland-ish, BUT has a stella transportation center that'll get you anywhere with minimal complications) OR in Jenkintown/Glenside, PA (because the Jenkintown-Wyncote, Elkins Park and Melrose Park SEPTA stops all serve the R1/R2/R3/R5 lines, which means they'll all get you to Philly within 25 minutes or so, where you can then go to Amtrak's 30th St. Station and go ANYwhere).
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:02 PM on November 29, 2012

Havre de Grace, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Princeton. These are the fairly obvious choices. Do you have any additional requirements that would make these obvious choices non-options?

My personal choices, we I in your situation, would be Philadelphia or Princeton.
posted by deanc at 12:07 PM on November 29, 2012

You could live in Baltimore! For $7, the MARC train will take you from Bmore to DC in 45 minutes. There is also Penn Station where you can take trains up to NYC. Or you can take the cheaper Bolt Bus option (~$20) and it takes around 3 hours maybe.

Baltimore is not that big and is pretty easy to get around. It's pretty quirky and artsy.
posted by bluelight at 12:12 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding julthumbscrew, but just wanted to connect some dots in case you aren't familiar enough: right across Hwy 1 from Hamilton, NJ (literally, right across the highway) is Princeton. It is just that Princeton-proper isn't quite as much of a hub as Hamilton is. However, good news: the Hamilton station isn't a far drive from Princeton, and it's got great parking options for an occasional mega-commute.

The other option that you might consider is Haddonfield or Collingswood, NJ if you'd like to be closer to one of the major cities but still want the quaint colonial feel of Princeton without the pricetag. Haddon Ave runs through both towns, and is about as close to a traditional "Main Street USA" experience as I've ever had. South Jersey has its own train system that runs into Philadelphia, which lends to the train requirement, but you'd still have to make it to 30th Street Station in order to really get to DC in a hurry.
posted by jph at 12:24 PM on November 29, 2012

Do you have any additional requirements that would make these obvious choices non-options?

Leaning more towards smaller town life, at this juncture. I know and like Baltimore and think it's a good suggestion but my SO isn't as much of a fan. I knew Philadelphia might be a good choice but haven't spent much time there and didn't know how significant the COL differences would be. It's on the research list, along with its suburbs. Princeton is now on the list to investigate, for some reason I had assumed it was pricey there but will check it out.

Thanks for the suggestions so far and will welcome others.
posted by the foreground at 12:28 PM on November 29, 2012

You definitely should look at the Philly area.

I love Ardmore, but it's not quite a "downtown" in the way that Doylestown or another bigger suburb is. We do have a Septa stop and an Amtrak stop on the New York/Harrisburg line, which is great. Wayne is closer to what you want, although it's still pretty small, and it's closer to 40 minutes by train from Center City (so you'd have to add that to any Amtrak train times.) New Hope and Mt. Airy are good suggestions; if you were willing to do in a city, West Philadelphia has some great areas. If you'd like more information about the western suburbs (Bryn Mawr, Ardmore, Wayne) there are a number of mefites who live out this way.

I also spend a lot of time in Princeton, which is adorable and filled with both cafes and (one or two) bookstores but the cost of living is extremely high compared against the Philadelphia suburbs-- most of the area one bedrooms I've seen were 1000-1300, and not all of those were right by NJ Transit lines. In contrast, that would get you a two bedroom apartment in Ardmore. (It is probably about the same as the DC market though.) On the other hand, Trenton is a major transit hub with easy access to Center City Philly, New York by NJ Transit and Amtrak, and DC by Amtrak. (Princeton has an Amtrak stop, but has far fewer trains than Trenton.) There are also many smaller towns near Princeton, like Lawrenceville and Hopewell.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:30 PM on November 29, 2012

Personally, I would pick something in the Philadelphia area, like Manayunk. You might also consider Catonsville, which is part of the Baltimore metropolitan area.

I love the Delaware River towns like New Hope, PA, Lumberville, PA, and Lambertville, NJ, but they are not on a train line.
posted by gudrun at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2012

Parts of northern Delaware are very nice.

Wilmington is urban, New Castle is historic, and Newark is a college town. There is an Amtrak station in Wilmington and in Newark. Watch out because some of the smaller towns and villages in northern DE are surprisingly ritzy and expensive - like Hockessin (pronounced Ho-Kess-In) but Wilmington, New Castle and Newark are cheaper in cost of living that DC and offer easy access to DC and NYC.
posted by lstanley at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2012

I lived in Princeton for the ease of DC and NYC commuting. If I had it to do over, I would have definitely chosen PA, because the taxes in NJ are outrageous, especially if you are looking for a town with a cute-walkable-artsy vibe near the rail line.
posted by apparently at 1:08 PM on November 29, 2012

Came in to say northern Delaware, so I'll just second lstanley. Really convenient to both DC and NYC.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:20 PM on November 29, 2012

I live in Baltimore and used to live in Philadelphia (albeit more than 10 years ago) and agree with others that either would be ideal in a general sense. I preferred Philadelphia's suburbs to the ones here in Baltimore. More specifically, of the Pennsylvania suburbs of Philadelphia, I found that I liked the southwestern suburbs not too far from the airport more so than the Main Line or other more northerly suburbs. So, you might look at some of the towns in that part of Delaware County, especially those along the SEPTA line that goes to Media and Elwyn, which would give you nice regional rail access to 30th Street Station. Swarthmore and Wallingford are lovely, and Media (though a bit further out) might give you that small town feel. All can be pricy, as I recall. Parts of Springfield are also quite nice, if a bit less walkable than the others.
posted by cheapskatebay at 2:22 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's only just outside of DC, but Takoma Park, MD, fits your other criteria.
posted by sashapearl at 4:53 PM on November 29, 2012

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