Looking for a very specific place to live in Northern VA/Maryland
July 9, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Help this sick-to-death of NYC'er find the perfect town somewhere between Bethesda and Annapolis!

I'm lucky enough to have a job that I can do from anywhere. I'm 36, single, female. For a variety of reasons, I'm sick to death of NYC, and for an even larger variety of reasons, I'm thinking of settling somewhere on the outskirts of DC.
Note: not IN DC itself.
Also important to note that a commute to DC (or to anywhere but the beach) isn't an issue since I can work from home.

So what I'm looking for is:
- A town that feels like a town/smallish city, not a suburb
- A decent scene (late 20's, 30's) but no need for local clubbing
- A place with stuff (a few bars, restaurants, cafes with wifi etc) within walking distance of a place I could afford to live
- Somewhere that feels more cosmopolitan than southern (does NOT have to be anywhere near as cosmopolitan, or as busy, as NYC)
-Somewhere I can rent a studio or one bedroom for less than $1500, ideally
-Somewhere where there are places for rent in the smaller, older buildings, not in a giant brand new complex
-Large military presence not a problem
- Somewhere that's preferably close to Chesapeake Bay- yeah, I know this is getting a bit far from DC! If not ON the bay, then basically anywhere that fits the above criteria that is anywhere from Annapolis all the way west to Bethesda, and that's on any body of water, even a small river.

I'm looking at Annapolis (gorgeous, maybe too old demographically?) Bethesda (I hear it's a bit soulless and is definitely not on the water) and Alexandria (might be perfect?)

Can anyone think of something that comes close to these criteria?

Thank you!
posted by Dormant Gorilla to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mount Rainier? Not on the water but very close to Bladensburg Waterfront Park.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:35 AM on July 9, 2014

Alexandria's probably not a bad choice, but you might be cutting it close on rent if you want to be able to walk to things, either on King Street or in the Del Ray area.

I would not recommend Bethesda.

Have you considered Richmond?

Also, how close to DC do you need to be? Is it just "in case I want to go" or "I have twice weekly meetings that I need to attend"?
posted by Flamingo at 10:36 AM on July 9, 2014

Annapolis does seem to come closest. As for demogprahics, I most recently lived there from ages 22-26 (mid 2000s), and there was a pretty big scene in that age bracket. I don't know how much that tapers off towards the mid-30s, but I don't think a lack younger people in general was a problem. There are enough coffee shops, venues and art types to keep some scene going. You'd also be withing traveling distance of DC and Baltimore, whereas the direct DC suburbs will make Baltimore kind of rough to travel to.

Annapolis is kind of expensive, but if $1,500 is your budget, you should be able to find something walkable.

I'm not super knowledgeable about the DC suburbs, and Silver Spring and Bethesda do have a sort of pre-fabricated feeling to them. There are some nice spots, but I'm not really sure about the night life of those under 40. Takoma Park is pretty neat; but it straddles the city line, about half is in DC and half is in Maryland.

This is probably be too small for you, but you could take a Ellicott City in Howard County. Nice, plenty of bars and places to eat, but might be too quaint.
posted by spaltavian at 10:38 AM on July 9, 2014

You might want to consider Baltimore. I realize this is outside of the scope of your question, but there is a lot about Baltimore that might appeal to you.
posted by whoaali at 10:54 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, how close to DC do you need to be? Is it just "in case I want to go" or "I have twice weekly meetings that I need to attend"?

Ah should have been clearer- DC's not really an issue at all, just provides a convenient north-central point for the area I'm considering.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 10:54 AM on July 9, 2014

I'd say Baltimore (Hampden or Mount Vernon neighborhoods) or Annapolis. Alexandria might be too expensive for housing. Absolutely forget Bethesda and Silver Spring.
posted by jgirl at 11:01 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Although it is expensive, you can find an apartment in northern Arlington, VA for under $1500, if you have time to hunt a bit (that is, don't move during the summer as apartments are substantially more expensive). I'd recommend looking near Courthouse metro station; you can walk to the Potomac from there if you want to go kayaking or boating, walk to cafes, bars, coffee shops, or what have you, and there are a bunch of 20-30ish people around. There are a bunch of newer apartments that are springing up all over the place, but the best deals can generally be gotten by renting a condo from an owner in places like Colonial Village, Palisade Gardens, or (the slightly more expensive, less aesthetically appealing, and not as centrally located) River Place.
posted by _cave at 11:41 AM on July 9, 2014

Definitely Baltimore. You'd fit right in, although the young scene might be a bit young for you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:45 AM on July 9, 2014

Definitely look at Baltimore or Richmond, but also perhaps one of the Philly suburbs - maybe Media.

DC is pretty expensive if you don't have to be there and the suburbs there probably won't offer the kind of community you're seeking.
posted by susanvance at 12:23 PM on July 9, 2014

1500/month for a 1 BR is a stretch anywhere in the metro DC area, but Del Ray (specific part of Alexandria) is your best bet for atmosphere and I've seen some apartments for around that price in the area. If I weren't moving to Richmond in September to escape the hellishly high cost of living in NoVA, I'd move there- absolutely love the restaurants, yoga studios, and cute little side streets in the area. It's also metro/bike friendly as an added bonus.
posted by sparringnarwhal at 12:59 PM on July 9, 2014

I'm going to echo Baltimore also, but I'm insanely biased, since I live here. Still, $1,500 will go a lot farther in the this city than DC and even many of its suburbs. And you actually live in a city.

Pretty much none of the places mentioned so far (aside from Richmond) will feel anywhere CLOSE to "Southern." At all. But Richmond will remind you of it daily, even in the cocoon that is the Fan/Carytown, etc. (Source: I own a business in Richmond and am there every other week.)
posted by CommonSense at 1:46 PM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Annapolis is lovely, especially Eastport, right over the bridge from the cutesy downtown. Pretty cheap rent-wise, but impossible to buy anything near the downtown.

Baltimore isn't a small town. Do not move there thinking that it is.

If you're willing to venture away from the Chesapeake Bay, check out Ellicott City MD and Frederick MD.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:57 PM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Except for your exact geographical boundaries, as others have mentioned, Richmond meets all of these criteria. I would specifically look at the areas close to Carytown....all the things you listed are exactly what I loved about living there.

The James River is very accessible in Richmond, with tons of public areas available right on the shore.

I kinda disagree that Richmond still has a distinct Southern vibe, unless you are involved with families who have lived there for decades. I think the 20s and 30s crowd in the city itself is not particularly Southern.

The music scene is awesome there, which is a nice bonus.
posted by hellogoodbye at 2:50 PM on July 9, 2014

I lived in Richmond a couple of years ago -- if you move to the Fan, you're near Carytown, have plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance, and the rents are about 30-40% less than anything equivalent in the DC area. It's also not far from the Bay, Williamsburg, charlottesville and VA beach.

My rent for a nice one bedroom literally across the street from the Richmond Art Museum and walking distance to at least 2 dozen bars and restaurants was $900/mo.
posted by empath at 10:09 PM on July 9, 2014

And I've been searching for months for a <$1500 1 bedroom apartment *anywhere* in Northern Va, and have been unable to find one anywhere other than like Manassas or Centerville.
posted by empath at 10:13 PM on July 9, 2014

Bethesda is crap and getting worse.

Annapolis is super touristy, yachty-rich, Republican and retired. You say military is OK, but you should check it out during football game or academy graduation.

Too bad DC's not an option, specifically Capitol Hill in DC. Its pretty neighborhood-y. Great bar & night scene on H. Near Nationals Stadium. The area "transitions" as it goes east so rentals are pretty reasonable. Certainly if you're OK with a basement, a lot of the row houses have basements that people rent out, some of them quite nice. Annapolis is a 30-40 min drive with no traffic on weekends.

I'd go with Alexandria or Del Ray as someone suggested. Its actually closer to the water than a lot of Maryland. 40 min to Chesapeake Beach. Finding apartment that's not corporate will be hard but not impossible.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:30 AM on July 10, 2014

And I've been searching for months for a $1500 1 bedroom apartment *anywhere* in Northern Va, and have been unable to find one anywhere other than like Manassas or Centerville.

padmapper.com is good for this in Arlington/ Alexandria. For the cheaper places you pretty much check every day and then bite right away because they go really quickly.
posted by _cave at 9:04 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh. honestly never would've thought of it, but Richmond and Baltimore (probably Fells Point) are emerging as the two contenders here. Don't want to leave this open indefinitely but if anyone has anything more to say about why those two places specifically seem to be such a good fit, I'd love to hear it, because I honestly hadn't been considering them. Thanks guys!
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:53 AM on July 10, 2014

I live in Baltimore (Mount Washington), I think it's great. (I didn't mention it upthread beacuse I took "Bethesda and Annapolis" too literally.) Fells Point is fun but you may or may not find it too much of a party zone. It's sort of bro-y, though not as much as Canton. Expect it to be loud on Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to Fells, you may want to also consider Mount Vernon/Midtown or Hampden. Both are very walkable to great bars and restaurants, are more "central" to in the city, so you can pretty quickly get anywhere else in the city you would want to be. Hampden will be quite cheap on your rent budget (I used to rent a two bedroom there for $1150), but parts of it (west of Falls) are kind of dirty and inclined more to a redneck atmosphere. It is safe, however. "The Avenue" (36th St between Falls and Chestnut) has a lot of great places, bars and shops. One of my favorite places in Baltimore is just off the Avenue, McCabes. Mount Vernon has the Charm City Circulator, which is free and, unlike the regular city buses, fairly clean and comfortable. My neighborhood is in the city, but feels like a suburb around a small village square. It will well served by two light rail stops.
posted by spaltavian at 1:02 PM on July 10, 2014

Huh. honestly never would've thought of it, but Richmond and Baltimore (probably Fells Point) are emerging as the two contenders here.

Since I have feet in both cities (though I live in Baltimore), and I used to live in NYC myself (until I, too, got sick of it), I'm pulling for Baltimore for you. Richmond is way out of the way of the general region you've got your eye on (90 miles south of DC, and the traffic on 95 south of DC will make you want to hang yourself, reanimate, then hang yourself 14 more times). Plus, it's a lot farther from the water (unless you want to count the James River).

Plus, if your politics are anywhere left of center, well . . . change that 14 to 45-50. At least.
posted by CommonSense at 2:43 PM on July 10, 2014

Another vote for Baltimore from someone who has lived there, and in DC, and in Takoma Park, and now lives in NYC. I lived in Fells Point and agree with spaltavian's assessment, and the suggestion of Mount Vernon. Upper Charles Village also has some nice places at decent rent, and is an easy walk to the museums and a couple of parks.
posted by D.Billy at 7:46 PM on July 10, 2014

Plus, if your politics are anywhere left of center, well . . . change that 14 to 45-50. At least.

Depends on where you live in Richmond. The suburbs are ultra-right wing, but downtown isn't. And Virginia itself is trending purple.
posted by empath at 7:47 PM on July 10, 2014

Depends on where you live in Richmond. The suburbs are ultra-right wing, but downtown isn't. And Virginia itself is trending purple.

Well, I'll leave it to OP to decide. I'm unusually concerned (probably excessively concerned) with the political atmosphere of where I live and sometimes even the places I'm visiting, and I acknowledge this isn't very normal. (I'd proffer that it's probably a little more common among the MeFi crowd, though.) As such, whenever I have to cross the Potomac for work or to visit family, it ever so slightly exhausts me. At the workplace in Richmond I go to biweekly, yes, I have employees who can all be fairly called young progressives. But I know roughly half our customers aren't, and I hear the kind of scary, plantation-esque accent of Ol' Virginny from some random older customer maybe 2-3 times a week. (Our customer base might skew a little old, I'll grant that.) As a nonwhite person, I'll cop to a visceral, utterly-without-thinking slight negative reaction whenever I hear that accent.

I guess what I'm saying is . . . the air of it is there. The degree to which that bugs OP (if at all) is up to him/her to decide; I just know I personally couldn't deal with it. I've lived in eastern North Carolina, central Illinois, and Texas (albeit Austin) in the past, so I know how that "air" feels.

Plus, I'd much rather live in a place where I feel like my way of thinking is at least somewhere in the mainstream, not like I have to be on eggshells all the time and go with the default of just avoiding anything remotely political in any conversation with anyone. Virginia is like that (and sorry, but I include northern VA, home of the NRA, Manassas, defense contractors every five feet, and Eric Cantor). I totally get the value of being exposed to all kinds of thinking and evaluating all sides of a point of view; I really do. I just don't feel the need to be drowning in the opposing viewpoint 24/7, with little escape or reassurance that I'm not alone.

. . . wow, that escalated quickly. Sorry; just wanted to let OP know. tl;dr: There are few places in this country where you can travel so short a distance and yet see so significant a change in the general way of thinking as the Potomac River crossing.

But again, most normal people aren't as obsessed with this crap as I am, so . . . grain of salt and all that.
posted by CommonSense at 9:40 AM on July 11, 2014

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