Where to live in DC?
July 26, 2008 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving do Washington DC sometime in the near future. Where should I live? VA, DC, or MD?

I don't have a position yet even though one is on the table and more are to come. The position I have on the table is for one of the large government buildings in Crystal City but I might end up taking a job in another area.

I'm 23, single, and I'm moving from Southern Maryland. All I need is a one bedroom place. I'm looking to live as close to the bars/night life/fun as possible in order to make up for the time I've been down here with nothing to do. Being able to walk to a few hot spots and take the Metro to work would be absolutely fantastic.

What areas are my best bets for this? Some have suggested Arlington, Alexandria, or Crystal City? Should I steer clear of the DC area and shoot for VA? Maybe Georgetown? What do you all recommend?
posted by decrescendo to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to be near the nightlife, then you're going to be limited. I live with my girlfriend out in Falls Church, VA, and this wouldn't be for you. Nightlife areas are basically in the city (Adams Morgan, Georgetown, U St.), or in Arlington/Alexandria. And then, only places that are along the blue line of the Metro.

If you're looking for a happy medium, I do enjoy hanging out down at King St., which is on the waterfront in Alexandria, but this again, it's a ways from anything in the city.

If you're going to be working at Crystal City, if you can live somewhere near Chinatown, it's just a few stops on the Yellow Line. Chinatown is also a hug for many of the other metro lines, so you can easily get around from there. Downside? Expensive as hell.

Sorry for the rambly response - basically, check out U St., Adams Morgan, and Georgetown in DC if you want to leave near action, Chinatown if you want to live close (but not near) to a lot of stuff and don't mind paying, and down in Alexandria, VA if you want to be near a scene, but not THE scene.
posted by SNWidget at 7:16 AM on July 26, 2008

I've lived in NoVA and currently live in the District (for 3 years now). I definitely prefer DC, though it's certainly not for everyone. It sounds like you might be interested in Adam's Morgan; it's got the nightlife and local color you're looking for. There's also a Metro stop there, though it wouldn't be a straight shot to Crystal City if that's where you end up working.

Another nice thing about DC is that it still has rent-stabilized (I believe that's the term) buildings. Find an older building that's been in use as an apartment building since the early 70s or earlier. In those buildings, there's a limit on how much your rent can go up each year. Also, many of the older buildings (like mine) include utilities in the rent, which is particularly nice these days.

I recommend coming to visit for a couple of days and get a sense of what parts of town, or the suburbs, that you find interesting.

Good luck, and welcome! You're going to love it here!
posted by orrnyereg at 7:19 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: Nightlife as a whole is pretty good in DC, right?
posted by decrescendo at 7:19 AM on July 26, 2008

A little more info about the kind of bars / night life / fun that you're looking for would definitely be helpful here.

That said, your wanting easy walkability to these things - and quick commutes by Metro - argues for living in town. Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan might be good fits.

I suggest avoiding Crystal City - it's often an eerie dead zone after hours, and not really convenient to much that's worthwhile.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:23 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: I just want to be able to walk down to a bar and have a beer when I'm bored as opposed to sitting in my apartment like I do down here in Lexington Park.

I just want to be able to walk around somewhere while I'm bored. Somewhere to take in the culture, meet some people, see some sights, etc. That's what I'm looking for.
posted by decrescendo at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2008

You'll be happier living in town, then. Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights are good calls, though they're still in the early-ish gentrification stages (still quite a bit of crime, that sort of thing). I still plump for Adams Morgan/Woodley Park/Connecticut Avenue.

Georgetown is pretty overrated, in my opinion.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:28 AM on July 26, 2008

Dupont Circle. I loved living there for the same reasons you're looking for. Easy metro, bars, restaurants, bookstores, rallies on the circle, etc.
posted by nkknkk at 7:33 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: I just want to be around young people. Want to feel like I'm 23 for a change. I miss being able to walk out in town and grab a beer like I did at college. That's what I'm really going for. I like the clubs and I like the little hole in the wall bars, too. Places with live bands are favorites of mine, as well.
posted by decrescendo at 7:33 AM on July 26, 2008

SNWidget - If you're looking for a happy medium, I do enjoy hanging out down at King St., which is on the waterfront in Alexandria, but this again, it's a ways from anything in the city.

Old town is nice, very convenient to crystal city (3 stops on the yellow line), and actually pretty close to DC (8 stops on the yellow line to china town) lots of bars and live music. Its tough for me to recommend however, because I would've hated it when I was 23. There is no edge here. If that doesn't bother you then OT might be ideal.
posted by askmehow at 7:51 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: Its tough for me to recommend however, because I would've hated it when I was 23. There is no edge here.

what do you mean exactly by "edge"?
posted by decrescendo at 8:08 AM on July 26, 2008

A one bed room in those places will run anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800. I Would STRONGLY suggest living with roommates, using craigslist and living with random people who pick you. This way, you have a base of automatic people to hang out with. Random roommate situations are in great locations where bars are close, usually.

PLus, you save a crapload of money, which you can spend on that $4.50 Bud Light (the running rate for beers in DC). Keep that in mind. When I lived in DC, I spent as much money on going out as my rent.

Good options for you:
Arlington areas:
-Ballston-- kinda suburby, but with at least 4 bars you can walk to. These are packed with the UVA/Tech crowd. Lots of IT consultants and kids that hang out with their high school friends
-Clarendon-- Sort of the nightlife area for Arlington, much more expensive than ballston. Maybe 7-8 bars and lots of restaurants. I think its a pretty cool area. Kids who dont like going into DC on the weekends go here
-Rosslyn- no bars, but a 12 minute walk to G'town. Would be a convenient metro ride to work
-I would never live in Pentagon City, Crystal City or Alexandria as a kid. Those places are devoid of young people. Old Town Alexandria would be great as a starter married spot, though.

-Adams Morgan is the spot for nightlife and is actually kinda hipsterish during the day. Probably 25 bars in a 1/4 stretch. My brother pays $1,600 for a four bedroom share (total rent-- $5500). So its expensive,
-Dupont: one of the coolest places in the United States. INternational feel, diversity, lots of cool restaurants, bars cafes. More expensive than Adams Morgan
-U Street/COlumbia Heights/Mt. Prospect-- Would be tougher getting to VA (all gov't consulting jobs most likely will be in VA). These are filled with more hipster types, lots of non profit people
-Capitol Hill- If you live here, only live on the South Side of the Capitol (on the orange/blue line). I spent a summer on the NE side and it was dead as hell. Even if Obama wins in November, politicos tend to be conservative, so you'll get that. But there are lots of bars. Eastern Market area is cheaper and still 4-5 bars

I would recommend living in Ballston for a year because having a car there is easy, and its a good transition from non-urban living as things like the Metro, grocery stores, bars are still walkable, but you have the conveniences of college life. When I lived there, I had a library (awesome library) across the street, next to tennis courts and a bar/pool hall on the other side.

PM if you have any other questions
posted by sandmanwv at 8:17 AM on July 26, 2008

there is no scene here, just a bunch of people out drinking. I guess it's pretty yuppie. The music is mainly bar bands.
posted by askmehow at 8:17 AM on July 26, 2008

dupont circle - nice mix of upscale and low key places. my male friends say they fear getting hit on by the gays when walking alone at night, but then again, they happen to be homophobic idiots. not too far of a walk down to farragut west or mcpherson sq to catch the blue line to work in the mornings.

u st - if you're into the more alt/indie scene and/or you want a more urban feel, this might work for you. great music venues, ethnic food. a good handful of bars/lounges, and if you get bored of them, it's pretty close to dupont, adams morgan.

clarendon - it's very much yuppie territory - it has that sterile, suburban feel to it, but if you like that sort of thing, then clarendon is pretty nice. two stops on the orange and a transfer at rosslyn should get to you to work fairly quickly.

as a 23 y/o, single female living (and working) in va, i would whole-heartedly recommend living in dc rather than virginia. some exploratory trips prior to your move would be ideal, but you can also get by with looking at the different nightlife establishments on sites like yelp or washingtonian. good luck!
posted by jus7brea7he at 8:22 AM on July 26, 2008

yeah, I strongly second Dupont Circle, if you can afford it
posted by matteo at 8:27 AM on July 26, 2008

Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights are good calls, though they're still in the early-ish gentrification stages (still quite a bit of crime, that sort of thing). I still plump for Adams Morgan/Woodley Park/Connecticut Avenue.

For the record, I've lived in Mount Pleasant for 10 years with no crime problems (I have been held up in Adams Morgan, though).

Overall, crime is definitely more of an issue in the city, but not bad enough in any of the neighborhoods mentioned so far that you should automatically scratch them off your list. I definitely recommend coming up for a day and spending some time walking around to see what feels good to you on a gut level. Have a mid-afternoon beer at some of these bars and talk to the locals:

Marx Cafe (Mt. Pleasant)
The Raven (Mt. Pleasant)
Looking Glass Lounge (Park View / Columbia Heights)
Millie and Al's (Adams Morgan)
The Saloon (Shaw / U Street, another possibility)
Polly's (Shaw / U Street)
Tune Inn (Capitol Hill, also well worth looking into)

What askmehow said about OT holds true for most of NOVA (with the possible exception of one bar, the Galaxy Hut, in Arlington, and some interesting restaurants scattered around): they're bedroom communities - some more walkable and dense than ten years ago, but still conservative, and family / big chain-oriented.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2008

The Capitol Hill area is little less expensive than Northwest, though it would be a longer Metro ride to Crystal City. (And the Capitol Hill scene is not for me and might not be for you, but it's certainly walkable -- lots of bars and restaurants, and it seems like it would still be worlds better than you have it now.)

In Northwest, if you go east on U Street (toward Howard U.), things get cheaper (and a little dicier, but I have plenty of friends who've lived there with no problems). But I don't how how much rents have gone up with the insane U Street boom.

When I lived in D.C., I lived in Logan Circle, which was not too far from DuPont and was a bit cheaper. It was a 10-20-minute walk to an Orange Line Metro, and probably a little farther to Chinatown. I think it's gotten more expensive there, too, though.

And at 23 in D.C., having a roommate is pretty much expected. At that age, I didn't know anyone who lived alone there.
posted by Airhen at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2008

Lots of great recommendations here... and I just noticed you said you currently live in Lexington Park. Good GOD - PAX RIVER??? Move man, MOVE!!!

I live in Springfield on the south side of the Beltway and have lived/worked in the DC area for about 4 years now.

For someone your age and the things you've mentioned being interested in, I'll Nth the Rosslyn and DuPont Circle / U Street suggestions. All very eclectic in their own way... price wise I think you'd save some rent money living in Rosslyn, but there are bargains to be had in the city if you can find a basement apartment in a row house. Also, if you take the job in Crystal City, Rosslyn will be a much easier commute than from anywhere in downtown DC. Take a look at the metro map to get a feel for all the areas we're talking about.

If you can afford it, come up to DC for a weekend (or two) and explore all the different areas for a bit - get a feel for what works for you. Also keep in mind that the mindset is much different here than you'll find down at the Tiki Bar opening on Solomon's Island. Although we're no New York, DC is more and more a very 'cosmopolitan' town with just about every 'scene' you can imagine... except without the Calvert County Southern Maryland drawl.

Good luck and enjoy your great adventure!
posted by matty at 8:30 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: there is no scene here, just a bunch of people out drinking. I guess it's pretty yuppie. The music is mainly bar bands.

ah got ya

a nice local music scene would be awesome so maybe I'll have to dig for it
posted by decrescendo at 8:30 AM on July 26, 2008

Oh, I should add, once you get to Upper Northwest (getting near the Maryland border), rents get less expensive. The neighborhoods are really nice and safe, but in a family kind of way. That said, there are still bars/shops/restaurants to walk to.

And don't live in Crystal City. I did short-term, and it's high-rise suburban yuckiness.
posted by Airhen at 8:34 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: If you can afford it, come up to DC for a weekend (or two) and explore all the different areas for a bit - get a feel for what works for you. Also keep in mind that the mindset is much different here than you'll find down at the Tiki Bar opening on Solomon's Island. Although we're no New York, DC is more and more a very 'cosmopolitan' town with just about every 'scene' you can imagine... except without the Calvert County Southern Maryland drawl.

I will never understand how everyone knows of the Tiki Bar

I'm going there tonight actually. Depressing that's one of two decent places to go to down here. I need out of this town haha.
posted by decrescendo at 8:35 AM on July 26, 2008

I'm prior Navy - lot's of time spent at NAVAIR and NAS Pax. LOL. While you're stuck down there, you should try out the summer concert series at the college? Some friends of mine in Pax seem to really enjoy it. It may not be the kind of thing you'd really enjoy, but it's something different than hanging out at the same old watering hole.
posted by matty at 8:40 AM on July 26, 2008

ooops... looks like the season ended last night. LOL.
posted by matty at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah I know some people that went

so much for that idea I guess haha
posted by decrescendo at 8:46 AM on July 26, 2008

I lived in the area generally called Upper Northwest and more specifically called "the neighborhood behind the Russian embassy." I enjoyed living there because I could easily catch a bus to my job downtown, it was close to my school (AU), the rent was reasonable, even for a big house, and there were good restaurants. The famed Social Safeway is close by.

My house was here, near the corner of Calvert & Tunlaw. We had a decent restaurant selection, though no good bars at the time (1997). Living there were lots of college students and a few journalists and speechwriters.
posted by charlesv at 9:36 AM on July 26, 2008

Don't forget to consider taxes. I think you'll save a little money by living in VA, but not much (and I could be wrong... it's been four years since I lived there).

Also, if you're considering going to grad school anytime soon in may be worthwhile to live in the place you want to establish residence...
posted by Jahaza at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2008

I'm 23 and I lived in Columbia Heights/Petworth, as did most of my friends. We never had any trouble - neighbors are friendly and watchful of each other. Some friends also lived in Shaw and had the same experience. As long as you're careful when out late, you will be find. Those areas are also pretty inexpensive - a truly massive rowhouse was about $800/person (uts included). In Shaw, similar houses are $500/person.

Also seconding ryanshepard's watering hole suggestions, and adding: Domku in Petworth and Wonderland Ballroom in CH.
posted by troika at 10:22 AM on July 26, 2008

Crystal City is booooooring.. ditto for Rosslyn.. There's always Court House/Clarendon in Arlington (night life, easy to get around, safe, very yuppie IMHO).. in the city, I know some people who live in Shaw/Mount Vernon Square, more affordable and close to Chinatown (nightlife) but still not the safest part of the city. Same goes for Columbia Heights/Petworth, I'm just saying, if you're new to the city and everyone is like, it's no trouble, don't worry, you'll be fine.. .. maybe people have had better luck than I have had.

From U Street to Adams Morgan to Dupont is full of people and lots to do, pretty well gentrified and not cheap, and Adams Morgan is CRAZY Friday/Saturday night (I can't stand it), also parking is a nightmare if you want to keep your car (Mount Pleasant as well, it has big houses and you can probably rent a room in a big group house for not a lot of money, but consider how you would get to work - a bus to the metro? or drive? and are you OK with parking being a royal pain in the ass or can you find a place with parking).

Up the Red Line from Woodley Park/Cleveland Park is pretty, safe, and expensive.. there are safe and quiet neighborhoods over on Wisconsin Ave (Glover Park), around where charlesv lived, the caveat is you'd need to drive to get around or take the bus, which is easy during certain hours but the D bus lines are infrequent on weekends. That would be a heck of a bad commute to Crystal City unless you drove it, and if your work provided parking that didn't cost you an arm and a leg. Silver Spring is nice but you may have a long commute because you'll have to switch trains.

As for local music, Black Cat on 14th St (U St neighborhood) and DC9 and a couple other places around U St.. Also bands play out at Rock and Roll Hotel and other bars way over in northeast on H Street.. it's not a long ways north of Capitol Hill.. but is a good ways from other cool neighborhoods in the city. Pharmacy Bar in Adams Morgan is a cool dive, so is The Raven in Mt Pleasant.

Hah, I know about the Tiki Bar too but I haven't been there.. LOL.. I am sorry about living in Lexington Park.. :) I really advise, move to U St, or Dupont Circle, or places in between.. it is expensive unless you are OK with living in a group house, which many many people do, esp your age.. be patient and be persistent, call and call and call.. and don't get your heart set on one place until you've officially signed the lease, because sh!t will always happen if you do that. A million people reply to every Craigslist ad, my advice on that is tell them straightforwardly some basic info when you reply, not saying your life story but say how old you are & that you already have a job & what kind, so they know you can afford to pay rent, basically that you are considerate and responsible to roommates.

posted by citron at 11:00 AM on July 26, 2008

I would advise against Georgetown.. it is cool for shopping but not really nightlife hotspots.. and very expensive.. and there is no metro.

The vicinity of U St/Cardozo metro station sounds like #1 ideal in my opinion. Bars, nightclubs, local music, plus the 9:30 club where a lot of really well known bands play, some good restaurants, young people, so much going on, and from that metro station it is a straight shot on the Yellow Line to Crystal City.
posted by citron at 11:09 AM on July 26, 2008

The area between U St, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle - that's where you want to be. I live around 16th & S, and you can get to anywhere worth going by walking. The Black Cat is around 14th & S. Adams Morgan is a 15-minute walk northwest. Chinatown is a 20-minute walk southeast. And you are surrounded by young people.

My friend lives in Ballston, and that seems ok, but I don't think there's that much right there - although the Metro will easily get you to DC. You really don't want to live in Crystal City. People work there, but it's not so nice as a residential area.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:23 PM on July 26, 2008

Response by poster: I just drove up to DC to buy a suit at the Pentagon Mall yesterday. I was in Crystal City for the first time and I see what you people are talking about when you say Crystal City is pretty boring.

I think I'll definitely steer clear of there.
posted by decrescendo at 8:28 AM on July 27, 2008

Traffic in the DC area is a total mess. Try to shape your commute by choosing your living quarters so that you don't have to cross a river to get to work. You'll still have some bumper-to-bumper to deal with, but you'll avoid the very worst of it.
posted by Citrus at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2008

Hmm, looking at your previous posts, seems like you've been having considerable trouble finding a place to live all summer.

Since you're an engineer, I guess you're okay with paying $1000+ rent for a single. Have you completely eliminated getting/becoming a roommate via Craigslist? You could cut your rent by 30% and start putting away lots more money.

As I'm sure you'll discover, rent prices go up the closer you live to the city AND the closer you live to a Metro stop. You won't wind many apartments until you get to Ballston, so I'd recommend that be the first place to look. Apartments in walking distance to the Metro are harder to find than four leaf clovers, especially considering you want to sign a lease immediately. But if money is no issue, might as well live in Clarendon. You might actually want to look at Crystal City. A single BR in a high-rise might be just as expensive as one in Ballston. I was apartment shoping just last month and found that most loft apartments in 10 minutes walking distance from the Ballston Metro started at $1200 a month.

Arlington is very young and you can live anywhere in NoVA and still be a part of it. I live out in West Falls Church and getting in and out of DC isn't a problem during the weekend.

The reality is, but you're asking for a lot here. You might want to think of sacrificing one of these requirements -cheap, close to Metro stop, close to night life, available immediately. Best of luck. See you at Whitlow's.
posted by nemoorange at 8:04 AM on September 19, 2008

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