10 Best Neighborhoods in Washington DC – Part 1
What are the best neighborhoods to live in, in DC? The answer isn’t straightforward. Washington DC and close-in suburbs like Bethesda and Arlington have a variety of residents at different stages of life. Those with young children attending schools seeking a different lifestyle than a recent college-graduate, or downsizing empty-nesters, will value different things about a neighborhood. The transient nature of some segments of the population means the city is always changing. Navigating what neighborhood is best for your situation will depend on many factors, but here is a list of the 10 best neighborhoods not to miss in the Nation’s Capital!
What are the Best Neighborhoods in the Washington DC Area?
What makes a neighborhood one of the best places to live in DC depends on a lot of factors. Location, real estate prices, convenience, availability of public transportation and if there are little ones – schools.
The 10 Best Places to Live in Washington DC:
- Glover Park
- American University (AU Park)
- Capitol Hill
- Southwest Waterfront
- Logan Circle / Shaw
- Clarendon / Ballston
- Adams Morgan
- City of Alexandria
1. Glover Park: The Best Place to Live in Washington DC
Glover Park would not have topped any list of Washington DC neighborhoods to live in 25 years ago. While it’s always been a little town inside a city, the rowhome-lined streets only recently jumped to the top of the lists of best places to live in DC. Guy Mason Park has a ton of playground equipment and a splash park that’s open in the summer. Halloween is also a big deal here, with the entire neighborhood coming out for a parade and trick or treating.
Located just north of Georgetown, you can get to downtown DC, to the National Mall and Monuments, to Arlington or to Bethesda from Glover Park by car in 15 minutes. There is no metro, but that doesn’t bother Glover Park because there’s easy access to most everywhere. There are plenty of buses to get you out of Glover Park and to other neighborhoods.
When Stoddert Elementary School became a Blue-Ribbon School, the demand to get into Glover Park increased tremendously. If you’re lucky, you may get a chance to take advantage of one of DC’s not so best-kept secrets: Free Pre-K! For more info on schools, check out my video on the DC School Lottery.
Most houses in Glover Park are the same, for the most part. A rowhome will cost $1.1M and up, though there will be occasional homes below the $1M mark that will need renovations. There are a few condos in the neighborhood as well as apartments. The condo prices are lower than in most parts of the rest of the city, which is a huge bonus.
2. AU Park: One of the Best Neighborhoods to Live in Upper Northwest Washington DC
American University Park consistently ranks highly among one of the best places to live in DC. Those looking for a convenient location, top rated public schools and an inclusive neighborhood vibe will feel right at home in AU Park, as it’s called by the locals.
Located in upper northwest, AU Park is adjacent to Tenleytown and west of Wisconsin Avenue. The retail strip includes the red line metro station, several restaurants like Guapos and Masala Art, Target, Whole Foods and the Tenleytown Library. Wilson High School is also an aquatic center, meaning, the indoor pool is open year-round for DC Residents who want to do some laps.
Janney Elementary School has long been a top rated school in DC. The neighborhood is also served by Deal Middle School and Wilson High School.
There is every house-type in AU Park to include single family homes, some attached homes and condos. Prices for the condos over the metro station start in the $700,000’s for a 2 bedroom. Houses are over the $1M mark in the neighborhood.
3. Arlington: One of the Best Neighborhoods to Live in Washington DC
Technically not in DC, Arlington is just over the river (that’s the Potomac if you didn’t know.) If you’re looking for more space inside, more green space outside, convenience and solid schools, Arlington delivers. It’s a whole county with a lot of different neighborhoods, with many different vibes, but we’ll cover some in the next section.
Arlington is split by Route 50 into North Arlington and South Arlington. North Arlington is the larger and often thought of as the more sophisticated of the two areas. North Arlington is much larger and has higher end shopping and restaurants, notably along the Wilson / Clarendon Boulevard strip. South Arlington is a little less fluff and fancy, but lays claim to Amazon’s arrival right in Crystal City.
Arlington County Schools are some of the highest rated in the region. There are 2 different high school pyramids that serve North Arlington and 1 high school that serves smaller South Arlington. As prices have shifted and priced some people out of North Arlington, more people moving to South Arlington has generated some school buzz and the schools are highly regarded by the attending families.
Things really shifted once Amazon announced they were putting HQ2 in Crystal City at the newly named, “National Landing.” Real Estate in the area wasn’t as hotly desired as it became in the weeks and months post-Amazon announcement. Most of that appears to have subsided, due in part to the pandemic, but there’s a wide range of real estate to be found in Arlington.
In South Arlington, smaller 2 level townhomes which are 2 bed and 1 or 2 baths will cost in the $400,000’s. You can get a single family home here too in the $500’s, but of course if you want to go over $1M, you can!
In North Arlington, the northern reaches of the county have all single family homes that are in the $1M’s to $3M’s. Closer to the retail strip of Wilson/Clarendon Boulevards, you can find condos around $400,000 for 1 bedroom, townhomes start in the $800,000’s and go into the $1M’s. For houses you will pay in the $1M’s and up.
4. Bethesda: One of the Best Washington DC Suburbs to Live in Washington DC
Also not in DC, Bethesda, Maryland cannot be overlooked when it comes to appeal. In many ways, it’s a one-stop shop for those who want it all – retail, restaurants, access to parks and trails, metro accessible with highly rated schools. It’s also close to Chevy Chase where there’s high end retail and more restaurants if you run out of choices in Bethesda. (You won’t.)
Just outside DC, Bethesda is still inside the beltway (or 495.) Bethesda is comprised of several neighborhoods just to the west of Wisconsin Avenue as you head north from DC. It’s home to the National Institute of Health (NIH) as well as several well known companies like Marriott and Total Wine and More.
Public schools in Bethesda are highly rated. If you use Great Schools as a measure, the scores are all 8, 9 and 10 for everything from elementary through high school. There are also many prestigious private schools available like Sidwell Friends and Holton Arms.
Filled with a wide variety of home styles and neighborhoods, the tree-lined streets have colonials, bungalows, arts and crafts, mid-century and everyone’s favorite – McMansions. Bethesda is a community that many developers have had their eye on for years – buying up the small ranch or rambler houses that once were, and building huge homes on the lot. Teardowns are everywhere in Bethesda, and if you want to know more about, I have a video on teardowns.
Single Family Homes will set you back 7 figures here. There are some homes that will be in the $800’s, $900’s but they will need work. A lot with a teardown will cost you $800,000 and to build the house, another $500,000 – $700,000 depending on fixtures. You’re going to be in for $1.5M at least, if you’re lucky. Those houses are going to sell for $2M+ if a developer flips them.
5. Capitol Hill: One of the Nicest Neighborhoods in DC
Capitol Hill is quintessential DC. In the shadows of the capitol building, home to the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, and where all things U.S. Government happen, the location is prime for anyone whose daytime life revolves around “the Hill.” Walk home from work and pop into one of the neighborhood watering holes and you’ll feel like you’re in a small town where everybody knows your name!
Though the boundaries have become more fluid as they moved further east and blended with “Hill East,” generally Capitol Hill is south and east from the Capital building itself. South Capitol St is the western border, 695 is the southern border and Constitution is the northern border. The eastern border is somewhere between 8th Street and 11th or 12th Street – depending who you ask. Pennsylvania Avenue cuts right through the middle and Eastern Market is a hub of the neighborhood offering produce, meats and cheeses daily. On the weekend there is an open air craft market that attracts people from all over the metro area.
Parents are particular where their child will attend Elementary school on the Hill, and this appears to boil down to who the classmates will be. Your child will be attending alongside children of lawyers, doctors and politicians as Capitol Hill is a hot place to live. The elementary schools are rated well and some carry a prestige unknown to many other schools in DC.
Capitol Hill is a super hot real estate market and always has been. It’s tough to get in, and people who do often don’t leave. Attend a Sunday open house and the host will be chatting away with everyone who comes in about the plants they just purchased for their yard or the new paint color on the home around the corner. Homes stay in families for many generations. This is truly a lifestyle and people are willing to pay for it. To live west of 8th or 9th Street and be in boundary for Brent or Maury Elementary will cost well into $1M’s.
Special Bonus Category : Best Neighborhoods All Stars Edition
Sort of like your high school superlatives, these neighborhoods need at least a mention!
As someone who spent 10 years of a mostly single life, Dupont is awesome. It’s the kind of neighborhood where pretty much anyone could feel like they belong. Prices are stable as Dupont is no longer considered “trendy” like other neighborhoods, but it’s proven itself as a solid neighborhood with a small town feel.
Takoma Park, MD
If your hometown is on the west coast, you might just adore Takoma Park. This little city offers a drastic change of pace when compared to the rest of the so progressive, they opened their municipal elections to voters 16 years of age and older. The community has a farmer’s market and a lot of sustainability efforts. The downtown area is a gathering place with many eclectic shops and cafes, and the red line metro stops right downtown.
Silver Spring, MD
Silver Spring is huge, and there is a lot here. Downtown offers a city vibe with a lot of ethnic restaurants, wine bars and high density living. That’s condos or townhomes. But if you go into the neighborhoods north of downtown, things change quite a bit. The neighborhoods near the beltway like Woodside Park and Four Corners offer a cool community vibe with neighborhood schools. The neighborhoods heading toward the Intercounty Connector have more space and a variety of house types. There’s a ton of green space, community pools and a neighborhood here for everyone!
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll cover the best neighborhoods in DC for young professionals!
10 Best Neighborhoods in Washington DC – Part 2
Shifting gears, the second half of the list, and part 2 of the videos, will cover neighborhoods that are great for those looking for a taste of city life.
6. Southwest Waterfront
If you want to be at the center of all the action and nightlife, the Southwest Waterfront is the place to be. Recently redeveloped by local Developer PN Hoffman, the District of Columbia government set a plan in motion to develop the valuable real estate that, for many decades, was plagued by crime and run down buildings.
Bordered by the Washington Channel and Potomac River on the west, 695 to the north, South Capitol Street to the east and Fort McNair on the south, the Southwest Waterfront is a small neighborhood with a big city vibe.
If there’s any part of DC that doesn’t sleep, it’s the southwest waterfront. The strip along Maine Avenue to the riverfront is packed with restaurants and entertainment and live music venues that draw people in from not just the area but the world. All eyes have been on this part of DC for many years and there are lots of investors worldwide who have purchased second or third homes here in the brand new condo buildings. The waterfront is adjacent to Navy Yard, where you can see a Washington Nationals game, and there are also water taxis that shuttle across the Anacostia River to Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor or up to Georgetown.
Real Estate here isn’t cheap. There are some 1960’s high rise buildings which are not directly on the waterfront and are priced in the $300,000’s and up. Once apartments and converted to condos, monthly fees in these buildings is often steep. There is often a 24/7 front desk and many amenities which need to be funded. The new condos are selling for anywhere between $1000 – $1400 per square foot. This means a 2 bedroom 2 bath condo of 1200 square feet will be in the mid $1M’s. High prices for many in DC but for those coming from other economies, the prices are not a deterrent.
7. Logan Circle / Shaw
This is cheating right here but I’m combining two neighborhoods into one. They most definitely are two different neighborhoods but as development moved east from Logan toward Shaw, the boundary between them has been consistently blurred for the past 15 years.
Generally anything east of 15th Street, south of U Street and north of M St and west of…well…this is why Shaw is being included. Back in the days when Logan Circle was the hot new neighborhood, Anything west of 10th could be called Logan Circle. But then Shaw grew up like that “little” brother who is now 6 inches taller than you and has its own right to a place on the list. Shaw shares the same southernmost boundary with Logan Circle – M Street. Anything from 11th Street and east, to New Jersey Ave is in the Shaw neighborhood as well.
You’ll feel like one of the fabulous people, who got in on a good secret before the cat was let out of the bag. Until the weekend comes and the entire metro area descends on 14th Street, when you’ll realize this isn’t a secret at all. But you can sell your car because you can walk everywhere from here. Downtown DC is just a few blocks away, and you’re surrounded by so much fabulousness in the way of restaurants, stores – tons of big names that moved from Georgetown are now on 14th Street – and nightlife that you may never need anything again. If you’re hurting for some culture, it’s a straight shot down to the national mall to be a tourist for a day and hit the Smithsonian museums. Shaw is home to many culinary hot spots that draw people in from all over the metro area.
The early 1900 time period of development in Logan Circle is evident in the streets filled with grand victorians. There are also lots of lofts that were converted from other uses such as auto garages. Home types are similar over in Shaw, as are prices. These rowhomes are going to cost well into the $1M’s, many with rentable basements that can supplement the mortgage payment. Condos are also plentiful and often on the newer side, with one bedrooms in the $400’s and going up from there.
8. Clarendon / Ballston
Ok ok, I’ll stop doing this two-neighborhoods-in-one thing. It’s just the nature of the Washington DC Housing Market where neighborhoods grow and blend together. Clarendon and Ballston are both in North Arlington but are two neighborhoods that attract a post-college crowd.
Wilson Boulevard starts in Rosslyn and runs one way to the west. Clarendon Boulevard is parallel to Wilson and runs east. Follow Wilson out 2 metro stops and you’ll be in Clarendon, just after the Court House stop. Ballston is 2 stops past Clarendon, with Virginia Square separating the two areas.
There’s a different vibe in Virginia neighborhoods that can be really appealing to people who do not want to live in a highly dense city. There’s a lot of green space, parks, and trails that it feels a bit more laid back. Clarendon has a “main drag” along Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards with tons of restaurants, retail and grocery stores. Ballston was formerly a quieter area but it’s going through a massive redevelopment. There are so many new, highly rated restaurants and so much development happening that it’s becoming a destination.
One bedroom condos will run between $400,000 and $500,000. Townhomes in Clarendon are typically going to be over $1M, and you can even get single family homes but they will be well into the $1M’s if not in the $2-3M range. Ballston prices on some of the existing homes are still in the mid to high 6 figures.
9. Adams Morgan
It’s just so hard when neighborhood lines bleed together, but I concede, these really are two different neighborhoods.
Adams Morgan’s main strip is 18th Street, north of Florida Ave / U Street (they become the same street at the intersection with 18th Street. The neighborhood is just a few blocks in either direction from U Street, going over to Connecticut Avenue on the west and 16th Street on the east. It stretches up to Columbia Road. Adams Morgan is at the base of Rock Creek Park and steps to the Zoo, and just west of Columbia Heights.
Where can you hear a lion roar from outside a loud bar? No, it’s not a joke, it’s Adams Morgan! The Smithsonian National Zoo is just to the north and while you may not hear the lions roaring when you’re partying in one of the many late night establishments, you can hear them when all is silent in the middle of the night. When you’re hungry, 18th Street is just out your door and you have a huge selection of eateries and adult beverage establishments to satisfy your inner partier.
It’s called charm. The century-old apartments and condos have original hardwood floors that you know have seen some stuff in their lifetime. It’s worth it as the value holds here and stands the test of time. Condos can be found in the $300’s in no-frills, walk-up buildings without amenities. There are 2 bedroom condos that will set you back $700,000 to $1M, and there are a few single family homes left that are into the $2M’s. These are few and far between as many homes have been converted to condos.
10. City of Alexandria
There are a bunch of neighborhoods that comprise the City of Alexandria, but the areas with retail, restaurants and nightlife are more on the eastern side of the city, in the Del Ray and Old Town areas.
Alexandria is located west of the Potomac River, inside the beltway with 495 the southern boundary, 395 is the western boundary and Four Mile Run is the northern boundary. There are a few metros that service Alexandria – Van Dorn St Metro in West End, then Eisenhower, King Street or Braddock Rd.
Alexandria isn’t just Old Town. There are actually several neighborhoods that make up Alexandria City.
Green space, community gardens, shops, restaurants, nightlife, the activity is near the waterfront which can’t be beat for an evening out. Alexandria carries a charm that appeals to many just moving to the area.
There are some newer condos that have popped up in places in Old Town that have been mostly repurposed through conversions of other buildings. Condos can be found in $200’s, but the newer condos go from $400,000 up into the millions. It’s all about a water view here.
Rowhome prices are typically $1M and up.
In Del Rey the house prices have risen steeply in the past few years. Being walkable to the main strip, Mount Vernon Ave, where the restaurants and shops are is key. Small 500 sf condos exist here in the $200’s, but most prices for condos in Del Ray go well into the $600’s and $700’s. There are attached/row houses in the $600’s – $700’s. Single Family Houses will set you back $800K and up.
Potomac Yard is newish area with most homes being built post 2000. This is the most northern part of Alexandria, and feels more like Arlington / Crystal City than Alexandria. Newer townhouses here are in the $800,000 range and up, condos $400K. As Amazon finishes building their headquarters, this is a neighborhood to consider.
Superlatives – Honorable Mention
Silver Spring – Redux!
I know, it made it on Part 1 of the Top 10 List. But for all the reasons it was a best all around neighborhood it’s also great for young professionals too!