Bethesda vs Arlington

The great debate – Arlington or Bethesda? When people are planning a move to the DC Metro Area, these two areas often top the list because they are close-in and they share many similarities. But which one is better? And which one is right for you?

Bethesda is in southern Montgomery County Maryland, just inside the beltway. Arlington is a county, and everyone’s mailing address is also Arlington. Each area is comprised of dozens of smaller neighborhoods, each with their own personality.

Arlington & Bethesda: Business & Economy

Companies do not relocate to Maryland. You always hear of big companies relocating from somewhere else to Northern Virginia — how often will you hear that about MD? Never.

Amazon, Raytheon, Boeing, Nestle – more corporate headquarters are choosing in Northern Virginia. Tysons is becoming a city, and Pentagon City is hitting the map for something besides the airport, thanks to Amazon. The entire Pentagon City/National landing roadways are being re-done to create pedestrian centers. There’s no comparison on the Maryland side of the Potomac.

Arlington & Bethesda: Commute

Well, where are you going? Businesses are located all over the metro area. If you’re heading downtown, the commute will be quicker Arlington. From Bethesda, you would likely want to take the metro. It’s about 25-30 minutes from Arlington into DC even in moderate to heavy traffic if you’re driving. Bethesda would be 40 minutes or more. If you’re heading to anywhere in Virginia for work such as Amazon’s HQ2 or Tyson’s Corner, you would find Arlington to be a much easier commute than Bethesda. Crossing the (Potomac) River as we say here, is torture.

Virginia does have toll lanes across many of their highways, and that can be annoying and confusing for people as well. People like to say traffic is worse on the Virginia or Maryland side. Yes. It’s both. There’s no getting around it, traffic will be the bane of your existence when living here.

Arlington & Bethesda: Real Estate

The average Bethesda house in the past year has closed for $1.565M

The average Arlington house in the past year has closed for $1.297M

Arlington has 2 parts, North and South Arlington. South Arlington prices are lower than North Arlington. If you net out South Arlington, the average price for North Arlington is $1.407M.

Virginia is a lot more teardown and builder friendly. Maryland has more rules and restrictions on tearing down homes, so the housing stock you see is more of the older homes that have bene renovated an added on to, as opposed to Virginia where you see a lot of new homes that have been built on lots where old homes have been torn down.

One interesting note – Arlington may eliminate all single family home zoning this fall which would be a pretty progressive housing reform. The Washington Post cites that that from 2010 to 2019, developers built a net of 11,370 housing units. But in that same time frame, 30,000 people moved into Arlington.

They noted county data that indicates 1245 single family homes were torn down between 2009 and 2019, and they had an average size of 1500 sf. They were replaced by homes three times the size for an average price of $1.7M. Proponents of this new potential reform to the zoning code argue that if one of these homes is torn down, it could be replaced with a duplex, or multi-unit home to house more people, and cover the “Missing Middle.”

Arlington & Bethesda: Taxes

Taxes will be lower in Arlington.  If you make $100,000, you’ll pay $7800 in Maryland State Taxes and in Virginia $5500. As your salary goes up this savings can be quite significant.

Virginia does have a personal property tax on vehicles, trailers, RV’s and boats which may equalize if you have a lot of vehicles. This is $4.13 per $100 of assessed value.

Arlington & Bethesda: Schools

I’ve done two different videos on Arlington schools and Montgomery County Schools.

Bethesda schools definitely rank highly. You have a lot of parental involvement at the early years and a huge focus on academics and extracurriculars.  Montgomery County Schools have had a few rough years lately with changes in curriculum and covid response.

Arlington Schools have had similar challenges as Montgomery County in terms of keeping everyone on the same pace and not letting some students fall behind.

When it comes to colleges, Virginia has many more and better public universities of all sizes and levels of competitiveness than Maryland.

Arlington & Bethesda: Shopping

In Bethesda there is the downtown area which includes Bethesda Row – an outdoor shopping area with the bigger chain stores. You will also find smaller local shops and restaurants on all the side streets. Retail in Bethesda is more focused, whereas in Arlington you have shopping areas in many of the different neighborhoods, and then several major shopping areas around the county.

Arlington & Bethesda: Politics

Bethesda and Arlington are both very urban areas, and as such the politics are similar to that of many major cities which I would say is overwhelmingly liberal.

Arlington & Bethesda: Parks, Outdoors & Fun

Bethesda is densely packed with families of all ages and there are opportunities for kids sports, lots of playgrounds, parks and hiking. I also have the kids in some classes at Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda and they have taken drama, comedy improv and even stage makeup classes there.

Arlington feels more developed, but the city claims that everyone in Arlington can be at a park with just a 10 minute walk. The parks are well-maintained and fun for kids. We were just at a birthday party in Upton Park, which has batting cages, mini golf, a huge climbing structure and pools. The Parks & Recreation is also awesome, with tons of classes for kids.


Both Bethesda and Arlington are fine places to live, with nice homes, good schools, decent suburban amenities. You will find people who each say that their side of the river is better. But what it really boils down to in my opinion is lifestyle.

If you want a quieter community with less hustle and bustle and more of a suburb, Bethesda is probably the place. If you like a community with a lot going on and new things happening all the time, Arlington is likely your home.