Living in Arlington, VA offers a lot of appeal as a place to call home. Arlington consistently ranks as one of the most sought after areas for singles, young professionals, families and empty nesters in the metro DC Area. The amenities alone make it a highly desirable place to live with location topping the list of reasons people move here. Of course we also have pretty mild temperatures here as well.
Moving to a new place is a huge decision. People new to the DC area often get overwhelmed when considering whether to live in DC, Maryland or Northern Virginia. The DC area offers a lot of variety in both types of homes and lifestyle and that same diversity applies within Arlington, VA as well. Separated into North and South Arlington with dozens of neighborhoods within each part, there’s nothing here but choice.
Is Arlington, VA a Good Place to Live?
Arlington checks most of the boxes for the majority of homebuyers. There are great schools, a variety of home styles, price points for every budget, and lots of parks and green space. Arlington also offers a location that is easily commutable to Washington DC and Tyson’s Corner where much of the local jobs are located.
Pros and Cons of Living in Arlington VA
Whether you’re in one of the best neighborhoods in Arlington, VA or in one of the redeveloping neighborhoods like Ballston or Columbia Pike, there is so much to love about living here. Let’s start with the pros first.
The location is prime and that’s not just for daily commuters or nightlife seekers heading to downtown DC. Arlington offers quick access to DC with bridges connecting to Georgetown, the National Mall and the Southwest Waterfront. Old Town Alexandria is just down the road if you want to spend some time soaking up local history and charm. Tyson’s Corner is about 20 minutes for restaurants and retail. Virginia wine country out toward the Shenandoah Valley is a couple hours away plus you have two airports – Reagan National Airport right in Arlington and Dulles for international travel.
All schools in Arlington are administered by Arlington County Public Schools. There are 2 different high school pyramids in the school system that serve North Arlington – Yorktown High School and Washington-Liberty High School (formerly known as Washington-Lee.) There is 1 high school that serves smaller South Arlington – Wakefield High School.
Elementary schools are all rated well by various online metrics. Scores slide a bit for middle school, but that isn’t an Arlington-specific trend. We all know middle school is the worst, so can anyone really blame the kids?
There’s a sentiment in Arlington that if your child needs extra assistance or is ahead of his or her grade, that you have to advocate for your child on your own. But in these conversations with stressed out parents, whether in Arlington, DC or pretty much anywhere else in the country – this seems to be the case.
Lots of Green Space, Parks & Outdoor Recreation Options
Arlington has tons of parks and trails and many walkable areas to enjoy the outside. There are large parks in the northern part of Arlington like Potomac Overlook and Glebe Road Park. There are dozens of smaller neighborhood parks closer to the Wilson Blvd Strip and throughout South Arlington. There are also a bunch of spraygrounds and trails scattered throughout, as well as several dog parks in all parts of Arlington.
For trails, there’s the 18 mile Mount Vernon Trail where the kids and I have done some hiking and biking. It runs alongside the Potomac River all the way into Fairfax County and ends at George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon. There’s also the W & OD Trail which is a 45 mile paved trail that starts in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington and follows the road of the former railroad, out to Purcellville, VA.
Something that’s pretty cool is that Arlington residents have the opportunity to take advantage of so many activities offered through Parks and Recreation. Classes, camps, sports – they offer a really amazing program that I’m jealous of. The YMCA also has a couple locations and a huge gymnastics program, and a dedicated tennis center. Classes can open up for people outside of Arlington and I’ve been lucky to get the kids into a couple classes even though we’re DC Residents.
Arlington also has pools for the community. You can check out the locations and information on their website.
There is so much variety for food in restaurants and grocery stores. Even some coffee shops have local a cult following here. There are a variety of restaurants and ethnic foods available without feeling like you have to venture over to nearby DC. You’ll also find every grocery store from the usual local places like Safeway and Giant, to Harris Teeter, Whole Foods and Costco.
Good Sense of Community
Many neighborhoods are walkable. People describe friendly neighborhoods, neighborhood text message chains, kids who walk to school, older teens who are allowed freedom to walk around retail areas like Ballston or Clarendon.
Disadvantages of Living in Arlington VA
Cost of Living
You’ll definitely want to check out my Cost of Living video for Arlington where I compare prices in Arlington with DC. The median salary in Arlington is $120,071 – which is more than twice the national average in the mid $50,000’s. Household income skews higher for residents living in the northern parts of Arlington and home prices follow suit. While property taxes are higher in Virginia than in DC, income taxes are lower on this side of the Potomac.
Traffic was already pretty bad here, and with Amazon coming, expect it to get worse. Fortunately there is plenty of public transportation available with several metro stops on the blue, yellow and orange lines.
All three lines originate in DC, and the orange line heads west and services North Arlington along the Rosslyn, Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston corridor. The blue and yellow lines head into South Arlington. The blue line takes you to Arlington National Cemetery, connects with the yellow line at the Pentagon, then they split again at King Street and head in different southern directions.
Most people in Arlington have cars, but if you live close to public transit, you can go without a vehicle. The metro and buses are thankfully adequate to service most of Arlington with ease.
Tough Real Estate Market
If you are looking for a sweet steal on a home that’s been sitting on the market for a while, Arlington isn’t the place. Homes here move quickly, with a lot of competition. An already tight real estate market was made much worse when Amazon announced HQ2’s arrival to the Crystal City neighborhood of South Arlington.
The majority of home type here is single family homes in North Arlington, with condos found along the Wilson Boulevard corridor from Rosslyn through Ballston. South Arlington has everything from bungalows to huge homes that have been “mcmansioned” from a formerly smaller home like a rambler or ranch.
The land is supremely valuable in Arlington so you will find McMansions that have been built right to the lot lines, and many homes in undesirable condition. There are homes lots of homes in Arlington that have been used as rentals for many years. And then there is a whole other group of homes that have been renovated and added on to by various owners over the years. This often makes valuation for a purchase really difficult because there’s no telling what hidden issues are behind the walls.
Despite the fact that an Arlington home can be beat up from years of tenants or that it is a hodgepodge of design, someone will snap it up because the land is so valuable. This is usually very tough for people moving to Arlington to understand.
The good news though is that your home value stays strong and real estate stays in high demand.
Living in Arlington vs DC
There’s a local joke here that people do not like to cross the river if they were originally from Maryland or Virginia. But there are so many people here who are not from the area originally and have no issue moving between DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland.
The cost of living video mentioned above compares Arlington prices to DC. Overall it’s slightly less expensive on the Virginia side of the Potomac, but some things like property taxes and a personal property tax do increase some Virginia costs compared to living in Washington DC. The differences are minor, so determining what lifestyle you prefer – city life vs urban life with more outdoor space will ultimately be the deciding factor.
Conclusion on Living in Arlington VA
If convenience, location, great schools and outdoor living are on your list of must-haves, it’s worth a visit to Arlington. Start out in Rosslyn and ride the metro or drive along Wilson Boulevard until you get to Ballston, then turn around and pick up Clarendon Blvd and head east. Stop at my favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Hit a couple stores in Clarendon and drive in the neighborhoods just off the strip.
Then head south on Route 1 into Crystal City and Pentagon City, check out Amazon and see the hustle and bustle of this area as it experiences the biggest change the neighborhood has seen in decades. Then head over toward Columbia Pike and check out the changes happening there, and see what feels like it may be worth a second look. We can find your place here, I’m sure of it.