Maryland vs Virginia
Ask any local which is better – Maryland or Virginia, and you’re likely to find yourself in the middle of a good old fashioned catfight. (Seinfeld, anyone?) Opinions are strong when it comes to state pride here – and that’s not just among people from these two states. People who move here from other parts of the country or the world will often immediately gravitate to one state or the other.
What are the differences between Maryland vs Virginia? Each state has a variety of towns and cities to offer, but is Virginia’s reputation for being “Down Where the South Begins” or Maryland’s reputation for being Marylinistan warranted? Let’s find out. Also, if you’re from an “istan” country, please don’t come for me.
Maryland’s motto is “The Free State,” which, yeah, if you count abolishing slavery in 1864 to mean free. It’s not like you were my home state of Connecticut who never believed in slavery. Moving along, Maryland leans left, and when I say lean, it’s like this kind of lean. Maryland is progressive, democratic and liberal leaning. It’s a one-party state and you will get everything that comes with that. The county governments control growth by calling it “smart growth.” They preserve greenspace. There are housing programs, school programs and significant gun control – until recently. More on that in a moment.
Virginia long went Republican since the beginning of time. But, Northern Virginia’s population shifted the political leaning in the most recent years. Lee Highway and Washington Lee High School have been renamed. You’ll still feel the origins and history of Virginia as a red state, especially if you drive out of the metro area. You will see Confederate Flag purses at Wawa if you head 40 miles outside the city.
What the future holds is uncertain. We just had two Supreme Court rulings on the same day – and it’s in question what Virginia’s approach will be toward abortion and if that will be limited. But then Maryland, which used to require a valid reason to have a firearm, has done away with that.
In Maryland, there are rural, conservative parts of the state but they do not control Maryland. In Virginia, close to half the state could probably be classified as rural and conservative. For a while, a high population of Democrats in Northern Virginia were starting to control the state, but in recent years, that has also been showing signs of a shift and in the most recent election, the Commonwealth of Virginia now has a Republican Governor.
This is subjective, but Maryland schools are a tale of two cities. Montgomery County schools uniformly seem to rank well with many ranked on the notable lists. Prince George’s County Schools do not rank as well overall, so if this is what you’re looking for you have to carefully consider the specific neighborhoods. These two counties are mostly the extent of the Maryland discussion when it comes to metro counties.
Virginia has both county and city school districts so there are a lot more to consider – Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, and the Cities of Falls Church, Manassas, Fairfax.
On US News & World Report’s 2022 list, the #1 High School is Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, VA.
The next school in Maryland or Virginia is #104 Walt Whitman in Bethesda.
Langley High School in McLean Virginia is at #136, and McLean High at #157.
Wootton High School in Rockville is at #167
This is a draw. Montgomery County Maryland overall is highly sought after for the schools. Arlington County has also been often noted for their schools, though in the most recent years, the overcrowding among other issues has resulted in Arlington County falling out of favor with some people locally. To get to the better Northern Virginia schools, you need to head toward Fairfax, and the other counties further from the metro area.
When talking about state colleges though, Virginia wins here. You just can’t beat the preference you get as a Virginia resident to go to UVA.
There are teardowns amok in both Maryland and Virginia. But it’s less amok in Maryland. Maryland has lots of rules. This is why I laughed at “Marylinistan.” And when it comes to real estate, there’s no exception.
You’ll see less teardowns in Maryland – whether that’s due to the counties not approving them or because the thought of having to work with a county like Montgomery County to get a teardown approved is about as appealing sticking onions under your eyelids. You are more likely to see a 50-80 year old house that’s been renovated several times in Maryland than torn down and rebuilt to the edge of the lot line.
Virginia though? They love building things right up to the lot line. Rules? What rules? Smart growth? Drive out west and watch how the houses just come at you as you crest a hill or two. It’s more builder-friendly. And they don’t care if you overbuild the crap out of a house so that it’s towering on the lot. Have at it!
One interesting note – Arlington may eliminate all SFH zoning this fall which would be a pretty progressive housing reform.
Prices in Virginia are trending higher than Maryland in the most recent years – due most likely to the fact that Virginia has become home to many companies in the past few years, which we will cover in the next section.
Business & Economy
Companies do not relocate to Maryland. Period. 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. If you’re from the tri-state area, I can put it like this. Maryland is becoming like Connecticut was to New York in the 1970’s, and New Jersey is the Virginia.
If you prefer more of a quieter bedroom community with less sprawl, Maryland is probably better. If you prefer more of a job center with more sprawl as a result, Virginia is probably better.
Restaurants & Lifestyle
Maryland zoning seems to dictate specific areas for retail and then everything else is residential. You see this in suburbs further out where there are “village centers” where everyone goes to get what they need. Virginia has retail all over. Shopping centers here and there, not just in special areas.
As far as vacation spots, both states have beaches, though neither state has tons of coastline comparable to the Carolinas or Florida.
Virginia has wine country and the Shenandoah Valley which many would probably argue would beat the vacation areas of Maryland. But Maryland has the eastern shore and St Michael’s which is about as Martha’s Vineyard as you can get here. And there’s also Assateague, with wild horses that mill around the beach. People find this really charming. I am not one of those people. Please don’t come for me.
Northern Virginia could arguably be more proactive about the traffic. They are constantly trying to expand the highways and adjust to the growing population. They instituted toll lanes on 66 and the beltway.
When I moved here in 2001, I was astonished at what bad drivers Maryland has. I don’t get it, but I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s not just me either, this is a thing. Even Google will confirm it. Type in “why are ma” and see what comes up as a suggestion.
Income taxes are highest in DC, then Maryland, then Virginia. In Virginia, once you hit $17,000 anything in excess is at the max rate of 5.75%. In Maryland, you have to make $250,000 to get to the max tax rate of 5.75%. But, Maryland has flat fees at each so it gets confusing.
You make $100,000, you’ll pay $7800 in Maryland State Taxes and in Virginia $5500.
Virginia has the 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.
Politics aside, both states are diverse, populated with some of the most highly educated people in the country and have much to offer.
Locals who grew up in the area recall when Montgomery County was the premier place to live several decades ago. But Virginia caught up, and has become more sophisticated and desirable and drawn companies from the big leagues to relocate here. I don’t have a dog in this fight, I could be equally happy living on either side of the river. I love South Arlington and many Alexandria neighborhoods on the Virginia side. I lived in Rockville and loved it enough that I would do it again. I live in DC now, but I promise I could easily move to either state and find my people.
Loved this! Very informative for someone not from the area who has been living in DC for the past 4 years.
This is a wonderful article. Thanks so very much for this information. My husband and I are looking to relocate after retirement. Cost of living is the number one concern for us. Thanks again.
This was such a good article! I’m a Northern Virginia native and *somewhat* considering purchasing a home in Maryland…but I love VA! Moving to any other state would be one thing, but switching from the VA side to the MD side is taking a lot of thought. You gave me much to think about, though, so thanks!
I think your stated taxes for Md for 100K salary is incorrect. You state it to be $7,800; instead it would be $4,697.50 (for a single individual) according to the Maryland tax computation worksheet schedule (17A).
Hi – the differential to get you to $7800 is the added county tax. I used Montgomery County as the example, but anywhere you live in MD will also incur the county tax.
Hi, I stumbled upon this while looking up places in Virginia. I live in MD. I was confused about the part mentioning some MD suburbs have village centers, while VA doesn’t have designated areas for retail/retail is everywhere. Could you give an example of that on the VA side? I figured that all states in the US, in the post-war suburbs, zoning separates retail from residential, VA included. Other than cities, it seems to be only the “mixed use” centers that actually allow residential and retail to mix. Thank you 🙂
Hi! Consider Arlington for example. There are concentrated commercial areas like Ballston and Clarendon and then there are retail shopping centers spread throughout other areas too. Virginia isn’t as strict with zoning as Maryland is. Residential areas in Maryland are often truly residential. You can’t always walk to a grocery store from the neighborhoods. But in Virginia you often can.
Thanks for your response. Hmm, I thought you were referring to more suburban parts of VA to compare with the village center suburbs in MD 😅 Arlington makes more sense, considering how close it is to DC, to compare with Downtown Silver Spring. I still find the suburbs of both states to separate residential from retail in general though. Thanks again.