Tell Me About Living In/Around Washington DC

I’m thinking of applying for a job that I have a pretty good chance at getting. This job is in DC, just a couple blocks from the White House. I know very little about the area and have never considered living there, so I hesitate to apply unless I think I seriously want to relocate to the area.

Can any Dopers offer insight about where it might be possible to move myself, my husband, and several cats in a reasonable commuting distance? For a reference on reasonable, I live in Des Moines now, but have lived in Phoenix AZ and the greater Los Angeles area for parts of my adult life, so I can get used to an urban commute again. Best would be good public transportation, but I can do city driving.

In general, don’t bother trying to drive there. At least not between 5AM and 7PM or so. Weekends are easier since it clears out then. DC has good public transportation (IMO), but any residential area near a metro stop is going to cost a lot to live there. I believe there was a semi-recent thread that went into detail about each neighborhood, relative distance to metro stops and housing costs, etc.

DC has good night life, but nothing in terms of after-hours, i.e., if you get a hankering for some pancakes at 3AM you’re out of luck. I’ve heard rumors of an all-nite diner in some distant corner of the city, but have never found it.

In general, I like the city and do not live there but have visited often and never seem to get bored there.

Not in D.C. itself, but the Tastee Diners in Bethesda and Silver Spring aren’t all that remote.

Play some Fallout 3, I hear that’s a pretty accurate representation of the area.

I’ve been a student here for the past two and a half years, so what I know tends to be a bit more skewed. Reasonable is tricky. Can you give some general guidelines? The public transportation is decent here, certainly better than LA, cleaner than NY, although it doesn’t run 24 hours like the NY subway. There are also delays all the time, especially on the Red line.
DC itself is split into quadrants (NW, NE, SW, SE) and wards (1-7 I believe). DC has a huge income disparity between the richest and the poorest, with most of the wealthy (and generally speaking, Caucasian population) living in the NW (wards 1-3 I believe?) and the poorest (and sadly, African American) living in the SE. Living in the SE is cheaper, but there is also a distinct lack of grocery stores and other places to buy fresh food.
Nearer the Capital, like in the Capital Hill area, seems to be a nice mix of DC. It doesn’t have the sort of pretentiousness of the Georgetown (NW) area, but it’s not so run down as ward 7. It’s a popular place for people who live in the city.
You can also live outside the city in the NoVa (Northern Virginia) area, or southern Maryland (SoMa? Does anybody call it that?). Rent isn’t necessarily cheaper, but there is more space there, and if you can get a little further out from the city prices will drop a lot.
Oh, and parking is horrible in DC. You can park 2 hours in any given ward for free (assuming you find a non-metered spot), but that’s easier said than done.
There are a lot of great neighborhoods if you are willing to look around, with some areas distinguished by the main ethnic presence in the area. Plenty of bars, clubs, etc, but as someone else said, nothing that’s really open that late.
Lastly, if you’re used to LA quality food, you’re not going to find much that’s at the same level for the price. There are some really standout places here if you look around, but it’s expensive, and DC has a restaurant tax of 10%, so when you factor in tip, you’re paying ~30% over the cost.
Sorry, this really is the last thing: one thing I’ve noticed, and of course others might differ, is that DC has a very transient feel. A lot of people are here working for a few years, or they’re in the gov’t and thus limited to working for only a few years, and the overall feel of it is one of impermanence. It’s a fun place if you’re one of those who are working for a few years and then out, but I don’t know that I could ever settle down here.
If you have any other questions, ask away! Hopefully that wasn’t too wordy.

There are a good number of them in Virginia. The ones I’ve eaten at are Barnside (Annandale/little river turnpike) and 29 Diner (Route 29, Vienna area).

edit: here are some more. American City Diner sounds like it may have been what you were talking about.

That’s not my experience. No one here is from here, but no one leaves, either.

It’s a great town, but it’s an eastern city, which it seems you don’t have experience with. Cities in the East (that is, built before cars) are very different than cities in the West. IMO, they’re better. But YMMV.

Oh, and there are lots of neighborhoods in the suburbs that are near a Metro stop and quite reasonable. (I live in one.) As with any city, the closer you are, the more expensive things are.


Not having to worry about the schools of children frees you up to be a bit more creative in your choice of living. You may find yourself happiest if you live within walking distance of your work.

Commuting by private vehicle is insane, imho. Metro is a choice for many, but I question their reliability.

Personally I commute far but I have a company vehicle and I work off hours.

There is the Diner in Adams Morgan.
There is Metro 29 in Arlington. It isn’t metro accessible so that may limit its usefulness after a night of drinking.

I was born and raised in this area, and most of my friends from high school stayed in the area since there is a robust job market. This area tends to draw people in and they stay for the jobs. It is probably a great deal more expensive than Phoenix, but if you are careful, you should be able to find a good deal on a place. You’ll probably have to rent a house since most apartment complexes tend to frown on multiple pets.

The District itself if pretty well laid out with public transit everywhere and some retail available within walking distance.

How much do you want to spend and how much space do you want?

Rated 7th on the list of walkable cities.

Let us know what your housing budget is and we can point you at some neighborhoods.

Going by my own personal experience, the two downsides of living in the DC metro area are housing prices and traffic.

You’ve already lived in L.A., so you’ve probably already experienced both of those in spades. (Obviously, DC traffic is nothing compared to LA, but it’s still a pain in the ass.)

Yeah, but are any of those accessible from the metro?

To the OP: Here are some DC-related threads.

DC area Dopers: could you share your knoweldge with me please?

What to See and Do in Washington DC - an Informative MMP
The latter covers many fun stuff recreation-wise to get you excited about the city, while the former goes into the ins and outs of different neighborhoods.

Check out the one I mentioned. It is metro accessible and near the bars.

The question is so broad, I don’t really know where to begin. Let us know as you develop more specific queries, 'cause I’m an encyclopedia when it comes ot my home. :wink:

My primary advice to anyone considering the move is to investigate within yourself and with your spouse the commute time vs price vs safety equation of housing. It is necessary in this area to give in almost completely on one of those. What would it be for you? And if it’s price, can you afford the other two?

This is getting a bit better, but expect to pay at least $1800 for a bottom-line 2-bedroom place. Unless you are planning to buy, in which case there are some fairly good (not by Phoenix standards, but by ours) deals available these days.

ETA: Bob and Edith’s, just West of the Navy Annex on Columbia Pike. Best Diner in the world. Seriously.

DC is a depressingly expensive place to live, mainly due to housing costs.

The next most depressing thing about DC is the traffic, but that’s more of a concern outside the city, not for city dwellers who use public transportation.

Summers are as hot and humid as anywhere in the United State, just that they don’t last quite as long as, say, Mississippi.

Everything else I more-or-less like. It has a vast assortment of museums, hundreds of them are doable as day trips. There are also tons of cuisine options, and quite a bit of culture of all sorts.

Take the claims that certain parts of the Washington metropolitan area are better than others with a grain of salt. The entire metropolitan area is quite a bit richer and more educated than average for the rest of the U.S. You will hear claims that the schools in certain places in the area are better than those in other places. What these claims amount to are recommendations to live in a county that is one of the ten richest in the country and has schools that are among the ten best in the country, as opposed to one that’s merely better than average in the U.S.

Can’t argue too much with any of that! Winters are also generally tolerable - some years we get relatively little snow, others (like, well, this year) we get a fair bit. Typo Knig and the kids are shovelling our driveway right now from the dumping we got yesterday, just a couple of inches… of course in December we got a foot and a half which was pretty much a pain. That is a HIGHLY unusual storm, however.

Of course as people will tell you, it always seems like the plows don’t get around fast enough, and people don’t know how to drive in it - though honestly yesterday, driving around on city streets during the snowfall, people were being pretty sensible, and the truly major roads had indeed been plowed.

Transportation: In the suburbs, there are always buses that can take you to the Metro, plus of course nearly all the suburban Metro stations have parking garages (which may fill up early). You wouldn’t want to be carless entirely if you lived in one of the suburbs, but you could do without it for commuting into the city if you wished and I’d advise either bus-to-Metro, or park at Metro and use that to get in. Parking in the city is quite spendy, plus the traffic. Some of the suburban bus routes are only during commuting times (e.g. 6-10 AM, 3-7 PM) which is obviously a concern.

I don’t know if you have kids. If so, look into the close-in counties in Maryland / Virginia for schools. DC public schools in general are so-so to awful; obviously there are good ones but the odds aren’t in your favor. Montgomery County MD and Fairfax County VA are good, as is Arlington County VA (I believe); avoid Prince George’s County MD: as with DC, there are certainly some acceptable schools there and housing of course is a LOT more affordable but the schools have been fraught with a lot of problems lately. If kids are not an issue, some of the further out communities in PG County offer a lot more “bang for the buck”, housing-wise, and are quite lovely.

Again, what Mama Zappa said is precisely what I was complaining about. Montgomery, Arlington, and Fairfax schools are in the top ten counties in the country for schools. Some Prince George’s schools aren’t very good, but many are excellent. Many D.C. schools aren’t very good, but some are pretty good. Once again, schools on average in the metropolitan area are certainly well above the national average. The Washington area is quite a bit richer and more educated than the national average.

Incidentally, if you’re coming to D.C. for a visit, let us know and we’ll do a Dopefest for you.

I moved to DC from the Midwest and I find it the most crushingly depressing place to live. It’s expensive and crowded, not particularly scenic, and people are unfriendly and insular–buried in their Blackberries 24/7. Whether you spend your daily commute on the Metro with your face in someone’s armpit as the train stops after every 5 feet it travels, or drive to work and play chicken trying to get onto 66 with the asshole who drives just fast enough to block your merge, you’ll want to kill yourself within a couple of years. I sure do.

Thankfully the OP is doing actual research via this thread so that she won’t land herself in a city, ignorant of the cost of living there.

That depends what your definition of scenic is. Mountains and lakes? Of course not. Historic homes, limestone office buildings and marble monuments around every corner? A very green city - more trees than people? Definitely.

Yep, that only happens in DC.

Stay off the roads during rush hour. Yes the subway trains can get crowded and sometimes backed-up. You chose to live in a densely populated city that has an effective and popular subway system. Stop sniffing peoples’ armpits and your quality of life may improve.

I would say the previous post is better distilled into a sound bite: Life in the big city isn’t for everyone.