Tell me where to live and what to do near DC

So, in January I take the plunge, quitting my job and moving 900 miles north to live near my girlfriend. She lives in Alexandria, but has only been there a year. If all goes well, we’ll be looking to buy a house together next summer. So…

  1. Tell us where to live. She’s a bureaucrat, so she must be within commuting distance of the city. I will likely be going back to school for a year or two, hopefully at College Park, and after that, looking for a job. She likes the city, I like the country. Mayberry with a Metro stop would be the ideal. Both sides of the river considered.

  2. Tell me what to do, especially in the Alexandria or the city. Recommend a restaurant, museum, park, proctologist, whatever.

If you go downtown, watch out for the Super Mutants.

Not to pry too much, but what’s your budget?

Delray. Affordable, fun, quiet small town feel, but 7 miles from the city and a couple from Old Town.

Not prying at all; I should have included it in the OP. I’d like to keep it under $200k, though we could go significantly higher if it’s a really good investment that we could sell for a profit five years down the road. 3 bedroom.

What does “commuting distance” mean to you? Do you mean drive commuting or on public transit?

You can find fairly rural pockets in Fairfax county, but not near the Vienna-fairfax metro station. We used to trailer our horses to Frying Pan Farm Park which is wonderful to be near if you are horsily-inclined. Overall though, The Northern Virginia DC suburbs are easily the most overdeveloped sprawl-ridden subdivided paved-over car culture hellholes I have ever had the misfortune to witness. (I have never been to LA though). I used to live in Culpeper, which technically is only 70 miles from DC but its a 2-3 hour drive when traffic is bad, which is pretty much always on I-66.

Yeah I have my hate on for NoVa.

Just looking at Google Street View – to me, that pretty much is the city. I want the kind of place where I might have to worry about racoons in my trashcans or deer eating my garden.

Preferably public transit. I’d say anywhere reachable by the metro system, or within 1 hour’s drive of the city during rush hour.

Or, I’m guessing, Orlando.

Culpeper looks damn near perfect … except, as you note, too far out. I mentioned Manassas to my girlfreind, and that was the limit of what she would even think about.

Oh, goodness. It’s going to be very hard to find anything close to a Metro stop at that price. The places I thought would be kind of out in the sticks, yet still feasible to commute daily – places like Odenton, Poolesville, or Waldorf, MD – seem to be going for at least twice that price according to Zillow. Those places are roughly an hour’s drive from downtown DC, with no traffic. ETA: and those places are nowhere near a metro.

All I can think of for that price is the areas around Martinsburg, West Virginia, which aren’t even guaranteed that cheap. There’s a commuter rail line that is actually fairly popular… but it takes about two hours each way. I know people who do it!

Well then we’ll have to pay more. The price is not the essential thing. If need be, we can afford much more than 200k; I just don’t want to spend it. Put it this way: “Most affordable non-ghetto place to live within 1 hour of the White House.”

I highly recommend Northern Virginia - in my rough preferential order:

(1) Arlington County
1a. North Arlington (Clarendon, Ballston, etc. - all on the Orange Metro line)
(2) Alexandria (anywhere within city limits, not the “Alexandria section of Fairfax County”)
(3) Falls Church (an independent city) (2 Metro stops)
(4) Fairfax County
4a. Reston
(5) Fairfax City
(6) Loudoun County
6a. Sterling (my hometown)
6b. Ashburn
6c. Leesburg

Let me just add that Loudoun County - where I grew up and where I still live – is a hefty commute but still has some affordable housing prices and the whole western part is still country. The eastern part is getting quite built up but is a very nice community.

p.s. Just want to throw out a special nod to Falls Church, one of my favorite places that I have lived over the past few years).

There are tons of museums in DC. The Smithsonian has these: http://www.si.edu/Museums/ There’s also a spy museum, the Holocaust Museum, and others.Some are located along the Mall in DC, so you can walk between them, as well as several monuments.

On a Weekend, you can drive out to Skyline Drive if you want some fresh air.

If you can afford it, definitely think about commutes.

Just steer clear of the mean streets of Arlington: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T1RMuoQnKo

Around 200k near a Metro stop will only get you a studio condo in a lot of neighborhoods in the DC area. I would suggest giving some serious consideration to whether you really want to be close to the Metro or not - you really do pay a premium for this convenience. One compromise is to live further out, drive to one of the end of the line train stations (e.g., Rockville) and take the train into the city.

On the other hand I know people who commute to DC by car from Leesburg or Reston. It’s a haul but they make it work. FWIW, that usually means commuting earlier or later than the usual rush hour.

I’d be awfully impressed if you could find anything beyond a 1 bedroom luxury condo (and every condo is self-billed as a “luxury condo” around here) for $200K. Housing prices, even though down, are still depressingly high.

Rockville is not the end of the line. (Shady Grove in Gaithersburg is.) It’s also not cheap, not even close, but it is nice in parts.

Manassas, however, is the most horrible place in the world. I think it only exists as an example of what a vast area looks like completely paved over. Overdeveloped to oblivion. Even the national battlefield there is crisscrossed with roads with rush hour 24/7. It is my idea of hell.

Personally, unless you love driving an hour to work and an hour home, and sitting in traffic constantly, I’d go with having a smaller place in a more “questionable” neighborhood. There are some nice areas in Silver Spring, for example. The northern part of it (Olney) still has a somewhat rural character and isn’t too terribly far from the Glenmont Metro. I know less about NoVA, but tend to avoid it unless I have business there (traffic seems worse to me on that side of the river), although I do like Old Town Alexandria, Ballston and Clarendon.

I can attest to things being expensive in Poolesville. I was there this past weekend and drove past a new development of modest homes “starting in the high 500s”. Blah!

There are an endless number of museums and attractions around here; I’ve been hitting them heavy for 8 years and still haven’t seen everything.

I don’t necessarily mean it has to be within walking distance of a metro station – I just meant that as a rough approximation of “commuting distance.”

nyctea scandiaca and ataraxy22, thanks much for the ideas.

Really, everyone, though I don’t need you to find me a house – just tell me what towns/areas are nice.

I would suggest living over here near College Park rather than in Alexandria if you’re going to be attending the University of Maryland. Does your girlfriend have a job in Alexandria, and is she insisting on keeping it, or is it just a temporary thing? Actually, I kind of wonder how you have enough money to buy a house if you’re still in college. Could you come for a visit first so we can do a Dopefest for you while you’re here?

I think the whole question of which neighborhoods are nice is hard to answer. The Washington area is quite well off compared with much of the U.S. You’re going to be told that certain areas aren’t good neighborhoods. Compared to neighborhoods of other cities in the U.S. they are actually pretty good.

If you are going to be at UMD, live near UMD, don’t live in NoVA. Traffic is nightmarish and being on the wrong side of the Beltway will have more of an impact on the quality of life than almost any other choice you make. Takoma Park is a nice place to live, but $200k doesn’t buy much in the burbs of DC.

For $200k there’s no chance you’ll be in commuting distance and have raccoons in your attic and deer eating your garbage. I live pretty far out near Warrenton. It’s about a 45min commute with no traffic to get to the beltway. Homes out there are $350+ for a moderate house. With traffic it’s a clusterfuck. Anything further east than Centreville VA along 66 you won’t find “rural feel”.

That’s the curse of living near the city.

Regarding critters, I live in DC and have had a deer in my driveway and opossum in my basement, but not for $200k.