Tell me where to live and what to do near DC

Capitol Hill resident chiming in - I’ve lived here for over 10 years. Don’t be afraid of the city - there are so many parks and open spaces that even a “city” house can have a less urban feel than you would think. Also, don’t let the prices scare you away - we bought a 4 bedroom, 2bath row house on the Hill, with a full park view, one block from the metro and with a bus stop in front of the house, for $265k. Admittedly we got lucky, and it was a forclosure with some scary cosmetics - but if you’re patient, you can find great real estate here. Less than $10k later and we have a beautiful home with all the ameneties, close to everything we love. My commute is 10 minutes, and even my husband (who teaches at GMU) only takes about 25 minutes because he’s commuting against traffic. We’d be about 25 minutes from UMD as well. My son walks to school.

Let me know if you want more info - we love where we live, and we’ve been here a long time so we can answer any specifics you might be curious about.


Well I have critters in my back yard a lot. No deer though. The key for me was accessibility to DC for work, but not a city feel. It feels “small town”-ish here, to me at least.

My problem with the “country” here is that it tends to be crappy developments with hideous commutes. Given that I often work until late, I really don’t want 30 or 40 miles drive at the end of the day. Or at the start.

I had to pay over $200K to get a three-bedroom house in rural Vermont, where the nearest public transportation is a bus stop 20 minutes away by car.

Someone said it earlier, but Olney-Laytonsville is a place worth checking out. I play golf up there regularly and I’m always surprised how rural it seems. I would say the average house in that area would be in the $600k range.

Just in rough orders of magnitude, you’re looking at around $500,000 and up for a good house in a nice type of area you’re describing.

Commuting times are really bad in DC. Not in every direction, but just as an example, it often takes Mr.Q more than an hour to go 18 miles. If your gf is working downtown, you really don’t want to be too far out.

We live inside the beltway in Silver Spring, MD. It’s convenient to UMD (although frustrating to travel there via public transit). I like the area a lot. Try Grace Church Rd. and Third Ave, Silver Spring, MD google street view. Does that look appealing? It’s not my neighborhood, but it’s nearby and a little more Mayberry looking than where we live. (Just FYI, those bungalows are likely around $500k.) It’s close enough to Rock Creek Park that I have seen deer, raccoons, possums, hawks, and one surprising fox in the area.

I’d also recommend Takoma Park, but only if your politics are liberal.

It makes a big difference whether she’s working in Alexandria or just living there and commuting into work in DC.

If it’s the former, then your situation is complicated, because your school will be on the opposite side of the city from her work, and both crossing and circumnavigating the city are slow and painful. You can ride Metro from Alexandria to College Park in an hour, but you’d also have to add drive time to the station in Va. and whatever walking or bus ride to class from the Md. end.
If you’re willing to drive to school, the Indian Head community on the Md. side of the Woodrow Wilson bridge is a bit country, although there are some crime issues. She would commute across the new WW bridge into Alex., while you would drive halfway across the beltway to College Park. Alternatively, Franconia is a slightly ruralish part of Fairfax county that’s an easy trip into Alexandria but not far from the beltway for you. I would not recommend living anywhere in Virginia where you would have to commute on the western half of the beltway, because the state is doing road-expansion construction that will be going on for years.

If it’s the latter, would she be willing to move to the Maryland suburbs? Rather than the Metro, you would be more likely to find a more countrified area near the MARC commuter rail stops. Consider Riverdale Park, Muirkirk, Laurel; they’re near train stops for her and near U.Md. for you.

First – thanks to everyone for all the input.

I’ll be getting my second master’s. The girlfreind is a bureaucrat with an MBA and a MHA. If we wanted to, our combined income would qualify for a $400-500K house.

We don’t want to spend that much because it’s very probable that within a couple of years our biggest wage-earner will be a full-time mom; ideally, we want a place that we could afford on my salary alone for as long as she wants to stay home. Hence: we’re not looking so much for a dollar amount, as for a place that is as affordable as possible while still being a place we want to live in. If we have to pay $300k, we have to pay $300k; but it’s just the difference between three or four years of mommyhood.

No, but I do like arguing. :smiley:
My girlfreind works in the city, just a few blocks from the White House, though her agency also has a lot of offices at Quantico. That’s part of why I was leaning toward the VA side; that plus the fact that she already has a church and freinds in Alexandria. I don’t mind the commute on the Metro, as I can just read. But just today she said she’d have no problem living on the MD side, so I guess that’s now a possibility.

I would really recommend that you come here for a visit and have a look in northern Prince George’s County around the University of Maryland. It’s cheaper than living in Alexandria, closer to school if you do go to grad school here, and a pretty good place to live. It’s as close to downtown D.C. as Alexandria. Yeah, there’s stuff in D.C. and Montgomery Country that you might want to go to occasionally, but it’s only a half hour drive away. Please, let us know when you come to visit and we’ll set up a Dopefest.

I know you are flexible on price, but you’re really going to have to wrap your head around DC metro area prices. $300k is unlikely for what and where you want. You can find a 300k 3 BR in the Alexandria area, but almost certainly not in Alexandria proper. It will be far, far away from the Metro station. You’ll have to take a bus.

And yes, traffic is always a nightmare, except during the August Congressional recess. For one month, you get to see how nice DC would be with no traffic. It’s cruel, really.

I assume you’re going to rent for a while, which is good so you can see what neighborhoods you like. It takes about an hour to take the Metro from King Street Alexandria to the College Park metro station, so with the bus, you’re looking at a sizable commute for college.

I personally live in Burke, Virginia (in Fairfax county) and really love the area. I work in Alexandria and take the Virginia Railway Express (commuter train) to work every morning.

To me, it’s really the best of both worlds; I get to live in a nice suburban area a good ways outside of the city and I don’t have to fight traffic in my commute (except on the rare (~3 times per year) occasions when I have to drive to work for some reason). If this sounds like a good thing to you, you can check the website ( to see where they have stations (there is one line that runs from Manassas to Union Station in DC and another that runs from Fredricksburg to Union Station.)

Uh, yeah. That’s kind of the point of the thread – what *other *parts of the metro area people recommend. If I could afford a townhouse in Old Town Alexandria, this thread would never have existed. :cool:

Thanks to all for the input. I’ve got some places to start looking when I move up there in January!

DC itself has some nice detached housing. I live near the area that AnnaLucretia lives in and it takes me 30 minutes to get to work in Alexandria with traffic and 15 for my wife to get to downtown.

If you are looking in the suburbs, housing seems to be cheaper in the Maryland suburbs than the Virginia suburbs. The area that Wendell Wagner mentions is pretty affordable. I have friends who live in the Greenbelt Coop and the prices are almost astounding for the area. It also has a very country feeling compared to most of the DC area and is a mile or so from the Metro. It isn’t detached housing, but it is very quiet and very leafy.

I suggest going to to see what’s available and for what price.

Here’s an Arlington cottage listed for $299K and is in a nice neighborhood. The bus to the Pentagon subway is less than a quarter mile away. It’s a mile from Shirlington Village, where you’ll find a grocer, a movie theater, a stage theater, a public library, and various restaurants.

200K might get you a 2 bedroom condo within comfortable commuting distance, but it won’t get you a house and probably not a townhouse. Unless it’s a real dump, lousy condition, and in a very questionable neighborhood.

I wouldn’t necessarily rush to buy anything when you first move up. Spend a few months looking around and getting a feel for neighborhoods, traffic, etc. Especially as I gather you don’t have a job lined up yet.

You’ll get deer and raccoons relatively close into the city. We’re just southeast of Springfield, VA and we see deer in the wooded areas nearby. This is in a fairly densely-built area, also.

NoVA is overbuilt as others have said and it’s nearly impossible to find a place that’ll be a great commute. Also, people around here change jobs often enough that “terrific commute” one day turns into “shoot me, shoot me now” a week later.

Since nobody has mentioned it yet, here’s a link to a great forum that you might find helpful:

Also, I used to live in Manassas (Battery Heights condos off of Liberia) and quite liked it. Old Town Manassas is pretty and walkable, shopping was convenient, we had no problems with crime and the VRE station was five minutes’ drive away, if that. We went to the battlefield once and I don’t recall seeing any traffic driving right through it, but maybe we were in a quiet part of the park? And there’s a lot of countryside just a short drive away.

Anyway, Manassas gets a bad rap and there are parts that are crappy, but not all of it. Certainly not the area where we lived. The only thing I don’t miss about living there was the long commute to Arlington. But the VRE to Alexandria was just under an hour each way on quiet, comfy trains.

The SE quadrant of the DC area is definitely the least built-up and the least expensive. There are Maryland commuter buses that take Rt. 4 (or Rt. 260 and Rt. 4) from Calvert County, with a couple of stops in Prince George’s County, that people take into the Federal Triangle area, so the GF could take one of those. You’d have to drive to College Park, though.

I’m in northern Calvert County, and there are houses at a range of prices in my area. Anything as low as $200,000 would be a bit of a dump, but once you get into the upper 2’s, things get decent.

The main disadvantage is that you’re always at least a half-hour from anywhere you want to be, other than the Chesapeake Bay.

Beware though, the closer in you get in the SE quadrant, the higher the percentage of bad neighborhoods. And I don’t just mean “lower middle class”, I mean “you do NOT want to live there”. Prince George’s (PG) County does not have great schools though they’re better than the District of Columbia - an issue if you’re planning on raising a family and it affects resale value also.

There are some nice enough places further south even in PG County (e.g. Accokeek) and of course Calvert, Charles, Saint Mary counties offer more in the way of rurality. Not close to any transit other than perhaps buses though. And the trek from southern PG county into the District can be rough during rush hour.

Some of the perceptions of SE date back to the 80s there are parts of SE that are some of the most expensive real estate in America. It doesn’t sound like the OP is interested in living in the city though. I’m serious about traffic. Before you buy, you should consider staying in a hotel in the area and trying the commute one morning. The burbs of DC have third world level traffic (and this is coming from a guy who is actually writing you from the third world).

I think that quality of the schools in the D.C. area are actually pretty good in most regions. People in Montgomery County complain that the schools in Prince George’s County aren’t very good. In fact, the schools in Prince George’s County are better on average than most of the schools in the U.S. It’s just that they aren’t as good as those in Montgomery County, which are among the best in the U.S.

Please, come visit. We’ll be happy to do a Dopefest for you. You can take your time looking around to see what the area is like.

I don’t have a lot of advice for you - I’m about to move 3000 miles from San Francisco to be with my girlfriend in DC, so I have a lot of the questions you have. But - the gf’s Dad lives in Gathersburg(sp?), MD, not too far from the Shady Grove stop. And they have deer you can see in the back yard. Seems like a better comprimise then NoVA - but really, I don’t know, I’m trying to learn myself