If you’re moving to Washington, D.C. soon, your first order of business will be finding a place to live. The nation’s capital is split up into dozens of distinct neighborhoods. Many of them are notoriously prestigious, but it’s generally possible to find houses and apartments in a variety of price ranges. The easiest way to zero in on the right neighborhood is by familiarizing yourself with the basics of the most popular ones.
D.C. is split into four main quadrants: North Central, East, West and Downtown. Each area is further broken up into different neighborhoods. The city is home to numerous colleges and universities, and people also come here to work in government and other industries. Deciding where to live will largely depend on what brings you here in the first place.
Young and trendy, North Central Washington D.C. is home to neighborhoods that boast some of the most affordable housing in the city. This is largely due to the fact that the area is jam-packed with nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and other popular hangout spots. A few of the most notable neighborhoods in this part of the city include:
Adams Morgan/Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights – This neighborhood is affectionately known as the Liquorridor due to its high density of bars and nightclubs. It’s still possible to find fairly affordable apartments here, but rents are always rising. Of the three neighborhoods, Mount Pleasant holds the distinction of having a small town feel.
Dupont Circle – Arguably the trendiest neighborhood in the city, Dupont Circle is also the beating heart of the gay community here. Rents and home values tend to be on the higher end of the scale, but the trade-off is living within easy walking distance of an eclectic array of art galleries, bistros, cafes, shops and other trendy places. Dupont Circle is also centrally located, and it’s easy to get to many parts of the city from here.
Shaw – Compared with many neighborhoods in North Central D.C., Shaw is largely overlooked. For many years, it served as the heart of the city’s African American community. Vestiges of that past remain; for example, Shaw is widely known for its excellent live jazz scene. Along the U Street corridor, you can partake in a variety of cuisines. Little Ethiopia, for instance, offers some of the best Ethiopian food on the eastern seaboard. In recent years, gentrification has prompted the development of many upscale condos and apartment buildings, so there are plenty of luxury dwellings for those who want them. In general, however, the neighborhood is dotted with fairly affordable housing options. Just make sure you’re okay with living in a part of town that is fairly restless late into the night.
Without a doubt, East Washington D.C. is the most diverse part of the city. A study in contrasts, it includes some of the wealthiest neighborhoods and some of the most poverty-stricken ones. The name is derived from the fact that these neighborhoods lie east of the Capitol Building, Rock Creek Park and the Potomac. Whether you’re moving to the nation’s capital for work, school or other reasons, you may find one of the following neighborhoods to be right up your alley:
Anacostia – Due to its high crime rate and, in many cases, abject poverty, this isn’t usually high on the lists of those who are relocating to Washington, D.C. Housing prices and rents tend to be on the lower end of the scale, of course, so living here is one way to save money. Its strangely rural feel makes it seem completely set apart from the rest of the city.
Capitol Hill – You don’t have to be a congressperson to hang out on Capitol Hill. Having a healthy annual income certainly helps, though. This stunning neighborhood, which is located just to the east of the Capitol Building, boasts gorgeous row houses from the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of architectural styles lends the neighborhood a vibrant ambiance. Eastern Market is located here, so it’s a great place to be if you’re a foodie.
Northeast – This large, peaceful section of town lies just to the east of Rock Creek Park. It’s also due east of Capital Hill and Adams Morgan. Brookland, one of the oldest and stateliest neighborhoods in D.C., is located here. If you’d like to live in a part of town that is packed with restaurants, bars and other amenities, this isn’t the place for you. Unlike most parts of the city, it’s something of a no man’s land when it comes to those kinds of things. The one exception is the Atlas District, which has recently exploded with all kinds of nightlife attractions. Thanks to its proximity to livelier places like Adams Morgan, this is a nice area for families who want peaceful surroundings but don’t want to be too cut off from the world.
There’s no doubt about it: The western district of Washington is also its most exclusive. Rents here are sky-high, and housing prices are astronomical as well. There are a few exceptions, of course, but you generally need to have a fairly robust income in order to swing it in this part of the nation’s capital. Some of the city’s best attractions are located here too, which is a nice bonus. There are several neighborhoods here, but two of the best ones are:
Upper Northwest – D.C.’s Upper Northwest neighborhood routinely appears on lists of the country’s wealthiest communities, so you can rest assured that home prices here are out of this world. A significant portion of the neighborhood is made up of stunning neighborhoods and exclusive enclaves. As the home of the National Cathedral, National Zoo and other attractions, it is usually teeming with tourists as well. There are nice commercial zones as well; notable examples exist in Tenley Park, Van Ness and Cleveland Park. Some of the most expensive homes are located in the Palisades district, and Friendship Heights is home to some of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful residents.
Georgetown – Unlike the Upper Northwest neighborhood, Georgetown features a mix of residential and commercial developments. With its cobblestone streets and steep inclines, it stands apart from the rest of the city in an exciting way. The neighborhood overlooks the Potomac, and it is also home to Georgetown University, so there are usually plenty of rowdy college students milling around. Georgetown is a great place to live if you want to enjoy some of the most exclusive homes in the city with a backdrop of excitement and fun.
If you like being in the midst of a lot of hustle and bustle virtually nonstop, the Downtown district may be right for you. This part of the city is actually split into several unique neighborhoods, and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. It’s easy to assume that living in the most central part of D.C. will mean paying the highest prices, but that’s not necessarily the case. A few of the most popular neighborhoods in this part of D.C. include:
West End – This neighborhood is dominated by K Street, which is widely regarded as where the city’s movers and shakers hang out by day. It’s not really known as a residential area, but there are a few apartment buildings and condos here. If you want more housing options in the West End, you can take your pick from relatively affordable options like Foggy Bottom and McPherson Square, which are both centrally located. This part of town is where you’ll find George Washington University, the Kennedy Center and the waterfront, which is where the Watergate Building is also located.
Waterfront – With its location directly south of the National Mall, the Waterfront, which is also known as Southwest, is a popular place to live. For decades, it was cut off from the rest of the city by a large, smelly canal. Those days are over, and the neighborhood has been revitalized thanks to the construction of a new baseball stadium and all kinds of restaurants, bars and other hot spots. It’s still easy to find affordable places to live, but that won’t be the case forever.
East End – This neighborhood is ground zero for tourist attractions, so steer clear of it if you want peace and quiet. With a mix of luxury apartments and office buildings, it is an interesting and convenient place to call home. Neighborhoods here include Chinatown, Penn Quarter and Judiciary Square.
Which Washington, D.C. neighborhood is right for you? Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the best known options, you may be able to zero in on a few top contenders. Make sure to keep commute times in mind as well. Some areas are easier to access via public transportation than others. Spend time in the most likely areas to see if they suit your needs or not.