Congratulations on moving to the nation's capital! Washington, D.C. is a beautiful place to live, especially on the Potomac, and its standout history and culture will draw in any new resident. While moving here is exciting, there are a few things you need to know. In this guide, we will cover three of the Potomac neighborhoods and important information about getting around, the demographics, and how to move there successfully. Read on and choose which area is right for you.
Image via Flickr by Scott Ableman
Georgetown: Quaint Shops and Cobblestones
Georgetown started as a port in the 1700s because it was the furthest point up the Potomac River that boats could reach. Today, it is known more for its namesake university over the furs and goods that were traded there in the 18th century. This is because neighborhood residents are dedicated to preserving Georgetown's history. When Apple wanted to open a store in the area, the architectural board made the company revise its iconic design four times before it matched the character and feel of the neighborhood.
Speaking of stores, Georgetown has just about anything you could want close at hand. This neighborhood has more than 500 shops within one square mile. From art galleries to bookstores, there is something for everyone.
High Prices, Small Spaces
Many locals joke that you can stand in someone's living room in Georgetown, spread your arms, and touch the walls on opposite sides. Both the houses and the condos run small and expensive in this area, but people are still drawn to it because of the cobblestone streets and streetcar rails. Residents also enjoy living in some of the oldest houses in D.C., as many residences are 200 years old or older. For those beginning the house-hunting process, the average house sells for $1.4 million, while apartment rentals cost around $2,500 a month.
Many Believe It's Worth It
Fresh markets, chic bars, and a historic culture make many residents look past the price and live in Georgetown for the long term. Hyde Elementary School, Hardy Middle School, and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts are the main public schools in the area, and all have excellent marks for education.
If you plan to commute to Capitol Hill, the DuPont Circle-Georgetown-Rosslyn and the Georgetown-Union Station routes on the D.C. Circulator have stops in the area, and the Foggy Bottom-GWU metro stop is a 15-minute walk away. Part-time residents who are dependent on the Congressional schedule might find it easier to keep their car in storage during their stay in Georgetown. With quality public transportation and walkability, it's easier and cheaper to store your vehicle instead of fighting for parking. Plus, you will be preserving the environment, as well as the cultural integrity of the neighborhood.
Palisades and Potomac Heights: A Small Town Hidden in DC
While Georgetown is bustling with trendsetters and shoppers, the Palisades and Potomac Heights area is a rarely visited corner of D.C. The Potomac River borders one side and MacArthur Blvd is on the other. While that street is a major commuter route, more people drive past Palisades each day than actually live there.
If moving to a bustling city like Washington, D.C. feels intimidating, then the Palisades (or Potomac Heights, a subset of the neighborhood) is an ideal option. It feels like a small town tucked away from the fast pace and politics of America's capital city. Many long-time residents and families gather for the town's Fourth of July parade, and there are strong community efforts to support the local library and senior citizens.
Impressive Schools and Safe Parks
According to UrbanTurf, Francis Scott Key Elementary School has been attracting families to the area for years. It is one of the highest ranked public elementary schools in the district, and people will move to the neighborhood just to send their children there. This means that not only is the school good, but the families who live in the area are dedicated to their children's futures.
In July 2013, Palisades Park opened. It's themed around the Algonquin Indians who once lived in the area and, of course, the Potomac River. It has become a meeting place for moms, where their kids from ages 3–10 can play safely. Once again, Palisades dramatically contrasts with Georgetown because it's a neighborhood not known for its nightlife. Almost everything is closed by 10 pm, as people are home with their young children.
Living in a Weekend Getaway
Palisades was built to be a weekend getaway for politicians who didn't like city life. Many commuters simply take MacArthur Blvd into town or the George Washington Memorial Highway out to Virginia or Maryland to work. While many D.C. neighborhoods are difficult for new residents with cars, Palisades and Potomac Heights are more vehicle-friendly. It's an area that you and your kids will easily settle into, wherever you moved from.
Alexandria, Virginia: For the Arts
Alexandria is a city just over the Virginia border with neighborhoods all its own. The Old Town is known for its historic sites and shopping (as well as its Potomac waterfront) and the West End and Del Rey are more residential. While Georgetown is known for its shops and nightlife and Palisades boasts a family-friendly environment, Alexandria draws the art lovers. Art on the Avenue in Alexandria, VA is one of the most notable art festivals, as it draws more than 50,000 visitors to see 300 artists annually on the first weekend of October. The event also offers outstanding food, music, and activities for kids.
Ideal for Military Families
Alexandria is home to 17 public schools that accommodate 10,000 students total. There are also a handful of private schools in the area. The primary employers of Alexandria are the military, the federal civil service, and private companies that support the federal government and its military branches. The Center for Naval Analyses and the Defense Department are two major names that employ Alexandria residents.
If you're moving to the area to work for the military, your best bet would be to consider temporary housing as you figure out what part you like best. The average price of a home is about $520,000 and the average cost to rent is close to $2,100. You and your family might want to place most of your belongings in storage and rent for a couple of months before you buy a permanent place that you love.
Still a Comfortable Commute
While some might cringe at the idea of driving from one state to another each morning, commuting to Capitol Hill from Alexandria is actually quite easy. If you're driving, expect a 15–25 minute drive along the George Washington Memorial Highway, or you can take the blue and yellow Metro lines if you prefer to set out on foot. Expect a Metro transit to take 30–40 minutes. Yes, you are a little farther from the Capitol, but the charm of Alexandria and views of the Potomac are worth it.
Hopefully, this guide was a jumping-off point for finding great neighborhoods to live in near the Potomac. Whether you're looking for artistic, family-friendly, trendy-chic, or affordable cities near Washington, D.C., there is something for everyone. Let the Potomac be your compass when you start house hunting, as many neighborhoods that border it are safe and attractive. Welcome home, new neighbors.