I was inspired to write a post addressing the question, “Should I live in Washington, DC?” because of Facebook groups. I’m in Facebook groups for the Forever 35 podcast and The Stripe blog and often someone will post saying that they need a change, they’re looking for a new city, does anyone feel strongly about where they live? And, without fail, the DC representatives always come out stronger than any other city.
Maybe it’s because our city gets shit upon more than others. Maybe it’s because we’re known as “the swamp.” Maybe it’s because we don’t get the same respect that other major metro areas do (y’all, we’re the capitol of the free world, don’t leave us out!). It seems that people think “politics and free museums” when they think of DC — and those of us that live here want them to know there’s so, so much more.
I’ve lived here for almost 12 years now and, for the foreseeable future, I’m not going anywhere. We’ve put our roots down and made DC our home.
HOW I ENDED UP LIVING IN WASHINGTON, DC
So, when I was a fourth year in college, I was adamant that I wouldn’t move to DC. Charlottesville to DC is a fairly common move post-college and I wanted to buck the trend. I looked at Atlanta, Charleston, even an internship in Birmingham that didn’t pay enough for me to support myself, and, then, was offered a job at my internship in Charlottesvillle. I decided to stay for one year before making a big move elsewhere.
During that year, I made a few trips up to DC and, to be 100% honest, was quickly lured in by the promise of extended adolescence. Seriously, anyone that lived in Glover Park during the 2008-2012 years remembers that it was a shitshow in the most wonderful way — we all lived in the same neighborhood and could walk to each other’s houses, it was the heyday of Town Hall and Smith Point (RIP to both), how could I not want to move there?!
Now, 12 years later, I’ve moved everywhere from Dupont/Adams Morgan to H Street to now Capitol Hill and the reasons I’ve stayed have obviously evolved. The District has seen a renaissance of sorts as millennials have made their presence known. There is still, of course, the politics and the tradition, both of which I enjoy, but there’s also an art scene, amazing restaurants, and such a vibrance of diversity and personality in each and every neighborhood. So, to answer the question, “Should I live in Washington, DC?”, I’m going to walk y’all through the pros, the cons, and the misconceptions.
And, before we get into it, one last thing: I don’t want to tick anyone off…buuuut, when I say DC, I mean DC. I know Alexandria, Arlington, Bethesda, and more are great, but you’re not living in DC. I’m writing to the specific experience of living IN Washington, DC. Yes, you can get more space in the suburbs and taxes are lower in Virginia, but, if you’re going to make a city your home, at least give the city proper a shot.
SHOULD I LIVE IN WASHINGTON, DC?
Okay, let’s get into it. I’ll go over the pros, then the cons, and the misconceptions about making the District of Columbia your home. And, for those who don’t know, no, we are not a state.
THE PROS OF LIVING IN WASHINGTON, DC
- The People: I’ve said this so many times, but I can’t imagine a better place to call home in terms of the amazing people I’ve met. DC is a city that brings in so many motivated, smart, capable people from across the country and every one is so welcoming. It’s probably because so many of us are transplants, far away from family and old friends, but you won’t find a place that has more people ready to form a new supper club or book club or meet for brunch — and it probably doesn’t hurt that DC draws in a very Type A, loves to stay busy, organized crowd.
- Walkability: I’ve always said it’ll be difficult for me to leave DC and give up the walkability of this city. There are so many neighborhoods that are super walkable and the city itself is so small that you can easily walk from one end to the other. In my neighborhood, it takes me no more than 5 minutes to get to the grocery store, the barre studio, and tons of restaurants and bars. Plus, I can walk 20 paces from my house and see the Capitol.
- Diversity and individual personalities of each neighborhood: One of the things I love most about DC is how different each neighborhood is. Adams Morgan is quirky, 14th Street is always bustling, Georgetown is polished and traditional, H Street is gritty and artsy, Capitol Hill is charming, and the list goes on and on. Each neighborhood has a homey feel, yet they’re all within a stone’s throw of each other.
- Small Town Charm in a Major City: Because of the distinct neighborhood identities, you get a small town charm in Washington that you don’t get in other cities. When you’re in Brookland, for example, you feel like you’re in a charming town where everyone knows both each other and the vendors at the farmers’ market.
- Major Sports Teams: In the past two years, the Caps (hockey) won the Stanley Cup, the Nats (baseball) won the World Series, and the Mystics (Basketball) won the WNBA Championship. Plus, we have the Washington Wizards (NBA), DC United (soccer), and the DC Defenders (XFL). DC IS a sports city and you can’t beat a Nats game on a gorgeous spring day.
- Endless Culture and Entertainment: From the Kennedy Center to the (FREE!) Smithsonian museums, festivals in every season and countless music venues, including the iconic 9:30 Club and its shinier sister, the Anthem, you’ll never run out of things to do in DC — plus, so, so many of them are free. Any weekend where we’re in town, we try to explore at least one museum. I’m not sure if everyone takes advantage of them as much as we do, but there’s no reason not to!
- Food City of the Year: OMG, I could go on for days with all my restaurant recommendations, but just take a look at the Michelin restaurants in DC. I don’t have a ton of restaurant guides on here, but here are the most romantic restaurants…which also happen to be some of my favorite.
- An International, Diverse Population: It’s something that I take for granted when I’m here that we can hear so many languages being spoken just during a trip to the grocery store. There are people from all over the world living and visiting DC and I love the different perspectives that brings to the table.
- Proximity to Three Major Airports: We are 100% spoiled that DCA, IAD, and BWI are all within the metro area. If I want a direct flight somewhere, chances are I can find it.
- Proximity to Beach, Mountains, Major Cities: In 1-2 hours, we can be in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Annapolis, Delaware beaches, and more. Give us 4 hours and we can be in NYC.
- Clean-ish: Compared to NYC, DC is sparkling clean and shiny, particularly when it comes to the metro. Of course, it’s not always great (I just look outside my front window and notice the beer bottles and fast food trash that is regularly left on the bench across the street…), but it’s good compared to other cities.
- Public transportation: This one is going to appear on both lists. Public transportation is great. We’re a one car family and always will be as long as we live here. In fact, we can go weeks without using our car (all too often, one of us will text the other, “do you remember when we last drove and where we left the car…?”). Plus, most of the metro stations now have wifi, which means I can get work done during my commute (as I am right now).
THE CONS OF LIVING IN WASHINGTON, DC
- Metro: And, here it is again…public transportation is great, the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, not so much. I’m writing this on the train at this very moment and a man just walked by purposefully flashing people with graphic nude photos of himself. The trains are unreliable and infrequent at times. Not to mention the old cars are dirty and smelly.
- Expensive Rental Market: When I lived by myself, I paid $1700 for a studio and that was a STEAL. I never had in-unit laundry or central AC until I was splitting one bedroom rent with Adam. Don’t expect to find a decent one bedroom for under $2500.
- Expensive Real Estate: While I actually don’t think everything here is that much more expensive than other places (honestly, restaurant meals are pricey wherever you go and groceries seem the same to me whether I’m in DC or home in Richmond), there’s no doubt that real estate here is ridiculous. My suggestion: don’t look up the price per square foot if you’re buying because you’d rather not know — or, if you do, don’t then look up the average price per square foot in another city because you’ll want to throw up.
- Inefficient Local Government: Just this week, we’ve been dealing with missing inspection paperwork on our rental house that just caught someone’s attention two years after it was completed. The person that did the inspection said they had a doctor’s appointment that day between inspections and must have lost it…and we’re the ones that have to pay to do another inspection. Ask anyone that’s dealt with the DC DMV and they’ll give you an earful about the inefficient DC local bureaucracy.
- Smell of Weed: Look, I’m a-okay with decriminalization and legalization of marijuana (it’s not legalized for sale yet here in the District), but the smell is overwhelming at times. The sidewalk near my barre studio is a hot spot for it and it often wafts in through the front door…IMO not the most motivating odor for a workout, but c’est la vie.
LASTLY, SOME MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT LIVING IN WASHINGTON, DC
Of course, like all cities, there are misconceptions about living in Washington, DC that run rampant — particularly among the tourists that only visit for a couple days. So, here are some of the most popular rumors you might hear…
- Traffic is Terrible: Y’all, it’s not that bad — if you don’t leave the city. Yes, the suburbs have awful traffic, but within the District itself, it’s typically not terrible.
- Everyone Works in Politics: For my first 8 or 9 years in DC, I knew barely anyone that worked on the Hill. It wasn’t the world I was in and, if it hadn’t been for my book club, I would have known literally 0 Hill staffers. Now, because of Adam, I happen to run in government circles a bit more, but there are still LOTS of us who have nothing to do with Capitol Hill.
- Georgetown is the Place to Be: Sure, it was. In 2010. The city has so many more interesting, dynamic neighborhoods that we’ve all left good old G’town behind to disperse all over the rest of the city. Though, I won’t hate on the neighborhood since there’s still some great shopping and a handful of great restaurants there…plus, the houses are charming.
- We Elected Donald Trump: JK, no one every thought that. 96% of DC residents voted against him in the 2016 election, so don’t blame us for this mess.
I can’t tell you how often I have to explain to people that INTRAcity traffic isn’t that bad. Just don’t commute in/out of the city during rush hour (which admittedly accounts for like half the day).
Exactly! Sure, rush hour isn’t great, but it’s the bridges and highways out that are really the issue.