If you’re in the market to move to Washington, DC, congratulations! There is something undoubtedly special about calling our nation’s capital home. And the DC of today is a far cry from the DC of even 10-15 years ago; the city has gone to great lengths to shed its “government-only” image and embrace other thriving and rising industries.
For decades DC was cast as a stuffy, government employee-only town that lacked culture, embraced ill-fitting pantsuits and let politics the show. I’m happy to report that those stereotypes are not only inaccurate, but at this point, completely off-base. The DC of today is a city that is pulsing with creativity and thriving industries that have nothing to do with politics or government work.
It’s true that the Federal Government is still the city’s largest single employer, but industries like education, tech, professional services, tourism, hospitality, and the arts are also significant and growing employers.
The city is constantly evolving and has seen an incredible transformation with long-neglected neighborhoods being redeveloped at a rapid pace and the number of new retail outlets and restaurants growing exponentially.
DC has a global feel and outlook thanks to its high concentration of international expats, 176 embassies and international banking and health organizations headquartered in the city.
Away from the bustle of Downtown and Capitol Hill, DC is all about neighborhood and local vibes. Each neighborhood has a distinct style and feel that allows people to find a home that matches their lifestyle and needs.
Thanks to building height restrictions (enacted in 1910, the Height of Buildings Act established that no building could be taller than 130 feet), the city is bright and accessible. Without skyscrapers dominating the skyline, key monuments and landmarks can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city.
Let’s Talk About Money
No doubt, the District is a pricey place to live. According to Forbes, the cost of living in DC is over 17% higher than the national average. If the number of luxury apartment and condo buildings currently under construction is a true indication, you’d think that everyone who lives here is flush with cash. In truth, most people tolerate the high cost of living because of the perks and privileges associated with calling DC home.
Here you have access to world class art, culture and restaurants. Parks and green space are abundant. The economy is stable and the job market is strong. And not everything comes with a hefty price tag – there are plenty of low-cost and free things to do in the city.
Admission to the incredible portfolio of Smithsonian museums is free, DC residents can use all public pools in the city for free, the Circulator bus system costs just $1 per ride, various neighborhood business improvement districts offer free workout classes through the summer months, international Embassies open their doors for free public programming year-round, and there is a full calendar of free festivals and celebrations throughout the city.
When it comes to the job market, DC is one of the best places to be. With numerous industries on the rise and the federal government anchoring employment, finding a job here isn’t nearly as difficult as in other cities of similar size. Oh and a little company called Amazon just named Northern Virginia as home of its new headquarters. Amazon HQ2 will be located just across the Potomac River from DC in Crystal City, Virginia and promises to bring at least an additional 25,000 jobs to the region.
Getting Around The District
Commuting and traveling through the city is remarkably easy – but the further you stray from The District proper, the more time-consuming it can become.
Traffic and parking in the DC area is notoriously challenging, though the average commute time is only about 35 minutes. If you can avoid driving, there are plenty of other options to get you from point A to point B.
The lifeblood of DC public transit is The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, otherwise known as Metro. The Metro system is the third busiest in the country and is comprised of 6 lines that cover almost 120 miles of track in and around the city. Between this rail system and Metro’s bus services (which run 325 routes to 11,500 bus stops) you can likely get close to wherever you want to go.
Capital Bikeshare is another option for shorter distance commutes and for just a few dollars a day or about $80 annually you can grab a red bike from any of their 500 stations and quickly petal around town. If you have your own bike, even better! Bike commuting is very common and there’s a great network of bike trails and bike lanes as well as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) that advocates for cyclists.
Like many urban centers, scooters and dockless bikes have started to take over the city. Operated by app, there are currently six private dockless vehicle companies operating in DC. Scooters are a fun, quick and effortless way to cruise around town (just be sure to adhere to traffic and pedestrian laws and avoid riding on sidewalks).
Ridesharing and car services are alive and well in the city with Lyft, Uber, Via, and good old fashioned taxis filling the streets. You rarely have to wait more than a few minutes to have a ride meet you curbside.
When all else fails, walking around the city is incredibly easy and enjoyable. With a mostly flat terrain, sidewalks everywhere and a population that’s use to walking a lot, using your own two feet to get around might just be the easiest option for short trips within the city.
We The People
DC truly is a melting pot when it comes to those who call the city home. It’s a transient city, made up primarily of transplants from all over the country and the world. People come here for 3-5 years for school, a job, an administration, an internship, a fellowship, etc. and as such the ebb and flow of residents is something that becomes normal.
You likely will make friends who will move away just a few years later. This constant flow of people in and out of the city means that those who live here tend to be far more open and welcoming that you might expect – everyone knows what it feels like to be new and everyone knows that their friend group might move away, so making friends is far less of a challenge than in many other cities.
There are of course the true, born and raised DC residents and those who stay longer than 5 years are often lovingly referred to as “lifers.” What is common among all residents though is a fierce sense of pride in their city. People who live here love the city, they support local businesses, they value the city’s history and culture, and they will no doubt wax poetic about how DC is so much more than a town of government wonks.
To live here is to be part of a community which is a huge reason why so many people cherish the city and value living here.
Don’t be Hangry
In Washington, DC there are a mind boggling number of dining options. From quick, hole in the wall taco shops and BBQ joints to food trucks and Michelin Star establishments, there’s a little bit of everything and the options continue to grow. In fact, the restaurant scene in DC is growing at such a fast rate that it’s often hard to keep up with all of the new openings.
But one thing is certain, chefs are investing in the city and are bringing international flare to a city that was best known for steakhouses just a decade or two ago.
Celebrity chef and humanitarian José Andrés presides over more than a dozen restaurants in the DC area and is joined by other well-known culinary masters like Wolfgang Puck, David Chang, Bryan Voltaggio, Patrick O’Connell, and Spike Mendleson in establishing restaurants in the District.
The number of options can often be overwhelming, but certainly there’s plenty to eat in DC!
For Sports Fans
For those who are fans of professional sports, Washington, DC is an excellent place to live. With the Nationals baseball, Capitols hockey, Wizards basketball, DC United soccer, and Redskins football teams all based in the DC region, there are ample opportunities to attend games.
As mentioned, most people living in DC are transplants so sometimes loyalty to DC teams can be difficult. However with new state of the art stadiums and facilities seeing your hometown team, as they travel through and play the DC teams, is a seamless experience (and no one will blame you for cheering for the away team).
Outdoor Enthusiasts Rejoice
The District is incredibly lucky to have an abundance of green spaces in and around the city. Most notably, the sprawling National Mall, a 2 mile long stretch of fields lined with some of the best museums and monuments in the country, is a natural place to spend time outdoors.
In Northwest, Rock Creek Park is an expansive park system that stretches well into Maryland and includes sports fields, equestrian and tennis centers and mile after mile of hiking and biking trails. In Northeast, the National Arboretum is a well maintained plant-lovers oasis that comes to life with blossoms in the spring and is home to a Bald Eagle mating preserve.
Within an hour’s drive you can make your way to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia for rafting and hiking; Shenandoah National Park for backpacking, camping and hiking; and the Maryland coastline to explore the Chesapeake Bay.
History lovers will be hard-pressed to find a more historically rich and significant place to live. Certainly there are plenty of traditional history museums (The National Museum of American History, the Holocaust Museum, The National Museum of African American History and Culture, etc.) and historical landmarks (Ford’s Theater, President Lincoln’s Cottage, etc.), but in this city history is literally everywhere; on nearly every corner and in every building. From the hotel where Abraham Lincoln lived before his inauguration to Walt Whitman’s favorite park to the bar where Roberta Flack got her start, DC is brimming with history!
Cultural Tourism DC is a non-profit that strives to make history accessible and they’ve created nearly 20 neighborhood Heritage Trails around the city that provide self-guided walking tours of the history and culture of various neighborhoods.
Art & Culture Lovers
What surprises some people about DC is that it has a vibrant and growing creative community that bringing new life and art into the city. There are traditional art museums like The National Gallery of Art, The National Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts; smaller galleries like the Renwick, Phillips Collection and Kreeger; and experimental arts venues like ARTECH House, the National Building Museum and the Dupont Underground.
Add to all that city-wide mural and street art initiatives, pop-up arts events, and festivals and block parties coordinated by creative collectives and you’ve got a city that is pulsing with the arts.
The city also plays host to some of the biggest names in music as a stop on most major US tours. Venues like The Anthem, 9:30 Club, Wolftrap, and the Black Cat offer a variety of live music experiences.
Then Kennedy Center for Preforming Arts and National Theater bring the more traditional forms of preforming arts to the city with impressive calendars of shows throughout the year.
– Always stand to the right and pass on the left. This is true when walking, running or riding an escalator!
– DC is a city that loves happy hour. Do some exploring to find a spot that has the right combination of food and beverage specials to meet your needs.
– Understanding the grid is paramount! DC is broken into quadrants: NW, NE, SW, and SE, with the Capitol Building as the epicenter. In each quadrant, numbered streets run north-south and lettered/named streets run east-west. State streets (think Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, etc.) always run diagonally across the grid. There are no J, X, Y or Z Streets. B Street NE is actually Constitution Ave. and B Street SE is really Independence Ave.