State Of The Suburbs
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State Of The Suburbs
Washington, DC
Ditch the District for a home outside
the Beltway
New York
At Thrillist, we love big cities, but we also recognize the appeal of smaller towns with the same mix of great food, nightlife, and culture – plus a lower cost of living. That’s why we’ve partnered with the National Association of Realtors® on a content series highlighting the best suburbs of nine major cities, perfect for young urbanites who may be looking to buy a home. And when it’s time to start house hunting, check out HouseLogic.com, from NAR, for buying and selling advice to help you navigate loan options, bidding wars, and everything else it takes to close the deal. Dream home, here you come.
It may come as a surprise if you’re not familiar with the area (or US geography), but our nation’s capital is actually quite tiny. At only 68 square miles with a population of nearly 700,000 -- and quickly growing -- it perhaps goes without saying that rent prices “are too damn high,” to quote the inspirational Jimmy McMillan.

But it’s also an amazing time to live around Washington, DC -- we’ve got ample job opportunities, an increasingly robust community of local creatives, and a newly booming culinary scene thanks in part to food havens like Blagden Alley and the addition of two more Michelin-starred restaurants.

With that in mind, there are reasons why looking a few miles outside city limits is a good idea -- price being one. Or perhaps you need more space, both indoors and outdoors, for your furry or human child. “Many people might have also grown up in the suburbs, and enjoy living in a larger house instead of a small apartment,” says Bonnie Roberts-Burke, a local real estate agent and Realtor® -- a member of the National Association of Realtors®. “Space, privacy, maybe even a nice garden… these are all great reasons for why someone might want to move to the suburbs.”

Fortunately for you, we’ve done our research and found five commutable suburbs that can check off all the boxes on your dream-home checklist.
Takoma Park
Diversity on the edge of the District
What is there not to love about Takoma Park, Maryland, honestly? Just a stone’s throw from DC (the Takoma metro station is actually within District boundaries), it’s extremely commuter-friendly (about 30 minutes to downtown), yet the suburb is also peaceful and quiet.

Nearly a third of its approximately 17,000 residents were born outside the US, and the city is likewise known for its progressive policies. “Takoma Park is a wonderful community, and we work hard to be a welcoming one,” says mayor Kate Stewart, who’s been a resident for over 20 years. “We’re a sanctuary city, and in addition to that, since the ’90s… you don’t need to be a citizen to vote in our local elections.”

Flower-lined streets, plenty of dining and drinking options, a weekly farmer’s market, and bike trails galore are just some of the perks you’ll find in Takoma Park. Stewart notes that being on the border of Washington provides residents with both a short commute time and the perks of living in Montgomery County with its highly-rated public schools, abundance of parks, and vibrant creative community.

“We celebrate artists through annual events like Art Hop and the Street Festival, and the street art installations throughout the neighborhood,” says Lia Salza Goldstein, who owns Little Loft, a neighborhood art space for children. In addition to the scheduled festivals, which transform Main Street into a vast showcase for local artists complete with live outdoor music and dance performances, creativity -- and inclusivity -- flows through this town year-round. “A great example is the newly installed staircase mural at Takoma Park Elementary,” Goldstein says, “with the message ‘Rise Up’ in about 50 languages.”
Life by the water
To a local Washingtonian, Annapolis might feel a million miles away. Actually, it’s less than an hour by car, and what awaits you is worth every minute of the trip. Maryland’s capital is ranked one of the state’s five most affordable cities to live in, the downtown is bustling & full of charm, and its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and multiple lakes makes it a great place to lay down roots if you love to boat, fish, or kayak.

Whether you’re having a harborside drink at Chart House or checking out the hip culinary scene on West Street, the dining in Annapolis also delivers. Multipurpose venues are common, such as 49 West, a combo coffee shop/wine bar/art gallery/music venue and Rams Head Tavern, where you can visit the beautifully-shaded back patio for brunch then come back at night to catch a show (many of which are free).

Fresh seafood, though, is where Annapolis truly shines. Chef Bobby Jones opened The Point Crab House & Grill in the nearby town of Arnold after he and his wife moved here 25 years ago and fell in love with the area. “My favorite part of having a restaurant here has to be the local ingredients and how they change throughout the seasons… There's nothing like Maryland Blue Crabs, Eastern Shore tomatoes, and sweet corn in the summer… and bay oysters in the winter," Jones says. “There's a very active social scene here, too. Hanging out with friends and family on and around the bay, downtown, and at some great local restaurants is always on the to-do list.”
Historic homes & dog-friendly living
If you enjoy the charms of Georgetown, chances are you’ll love Alexandria, Virginia. Old Town, while the most expensive part of the city, looks like it could have been plucked right out of a fairy tale. “The houses in Alexandria have so much character,” Roberts-Burke says. “Old Town has some of the oldest houses in the metropolitan area, besides Georgetown, so you get these beautiful houses that are truly historic.” With cobblestone streets, colonial-style row houses, and a picturesque waterfront, it’s ideal real estate.

Alexandria is accessible by Metro (a quick 20-minute ride on the yellow or blue line gets you to downtown DC), and is known for more than just its old-world charm. Home to a thriving restaurant and bar scene, there’s plenty to do on nights and weekends: Get your beer on at Port City Brewing Company’s taproom or beer garden, dine at Virtue Feed & Grain for a gourmet pub experience, or skip dinner altogether in favor of dessert from the local outpost of Sugar Shack Donuts, which serves some of the best out-of-the-box flavors in the DMV.

It’s also home to popular attractions such as the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which houses three floors of working-artist studios, all open to visitors daily. “The people who have the most fun are those who are daring enough to talk to every artist they meet about what they’re doing and taking a peek into the process of creation,” says Alyssa Ross, the center’s public information specialist.

Known also as one of the most dog-friendly areas around, Alexandrians don’t even have to leave their pooch at home when it’s time to meet friends for drinks in Old Town, since restaurants like Jackson 20 have what they call “yappy hours” for your canine companions. “Alexandrians treat their dogs like extensions of their families… and it shows,” says Matthew Sisk, owner of Lost Dog Cafe’s Alexandria location. Beyond serving sandwiches, pizza, and an extensive list of beers, it also founded its own pet rescue foundation. “Because of both the number of​ pet owners and the multitude of businesses that cater to them, opening a restaurant in Alexandria without a dog-friendly patio is almost unheard of.”
North Bethesda
Big yards for growing families
Wait, is it North Bethesda or Rockville? Long-time residents of the area might roll their eyes when you mention “North Bethesda,” which is technically a census-designated place. Whichever name you want to call it, the Maryland suburb is becoming an increasingly attractive place to roost given its low crime rate, some of the top public schools in the state, and access to public transportation that will have you in DC in 25 minutes.

Oh, and if you’re dreaming of a backyard to call your own (and maybe a few little ones to run around in it), this is the place to go. “North Bethesda is where a lot of my clients move when they want to have children,” Roberts-Burke says. “You can’t get as big a yard in most areas close to the city like you can in [here].”

North Bethesda is on the cusp of a major boom, notes Ken Hartman, the regional services director for Montgomery County, pointing to the “grocery stores, boutique shopping, beer gardens, trendy restaurants, mainstream music acts, and indie hole-in-the-wall music venues” that have all invaded the neighborhood. Montgomery County also allocated a whopping $150 million to the development of Pike & Rose, a rapidly growing shopping, dining, and residential district in North Bethesda that, when complete, will have 864 apartments and condos. Here, you can shop chain retailers such as H&M and Sephora, see live music at the 230-seat concert venue AMP by Strathmore, play bocce or go bowling at Italian-American eatery Pinstripes, or even escape to California for dinner at Summer House Santa Monica -- all just a Metro ride away from downtown DC.
Walk this way to restaurants & recreation
Virginia’s first-ever planned community, Reston, was built on the founding principles “live, work, play” back in the early 1960s and the same ethos still applies to this city of about 60,000 today. Here, you’ll find plenty of wide open spaces for recreational activities such as golfing, horseback riding, and more, along with ample local job opportunities and a 40-minute commute to DC.

Architect and economist Robert E. Simon designed over 50 miles of pathways to provide pedestrians a safe and easy means to get around town, which ensures your future home won’t be more than a half-mile walk to a village center -- planned areas with shops and restaurants. Reston Town Center downtown is full of great dining (and drinking) options, such as an uber-popular outpost of Barcelona Wine Bar, the seafood-focused PassionFish, and nostalgic favorite Jackson’s. Reston is also home to some of the largest venture capital firms in the state, as well as a Google office.

Less than two miles from Reston Town Center is Lake Anne, where residents can enjoy water activities such as stand-up paddle boarding and boating, and the north end of the lake is packed with restaurants and bars. “As a long-time Reston resident, I love the Lake Anne area in particular,” says Melissa Romano, owner of Lake Anne Brew House, the city’s only craft brewery.  “[There are] a number of locally-owned businesses, including a pretzel bakery and a fantastic used bookstore… free live music every week [at Lake Anne Plaza], and great festivals all summer long. We also love that over 1,500 households can walk to us.”
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