City Review: Washington, DC

City: Washington, DC
Geographical Location: Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, USA
Population: 600,000 in the city proper; 5.4 million in the metro area
Size: 68.3 square miles
Climate: humid subtropical

My Time There: I have lived here, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, since December 2009, and will probably be moving away in July or August.

Weather: 4 out of 10. DC weather is fairly nice in the spring and fall, and winters are generally mild (not this winter, though). However, the summer is ungodly hot and humid and barely tolerable. Also, the weather fluctuates a huge amount, and it rains with some frequency.

Food: 7 out of 10. We’ve got some great food. Lots of delicious American, Italian, Asian offerings in the city proper. Not much in the way of good Mexican food in DC, though. There are several great farmers’ markets, and a couple (Dupont, Eastern Market) are even year-round.

Walkability: 8 out of 10. Good sidewalks, feels safe, lots of people walking around at all hours. Sort of unusual to find a closed sidewalk.

Bikeability: 9 out of 10. There are lots of bike lanes and more are getting added all the time. That doesn’t mean that cars (cabs, especially) will honor the sanctity of the bike lane, though… Slightly hilly, but not too bad. The awesome new bikeshare system makes this an even better place to bike.

Public Transportation: 9 out of 10. You can get almost anywhere you want to go in the city by metro, and many places in the suburbs, too. Buses cover a lot of spots that aren’t so metro accessible. Metro is easy to navigate, but the buses are actually pretty difficult to figure out (it took me nearly a year of living here to figure out even the buses in my neighborhood).

Vegetarian-friendly: 7 out of 10. My neighborhood is great for this, and there are a lot of veg places in the city.

Beauty: 5 out of 10. There’s no coast or mountains to gaze at, but the old buildings down on the mall, and the cherry blossoms in spring, for instance, are quite nice.

Museums: 10 out of 10. DC is full of fabulous, FREE, museums. If you want to see basically any topic covered in a museum you just wander down to the Mall and pick a Smithsonian. There are some other museums that aren’t free, and some of those are good as well, though generally at least $14.

Cool Shops: 4 out of 10. I like to look in thrift stores/consignment shops and they are sadly lacking in DC. There is the occasional shop like The Brass Knob, which is basically an antique doorknob store, but there isn’t much for me in the way of cool places to go in.

Free Stuff to Do: 9 out of 10. There are the free museums, then also the free monuments. There tend to be a lot of things that happen in the city that are free or quite cheap; DCist is a great guide for that.

Great Outdoors: 5 out of 10. There are some parks, but a lot of them you can’t sit in without being bothered by beggars or the smell of urine. We have Rock Creek Park, which has some nice hiking trails but you shouldn’t be there if it isn’t daytime. You can get to several good hikes in a couple hours by car.

Cleanliness: 5 out of 10. Depends on the part of the city, but generally it is only sort of clean. My part of the city, especially in the winter when they suspend street sweeping, can be pretty dirty indeed.

People: 6 out of 10. There are a lot of friendly people to be found, though many of those are just crazy and/or homeless people that will start talking to you on the street. Generally a good vibe, though, except maybe for angry government employees on the subway.
Cost of Living: $$$ out of $$$$. Rent is high – in Columbia Heights, $1300/month is a good deal for a one bedroom basement apartment. You can find rooms in the $800 range if you’re willing to do group housing. Food is not especially expensive, however. It’s easy to find cheap dinner under $10 or more pricey stuff is around $15.

Tourist Congestion: 4 out of 5. It definitely depends on what part of the city you’re in, but if you’re anywhere downtown and it is anywhere near summer, watch out, you are going to be in a mob of escalefters and matching backpacks. September, October, January, and February are relatively peaceful (I should know, I worked in a museum gift shop).

Safety: 3 out of 5. Certainly there are areas of the city that would get a higher score here. But there are places I wouldn’t be comfortable walking alone during the day, and even in my neighborhood I limit the amount I walk alone after dark, and try not to be out at all if it’s late enough.

Overall Thoughts: I like DC. It’s awesomely easy to get around under your own power or by public transport. The whole free museums thing is a major perk. It’s big, but not huge, so you don’t feel totally lost to anonymity. It’s not the prettiest of cities, but it is pretty vegetarian friendly. Probably the worst part about it is the summer. It is really awful. Thanks a lot, founding fathers, for building it on a swamp.

I will almost certainly be updating this with new things I think of. Let me know if you think of something I should add!

See my Gogobot guide for DC:

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