Welcome to D.C.! Or, more broadly, the DMV — that translates to D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Our love of acronyms and government agencies is just one of the things that newcomers to the area might find puzzling. To give you a leg up, we chatted with recent transplants — folks who are new enough that they remember what’s difficult, weird and surprising about moving to the D.C. area, but who’ve been here long enough to accumulate some insider intel. Here’s what they say you should know if you’re new to the region.
D.C. looks like a big city but can feel like a small town
Though the D.C. metro area is sprawling, the city’s population is roughly on par with that of El Paso, Texas. “The city’s so small, you run into people you know all the time,” says Mary Campbell, 24, a paralegal who lives in Petworth. As a result, people here tend to be friendly like you’d expect people to be in a smaller Southern town, but they have the hustle and ambition of big-city dwellers, says Loy Lee, 37, a comedian who recently moved here from L.A. “There’s an East Coast mentality and some Southern hospitality,” he says. “It’s a phenomenal mix.” The downside? “At least in my neighborhood [Brightwood], everything closes at, like, 9 p.m., and some restaurants and stores aren’t even open on the weekends,” he says. weird things,weird things,weird things
Affordable housing is elusive, even in the suburbs
“It’s nearly impossible to live alone on an entry-level salary,” says Nick Klauda, 25, a marketing strategist who lives in Columbia Heights. “You will probably live in a tiny place with other people,” he adds. Unfortunately, things don’t get much better if you opt to live away from the city, says Kelly McDermott, 28, who lives in Springfield, Va. “It’s still very overpopulated out here,” she says. “Our rent is absurd.” Your best chance for finding a decent apartment is through word of mouth, says Joanna Roberts, 34, who lives in a Shaw apartment that’s owned by friends of hers. “A lot of landlords in D.C. only rent out to people they know,” she says.
Driving here is expensive and stressful
If you can avoid it, don’t bring your car to D.C., recent transplants say. Parking is nearly impossible in some parts of town, parking tickets add up quickly and your vehicle is a target for smash-and-grab thieves, says Chris Williams, 46, a photographer who lives on Capitol Hill. “If you need a car, use car2go or rent one for weekend trips,” he says. And if you’re planning on heading to major Northeast cities, it’s often cheaper to take a bus. “I didn’t realize how expensive it is to drive to New York,” Lee says. “The tolls alone are $60, and then it’s another $40 to $60 to park.” Parking is easier to find in D.C. suburbs, McDermott says, but traffic and tolls make driving far from fun.