The capital of the United States, Washington, D.C., has many distinct neighborhoods to explore, from the historic mansions of Dupont Circle to the former tobacco port of Georgetown. D.C., as most simply call it, is built along the banks of the Potomac River on drained swampland. It is encircled by Maryland to the north and Virginia to the south on land that was originally part of Maryland. Part of D.C. was also originally provided by Virginia, but it was taken back by Virginia during the Civil War; this area is now known as Alexandria, VA.
No one can escape the beauty of D.C.'s grand architecture, including its massive government agencies, world-renowned museums and striking monuments. But this cosmopolitan city has much more to offer than the Capitol Building, White House and Lincoln Memorial. In order to experience the flavor of D.C., you need to do it on foot. Walk past brick row houses, eat at a corner restaurant, catch some live music at Madam's Organ, a famous blues bar, or grab a drink on the rooftop at Perry’s, all in the bohemian Adams Morgan neighborhood.
For even more robust nightlife, look no further than Georgetown, one of D.C.'s most popular neighborhoods, which was predominantly made up of African Americans from 1776 to the 1930s. Once the area was taken over by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, it became increasingly gentrified. Today, it’s loaded with bars, clubs, restaurants, shops and frenetic energy, fueled in no small part by the students of Georgetown University.
Originally dotted with the palatial mansions of the rich and powerful, Dupont Circle today is the place to be if you like diversity and high-end activities. Those same elegant buildings now house embassies, museums (Phillips Collection and National Geographic Museum) and social clubs, and they’re increasingly surrounded by trendy restaurants, unique shops (the beloved Kramerbooks & Afterwards Cafe), buzzy lounges and art galleries.
The memorably named Foggy Bottom neighborhood was once home to glass manufacturers and breweries that employed German, Irish and African American workers. Named for its salty marshes along the Potomac River, Foggy Bottom today is flooded with students from George Washington University, employees from the nearby headquarters of the World Bank and the Pan American Health Organization and artists appearing at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
D.C. has one of the most stable economies in the U.S. thanks to the steady and lucrative employment provided by being the seat of government for the richest nation in the world. Much of the labor force works in - you guessed it – high-paying federal jobs. As of 2013, there were 203,500 federal employees living in the district, representing approximately 27% of residents. In addition, the average 2014 wage for federal civilian workers was $84,153, a whopping 78% more than the average private-sector wage. By far the largest government employer in the district is the Department of Justice, with more than 23,000 D.C. residents employed, followed by the Department of Homeland Security, with more than 18,000 D.C. residents employed.
Other leading industries include government-related services, professional and technical services, healthcare, education and tourism. In 2015, the district was home to two Fortune 500 companies: Fannie Mae and Danaher. Yet despite this powerhouse economy, D.C. is a city marked by both wealth and poverty. On the one hand, it had a median household income of $65,830 in early 2016 – which if it were a state, would put it among the top five wealthiest states &emdash; and an incredibly well-educated workforce, with college graduates making up 52% of the population. Yet as of December 2015, it had an unemployment rate of 6.6% &emdash; the second highest in the US if it were a state – and, similarly, one of the top five highest rates of poverty at over 18%.
More than 650,000 people live within the district, and of that population, 50% are black, 40% are white, 9% are Hispanic, 3% are Asian and 2% are multiracial. The city also has an international feel due to the fact that foreign-born individuals make up more than 13% of residents. Notably, 1% of the population speaks French at home, while another 1% speaks an African language. Given the number of people who attend the colleges and universities in D.C. or commute from Virginia or Maryland to more than 175 embassies and countless international agencies, the daytime D.C. population skyrockets to more than a million people, an increase of 79 percent. Only Manhattan has a greater change between its daytime and nighttime populations.
Living in the nation’s capital and having hundreds of unique neighborhoods that are only a Metro ride away comes with a hefty price tag. As of early 2016, the median home value within the district was $554,974 &emdash; more than three times the U.S. median &emdash; and the median rental price was $1,547. As a result, CBS News ranked D.C. the most expensive place to buy a home in the U.S. in 2015, eclipsing all 50 states. Case in point: more than 10% of D.C. homes were valued at more than $1.2 million in early 2016, and the district’s most expensive neighborhood &emdash; “Massachusetts Ave NW / Wisconsin” &emdash; had a median home value of over $2.8 million.
One inescapable factor is the staggering real estate appreciation that the district has recorded in recent decades: more than 37% appreciation between 2005 and 2015, and an eyeball-popping 279% appreciation since 1990. This rapid climb in real estate values has led to an ever-increasing expansion of suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, as workers move further away to find more affordable real estate, yet still commute to D.C. or its suburbs during the week. Naturally, this only drives up prices in the suburbs. Forbes estimates that the cost of living in D.C. metro area &emdash; home to an estimated 6 million people and counting &emdash; is 24% higher than the national average.