PCSing to the DC area is very difficult because the area is so large and there are so many different options of where to live. When searching for a military home for sale or rent, it's good to know what the area and surrounding neighborhood is like. Is it safe? In a good school district? Are there other military around for a sense of community? The best way to research the DC area is by learning from other military families who have lived there before.
A great DC suburb near the Pentagon is the City of Arlington. Arlington is broken into two sections, South Arlington vs. North Arlington. Many people have the wrong impression of South Arlington and here is the opinion of a military families who is currently living in South Arlington. I hope her opinion helps you narrow down your house hunting search near the DC area.
Why I recommend South Arlington! An Opinion from a Military Spouse.
Michelle states, "There is a bias in Arlington that North Arlington is better than South Arlington. There are some really nice super expensive houses in North Arlington, but there are pockets in South Arlington, mainly in the Arlington Ridge area that also fall in the way out of my price range. Once in the not so distant past, there were bad neighborhoods in Arlington, but now pretty much everything is nice. Of course there are always a few pockets of not so nice, but overall it comes down to what you are comfortable with. I also like that there is more diversity in South Arlington.
If you are going to be stationed at the Pentagon or Crystal City area the commute from South Arlington is much easier. Anywhere on Columbia Pike is an easy bus ride (yes I said bus, but all kinds of people ride the bus) and some other areas are within walking distance of the yellow line that goes to the Pentagon.
Nice Neighborhoods in South Arlington
There are some great places to live in South Arlington. Arlington Heights, Penrose, Alcova Heights, and Douglas Park are all along Columbia Pike very close to the Pentagon and an easy bus ride. We can walk to a grocery store, parks, and several good restaurants/bars. There is a fountain for kids to play in, a coffee place (not Starbucks), and a frozen yogurt shop. Also a movie theater that shows older movies plus serves food and alcohol, a beer can make a kid’s movie much more bearable. What I love is if I take my kids to the fountain there are children of all ethnicity playing together and it’s not just the beautiful people in their fancy yoga pants, or the nannies (yes both exist in South Arlington but not at the same level). We do spend a lot of time in North Arlington as well, but I love that we have this within walking distance.
Anywhere around Shirlington/Fairlington is nice and more affordable. There are lots of walking and bike paths as well as a movie theater, shops, restaurants, and a live performance theater and a library. I will link Pentagon Row, Crystal City, Arlington Ridge, and Aurora Heights together. There are lots of great options here as well as parks, walk ability and in many cases Metro access. Look at the house and the street and decide if you like the feel and that should help with your decision to live there. I know I left out some great neighborhoods and mainly because I don’t know the names.
Schools in South Arlington
All schools in Arlington are excellent and there are countywide programs open to all. I personally am only familiar with the elementary schools so I will go into those. Every neighborhood has a school and then there are schools that are open countywide. Some neighborhood schools offer Spanish language as part of the curriculum a few hours a week (different than immersion) the ones that do not have half day every Thursday. A few county wide schools offer admittance to various feeder schools, the website has more information about which neighborhood schools are feeder schools. There is a lottery each year to get into the various countywide programs. If your neighborhood school is a feeder to the countywide school the county will bus your child if required. There is also an option to apply to any school in the county and if there is space available your child may be admitted.
Here’s a brief description of the few that I am familiar with. Arlington Traditional School, countywide admittance, it’s very academically oriented; lots of focus on reading, parents either love or hate it. Campbell focuses on hands on and outdoor learning and we know several families that attend and really like love it. Barcroft is a year round school and it is possible to be accepted if you do not live in the neighborhood, but I’m not sure if they will bus the children. Science Focus is as it says lots of focus on science; it does accept applicants outside the neighborhood if spots are available. In the case of Science Focus or Barcroft, if either of these are of interest to you the best bet would be to live within their boundaries. The last options are the immersion schools, Key and Claremont. Both of these schools teach the same programs and work together, summer programs alternate between schools, the boundaries are kind of confusing and being in North Arlington does not mean you will go to Key. We live in South Arlington and go to Key and Tuckahoe McKinley, both North Arlington Schools are in the Claremont zones. If this is important to you check the school boundaries before moving.
Location, Location, Location of South Arlington
What you pay for in Arlington is the location. We have one car here and on most days it’s all we need. You’re most likely not going to find a huge house, so if you want bigger and cheaper go further out but the commute will be longer. Alexandria (I love the Del Ray neighborhood), Falls Church, and Fairfax County in the Seven Corners/Bailey’s Crossroad area are all options where you might find a better deal.
These are just my opinions, but I hope it helps you narrow down where you want to live!" - Michelle
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