Whether your preferred lifestyle is stately, trendy, salty or spicy--or a mix that’s all your own--the neighborhoods of Washington and the towns that surround our capital city offer as many options as Godiva has fillings.
Deborah Gore Dean is hunting for a new location for her eponymous shop, which has been selling high-end home furnishings and gifts in Georgetown for the last 20 years. She's not going far. "Where else are you going to put a store?" she asks rhetorically. "Georgetown is one of those truly unique places. It's Paris, it's London, it's Manhattan. Everyone knows it. Whether it's for the shopping, the history, the university...there's something very romantic about it and I love it.”
After the Smithsonian and White House and the Capitol, Georgetown is the most popular destination in Washington, and perhaps the most coveted residential area – both in fact and fiction. JFK and Jackie Kennedy lived here in their salad days, over 100 novels have been set here, and who can forget those tumble-down stairs from the film The Exorcist?
Like several other historic areas of DC, Georgetown is protected by a preservation society, preventing visible modernizations to homes that range from imposing Federal and Victorian-era mansions to frame houses so low ceilinged that 6-footers need to watch their heads.
It's also Mecca for shopping and dining. Travel along M Street and up Wisconsin Avenue for upscale home furnishings from shops like A Mano, Baker, and Waterworks, and picture windows framing exquisite antiques. Kate Spade, Lacoste and Ralph Lauren are also here along with Hu's Shoes with its stash of footwear from designers like Alexander McQueen and Maison Martin Margiela.
Hungry from a day of shopping, you can hop off the boat for dinner at Tony and Joe's or Sequoia, directly on the water in the Washington Harbor. And for hobnobbing, direct the limo to Cafe Milano, where never a week goes by without a celebrity sighting. If afternoon signals your time for tea, Four-Seasons Hotel offers one of the most elegant spreads in town.
Steps from the bustle is Berkely, with its quiet streets and deep lawns. 2318 King Place, NW, offered by Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage's Georgetown office, is a Sears Arts and Crafts bungalow built in 1923 that is modest on the outside 6,000 square feet of brilliance within. Around back, a fabulous expanse of glass offers a vision of blown open spaces and levels wandering one to the next with phenomenal flow and glorious views.
"I'm just not a California person," Peggy DeCelle says with a shake of her stylishly chopped off-white hair. The psychologist has just returned to Adams Morgan after a year and a half analysis of the left coast.
"I came back for a visit and thought, 'Oh my God what am I doing?'" she says. "I needed to come home. This is my home."
Santa Monica was lovely, and so was the Bay area, but she missed her friends and her condo hovering over Rock Creek Park, "the lungs of the city," as she puts it. The zoo is just beyond the trees. "I can hear the lions and the monkeys and the occasional elephant."
Washington's most schizophrenic neighborhood, Adams Morgan is also a noisy, lively, multi-ethnic stew, thanks to a population hotly spiced with Africans, Asians, Central and South Americans.
Visit on any Saturday night and Latin, African, bluegrass and jazz music filters into the streets from the clubs. Crowds saunter and strut in waves along the narrow sidewalks. They're duly evaluated with slithering glances by those lucky enough to have landed a table at one of 30 or so sidewalk cafes.
At last count there were 120 restaurants in the neighborhood, from the hot and frenzied Perry's with its rooftop terrace strung with cruise ship lighting to La Fourchette, the charmingly quiet French bistro where you might end up shushing your companions so you can better overhear journalists and politicians opine at the next table.
Where everyone's parked in Adams Morgan is a mystery, since the neighbors only relinquish their spaces in an emergency. So cars seem to be aging in place along streets lined with elegant Victorian houses, pre-war condominiums (some handsome, some a little down-at-the-heels), elderly industrial spaces converted to loft-style apartments, and a few avant-garde homes adding spice (it wouldn't be Adams Morgan without spice).
Condos are rare in Adams Morgan, but popular for hovering above the crowd. Coldwell Banker Georgetown is currently offering a fabulous penthouse at 164 Euclid with two levels of chic and glass, featuring Viking and Bosch appliances, and boasting balconies and terraces for sniffing out the scene.
If you really want to know Capitol Hill, stop in at Frager's Hardware on Pennsylvania Avenue. Since 1920, Frager's has been the neighborhood go-to place for everything from kazoos and Christmas trees to chain saws and floor waxers.
It's been said that more members of Congress live on Capitol Hill than in any other community in the Washington area, and odds are most have at one time or other rummaged through the bins of nails and racks of flower seed at Frager's.
They'd be rubbing shoulders with the writers and carpenters, artists and doctors that also call the Hill home. And in true small town fashion, the kid reaching down the alarm clock from the top shelf is likely your neighbor's daughter on college break.
In 2007 Capitol Hill was named one of the ten best neighborhoods in the U.S. by the American Planning Association for its array of parks, shops restaurants and homes that range in vintage from Federal through Edwardian – with a modern structure or two, snuck through before iron fisted preservationists clamped down on visible modernizations.
Capitol Hill is a great deal more than a collection of stately government buildings. The largest historic district in Washington, the Hill is home to Eastern Market, DC’s oldest continually operating fresh food public market with its heirloom tomatoes, free range chickens, and a huge weekend farmer's line and craft fair. It is also host to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Independence Day fireworks from the Capitol grounds and the U.S. Botanical Garden.
Even on the Hill it’s the rare home that offers a view of the Capitol outside the front door. A top-flight apartment listed by Coldwell Banker Georgetown in the boutique condo at 1306 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, offers just that, plus sleek Euro-contemporary styling, a gas fireplace, a state of the art entertainment system, a splendid balcony and a roof top terrace with the most extravagant views.
14th and U Streets NW (Also Starring Logan Circle)
Pixie Windsor's laugh fills her 14th Street shop. Painted hot pink inside and out, the 4,000 square foot emporium is filled with all sorts of things you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. You may pass by some questionable stuff such as a silvered metal bedroom set with mirrored dressing table or a seriously tacky blue-vinyl cushioned bench.
But then! A stack of over-sized Italian white earthenware dinner plates, their extra-wide borders heavily embossed with a raised pattern of fruits. You may think you don't need one more set of dishes. But, five bucks each?
"My great aunt took me to auctions, my mom loved Marlow's," says Miss Pixie, which is what she prefers to be called -- and also chose to name her shop of gently used home furnishings. It also accounts for her eclectic taste.
The streets around 14th and U couldn't be hotter. Envy the foresight of those who snapped up the grander homes prior to gentrification, particularly the mansions around Logan Circle, at the far end of 14th Street. While it has long been home to two first-rate theaters, The Studio Theatre and Source, it's only been in the last decade or so that the neighborhood has departed from iffy to becoming seriously trendy. First came the quirky shops like Go Mama Go and Home Rule, which rattled the staid chains of Washington retail and began to bring shoppers to the neighborhood.
Then there was the advent of the elite and edgy shops like the sleekly contemporary Vastu, Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, and most recently Room and Board. 'This has become furniture row," says Miss Pixie.
Densely populated, with a mix of private homes and condos, the neighborhood has perhaps the city's strongest urban sensibility and energy. The clothing is more Euro-stylish here, the accents more diverse. Bus Boys and Poets – the combination cafe, bar and bookstore – offers poetry slams and films in the back dining room; Artfully Chocolate and Kingsbury Confections (ACKS), combines a chocolate shop with a cafe and art gallery.
It's all very, very cool. And the perfect place to break out,” as Ms. Pixie says, "a little sparkle, a little bling."
Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
A ramble through the streets of Old Town, Alexandria drops you back in time . Two hundred and fifty years ago this was a bustling seaport with horses and buggies clattering down narrow cobblestone streets with the grand homes and gardens of merchants and sea captains jostling those of lowlier seaman and servants, some of these little more than the width of an arm span. Today, even the smallest of these homes would be far out of the reach of those they were intended to house.
While the goods for the shops along King Street and the narrower corridors that spoke off this main drag have changed, a wide world of art and design inspiration is still represented. Some shops, like Restoration Hardware and Banana Republic are chains, but most are locally owned and refreshingly one of a kind.
Troy Englert presides over Patrick's Fine Linens and Home Decor on North St. Asaph Street, holding court from behind the counter as his three Bedlington Terriers frolic (rather terrifyingly) amongst the Christofle crystal and china, Meissen porcelain, exotic fragrances and antiques that fill the two-level shop.
"It's a great place to live and work," says Englert. "Fortunately I get to do both."
Just three miles from Reagan National Airport and seven miles from downtown D.C., Old Town is easily reachable by car, Metro, bike trail – and even water taxi. Among its treasures is 310 Commerce Street offered by Coldwell Banker’s Georgetown Office. Built in the late 18th century for Colonel Francis Peyton, twice mayor and acquaintance of George Washington, this 2804 square foot home, set in a glorious garden and magnificently restored, conceals a hi-tech heart — try surround sound in the basement for starters.
Annapolis , Maryland
The oft-proclaimed Sailing Capitol of the World, home to the U.S. Naval Academy,
St. John's College, and the State Capital of Maryland, Annapolis might seem an unlikely bedroom community of Washington. But for many, a 29-mile commute is a fair trade for fresh water breezes and a pace, while snappy enough, that is many steps slower than the nation's capital.
Here, skinny lanes crowded with narrow homes wriggle between wider streets and homes that grow ever larger and grander. Founded in 1649, Annapolis has one of the finest collections of 17th and 18th century buildings in the country.
Main Street, bedecked with flower baskets and lined with a diverse collection of shops, taverns and restaurants, climbs from the city dock toward State House Circle.
"I look out my office window and the governor's mansion is there," says deliciously named architect, Scarlett Breeding. "I've lived here 27 years and I love it."
This sailor enjoys boat shows, farmer's markets, spring garden tours and restoring and selling splendid old homes, living in them as she does so. "I tell my clients, I never fall in love. I have affairs with houses so I can let them go when I need to."
Just completed is a grand 4,400 square foot residence at 19 Revell Street, listed by Georgie Berkinshaw of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage at Church Circle.
Built in 1930, the once-private home had been divided into four apartments. Breeding "renovated it back to its original character, with a twist," she says. The central stair was restored and glassed sun-room wings were added at each end, giving it "a tremendous amount of light for a historic home."
At 234 Prince George Street, listed by Day Weitzman, one glimpse of the frolicsome hand-painted, harlequin-patterned floors and you're ready to cast-off from the commonplace. This turn of the last century charmer features a living room with floor to ceiling windows and a dining room with a splendid fireplace for cozy suppers on frosty evenings.
An elevator provides smooth sailing between the main level, the three bedrooms on the second floor, and a third floor guest suite that's perfect for weekend stowaways.
In easy walking distance from downtown, homes in the quiet neighborhood of Wardour are generously scaled, the streets are lined with venerable oaks, and sightings of eagles and herons are frequent.
Julie Gay's listing at 226 Wardour Drive, is a case in point. "It's in the city, but with a suburban air," says the agent.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the six bedroom, 5,000 square foot home has commanding views of the Severn River from its columned terrace and a lawn that sweeps down to a deep-water dock for quick getaways on the yacht.
Features include an elegantly proportioned and appointed formal living and entertaining spaces, a gorgeous mahogany library, and a splendid master suite with a fireplace, opulent bath, and dressing room scaled for a daybed.
The nearby "Mainstay," another listing from Georgie Berkinshaw, shares that fantastic Severn River perch and fabulous views of the "Festival of Lights," the annual holiday spectacular featuring a flotilla of seacraft festooned with millions of twinkling lights cruising the city waterways.
Built in the early 1900s and superbly restored, the residence at 238 Westwood Road, is set on 1.7 beautifully landscaped acres and includes a separate guest house, 295 feet of waterfront, and a 74 foot private pier.
The five bedroom home's magnificent entertaining spaces include a conservatory with a coffered ceiling and 270 degrees of window offering upon breathtaking views. And from house to dockside, a central sound system provides a cool jazz background.