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The capital of the United States of America, Washington, District of Columbia, (colloquially D.C. or The District) is home to the U.S. federal government. Well, most of it. The land was originally taken from Maryland and Virginia in 1790. The Virginia part was returned in 1846 as what is now Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, which are still part of the same urban area. For people in Flyover Country it is often considered to be a Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy, due to its high crime and reported corruption on the local and federal level.
Unlike other U.S. cities, Washington is notable for its complete lack of skyscrapers. This is because of a law on the matter (the DC Building Act 1910) that prohibits the construction of any building taller that the US Capitol (which, contrary to popular belief, does not mention the Washington Monument). Thus, most skyscrapers are usually located on the Virginia side of the Potomac (which separates Washington from Arlington and Alexandria). More on that later.
Why Is It Called The District?
Washington is also not part of any US State. It's a special federal district. As a tragically ironic consequence of this, citizens who live in Washington have less representation in the federal government than other citizens. Up until 1961, residents could not vote for the President of the United States. Representation in the legislature is limited to one delegate in US House of Representatives, who is not allowed to vote. In fact, given that the US Congress has final say over all matters passed by the municipal government, DC's situation is similar to that of colonial America's relationship to Great Britain. Thus, the license plate slogan "Taxation without Representation". The exact technical term is "suzerainty", in that The District is under the direct control of Congress in the same way a king might hold control over a captured territory.
Why does such an ironic situation exist? It was written into the US Constitution. The Founding Fathers feared if the capital district was a part of any state or was considered a state itself, the federal government would treat that state favorably. The framers never thought that Washington would become an actual city with an indigenous population. But they overestimated the size of land needed to host a body of government, and that extra land naturally ended up being filled with people who worked in the District.
Why this has not been corrected: Aside from the fact that getting Congress to agree on anything is hard in general, politics in the District are incredibly monolithic, leaving both of the major political parties of the US having very different preferences for a solution. The Democratic Party, which enjoys over 90% support in DC, naturally favors statehood or something equivalent, which would add 2 Senate seats and one House seat that they would perpetually control. The Republican Party, on the other hand, prefers returning the land of the District to the jurisdiction of Maryland, which gave up the land to form the capital in the first place. This would add a single Democratic-dominated House district to Maryland's allotment, a much smaller advantage to Democrats and thus much more palatable to Republicans.
Combined with Baltimore, it makes up the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. Baltimore is less than an hour's drive from Washington (theoretically -- traffic can be brutal) and urban sprawl between the two is pretty much continuous. However, the two cities are culturally distinct, and because of the gap both Baltimore and Washington have separate TV and radio stations covering their areas despite the short distance between the two.
There's also a large cultural disconnect between DC and Virginia, to the point where people, especially Southern transplants and DC natives, actually stick to their own side of the river. Unless, of course, you're talking about Arlington, Alexandria, and much of Fairfax County, who actually have more in common with DC Natives than the rest of their state. Northern Virginia is mostly suburbs of DC and, as such, identify with the rest of the region far more so than the rest of Virginia .
Locals typically refer to the District of Columbia proper, as opposed to the suburbs, as "the District." Locals who are native to D.C. and haven't lived in bigger cities often refer to it as "the city." "Washington" means the metropolitan area. "D.C." can mean either. Ignoring this usage is a good way to expose yourself as a newcomer. DC itself is surrounded by a circumferential freeway called I-495, commonly referred to as "The Beltway". Many feel that reality gets distorted by the road. Also, don't drive on it during rush hour.
DC has an extensive system of trains known as Metrorail. Basically, everyone uses the Metro, except Washington Post writers and the politicians on the Metro Board. You can even use it to go far out to suburban shopping destinations and plans are afoot to extend it 25 miles to Dulles Airport. (As of the spring of 2011, construction on the new line is well underway, which is causing additional disruption to traffic on the Beltway and several major roads leading to Dulles.) It does not go to Georgetown.
The myth is that DC law prohibits the construction of any building taller than the Washington Monument (or Capitol building). This is only partially true. There is a law governing building height: the Height of Buildings Act restricts new building heights to no more than 20 feet (6.1 m) greater than the width of the adjacent street; existing structures are not mentioned. So the way this works out is that no new building will be taller than the Washington Monument, though there are three other buildings taller than the Capitol building (the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Old Post Office, and the National Cathedral respectively).
Washington D.C. has been described as two cities in one. The first part consists of the famous buildings, government offices, museums, office buildings, and select housing areas, mainly populated by predominantly upper class, predominantly liberal (except for conservative industry lobbyists) white people who run the government (or up-and-coming yuppie policy wonks who imagine themselves doing so and mostly leave disappointed when they end up working for said lobbyists). Most go home to Virginia and Maryland at night. The ones who stay gravitate like magnets to the gentrified, Parisian-style neighborhoods in the Northwest quadrant of the city.
The second part is housing for the mainly-black working classes that staff the government service jobs, clean the offices, and serve the food for the first half. The second city of Washington is almost entirely devoid of public services -- everyone lucky enough to have a job works downtown -- while the first is an unbroken line of office buildings, luxury apartments, shops, and campuses stretching out from downtown DC to the north and west. While the first is relatively safe, parts of the second city remain ghettos with some of the highest crime and murder rates in the nation. While most American cities have this dichotomy to some extent, DC is one of the more extreme examples.
Central Washington, known as the L'Enfant City (the part laid out by said Frenchman in 1790 as a planned metropolis) has seen massive urban renewal to make the areas convenient to the centre "look more like America", "as befits the heart of our democracy" -- if America had a mean income of $500,000, that is. At one point these efforts were justified by high crime rates (14th street was the red light district, two blocks from The White House, and downtown DC used to be a collection of boarded-up buildings and souvenir shops). But since the 80s and 90s crime epidemic has actually subsided, it's merely been justified as "quality of life" (and not just for senators and their escorts, either).
Indeed, the quality of life in DC is bustling: It's one of the few cities in America where it's actually pleasant to walk around on foot, although you will find little casual shopping or dining; most of the businesses are tourist, entertainment, or office-related (read: bars). These bars are patronized by aforementioned young urban professionals.
Washington is infamous for its Long Hot Summers and notorious for its plain-dress, anti-fashion sentiment. Tourists are notorious for their flamboyant yet weather-appropriate Safari attire, such as fishing caps, cargo shorts, and fanny packs. Dress appropriately. Note for tourists: If you don't want to look like a tourist, stand to the right on escalators.
The museums on the Mall are all free. Good luck finding a place to eat, though; the American Indian Museum is popular. The best time to visit D.C. is in March, when the Cherry Blossoms bloom. This is the only festival the locals take seriously, and much like Mardi Gras, you have to know when and where to actually go -- the blossoms never coincide with the actual festival. When they do bloom, millions of people descend on the Mall at once in a blossom-fueled rage.
Tourist Attractions of Washington
- The Capitol Building: not to be confused with The White House (it has a dome for a start). This is where the U.S. Congress meets. The Congress now can't all fit in the offices there, so there are other office buildings, linked to it via a private tunnel network. It is entirely possible to get between the Capitol, its associated office buildings and the three buildings that house the Library of Congress without ever once setting foot outside, which is quite useful in the middle of winter, avoiding repeated security screening, and keeping the business of government largely out of view of tourists.
- The White House: The President's pad. The West Wing contains the Oval Office and other offices for presidential staff; other executive offices are at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (formerly the Old Executive Office Building, or OEOB), a giant gingerbread structure across the street. Thanks to The War on Terror, it now takes six months and a phone call to your Member of Congress/Senator to schedule a tour. If the president announces a change in policy, reporters will sometimes declare that "The White House announced..."
- The Supreme Court: self-explanatory. Long queue to get in for a brief glance at proceedings.
- Pennsylvania Avenue: Washington's main parade street. North of here is downtown DC.
- The National Mall: Not a shopping center (hard to come by in the District itself), but that long, grassy area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Site of many, many rallies, demonstrations, awareness-marches, etc. Softball fields, where office-based teams play the National Sport. This is Serious Business: House and Senate rivalries are especially intense. Many of the Smithsonian Museums are located alongside the Mall.
- National Memorials: Located in a vast stretch of the west Mall, most notably the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. The Washington Monument is more interesting on the outside than in (if you picnic or fly kites, at least), and off the beaten path on a little peninsula is the picturesque Jefferson Memorial. Instead of wait all day to go up to the top, walk a few blocks over to the Clock Tower on Pennsylvania Avenue and get the same view.
- The Smithsonian Institution - America's largest Museum Mile. All of it is free and open year-round. For example:
- The Smithsonian Castle: America's most famous visitor center. Hidden in the basement is an actual institution of learning populated by the academics lucky enough to do research work in the various museums. There are also two underground museums of Asian and African art most people don't know about.
- These are the Freer Gallery of Asian Art (which is connected to the Arthur M Sackler gallery) and the Museum of African Art. The latter includes art donated from the personal collection of Walt Disney.
- The Air and Space Museum: touchable piece of the moon, lot of stuff on flight and for Cold War buffs, a Pershing II and RT-21M/SS-20 side-by-side. At approximately seven million visitors a year, it is the most popular museum on the mall (and quite possibly in the world). It has a sister museum, the Stephen F Udvar-Hazy center, in Chantilly Virginia, near Dulles Airport, which contains items like the Enola Gay and the space shuttle Discovery.
- The Natural History Museum: basically similar to the one in New York. Has a hall of gemstones (giant ones) and an insect zoo. Contains vast inaccessible archives popularized in shows like Bones and National Treasure, full of old artifacts and butterflies on pins.
- The American History Museum: The Star-Spangled banner and other historical artifacts. Not as interesting as it used to be when it was used for rotating displays of the Smithsonian's vast array of tchotchkes. Now it's highly polished and empty display halls, populated by visiting exhibits paid for with private funds. They still have a naked marble statue of George Washington.
- The Hirschhorn, a gallery of modern art along with a very... odd... sculpture garden. The Flying Saucer-shaped building itself was designed by Gordon Bunshaft, and it's called the Hirshhorn as it was initially funded by a guy named Hirschhorn. To locals it is especially well known for hosting terrible science fiction movie screenings in the summer (seriously).
- The National Museum Of American Art, which has the sculpture of Robert Gould Shaw on which the film Glory is based. It also has the Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nation's Millenium General Assembly (see below). Fear Not.
- The National Portrait Gallery, which is a gallery of, well, portraiture.
- The Postal Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the postal service (seriously, it exists).
- The National Museum of the American Indian. The newest museum on the mall, the NMAI has striking architecture designed to look like canyon walls, and has the best cafeteria out of all the Smithsonian museums. Even Smithsonian employees tend to agree that it has the best food.
- The National Gallery Of Art: has all the Old Masters in the US that aren't in some other museum like the Met. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT part of the Smithsonian Institution, and is in fact it's own deal (for the Smithsonian's art galleries, see above). So huge, it has an underground complex with an airport-style moving sidewalk. Be sure and touch the world's sharpest corner on a building: the Modern Wing designed by I.M. Pei is shaped like a maze of isosceles triangles.
- The Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- The Library of Congress: The world's largest library. Required by law to have a copy of every book ever published in the US. Most are accessible only to researchers , but visitors are allowed to explore the gigantic main building which looks like a 19th-century Opera house. If you live in the area, you can go down and apply for a researcher's card; the process is a bit more involved than applying for your local library card, though, as applicants are taken through a computerized quiz which is focused on ascertaining the fields of knowledge of particular interest to you. Unless you're a Member of Congress or a Congressional staff member, you can't actually check out books; you must request them at the various desks in the "reading rooms". There are a number of these rooms, several of which (e.g., in the Jefferson and Adams Buildings) are quite large, and most of which are devoted to specific topic areas (for example, the Madison Building is where you'd go to do research in law or the performing arts). Researchers are allowed to use laptops and portable scanners, but thanks mainly to former national security advisor Sandy Berger sneaking critical documents out of the building for his own uses, must get written permission first at the reading desks.
- The US Botanic Garden: A quiet respite from the city, and Washington's oldest museum, a Victorian-era greenhouse. Recently modernized, it now contains an indoor jungle for those seeking a respite from the festering hot air of summer in DC. Also has one of those giant corpse-flowers.
- Union Station: It's big. It's a train station. It's also a shopping mall. It's where you go to catch the train to That Other City. Think Grand Central Station and you get the idea.
- The Pentagon: Actually across the river from Washington, in Arlington, Virginia, this is the headquarters of the Department of Defense and the American Armed Forces it oversees. As with The White House, when the Secretary of Defense or the Defense Department announces a policy, it is often said that "The Pentagon Announced" as if the building actually talked.
- Arlington Cemetery: a military cemetery (also in Virginia; it's only about half a mile from The Pentagon and the Lincoln Memorial), but not everyone there actually died in a war. Veterans who served during wartime can be buried there too, along with their families. Burial place of JFK. Before the American Civil War, it was the plantation of Confederate general Robert E. Lee; the house still stands overlooking the grounds, and is itself a museum. The Iwo Jima Memorial, a giant statue reproducing the iconic photograph of U.S. Marines (and a Navy corpsman) raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi in February of 1945, is not far from here.
- National Cathedral: America's unofficial giant interdenominational cathedral, built entirely medieval-style. It sits on the highest point in the city. There's another moon rock in the stained glass windows, along with dozens of other nooks and crannies. They recently got rid of the stonecarvers' workshop to make room for a parking garage. It has a Darth Vader gargoyle.
- Rock Creek Park: A 1700-acre wilderness park set directly in the city.
- National Zoo. A zoo, but this one is run by the Smithsonian, so it's free. Located in Rock Creek Park, so it's basically situated on the side of a ravine. Has a bit of a Panda obsession ever since Nixon went to China and brought back some. Orangutans use overhead walkways to commute between their home and the Ape House.
- The C&O Canal Park: A 400-mile off-road historical trail going through Georgetown from Rock Creek Park all the way to Pittsburgh, PA through the Appalachian mountains as a bike path and canal towpath. Follows the Potomac River. Goes past Great Falls National Park and Civil War battlefields.
- The Fourth of July is the biggest one-day event in Washington, which used to featue (ahem) smoke-ins and cookouts on the Mall before they cracked down on tailgating.
- Out in the Virginia suburbs of Prince William County, those interested in the American Civil War can visit the Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of the First (1861) and Second (1862) Battles of Bull Run (a creek running through the area; Manassas is the town immediately south of the battlefield).
- The headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service. Americans come here annually to pay their respects.
- Sonny Bono Memorial Park.
- The Einstein Memorial. You're supposed to sit in his lap.
- The World's Largest Chair, recently rebuilt, in Anacostia. Originally erected as a furniture store promotion.
- The World's Oldest (Non?)-Working Elevator, located in a fast food shop. Property of Smithsonian.
- The National Museum of Menstruation. Squick.
- The Arlington Temple, a Methodist church built on top of a gas station. Otherwise known as the "Church of Exxon", since it was an Exxon dealer for many years. Located in the northern part of Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge.
- Mayor of Silver Spring Memorial Park and Statue, commemorating a local homeless man.
- The Walter Reed Army Medical Museum. Man made of soap, Lincoln's teeth, and other curiosities.
- The Ulysses Grant Memorial. Little known presidential memorial, famous among statuary buffs.
- The Maine Avenue Fish Market. America's oldest fish market, since 1790. Busy at night.
- Dutch Country Farmers Market in Maryland. Run by the Amish.
- The Mormon Temple in Kensington, MD. Easily visible from the Beltway, its bright-white towers and golden spires bring to mind the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz; indeed, a nearby railway bridge had "SURRENDER, DOROTHY" painted on it for many years, until it was removed.
- Walter Reed Annex. an abandoned resort full of wacky pagodas, castles and windmills. Former psych wing.
- The Awakening. Statue of a gigantic, and very angry man buried in the earth. Lived for many years at the very tip of West Potomac Park; has since been relocated to the National Harbor development in Oxon Hill, MD.
- The National Folklife Festival, a vast Bazaar of the Bizarre which always hosts one state and one country (e.g. West Virginia + Bhutan) often featuring Hermit Guru artisans.
- The National Museum of Cryptography, located near the massive NSA complex at Fort Meade, MD.
- The National Dollhouse Museum.
- The National Lobstermen Statue.
- The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nation's Millennium General Assembly.
- The International Spy Museum. The only museum dedicated to the art of spying in the US. Offers spy-tours of the city as well as regular evening theme events.
- The National Aquarium. Little sister to the more famous National Aquarium of Baltimore, its housed in the basement of the Department of Commerce building.
- Metrorail - DC's subway system, the second-busiest in the nation and designed as something of an antithesis to the New York City Subway, with huge domed-concrete stations, hexagonal tile floors, computer-controlled cars, and notoriously strict rules about consuming food and beverages. Designed in the late 1960s as a Plan B to redirect unused freeway funds to some form of transport (as DC residents saw that they really didn't want freeways cutting apart their backyards and neighborhoods), it was made with an eye toward luring commuters out of their cars -- a plan that, 40 years on, seems to have worked. It's starting to show its age a bit (it went online in 1976) and is nearing capacity, but still preferable to driving (especially if you're aware of how bad DC traffic is).
- D.C. has notoriously difficult traffic circles. The explanation is that this in case those redcoats (or later, just the Reds) ever come back, they'll enter a traffic circle and will be unable to figure out how to leave it, thus keeping them from burning the city. Again. Though the UK now has a lot of traffic circles...
- The Capital Beltway, aka Interstate 495. On its southern and eastern sections, it also contains mainline Interstate 95... which was supposed to go directly through DC on its trek from Miami to Maine, but was redirected by freeway revolts (see above). All in all, it's another reason why Invading DC is not advised.
- It's also useful for navigation purposes to know that the Beltway has "The Inner Loop" (the side of the Beltway which runs clockwise around DC) and "The Outer Loop" (the side of the Beltway which runs counter-clockwise around DC).
- Just like NYC, Philly and Chicago, DC has commuter trains and buses leading out of the city into the far suburbs; unlike those cities, however, they're mainly for the hordes of Executive Branch workers (and, in the summer, tourists) going into and out of town, and so they don't run on weekends except for a few token Metrobus routes. The trains and buses going into Maryland are run by that state's transit authority, and the trains are called "MARC"; MARC also serves Baltimore, and the Penn Line runs all the way to Perryville, MD. Virginia's system is split between several operators, the biggest being the PRTC/VRE system (which mainly serves Prince William County, a few far-flung locations in Fairfax such as Lorton and Burke, and the 95 corridor down to Fredericksburg).
- Finally, there's the airports:
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is the closest to town; just like the Pentagon, it's directly across the river in Arlington, VA. It used to be just "Washington National Airport", but was forcibly renamed by Congress in The Nineties (the name change was unpopular in certain circles because of Reagan's breaking of an air traffic controllers' strike in The Eighties). It's also the only airport in the DC area with direct access to Metrorail, though as noted above, this will be changing eventually. This is the airport of choice for Congresspeople entering and leaving town (indeed, it's seen as one of their perks), but also has a limited number of flights available due to noise concerns and the difficult approach to the runway, which requires avoiding skyscrapers in Rosslyn and Crystal City while trying not to crash into the Potomac. As such, it commands higher ticket prices and isn't quite as busy as the outlying airports. Also, it's strictly a national airport; it can only originate or receive flights that are headed to or from US destinations, meaning international flights will require a transfer. Or you could just go to:
- Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), the largest airport in the area and one of the busiest in the country. Infamous for being a long, long haul from downtown (25 miles from the White House, through what has since become a highly-populated edge city), for having an equally long access road reserved especially for it, and for not having any sort of public transportation (though Metrobus has since set up a proper shuttle line that serves it while the Metrorail extension is being built). You will get a ticket on the access road if you're not going to the airport for something; that said, "something" can be going to the Fedex terminal or picking someone up, not just boarding a flight. Otherwise, from the Beltway westward, you're expected to use the Dulles Toll Road and pay the tolls. Dulles was also infamous for its odd "shuttle lounges", crosses between buses and Jetways that, originally, could drive right up to the side of a plane and allow you to board directly. As the airport got busier, though, the lounges became a liability as they were small, cramped and required a slow docking process when arriving at the terminal. A new light-rail system (similar to the ones in use at other large airports) has mostly replaced them, although they continue to be used to connect Concourse D (not served by the rail line) to Concourse A and the main terminal. The most striking architectural feature of Dulles is its Raygun Gothic main terminal building, which was designed by Eero Saarinen (the same guy responsible for the old TWA Flight Center at JFK) and built in 1961.
- And finally, there's Baltimore/Washington International-Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), which is actually closer to Baltimore than DC but is still popular with DC residents. It's not as busy as Dulles or as restricted as National, meaning flights are often cheap enough that the drive (even longer than the one to Dulles, especially from Virginia) is Worth It. It's also accessible from MARC and Baltimore's light-rail system; like Dulles, Metrobus also runs a dedicated shuttle to BWI, originating from the Greenbelt Metrorail station. Also, just like LAX, almost everyone calls it by its call sign than its full name.
In D.C., you are what you do for a living. Policy wonks who work on Capitol Hill are divided into "interns" and "Hill Rats" (lifers). They congregate in Georgetown (Washington's old-line, 18th-century neighborhood, featured in The Exorcist) and Capitol Hill (the cheap ones live on Capitol Hill, which is basically a giant college town for Members of Congress and their underlings). Affluent activists congregate in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, an area "historically known" for crunchy artists and ethnic diversity. The Dupont Circle is DC's version of Greenwich Village. Adams Morgan is ten blocks of nightclubs and restaurants (Afghan, Ethiopian, etc) surrounded by barrios, converted mansions, and brownstone apartment buildings.
Many of the shops and nightclubs in Adams-Morgan are Ethiopian-owned, but most of DC's large Ethiopian community has moved into U Street in the Shaw neighborhood, D.C's historically-black nightlife corridor, named for Capt. Shaw of Glory, which is rapidly being gentrified and taken over by yuppies and college students. Just twenty years ago, it was a high-crime area, and 14th street NW was considered a bright red line which affluent Washingtonians would not cross. North of Shaw is a series of ethnic communities which stretches north to the Maryland border. Walter Reed Army Hospital is located here.
- Upper Northwest
West of Rock Creek park is the exclusive white province known as Upper Northwest, an area of broad boulevards, embassies, private schools, and the National Cathedral. It is also, perversely, the home of D.C.'s Hardcore Punk scene, which helped break out Alternative Rock in the late 1980s. Further into the Upper northwest, D.C. extends into Maryland in an unbroken corridor of affluence: private schools, research institutions, and centers of learning. Nearby Bethesda, Maryland is a shopping and dining destination. Chevy Chase, which sits on the border of Upper Northwest DC, as well as M Street in Georgetown, is Washington's version of Rodeo Drive.
D.C. is an amalgam of people from around the United States and sits on the dividing line between the North and South, which is still very bright for some residents who refuse to cross the Potomac River except to go to a ballgame. The further south and east you go, the more it resembles a Southern town, such as New Orleans. The houses are small and working class, the neighborhoods mostly black.
South and east of Capitol Hill is the Anacostia river, hemmed in by levees and old industrial sidings. This marks the boundary with the hard lands, known to some people as "Simple City". The Department of Homeland Security has cheerfully decided to build its national HQ in a converted mental hospital in Simple City, just south of Anacostia's surprisingly quaint main drag. This part of town is also the home of D.C.'s other native music, go-go. It is a lo-fi cross between funk and hip-hop that is played with guitar and dozens of percussion instruments.
- Suburban Maryland
Going north, into Maryland, it often resembles New Jersey, and is populated by staunchly liberal Yankees, such as the college professors, hippies, and multi-cultural immigrant neighborhoods in and around Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and Mount Rainier, Maryland. This is where you can find all the delis, antique stores, and curry shops. Riverdale, Maryland is Little Mexico.
The two Maryland counties that surround DC are Montgomery County to the North and West, and Prince George's County to the South and East. Montgomery County is the richest county in the State, Prince George's county not so much (but not the poorest). An old joke about the importance of Montgomery County was that "The legislature in Annapolis considers its job to pump money out of Montgomery County and into the City of Baltimore."
There is, however, often a stark distinction between Montgomery County and Prince George's County, the two Maryland counties that border the District. Prince George's County outside of Greenbelt (a leafy, affluent suburb like much of neighboring Montgomery County) and College Park (home to the University of Maryland's main campus) resemble Southeast. However, there is much development of the National Waterfront area.
Northeast along the high-speed tracks going towards New York is a marginally unsafe dead zone of tire salons and automobile dealerships. Everything west of the railroad tracks can be considered an extension of Upper Northwest and is just as affluent, with quaint Victorian homes. Metrorail service is also much more extensive on the Maryland side, and most of the suburbs have actual downtowns with a train station, restaurants and shops.
- Northern Virginia
If DC is a tale of two cities, then the third part is Virginia, across the Potomac River -- a haven for infotech workers and military. This is where the heroes in political and spy thrillers live (If you hear the word "Langley", you immediately think of the CIA). Many north of the Potomac consider it the edge of the American South, at least outside Arlington, which is heavily urbanized (and, perhaps, Alexandria and portions of Fairfax County as well?). Many, if not most, modern NoVa-ites tend to consider themselves more "Yankee" than anything else, however - much to the chagrin of their southern neighbors in the rest of the state. The Pentagon and National Airport are there. Northern Virginia is actually larger than DC, but much more spread out. Refugees from major modern wars (Korean, Vietnam, and all the Middle Eastern conflicts) tend to settle there due to military connections as well as immigrants from many other regions (for example, NoVA has large Hispanic populations mostly from Central America, including the largest Bolivian American community in the country). Along with the growing number of young urbanites moving into the region, they help dilute the old southern influence.
The most affluent portion of the region, Northern Virginia has some of the wealthiest and most well educated counties in the country. South and west, the communities of Arlington, Alexandria and Tysons Corner, with no high-rise limits, resemble Los Angeles or the southern city of Atlanta, with crushing traffic on 8-lane roads, towering high security office complexes (populated by government contractors known as "Beltway Bandits"), and vast office parks. Wilson Boulevard provides a vaguely-human scaled "main street" to the area. Columbia Pike, a former suburb for enlisted military, is one of many small pockets of ethnic diversity. Old Town Alexandria is a quaint historic district, located just north of George Washington's home (in the world's best commuter incentive, he arranged for the District to be built near his house). Some roads in Alexandria area are still named after Confederate Generals. Going west on I-66 leads to the exurbs of Chantilly County. While only the very wealthy own homes in D.C. proper or Arlington/Alexandria, many on the very next rung down on the income ladder own homes in Chantilly.
Downtown DC itself is deceptively large -- the museum corridor is two miles long -- and sits on the border between the three areas. K Street, in the center of town, is indeed a Wretched Hive of lawyers and industry lobbyists.
The further you go south of the Potomac river, the closer you are to Dixie. D.C. and suburban Maryland are emphatically northern in mentality. As President Kennedy said, Washington is a city of "Southern efficiency and Northern charm".
All of these neighborhoods are entirely invisible to the tourist population, since Metro travels under them, and the Beltway goes around them. Many of them are quite interesting to visit, however. Washingtonians pride themselves on their inferiority complex relative to That Other City, and will sniff haughtily at Chicago's claim of same. D.C. does like being able to beat up on Dallas, Texas, its main football rival, however. That hasn't been going so well lately.
DC in Fiction
Due to DC's small size, many of these works have DC as a base of operations and characters will frequently head into Maryland or Virginia in the course of their duties. This especially applies with military works as the bulk of major military and intelligence facilities, including the aforementioned Pentagon, are outside the District.
- 24 (Day Seven)
- American Dad -- the Smith family lives in the fictional Virginian suburb of Langley Falls.
- Bare Knuckle III, in the bad ending route. (Streets of Rage 3, the American version, "changes" it to the local city hall, with the sole change being a sign that says "City Hall".)
- Being There -- Biltmore Estate is hidden away in Georgetown.
- Bones works for the famous institution on the mall, the Jeffersonian. They have a real-life forensic lab now.
- Bridge to Terabithia takes place in rural Virginia within day-trip distance of DC.
- Burn After Reading
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has major sections of the game set in a war-torn Washington, DC.
- Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew sometimes featured its Earth-C counterpart, "Waspington, DC."
- The Conduit: It not only takes place in DC, but is one of the very few video games out there to show the Metrorail system with any moderate degree of accuracy.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still -- (the film)
- D.C. Cab -- A Mr. T film which is among the few DC films to be set in the urban core of the city.
- Die Hard 2
- The District
- Eden of the East (episode 1) - very realistically rendered for an anime series.
- Ethan Suspended
- The Exorcist - you can visit the famous steps.
- Fallout 3 takes place in DC 200 years after a nuclear war.
- The Full Matilda discusses African-Americans living in DC.
- The House of Yes
- In the Loop
- Lie to Me
- Live Free or Die Hard
- Mars Attacks (Film)
- Minority Report -- Northern Virginia has become a sprawling post-apocalyptic slum.
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
- Murphy Brown
- National Treasure
- Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
- In a bizarre case of Life Imitates Art Imitates Life, the Smithsonian Castle currently has a self-described "vast pile of booty from Smithsonian" on exhibit in the main hall, Pirates of the Caribbean-style. It consists of replicas of all of the famous and obscure knick-knacks that appeared as props on the film, all of which were replicas of actual Smithsonian artifacts, topped by Dorothy's Slippers, Rocky's gloves and Archie Bunker's Chair.
- No Way Out -- Kevin Costner escapes pursuers by hopping on the Georgetown Metro.
- Remember the Titans is set in Alexandria's public high school, TC Williams.
- Strangers on a Train
- Sue Thomas FB Eye
- Seven Days in May was filmed on location in the early sixties. The then-new Dulles Airport features prominently.
- Time Cop
- Unnatural History has Henry Griffin going to a school that's part of the National Museum Complex.
- Wedding Crashers
- The West Wing, which actually did a surprising amount of location shooting and has been touted as one of the most realistic depictions of actual West Wing operations in fiction, if a bit idealistic in its actual policy. This is because Dee Dee Myers, former White House Press Secretary under the Clinton administration, served as a consultant on the show.
- Wing Commander has the city as the capital of the Terran Confederation. In the bad ending of Wing Commander III, the closing Cutscene shows the wreckage of the Capitol Building after Kilrathi bombardment.
- The X-Files
- The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" (the opening track of their first and so far only album Give Up) is apparently about meeting an old friend (now unrecognizable) who now lives in
- Post-hardcore band Fugazi's lyrics are full of local references:
White witness moves to petition the state of Virginia for 27 prisons / While in Bethesda
- In 1980, Joel Garreau wrote in his book The Nine Nations of North America that many Virginians believed that, culturally and politically, anything north of the Rappahannock River was "Yankee" territory. These days, however, with urban sprawl spreading down south past Fredericksburg, the new "border" is probably the North Anna River, about halfway between the Rappahannock and the Virginia state capital at Richmond
- Note - This actually happens.
- According to the artist's untranslated journal, it's a series of tinfoil thrones for the Celestial Bureaucracy to rule Washington After the End.
- If you're willing to pay for a researcher to transcribe something, they will. If it's already been transcribed, you can get a copy for a nominal fee.
- (because the choice between life and death is very simple there)
- no, not that go-go.
- (Northwest, Southeast, and Virginia)
- The Postal Service being the sideproject of Death Cab for Cutie lead singer Ben Gibbard and indietronica artist Dntel