10 Great Neighborhoods
Nature trails? Fascinating history? A lively vibe? Find out what makes these Northern Virginia neighborhoods so special.
Turning into Glencarlyn from its access points on Carlin Springs Road means taking a step back in time—into the county’s first planned residential community, once a cooperative, dating from 1887.
Arlington’s oldest standing house, the Ball-Sellers House (circa 1750s), and its historic demonstration garden are located in the center of the neighborhood, around the corner from the county’s oldest public library, established in 1922 with funds and books donated by one of Glencarlyn’s founders. Nearby, a community garden planted by volunteers circles the 1766 Ball-Carlin Cemetery—the resting place of two early Glencarlyn landowner families—and the gleaming white Victorian Carlin Hall, the county’s oldest community center dating to 1892.
Proud homeowners tend original Queen Anne-style houses, Victorians, Colonial Revivals, 1920s Foursquares, and 1940s bungalows and Cape Cods in the Glencarlyn Historic District, which includes more than 300 of the neighborhood’s 550 or so homes. “Charming” and “a well-managed, progressive community” is how Jon Larimore, a 50-year resident, characterizes the place.
Even the forests and parks that surround Glencarlyn on three sides are historic: George Washington bought land in these woods in 1775. The landscape still features springs where a summer resort once stood. Near the popular Washington & Old Dominion and Four Mile Run trails, keen observers can find old roadbeds and ruins.
“Best-kept secret,” Gerald Martineau, a retired photographer for The Washington Post, says of the neighborhood he’s called home for 42 years.
People who move here tend to stay, like Julie Lee, whose family includes five generations of Glencarlynites. Today, as president of the neighborhood civic association—the oldest such association in the area, and possibly the U.S.—Lee helps organize events such as the annual Glencarlyn Days weekend, which includes a pancake breakfast in the park (a tradition dating to the 1940s) along with a parade, bands and house tours. Neighbors are apt to stroll by and bond over nature sightings, including a coyote that’s been visiting off and on over the past year.
Brandon Hemel, editor of Glencarlyn’s monthly newsletter (published since 1952), says the neighborhood’s narrow streets, small lots and insulated geography contribute to a sense of a true village. Most residents who live here, he adds, feel that “this is where I was meant to be.” –Sue Eisenfeld
Homes sold in 2021: 18
Average sale price: $911,728
Average days on market: 15
Source: Bright MLS
Established in 1881, Halls Hill has long been a wellspring of firsts. In 1918, residents of the historically Black neighborhood founded Arlington’s first all-Black volunteer fire station (Station 8) at a time when White firehouses would not serve African American communities. In 1937, resident J.J. Carpenter (a carpenter by trade) became the first Black man since Reconstruction to serve on an Arlington trial jury.
Wilma Jones’ brother Michael was one of the first four Black students—all from Halls Hill—to desegregate Arlington’s Stratford Junior High in 1959. “Part of what makes this neighborhood special is that so many who live here are descended from the people who founded it,” says Jones, a fourth-generation resident, author, activist and corporate IT director, now president of the neighborhood’s citizens’ association.
Saundra Green has lived in Halls Hill for 75 years. Her great-great-great grandfather was one of the first African Americans to acquire property there in the 1880s when plantation owner Basil Hall began selling off parcels of his land—in some cases to formerly enslaved people. “I’m glad to be a part of a community that understands that legacy, perseveres and celebrates it,” says Green, who retired from a long career with Arlington Parks & Recreation in 2005.
Much has changed since Green’s childhood during the Jim Crow era. Back then, Halls Hill was segregated and self-sufficient, with its own shops, churches and businesses, offering a safe haven from racism in otherwise White North Arlington. Today, it’s much more diverse, with Black residents representing only about 21% of those who live there. Property values have swelled and many older homes have been remodeled or rebuilt, but certain aspects of Halls Hill—like its spirit of activism and bootstrap mentality—remain. Last year, Green and Jones both served on the county-appointed working group to rename Lee Highway (now Langston Boulevard), the main artery that passes through the neighborhood’s northern edge.
The annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl at High View Park—a tradition for more than half a century—unites residents young and old on the gridiron, playing for bragging rights and trophies. The day of unity also includes donations of groceries to area families in need, and a $500 scholarship (funded by private donations from neighbors) to a worthy college student with ties to Halls Hill.
A landscaped gateway to the neighborhood next to Calloway Church (circa 1866) on Langston Boulevard is paved with “memory bricks” engraved by members of the community.
“Those of us who are descendants have created a place that is open to everyone,” says resident Marguarite Gooden, a retired Arlington Public Schools teacher and administrator whose father was one of the founding members of Fire Station 8. “I don’t lament our neighborhood changing as it has. I grew up here when it was an all-Black neighborhood and we were a family. Today we have almost every nationality living here. Different people moved in and they were embraced. We have not lost our heritage in that transition. We’ve simply embraced the diversity.” –Jenny Sullivan
Homes sold in 2021: 24
Average sale price: $946,854
Average days on market: 14
Source: Bright MLS
When you live in “The Little City,” as Falls Church City is known (population 15,000, according to the latest Census data), you get a walkable, small-town feel with lots of pocket neighborhoods. Incorporated in 1948, the entire municipality spans a mere 2 square miles. And yet, within that tiny footprint, there are distinct areas—like Fowler’s Addition, a rapidly evolving parcel at the western end of Broad Street.
Once comprised of mostly single-family homes, Fowler’s is undergoing a metamorphosis as city officials seek to build greater density and diversity into the local housing mix. That plan has heralded the arrival of Founders Row, a six-story mixed-use development with ground-floor retail and more than 300 apartments, as well as the nearby Railroad Cottages, an enclave of 10 small (1,500-square-foot) bungalows designed as a prototype for people over 55.
Jeanne Rorke moved into one of the Railroad Cottages (priced in the mid-$700s) when they opened two years ago. Clustered around a central mews and presented as an alternative to condo living, the little houses share a boardwalk and a common building to encourage a sense of community. “I love my neighbors,” says Rorke, a retired neonatal intensive care nurse, who lives with her husband, Steve. “We are all good friends and do a yoga class together once a week.” From their new home, the couple can walk to the grocery store, the weekend farmers market, and to their daughter’s nearby home to visit their grandchildren.
City Council Member Phil Duncan offers a more historical perspective of the neighborhood, having moved there with his wife in 1985. Back then, their small 1940s Cape Cod cost them $110,000, which, he says wryly, “is what we could afford as a two-journalist family.” Today, he estimates his home would sell as a teardown for well over a million. “That’s quite an evolution for Fowler’s Addition in less than 40 years.” A strong proponent of smart-growth development, Duncan says he loves their home’s proximity to shopping and restaurants along West Broad Street, as well as the nearby Washington & Old Dominion bike path.
Morgane Murawiec grew up in Falls Church City and recently moved to an affordable housing unit in Founders Row. Construction on the complex is still underway, but she’s happily settling in with her preschooler. “The building is brand-new, really clean, and has great amenities,” she says, “including a Zen Garden.”–Tamar Abrams
Homes sold in 2021: 1*
Average sale price: $1.8 million
Average days on market: 39
Source: Bright MLS
* Data for 2021 does not include attached homes
Situated within walking distance of a multitude of shops, restaurants, bars, bike trails, parks and two Metro stations, you could say the adjoining neighborhoods of Lyon Park and Ashton Heights won the location lottery.
But it’s the small-town sense of community that makes this pocket of single-family homes special, says Natalie Roy, owner of Bicycling Realty Group, who has lived in Lyon Park for 30 years. “You walk on the street and people say hello.”
Next door in Ashton Heights, neighbors stay connected through a 600-household listserv, says civic association president Scott Sklar, a resident since 1984 who, during the pandemic, began hosting spontaneous whiskey happy hours in his front yard. “The goal is to know your neighbors and interact with them,” he says.
Halloween is a particularly big deal in the “sister communities,” as Roy calls them. Ashton Heights’ North Jackson Street is like “Halloween Alley,” she says, with all-out decorations and haunted houses. After trick-or-treating, families head to the Lyon Park Community Center, built in 1925, for a bonfire with doughnuts and cider.
Both neighborhoods were established around 1920 and are designated Historic Districts in the National Register of Historic Places, harboring pretty streets lined with Colonials, Cape Cods, bungalows and Craftsman-style homes. The Maury School building in Ashton Heights, now home to the Arlington Arts Center, was built in 1910 and is the second oldest school building in Arlington.
But it’s the easy access to Ballston and Clarendon that’s especially driving escalating home values here, along with new construction. One recent new build in Lyon Park—a six-bedroom, six-bath residence topping 5,500 square feet—was listed for $2.4 million.
Most lot sizes tend to be on the smaller side, Roy says. “If it’s 10,000 square feet, that might be considered a farm around here,” she jokes. Houses sit shoulder-to-shoulder, contributing to the intimacy.
Resting on the edges of Metro’s Orange Line corridor, both neighborhoods earn high marks for walkability and bikeability: Ashton Heights boasts a Walk Score of 86 and a Bike Score of 91, while Lyon Park has scores of 79 and 85, respectively. –Stephanie Kanowitz
Homes sold in 2021: 16
Average sale price: $1.4 million
Average days on market: 20
Homes sold in 2021: 47
Average sale price: $1.2 million
Average days on market: 17
Source: Bright MLS
Longtime residents call it “the Village,” but newcomers—and there are always newcomers, thanks to the proximity to the Pentagon—are quickly welcomed into the fold in this genial neighborhood tucked behind Crystal City’s high-rises.
Real estate agent Geva Lester has lived in Aurora Highlands since 1997. “There is such a sense of community,” she says. “The people have really pulled together and made [it] feel like a small town rather than a piece of a big city.”
Laid out on a tight street grid, the neighborhood was first developed in the early 20th century as a streetcar suburb, but it really took off during World War II, when houses were built in rapid succession for federal workers filling the then-new Pentagon.
Since that time, residents have witnessed the ongoing revitalization of Crystal City along the neighborhood’s eastern border, the development of Pentagon Row (now Westpost) on its north end, and a major face-lift for the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. Today, all eyes are on the massive cranes raising Amazon’s HQ2 campus, with its spiraling Helix building, in the adjacent district, rebranded as National Landing.
Through all the changes, Aurora Highlands, along with its next-door neighbor, Arlington Ridge, has retained its village charm. A designated National Register Historic District, the community still boasts narrow, sidewalk-lined streets, where kids walk and bike to school, play soccer at Virginia Highlands Park and go sledding behind the Hume School (Arlington’s oldest school building) on Arlington Ridge Road.
Lester says she appreciates living within walking distance of shops, restaurants, parks, grocery stores and Metro’s Blue Line. She frequents the neighborhood’s 23rd Street “Restaurant Row,” home to local hangouts such as Freddie’s Beach Bar, the Crystal City Sports Pub, Bonsai Sushi and an outpost of Bob & Edith’s Diner.
In 2021, Arlington Ridge resident Nick Freshman opened The Freshman, a coffee-to-cocktails café and bar, a few blocks away on Crystal Drive, where a large wraparound patio with retractable walls provides prime people-watching and a front-row view of the Amazon construction. Other hip restaurants and eateries are following suit and flocking to what’s become one of the hottest places in town.
“We have a lot of change coming,” Lester says with a nod to the tech giant. “But we have people that have worked to improve our neighborhood since I got here and are still going. This is a great place for people to get involved.” –Kim O’Connell
Homes sold in 2021: 23
Average sale price: $1.1 million
Average days on market: 19
Source: Bright MLS
Wide lawns, mature trees and lots averaging a third to a half acre are part of the allure of Salona Village. In this enclave of roughly 200 homes tucked between the Pimmit Run Stream Valley, Dolley Madison Boulevard and Old Dominion Drive, neighbors walk their dogs and kids ride bikes to school along quiet streets that are insulated from cut-through traffic.
Kate Karafotas, a real estate agent with Compass, moved to Salona Village with her family six years ago from Arlington’s Lee Heights neighborhood. “The walkability to downtown McLean is the best part,” she says, noting that quick trips to the store don’t require a car. “You get suburban streets and slightly larger lot sizes but you’re close to things. Our kids can walk to Robeks in five minutes to get a smoothie. It’s the best of both worlds. The streets are always plowed. We never lose power.”
Kids can also blow off steam in adjacent Pimmit Bend Park, and McLean’s celebrated Clemyjontri Park—with its vintage carousel and 2-acre playground designed for youngsters of all abilities—is only a mile away.
And yet, just beyond all that green space are entry points to I-66, I-495, the Dulles Toll Road and the George Washington Parkway, solving a problem for double-commuter households. “We have a lot of families where one spouse works in Maryland and the other in Tysons,” says Steve Wydler, co-founder of Wydler Brothers of Compass. “McLean is almost always where they end up and Salona Village is usually one of the top choices for buyers who have done their homework.”
That dichotomy—a pastoral setting in the middle of it all—has made the neighborhood a target for new construction, including a spec home on 1.27 acres that sold for $3.45 million last year. But there is one older residence that won’t be torn down: the namesake Salona.
Built around 1811 on land previously owned by the family of Revolutionary War hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee (father of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee), the storied home provided refuge to President James Madison when he fled a burning Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. Later commandeered as Camp Griffin, the property served as a headquarters for Union Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith during the Civil War.
Now a private residence owned by the DuVal family since 1953, Salona is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of its original 52 acres are protected by county easements, including three large meadows that are said to be the largest remaining stretch of open meadow in Fairfax County. –Jenny Sullivan
Homes sold in 2021: 13
Average sale price: $2.6 million
Average days on market: 52
Source: Bright MLS
Listen closely and you might hear a familiar voice chatting curbside among the neighbors in Tara-Leeway Heights. Elliot Segal of DC101’s “Elliot in the Morning” show has called this community home for the past four years, ever since he moved with his family from Falls Church. “We looked at a couple different neighborhoods and [this] seemed like a really good fit. It’s been awesome,” he says. “We’re definitely staying.”
Commute time was a consideration for the radio personality, who needed a direct route into D.C. (which the neighborhood handily delivers with easy access to I-66). “It’s certainly very convenient to getting downtown to the 9:30 Club or to Capital One Arena or to the Wharf,” Segal says.
There are perks closer to home, too, including—for the health conscious and accident prone—access to Virginia Hospital Center, whose campus is right next door. Westover Village, with its charming array of restaurants and shops, is just down the road.
It’s a super social place, says Jon Judah, former president of the Tara-Leeway Heights Civic Association, where folks gather for block parties, progressive dinners and holiday events. During the height of the pandemic, a monthslong pickleball game sprang up on one street and anyone who happened by was invited to join.
“We had retirees, we had folks right out of college—all kinds of people,” Judah says. “It’s a multigenerational neighborhood that got its start, like [so many in the area], right after the Depression. You’ve got people who have lived here for 60 years, younger families, transitional military families. It just makes for a lot of different perspectives.”
And you never know who you might meet. Judah cites one neighbor who was among the first women to work at the CIA. “That’s the thing with Arlington: Your neighbor could be a former spy or a professor of rocketry at NASA,” he says. “There are fascinating story lines that pop up.”
Local lore has it that the Tara part of Tara-Leeway Heights’ name is a reference to the fictional plantation home in Gone With the Wind (a developer’s marketing gimmick back in the day), but you’re more apt to find postwar brick Colonials intermingling with Cape Cods, ramblers and split-levels, many of which have been remodeled in recent years, among the dogwoods and the azaleas. –Stephanie Kanowitz
Homes sold in 2021: 18
Average sale price: $1.3 million
Average days on market: 10
Source: Bright MLS
Michael Foster discovered Woodmont quite literally by running into it. He was living in Georgetown when he went out for a jog, crossed Key Bridge and ended up in this woodsy part of Arlington near the Potomac River, bordered by Spout Run Parkway to the east, Lorcom Lane to the south and Windy Run Park to the west.
“It was such a difference of experience from the city, but yet so close to the city,” he says. Years later, he and his wife built a house there. That was more than two decades ago.
“We love it because it feels like you’re really out in the country,” says Foster, an architect whose firm, MTFA Architecture, is based in Arlington. “There’s extensive wildlife, from deer to red fox to rabbits and even an occasional coyote that freaks out the dogs.”
The leafy neighborhood is also home to Fort C.F. Smith, one of 68 Civil War forts (22 in Arlington) built by the Union army to form a protective ring around the District of Columbia. The fort’s earthwork ruins are tucked into a 19-acre park by the same name, where history buffs can find 11 of 22 gun emplacements dating back to 1863. Hendry House, a restored early-20th-century mansion, now a popular venue for weddings and art shows, sits on the park property.
Quiet and secluded, Woodmont also has an air of mystique. It’s home to The Cedars, a mansion dating to 1875 that serves as the headquarters to a Christian organization called The Fellowship. The group, which is perhaps best known for organizing the annual National Prayer Breakfast in D.C., has, at times, been a source of curiosity amid news reports of burglaries and alleged scandals.
But to many in this live-and-let-live setting, it’s just another house. Woodmont is populated by “really down-to-earth people,” says real estate agent Kevin Love, a 27-year resident who has been selling properties in the neighborhood for decades. “[It’s] got such an eclectic group of homes that you could almost build whatever you want, and it will hold value.”
Dotting the streets, on ample-sized lots, are some 320 homes of varying sizes and architectural styles, including ramblers, Colonials, cottages, contemporary houses and mansions. Prices have jumped recently—just as they have throughout Arlington, Love says.
Turnover is relatively low, but when houses do change hands, it’s not uncommon to see price tags north of $2 million. –Stephanie Kanowitz
Homes sold in 2021: 8
Average sale price: $1.5 million
Average days on market: 38
Source: Bright MLS
This story has been updated.
Andrew Painter and his wife, Mary Anne, have lived in Greenway Downs since 2010. They can’t imagine raising their three children anywhere else. “When we had our twins, friends urged us to move to a larger house farther out,” says Painter, a land use and zoning attorney. “We love it here and chose to stay.”
Carved out of a 100-acre farm in 1927, but largely developed as a working-class neighborhood after World War II, Greenway Downs is actually two neighborhoods—both of the same name—bisected by busy South Washington Street (Lee Highway). The neighborhood to the north of that road is part of Falls Church City, whereas the 480 or so homes to the south are in Fairfax County and governed by the Greenway Downs Citizens Association.
Residents of both areas sing their praises. “It’s a mix of generations—everyone from young singles to older families to retired people,” says Tori McKinney, owner of Rock Star Realty Group and a longtime inhabitant of Greenway Downs on the city side, who is known for organizing popular events like the annual Tinner Hill Music Festival. “More energy arrives with each new resident.”
McKinney and her husband moved to Greenway Downs when their now-grown daughter was only 2. They loved the playgrounds and the camaraderie of neighbors always eager to lend a hand or a missing recipe ingredient.
Both neighborhoods are conveniently within walking distance of retail stores, restaurants and bars, parks and the vintage State Theatre, a popular live music venue (and Best of Arlington 2022 winner). Other nearby landmarks include The Falls Church Episcopal, a historic parish established in 1732 (for which Falls Church City is named), and Tinner Hill Historic Park, a site once owned by civil rights activists Joseph and Elizabeth Tinner, whose fight against segregated property laws led to the formation of the first rural branch of the NAACP.
The character of the neighborhoods has evolved as residents old and new have begun renovating or rebuilding the original Cape Cods and Colonials, rendering the streetscapes more eclectic and unique.
“Greenway Downs was built with G.I. Bill housing,” says Falls Church City Council Member Marybeth Connelly, a resident since 1995. “What has happened in American history has happened on our street. Originally, each house was two bedrooms, one bathroom, 1,000 square feet, and they all looked the same. Over the years all that has changed. Every house is different now, after additions and renovations.” –Tamar Abrams
Greenway Downs (Fairfax County – 22042)
Homes sold in 2021: 28
Average sale price: $727,552
Average days on market: 9
Greenway Downs (Falls Church City – 22046)
Homes sold in 2021: 8
Average sale price: $860,125
Average days on market: 21
Source: Bright MLS
That Hickory Hill, the former Kennedy estate, is located in Langley Farms speaks to its pedigree as one of the D.C. area’s most exclusive locales. Neighboring homes, including a stunning 1971 contemporary designed by famed architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, have graced the pages of Architectural Digest and Dwell. Today, the celebrity cachet continues with denizens like Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, who in 2017 purchased an elegant French-style chateau in the neighborhood for $5.2 million.
“To me, it’s the prettiest neighborhood in McLean,” says real estate agent Steve Wydler, co-founder of Wydler Brothers of Compass. Tasteful architecture ranges from classic, stone-clad Georgians to Nantucket Shingle-style compounds. Large homes by “top shelf” architects and builders occupy lots averaging one-half to 2 acres and command premium prices.
“As the crown jewel of McLean neighborhoods, it’s very well insulated from market downturns,” Wydler adds. “The values are continually rising. It seems that every few months there’s another record-setting price for sales in Langley Farms.” (In January, a new build on 3.8 acres was listed for $22 million.)
Bordered by Georgetown Pike and Chain Bridge Road, this boutique neighborhood is close to Langley Fork Park, Clemyjontri Park and Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, and just a stone’s throw from CIA headquarters. Its residents enjoy quick access to downtown McLean, Tysons, the Beltway and other major arteries, but they can also avoid the highway and beeline into the District via historic Chain Bridge.
Langley Farms is close to the D.C. area’s political power centers, tech corridors and booming commercial hubs, yet this tony oasis of manicured lawns and stone entry gates feels a world away. –Jenny Sullivan
Homes sold in 2021: 8
Average sale price: $3.8 million
Average days on market: 60
Source: Bright MLS