Where We Live: Bethesda

Photo courtesy of
‘Monday Afternoon’
courtesy of ‘SWP Moblog’

It’s time Where We Live ventured into Maryland. And where better to start than Bethesda, the DC suburb that feels more like a city than many parts of DC. Bethesda is the perfect balance of city life and access to suburbs for its residents, and it has so much to offer that it’s a destination for even downtown DC residents. Read on for Bethesda’s best kept secrets and what you should check out next time you’re in the neighborhood.

History: Bethesda originally was a small settlement along a trade route that connected to Georgetown.  It got its name from Bethesda Meeting House, a church built in 1820.  There wasn’t much in Bethesda until the streetcar system connected the neighborhood to DC in the early 1900s.  The streetcar encouraged a boom in suburban development in Bethesda, which continued throughout the twentieth century.  The area got its office boom during World War II, when the NIH and National Naval Medical Center relocated here.  Bethesda continued to grow, and in 1984 the Bethesda Metro station opened, which led to even more high-density development and redevelopment.  Building on the office and residential concentrations located here, Bethesda has recently defined itself as a retail destination and lifestyle center with projects like Bethesda Row.

Photo courtesy of
‘Al fresco’
courtesy of ‘c00lmarie’

Neighborhood Character: The core of Bethesda around the Metro station couldn’t be more urban, with tall buildings housing offices, apartments, restaurants, shops, gyms, and even two movie theaters.  But walk a few blocks away from the Metro, and you’re surrounded by tree-lined suburban streets.  This balance makes Bethesda a perfect urban suburb– it has everything you need within walking distance, but offers housing choices that you can’t find anywhere else.

There’s so much to do in Bethesda.  Jackie, who has lived in Bethesda for almost five years, lists her favorite things to do in the neighborhood: “Walk or bike down the Capital Crescent Trail to Fletcher’s Boathouse. Eat lunch outside somewhere. Or during the Strut Your Mutt event (which is pretty much every day) I like to grab a bagel and coffee, read the paper outside and watch people with their dogs.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Capital Crescent Trail’
courtesy of ‘eddie.welker’

Transportation: What Alex, a Bethesda resident of 3.5 years, likes best about Bethesda are the multiple transportation options. “I can walk everywhere if I choose, yet also keep a car and am able to easily drive somewhere for a weekend trip. It is easy to hop on the Metro and be in downtown DC in 20 minutes. It is also bike friendly in this area. There are trail hubs here that can get me from Bethesda to Rockville to College Park to Alexandria.”  There’s the Metro station in the middle of it all and several bus routes that connect Bethesda to other parts of Maryland and the District, so it’s really easy to get around downtown Bethesda without a car.  A little further out in the more suburban parts of Bethesda, it’s not quite as transit-friendly, but it’s still pretty easy to walk or bike around.

What to See: There’s so much to see in Bethesda that it’s definitely worth a trip.  Here are some can’t-miss things to check out in the neighborhood:

  • Bethesda has just about any type of food you could want.  Some local favorites include Mia’s Pizza (delicious pizza and fantastic cupcakes), Guardado’s (great tapas and other Spanish food), Red Tomato Cafe (casual Italian and pizza), Hanaro (best sushi in Bethesda), and Wing Hub (fantastic wings in a friendly atmosphere).
  • Check out the wide selection of bars in the area.  There are some good standard chains like Rock Bottom, RiRa, and Union Jack’s, as well as local spots like Harp & Fiddle and The Barking Dog.
  • Go shopping!  Alex recommends RnJ Sports (“An awesome running shop to have right around the corner.  You can just stop in and talk to the staff about running for hours.”)  Jackie likes the more boutique-y stores like Lou Lou, Urban Country, and Daisy Too.
  • It’s finally spring, so take advantage of the good weather!  The fabulous Glen Echo is right around the corner, the Capital Crescent Trail runs straight through downtown Bethesda, and Cabin John Park offers trails, a nature center, and even ice skating.
  • Catch a show at the Round House Theatre or Bethesda Theatre.  Or watch a movie at Bethesda Row ( E Street’s sister cinema) or the Regal Theater downtown.
  • Just head to downtown Bethesda and people-watch.  Kat, who has lived in Bethesda for 1.5 years, says, “I love all the festivals and activities planned in the area.  Downtown Bethesda area is always bustling on a beautiful day!”

Photo courtesy of
‘barnes & noble (in color)’
courtesy of ‘dcJohn’

What’s Nearby: Bethesda is north of Chevy Chase, but the neighborhood’s name is generally used to describe any part of the area in Maryland northwest of the District that is inside the Beltway.

Why We Love Bethesda: Bethesda is an urban neighborhood that has it all.  Alex says, “There is nothing that isnt available to you here.  You can drive to a mall, walk to a farmers market, bike to the airport, or be in DC in a snap via Metro.” Yet you’re in the middle of a completely urban area, with such a variety of restaurants and shopping that you’d never have to leave.

It’s also interesting that both of the women I interviewed about Bethesda mentioned that one of their favorite things about living there was how safe it was.  Kat said, “As a woman, it’s nice to feel like you can walk from one end of the community to the other without fear of crime,” and Jackie said, “I always feel 100% safe, even at night, by myself.”  So not only does Bethesda have everything you could want within walking or Metro distance, but you get to enjoy it all without worrying about your surroundings.  Sounds like a pretty great place to live, huh?

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

9 thoughts on “Where We Live: Bethesda

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  2. Fab as usual Shannon!

    The better half and I live in Alexandria but have driven up to Bethesda on the weekend. We like the type of movies shown at the theater there, then walking across the street to get a coffee and browse at Barnes and Noble, maybe grab a bite to eat, buy some bagels. E Street has that too but not quite the hangout scene as Bethesda. Shirlington is the other place that shows the indie and foreign films, but the theater there is not stadium style seating.

  3. I’ve lived here all my life. I couldn’t agree more that pretty much everything is convenient, and there is so much to offer. Another great writeup, Shannon.

    Now, time for complaining. The affluence in Bethesda – something that has significantly grown in the last 15 years and will continue to grow in the future – is approaching levels that rival places like Scarsdale, NY and Laguna Beach. With money comes snobs. Of course, nice people still live here (hi!), but more and more of the cliche “rich people” are now calling Bethesda their home. This means unbelievably ignorant people, unaffordable restaurants, specialty shops out the wazoo, and enough Mercedes’, Range Rovers and BMWs to make you gag.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love technology and good food – but I really miss the more homey Bethesda that I grew up on. I feel like I’m being pushed out though.

  4. good write up, ND if you think Bethesda is bad what do you think of Friendship Heights. Both of those areas are going to become basically the a MD version of Georgetown/Palisades.

  5. Mark, Bethesda and Friendship Heights definitely fall in the same category for me. As I said, money is great for jobs and all that, but “Fifth Avenue South” on Wisconsin is kinda disgusting. It’s always reassuring to drive by Saks, Tiffany’s, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Bulgari, MaxMara, Christian Dior, Barney’s, Cartier, and Ralph Lauren all the time and know that you’ll never step foot in any of those. I hate to be so bitter, but I just can’t stand all high-class lowlifes that are seemingly taking over the area.

  6. Sorry but this article is just too chipper about Bethesda, so I’m going to compensate with a really negative review.

    Bethesda is the reason the terrorists hate us. Nothing but overpriced products sold to vapid rich people completely unaware or uncaring of the suffering that their fellow man faces only a few miles away. To say that Bethesda is more of a city than DC is just absurd; there are a few blocks of Bethesda that are anything beyond a cramped strip mall; most of it is residential.

    Its a great place to live if your biggest concern is how many channels you can get for the TVs in your Lexus and where the nearest absurdly priced clothes are. Hanging out in Bethesda is like attending a d-bag convention. It makes men sterile and it silently murders the imagination of children.
    To the commenter who wrote “Georgetown/Palisades” as though the two areas are alike…have you ever spent time in Palisades? Because I grew up there and its nothing like Georgetown so I’m not sure why you’re conflating the two.

  7. How could you not mention Bethesda Bagels? It’s quite possibly the best thing in Bethesda.

  8. Well put, Alex. The first thing you notice about Bethesda is all the shopping. The second is all the d-bags. I do drive a Lexus and live in the middle of it and it still strikes me as pretentious. In the old days (25 years ago when I first came to DC, the saying was “nobody ever really comes from here”). Now that everyone is well settled in, they’re tribal, rude and materialistic. The first two traits bother me a lot, the latter, a little.