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.
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.”
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!”
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?