Welcome to another edition of Where We Live. This week we’re focusing on Ballston, the western end of Arlington’s fabulous Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Ballston offers a great balance between access to Northern Virginia (like Tysons/Fairfax/Farlington) and access to DC, and it’s actually a pretty cool place to live and hang out.
History: Ballston was a major crossroads during the eighteenth century, and it was named after the Ball family (whose family cemetery is in the neighborhood). In 1896, the Washington, Arlington, and Falls Church Electric Railroad (a streetcar) was constructed along what is now Fairfax Drive, and the area developed as a streetcar suburb. In 1951 the Parkington Shopping Center opened where the current Ballston Common Mall is, and the area became known as Parkington. The area declined in the 60s and 70s as it was really just a retail-dominated suburb, but Metro came along in 1979 and changed that. Since the opening of the Metro station, the area has continued to redevelop, replacing the suburban sprawl of the 50s and 60s with more compact urban development. Today Ballston is a thriving retail, office, and residential center.
Neighborhood Character: Ballston is full of tall apartment and office buildings, particularly along Fairfax Drive, but within a few blocks north or south it really adopts a more suburban neighborhood character, with rowhouses and single family homes. Ballston is full of contrasts though– for example, a large parking lot and funeral home are across the street from a 20-story apartment building, and a single-story IHOP is right next to a major office building. This shows the redevelopment in the area– what was once just suburban sprawl has mostly redeveloped as the land’s value increased due to Metro proximity. I’m convinced this is how Tysons Corner will look in 20 years. But for now, the old and new development in Ballston just adds to its charm.
Transportation: The Ballston Metro station is located on the Orange Line of the Metro, with great bus access to the city and out to more suburban Virginia (definitely check out the 38B bus– the “Orange Line With a View”– to get to Georgetown or downtown DC). Ballston is the last station on the orange line that really has a more urban atmosphere, so it balances the pedestrian-friendly and car-friendly parts of Northern Virginia. Parking is generally free in condo buildings, so many residents have cars and can drive out to jobs in Tysons Corner or Fairfax.
What to See: Here are a couple reasons to jump on the orange line and head out to Ballston:
- There’s lots of great food in Ballston, including Tutto Bene for good Italian, and Caribbean Breeze for great food and salsa dancing. Ballston also has one of the few Metro-accessible, non-campus Chick-Fil-A locations, which to me definitely warrants a trip across the river. And on behalf of Karl, I have to mention Super Pollo, which will be returning to the neighborhood soon.
- Don’t miss the Taste of Arlington, an annual street fair with fabulous food in Ballston. It’s scheduled for May 16, so mark your calendars now!
- The Ballston Mall has a pretty good selection of stores, and is home to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex (the Caps training facility) where you can skate, play hockey, or play broomball throughout the week.
- Keep an eye out for the Arts and Crafts Market (second Saturday of the month starting in May) and the Farmers Market (every Thursday from 3-7 starting in May) in the neighborhood.
Why We Love Ballston: Ballston offers a great blend of city and suburban life. The core area near the Metro station couldn’t be more urban, with skyscrapers, major office buildings, apartment complexes, and the like. But walk three or four blocks off Fairfax Drive and you’ll find single family homes, charming residential neighborhoods, and a much more suburban character. This balance attracts a variety of residents, from recent college grads to young families and even some retirees. Ballston is small enough to feel familiar, but large enough to feel active all the time. And it’s located right in between two very different parts of Northern Virginia, so it offers the best of both worlds.