Where We Live: Crystal City

Photo courtesy of

‘Crystal City – Lightning Ball’
courtesy of ‘Mo Kaiwen è�«æ¥·æ��’

Welcome to another edition of Where We Live. This week we’re hopping on the yellow line, crossing the river, and checking out Crystal City.  When I started looking into Crystal City for this feature, I wasn’t too sure what I would find– a neighborhood named after a chandelier that claims to be Arlington’s largest downtown?  All I knew of it was that there were lots of hotels and office buildings.  But what I found was a lot of people who absolutely love living in Crystal City.  Read on to hear what’s great about Crystal City, as well as some recommendations about what to check out next time you’re in the area!

History: Crystal City is a major development project of major development company Charles E. Smith Co. Back in the 1960s, construction began on what was then just a bunch of junkyards and industrial sites. The first condominium project in the area had a giant chandelier in the lobby and was thus called the Crystal House. Later buildings also adopted the name, and the area soon became known as Crystal City. The area was designed around the car, and special tunnels were built for pedestrians to avoid crossing major roads.

The proximity to both Downtown DC and National Airport led to lots of growth in Crystal City. It is now home to several major hotels, plenty of offices, a growing number of restaurants and entertainment attractions, and a variety of condominium buildings and single family homes a few blocks away.

Photo courtesy of
‘Crystal City Small Park Above Underground Mall’
courtesy of ‘GundamGuy0’

Neighborhood Character: There are a lot of misconceptions about what Crystal City is really like.  As Kevin, a Crystal City resident of 5 years, says, “We aren’t just the concrete wasteland of office buildings and confusing streets that we are commonly believed to be.”  There’s a lot more to the area, like tree-lined residential neighborhoods. Martha, a Crystal City resident of 35 years, loves that the area is green.  “Lots of trees, lots of lawns and gardens. Houses with front porches.”

So who is a typical Crystal City resident?  Susan has lived in Crystal City for 12 years and says there’s a wide variety.  “There are lots of apartments but a huge variety of people live in them – old people who practice Tai Chi in front of Riverhouse every morning, interns who hope to call DC home one day, young professionals with toddlers in jogging strollers. And there are a lot of military families – many who have called the area home for decades (not weeks!).”

Transportation: Crystal City has a fantastic transportation network. It’s easy to drive and own a car there, but it’s also just as easy to hop on the Metro or a bus. It’s also a very bike-friendly community, with bike rentals and access to many great trails (including the awesome Mount Vernon Trail).   Ashley, a Crystal City resident of a year, says her favorite part about living there is being “really close to the trails off the parkway – great for running!”.  And walking around Crystal City is easy too– if it is too cold or hot for your liking, simply walk underground and avoid the elements!

Photo courtesy of
‘Crystal City Farmers Market #24’
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

What to See: Next time you’re in Crystal City, you’ll want to come hungry.  Our Crystal City residents have so many favorite restaurants in the area:

  • The Crystal City Sports Pub gets rave reviews from Martha, Ashley, and Kevin.  It is three stories of  great sports-watching opportunities– Kevin says, “The 1st & 2nd floors are slightly divey and the 3rd floor is overwrought sports bar Valhalla.”
  • You can’t miss Hamburger Hamlet, tucked away in an underground shopping plaza here.  This long-standing DC and Southern California sit-down hamburger joint has only three area locations left in the area, and this is the only one near a Metro station.
  • Cafe Pizzaiolo is also highly recommended by several residents.  Kevin says, “It’s very neighborhoody, friendly, and unassuming and the pizza is phenomenal. Plus, gelato!”
  • Other favorite restaurants include Freddie’s (which Susan calls “the local gay bar whose décor looks like Key West threw up”), the Cantina, and Urban Thai.
  • There are some non-food related things to do too, of course.  Martha likes the “summer concert series at the Air
    Force Memorial on both Wednesday and Friday nights.  Amazing music, incredible view of the city and there is always a cool breeze.”  There are many community events going on in Crystal City on any given day– check out the events calendar to see what’s up.  There’s also a Tuesday afternoon farmers’ market.

What’s Nearby: Crystal City is east of Shirlington, southwest of (and across the river from) Southwest Waterfront, and west of (and across the river from) River East.

Photo courtesy of
‘Waiting for the Movie to Start’
courtesy of ‘Kevin H.’

Why We Love Crystal City: It’s the place to be close enough to everything in the region, while still having your own space to enjoy. Our own Don, who has lived in Crystal City for three years, says he likes having “some outdoor green space to entertain in, workspace for my woodshop, parking and storage for our Nice Mirror vehicle and supplies, a free-standing house and the windows and light that provides and, after all that, room in our budget to actually still DO things.”

Crystal City is a lot more than office buildings and hotels.  It’s a vibrant community with great restaurants, affordable housing, and a great balance of suburbia and the big city.  And it’s true– it is Arlington’s largest downtown.  I think it’s also Arlington’s best kept secret, as it is a bit removed from the incredibly popular Rosslyn-Ballston part of Arlington. It says something that all five Crystal City residents I spoke with absolutely loved the balance of the quality of life and the access to everything in the region– it’s a great place to live!

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!

8 thoughts on “Where We Live: Crystal City

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Where We Live: Crystal City » We Love DC -- Topsy.com

  2. I’m also a five-year resident of Crystal City, and I think is weird area without much cohesion, a mix of an airport hotel colony with a mostly transient high-rise-based community trying to become a neighborhood. For years since the 1960s-70s underground plan fizzled into the stark, lifeless concrete jungle it became, Arlington County has been trying to make it more inviting for visitors and residents by promoting above-ground development, more so since the Base Closing Commission announced that they’re moving many jobs out of the area. The water park, new development projects on the edges, and the traffic reconfiguration of Crystal Drive have helped, but the truth is that ideally many buildings have to be gutted and/or demolished to make it seem more like a neighborhood. Having monstrous Route 1 cut it in half doesn’t really help.

  3. Cool, my answers didn’t sound as idiotic as I’d feared they might. And you used one of my photos, awesome :)

  4. What you can’t do in Crystal City is carry around a DSLR without getting questioned several times by different *security* people. Apparently every bit of Crystal Drive including all the sidewalks and the water-garden/park is private property and belongs to Vornado.

  5. I remember hearing the name Crystal City when I was a kid in suburban MD, and developed a very distinct mental image of it – sort of a crystal-white bright shiny version of the Emerald City. Imagine my surprise when much later I learned that it was just those regular-looking buildings we’d pass on the way to National Airport. Another childhood illusion shattered. Although it seems like a nice place to live, it will never be as nice as I first imagined it.

  6. Crystal city is a collection of concrete filing cabinets for professionals. Soulless.

  7. Mark, I’ve been switching between MD and VA suburbs for the past month or so. Let me know where you’d like me to focus next! Must be a close-in DC suburb within the Metro-accessible area though. Thanks!