For those District residents who don’t own cars and don’t like MetroBus, the extent of the Washington region is limited. Sure, you can get to a lot of major attractions via MetroRail, but you’re missing out on a lot too. Take Columbia Pike for example– it has a vibrant, fun “main street” feel to it, but many Washingtonians haven’t been out there (except maybe to catch a movie at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse). Even though there isn’t a Metro station nearby, this area is definitely worth a visit.
History: Columbia Pike has always been a major thoroughfare through Arlington County since it was chartered in 1801. It was originally a streetcar suburb, with a streetcar stop at the intersection of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike and a direct bus connecting to the District. But during the 1940s, the area became much more suburban and car-friendly, with lots of car dealerships and gas stations. This pattern of development continued for the next fifty years.
The important thing to note here is that many of the neighborhoods in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor developed similarly, but they got Metro stations in the 1970s. This led to a surge in land value, which then led to compact development and reinvestment right around those stations. Columbia Pike didn’t get a Metro station, so there was no catalyst for urban development. But the story isn’t over: a streetcar is coming to Columbia Pike in the next decade, which can finally bring the reinvestment that the area has been waiting for.
Neighborhood Character: While it is considered one of Arlington’s ‘urban villages’, Columbia Pike isn’t a compact neighborhood built around a Metro station. It’s a corridor that stretches for miles, from the Pentagon down to Bailey’s Crossroads. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of development here though, as ART says, “This corridor is home to more than a quarter of Arlington’s population… Residents are well-served by more than 500 businesses and 1.6 million square feet of commercial space.”
The heart of the corridor is right near the Walter Reed Drive intersection, which is the historical center of the area. The nearby residential neighborhoods, including Arlington Heights, Penrose, Arlington Village, and Douglas Park, are a short walk from the restaurants, offices, and shops along Columbia Pike. Allison of YeahRightBlog, an area resident of two years, says, “It has a real neighborhoody vibe, so you don’t feel like you’re living in a big city, even though you have easy access to one.”
Transportation: There’s no Metro station here, but there is excellent bus service that connects with the Pentagon, Ballston, and various stops in DC. Several bus lines form the PikeRide, a bus network that connects the area. If you’re biking, you can hop on the W&OD trail or Four Mile Run right at Columbia Pike, and parts of the area are becoming very walkable.
And of course, it has to be mentioned that the area’s transportation will be greatly improved by the Columbia Pike Streetcar, which is in the preliminary engineering phase now. The streetcar is projected to connect the Pentagon with Bailey’s Crossroads along Columbia Pike, leading to improved transit access and generally revitalizing parts of the corridor.
The area provides great access to the rest of the region, too. Allison says, “I love that it’s convenient to so many nearby places like Clarendon and Shirlington (and practical things like 395, Route 50) but that it also has cool places of its own so you don’t HAVE to go up to Clarendon to get a good meal.”
What to See: Sure, I can give you a list of places to check out, but wouldn’t you rather see Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman give you a guided tour of the area? If you still want a list though, here it goes:
- The Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse provides an awesome combination of movies, food, and drinks. Allison says, “You can’t beat $1 movie night. It’s also really fun to watch big sports events there on the big screen like the world cup and the superbowl.”
- The Columbia Pike Farmers’ Market is a year-round market on Sundays from 9 AM to 1 PM at Pike Park.
- Columbia Pike is full of great parks to hang out in: Penrose Park and Monroe Park are great for kids, Alcova Heights Park has great sports facilities, and Jennie Dean Park is 22 acres and has good picnicking facilities.
- There’s lots of great food to try here. The Lost Dog Cafe is a local favorite, with great pizzas and beer (and free delivery in the area if you can’t wait for a table). Allison also says Bangkok 54 has great Thai food, and new Irish bar P. Brennan’s has it all: “The food is amazing, the staff is great, and they have an impressive drink selection.”
Why We Love Columbia Pike: It’s a neighborhood with great access to the region, tons of nearby parks, housing that is actually affordable, and good places to eat. It has a mix of military families, families with young children, and young professionals. And things are only looking up for Columbia Pike– with a new streetcar, the area will become a major regional destination, and it’ll feel a little less far away from the District. But you don’t have to wait until then, as there’s new development happening in the area now, and there are already great places to hang out. So hop on the bus and take a trip out to Columbia Pike– it’s definitely worth a visit.