Where We Live: Shirlington

Photo courtesy of
‘Village at Shirlington’
courtesy of ‘Arlington County’

Welcome back to Where We Live, your bi-weekly tour through neighborhoods in and around the District. This week: Shirlington and Fairlington! For those of you whose understanding of the DC area relies on a Metro map, you might not be too familiar with this area. But you’re missing out!  While there’s no Metro station nearby, this is a very cool area filled with plenty to do.

History: First, the names: Fairlington is a combination of Fairfax and Arlington, and Shirlington is a combination of Shirley (for Shirley Highway, aka 395) and Arlington.  In 1941, the Defense Homes Corporation (part of the Federal Housing Administration) bought the area that is now Fairlington to be developed into publicly-financed housing for defense workers and their families during World War II.  This isn’t just some small neighborhood though– 3,439 housing units were built in the area between 1942 and 1945. In 1947, the housing units were turned into privately-owned rental apartments, and in 1972 they were converted into condos.  To learn even more about the history of Fairlington and Shirlington, check out the Fairlington Historic District’s guide.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘American Planning Association – Virginia Chapter’

Neighborhood Character: Fairlington is known for quiet garden-style apartments situated around courts, with lots of sidewalks and trees.  Nearby Shirlington is more of a mix, with everything from a theater complex to a library, lots of condominiums, and restaurants.  Both areas are easy enough to walk around, but most residents tend to own cars because of the proximity to major highways.

Tiffany, We Love DC editor and former Fairlington resident, says that the area attracts lots of people looking for a starter home: “Most of the people we met in Fairlington (though certainly not ALL), were young singles and couples just starting out.  I also frequently saw locally-stationed military personnel. Families tended to be on the smaller-and-younger-children side, simply because of the common house size and proximity to elementary schools.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Four Mile Run Trail 395 Underpass-6’
courtesy of ‘TrailVoice’

Transportation: While Shirlington and Fairlington don’t have a Metro station nearby, they do have other good transit options.  The Shirlington Bus Station is a really nice facility that brings together several ART and Metrobus routes that connect with Ballston, Crystal City, and other destinations in the area. The has plenty of Zipcars, and it’s incredibly bike-friendly with access to several local trails.  The W&OD trail connects all the way out to Herndon and Purcellville, and the Four Mile Run trail links it with the Mount Vernon Trail.

What to See: Despite the fact that you’ll have to take a bus, rather than the Metro, to Shirlington, it is well worth a visit.  Here are some things to check out:

  • The Signature Theatre is in the heart of Shirlington, and puts on great shows year round.  Mark your calendar– July 17 is their annual free open house.
  • If movies are more your thing, head out to the Loews Shirlington 7 for a good selection of new movies.
  • Head out to see some history at Fort Ward, the best-preserved fort of the Civil War Defenses of Washington.
  • Hungry?  You’ve got lots of great options.  Capitol City Brewery offers good food and beer (and an awesome Oktoberfest celebration), Bistro Bistro is the place to go for brunch, and check out the Shirlington branches of Cakelove and Busboys & Poets too.

Photo courtesy of
‘from the front’
courtesy of ‘benmiller23’

What’s Nearby: Fairlington and Shirlington are located along I-395, northwest of Alexandria and south of Court House.

Why We Love Shirlington: This area offers a great balance of a suburban lifestyle, like gardens and trees and access to roads, with the amenities of an urban area.  And the best part?  You can actually afford to live there!  Tiffany says, “It was accessible to us on our condo-sized budget. It was nice to not live in a high-rise; things like having a grill, a garden, pets and such things were a lot easier.”

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!

7 thoughts on “Where We Live: Shirlington

  1. I live in Fairlington, and just wanted to note that if you live there and are under the age of 60, you are required by law to have a dog and/or a kid.

    Also, there’s a really big dog park right on 4-mile run, just on the back side of Shirlington Village.

  2. The Carlyle’s great for standing in line, but I’ve not found it great for actual dining. Overpriced, IMHO. Best Buns, though, is top drawer.

  3. Bistro Bistro is most definitely the place for brunch. Their fantastic buffet is a standby for us on Sundays when deciding on where to brunch.

  4. Thanks Shannon.

    We love Shirlington. All good, except one hopeful wish.

    The movie theater is old style, where you worry about someone sitting in front of you. It usually works out, people shift accordingly, but it would be nice to have a new theater.

  5. Great to see Fairlington in the news! .. but important to mention that among the 3400+ homes, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand+ of TOWNHOUSES as well — not just apartments. 2 levels, 3 levels, most with patios, some with balconies, and most with attics too. Fairlington has ALL age groups,
    tons of amenities for residents and the location w/proximity to DC and next door to Shirlington just can’t be beat!!

  6. oh man, i am going to have to strongly disagree about bistro bistro for brunch. it’s fine for other meals, but my friend and i went there and found just about everything to be cold and mediocre…and then were surprised with a $60 check for the buffet and coffee! we were sitting by another group who was equally put off.

    i would hit up busboys & poets if you are in shirlington for brunch.