Is Alexandria, VA, a Good Place to Live? The Pros and Cons of Life in Port City
Located along the banks of the Potomac River, Alexandria, VA, is a city steeped in history and charm, offering residents a unique blend of urban living and small-town appeal. With its cobblestone streets, historic architecture, and vibrant cultural scene, Alexandria has long been an attractive destination for those considering a move to the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.
Yet, just like any city, Alexandria presents its own set of trade-offs that potential residents should carefully weigh. In this Redfin article, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of living in Alexandria, providing valuable insights for anyone contemplating a new chapter in this captivating and historic city. Whether you’re planning to buy a home in Alexandria or rent an apartment in the city, this guide will help you make an informed decision about making this city your home.
Pros of living in Alexandria, VA
- Cost of living
While the cost of living in Alexandria, VA, is 34% higher than the national average, it’s still relatively low compared to other cities of a similar size, such as Costa Mesa, CA. Housing costs, in particular, can be a significant expense, with real estate prices well above the national average, coming in at a median sale price of $570K, 35% higher than the US median sale price. However, the city compensates with a strong job market, competitive wages, and an array of cultural amenities.
Kayla Hornbrook suggests exploring along Eisenhower Avenue between the Van Dorn and Eisenhower Metro stations, or Housing Alexandria’s affordable homes in the Seminary Hill neighborhood (construction is beginning shortly). “It’s no secret that the Washington, DC, metro market is one of the most expensive in the nation, but there are options at many price points in Alexandria. We’re proud to be part of a network of nonprofits who love this city and are providing affordable housing. Several plans are in place to offer even more creative and affordable options for households of every kind in the near future.”
“Alexandria is a creative city that knows how to build a bigger table when it comes to welcoming newcomers,” explains Kayla Hornbrook, VP of community relations at Housing Alexandria, a non-profit affordable housing developer. “It can be hard to break into community life in a lot of places, however, that is simply not true of Alexandria. Maybe it’s due to DC’s influence, pulling in people from around the nation and the world, but when you arrive in Alexandria and fall in love with it, long-term residents are thrilled to find another kindred spirit. When I first moved here, I took a class at the Little Theater of Alexandria. Nearly a decade later, I’m still doing theater with people I met in that very first class.”
- Great neighborhoods
“Most visitors to Alexandria typically stay in historic Old Town – a neighborhood that locals love, too,” shares Hornbrook. “The waterfront has become a gem of activity, art, and community joy. But to really get a feel for what life in Alexandria is like you can’t skip Del Ray, a neighborhood with boutique shops and local restaurants that will make you wonder if Gilmore Girls is liable for copyright infringement. As a West End resident, I’m also biased about how great it is to live over on this end of town. I love to sip on the dog-friendly patio at Port City Brewing, or swing by Cameron Café on my way to Ben Brenman Park, one of the many parks in Alexandria. Don’t miss Makeda Ethiopian or Kung Fu Kitchen, either.”
“Old Town is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the historic district of Alexandria,” shares Alexandria History Tours, providing guided walking tours through Old Town Alexandria. “Explore Alexandria’s captivating heritage on a guided walking tour, tracing its roots as a pre-American Revolution port city and George Washington’s hometown. Dive into history for an hour or two, then savor culinary delights at riverfront restaurants or historic King Street warehouses. Don’t miss the oldest active farmers’ market in the country, open Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Market Square.”
“The best part about Alexandria is the many neighborhoods you will find, each special in their own way,” shares Jack Troxell, Shift Supervisor at Junction Bakery, Bar & Bistro, offering breakfast, sandwiches, and creative dinner fare. “Historic Old Town is home to top restaurants and boasts a beautiful riverfront view. Walking the bustling King Street strip from the towering Masonic Temple to the stunning riverfront is a must-do. With beautiful parks, historic cobblestone streets, ghost tours, and family-owned staple restaurants like Landini Brothers, there’s something to enjoy for everyone. The artsy Del Ray neighborhood has something fun happening every weekend, Mount Vernon Avenue is always occupied by families, bikers, dog walkers, and foodies looking to enjoy the outdoors. Keep an eye on the calendar to see bar crawls or festivals happening every weekend.”
- Convenient location
If you’re looking to work and play in DC, living in Alexandria offers a remarkably short commute. With numerous efficient transportation options, the trip typically takes no more than twenty minutes.
The remarkable aspect of this closeness is that it grants Alexandria residents access to everything that DC has to offer, including job opportunities, amenities, and nightlife, all while feeling like they’re living in an entirely different world. “Alexandria is just a few miles south of Washington, DC, but it feels like it’s a world away sometimes,” shares Beth Lawton, the owner of Made in ALX, a store featuring unique items from artists, creators and makers who are from Alexandria. “From quiet cobblestone streets to beautiful historic alleys and some very nice hotels, it really has its own identity.”
“You are only a short ten-minute metro ride to the National Mall where you can spend time touring the monuments and hopping from museum to museum,” states Jack Troxell. “After taking in the unique Cherry Blossom Trees or touring the Capitol building, check out one of the many restaurants in the area, including Junction’s Capitol Hill location. Another great activity is taking the metro directly to Capital One Arena located in the heart of Chinatown to catch any event from concerts to epic sporting events. Make sure to check out Bardeco, a great bar located right next to the arena, before or after your event for great drinks and an even better atmosphere.”
- Public transportation
You’ll find Alexandria surprisingly convenient to navigate. The city boasts a superb transit system, with a transit score of 66, meaning there are many nearby options. If you reside in Old Town, nearly everything you need is just a short stroll away, making it an ideal choice for those who prefer to avoid excessive driving.
Alexandria has a walk score of 99, meaning everything you need is within walking distance. Most businesses in Alexandria are concentrated within a 2-mile radius, enabling you to hit the gym, run errands, and catch a movie all in one outing.
- Things to do
“During your free time, you’ll have plenty to explore in the city of Alexandria,” states local moving company, Zebna Movers. “You can visit the Civil War monuments and Market Square and admire the captivating architecture of Old Alexandria and the nearby pier. Another unique thing to do in Alexandria is to or immerse yourself in the creative haven of the Torpedo Factory—an art center artfully converted from a First World War-era torpedo factory. Here, you’ll find art workshops, a lecture hall, as well as exhibition and concert halls. Don’t forget to explore Huntley Meadows Park, the Old Town Embankment, and the awe-inspiring George Washington Masonic National Memorial.”
Zebna Movers also recommends attending the city’s birthday celebration on the second Saturday of July, where the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s concert serves as the grand finale to the festivities.
- The incredible food scene
Alexandria boasts a thriving food scene, featuring culinary delights ranging from Wooboi Hot Chicken to Caphe Banh Mi. You won’t need to trek to DC. for exceptional dining experiences, although the option is certainly there, thanks to the convenient commute.
“Fried chicken is a delicious and iconic quintessential food from Alexandria, VA,” explains Zebna Movers. “This Southern-style dish is a favorite in the city’s culinary scene. This is a must try for anyone visiting the area and is also known for its Southern style dishes including oysters, peanuts, barbecue, country ham, blue crab, trout, apples and Brunswick stew.”
“Alexandria’s Old Town North neighborhood, just a few blocks north of King Street, has a thriving food scene,” says Beth Lawton of Made in ALX. “The rooftop at Hank’s Oyster Bar has an easy, comfortable vibe for beautiful evenings. The outdoor, elevated patio at the renovated Jula’s on the Potomac has beautiful views of the Potomac River. The neighborhood also features a great local coffee shop, Thai food, hot chicken, a steakhouse and more. While you’re waiting for a table, swing by our store to browse fun items made by Alexandria artists and creators.”
Cons of living in Alexandria, VA
- High population density
Despite its small size, Alexandria is densely populated, resulting in heavy traffic and potential congestion, especially during peak tourist seasons when visitors flock to the city. Additionally, Alexandria has gained a reputation for challenging driving conditions, making road safety crucial. What sets this traffic apart is its unpredictability, making it difficult to plan around. Careful navigation is essential, as even the most cautious planners may find themselves caught in unexpected delays.
- Allergy season
While Alexandria boasts abundant natural beauty and historic charm, it’s important to note that allergy season in Virginia, as a whole, can be quite harsh. The region’s frequent heavy rainfall and high humidity can also make summers more challenging to endure compared to many other parts of the country.
- Threat of flooding
Alexandria’s proximity to the Potomac River and its low elevation make it vulnerable to flooding, especially during heavy rains. This underscores the importance of having comprehensive home insurance in place, including separate flood insurance if you reside in a high-risk area or if your house is in a flood zone.
In the end, whether you decide to make the move to Alexandria or not, it’s clear that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks when making this dynamic city your home.