Greater Greater Washington

My favorite streets in DC, part 1

Last week, I listed some of my least favorite streets in DC (part 1, part 2). But the District also has many of the finest city streets in the world.

From Georgetown to Anacostia, Waterfront to Brightwood, Chevy Chase to Brookland, The Mall to the Atlas District, Washington, DC has hundreds of fascinating streets that exude the spirit of the nation and the soul of the city's locals. Today let's take a look at some of the best that DC has to offer.

20) M Street NE/NW

Most well known as Georgetown's Main Street and for the Exorcist stairs, M Street (north) runs through many of the District's most charming and urbane neighborhoods. Continuing east, it passes through West End, and cuts right through the heart of the Golden Triangle, Downtown, and NoMa.

19) Minnesota Avenue SE/NE

Anacostia is a neighborhood that has been phenomenally recapturing its historic charm, and that charm is spreading up Minnesota Avenue. From it's beginning at Good Hope Road through quiet Randle Circle, Minnesota Avenue is slowly reaching its potential as one of DC's Great Streets. A master plan for the intersection at Benning Road on up into Deanwood to help further the District's latest success story on recapturing the charm and splendor of its neglected corridors.

18) M Street SW/SE

From the Southwest Waterfront to Nationals Stadium to the boathouses past Barney Circle, I love watching things on M Street (south) get better. Gone are the days when I would park in a seedy abandoned lot to attend a rave at Nation night club.

There is a rather handsome baseball stadium by that old spot, and I have not had to drive to that neck of the woods since the Metro opened there. Waterfront and Navy Yard are still up-and-coming, but what a world of difference the last five years have made for the M Street corridor. Fortunately, its growth it is being well documented.

17) Florida Avenue NW/NE

Excluding a troublesome intersection with New York Avenue and a couple not-so-scenic blocks by U Street, Florida Avenue is a street that exemplifies the beauty and culture of DC. Originally known as Boundary Street, it was the border for the original City of Washington. It hosts many beautiful row houses and charming walk-ups. Gallaudet University faces the homes of Capitol Hill North along the eastern stretch.

But perhaps most notable is the intersection of Florida and T near LeDroit Park, where the Howard Theater sits. Currently languishing in disrepair, a plan is in place to return the historic landmark to its original splendor, putting yet another colorful destination along Florida Avenue.

16) Beach Drive

This passage through an urban forest has enchanted me since I was a child. Entering the District in Chevy Chase, it runs its course mostly as a lazy, meandering creekside route, a rather fitting approach to the National Zoo.

It passes under regal bridges before ending on the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in Woodley Park. The best part about Beach Drive is that it is closed to automobiles on weekends so that joggers, walkers, and bikers can enjoy the majesty of this uniquely preserved urban wilderness.

15) Georgia Avenue/7th St NW/SW

Start at Zanzibar on the Southwest Waterfront. Work your way up past the Mall and Gallery Place, beyond the Convention Center. At LeDroit Park, 7th Street is dedicated to Chuck Brown, the father of Go-Go, a uniquely DC brand of music.

North of Florida it becomes Georgia Avenue, the main street for Howard University, Petworth, Vinegar Hill, and Brightwood before crossing Eastern Avenue into Silver Spring. 7th/Georgia is the primary north-south corridor for the city, and truly is one of DC"s most iconic routes.

14) Good Hope Road

Good Hope is an aptly named route that is the face of Anacostia's historic district. Like much of the rest of that area, many areas are under construction as revitalization sweeps through River East's most iconic neighborhood. One quiet spot, though, is the wooded stretch through Fort Stanton Park. Good Hope is the hallmark of River East, in more ways than one.

13) MacArthur Boulevard NW

This quiet tree-lined boulevard with a grassy median runs from Foxhall past the Georgetown Reservoir and up towards Glen Echo in Maryland. The Palisades neighborhood runs along the southern side of most of the route. Part of me likes passing through a gorgeous neighborhood I know I can never afford. Part of me likes the quiet, lazy pace of this street. Part of me likes the small town feel. Put it all together and you have one of the most pleasant and scenic boulevards in the area.

12) Trinidad Avenue NE

The Trinidad neighborhood is perhaps most widely known as the part of town that was shut down last summer two years ago by police chief Cathy Lanier, who sought what were later deemed to be unconstitutional searches of any non-resident entering the neighborhood after a murder spree there.

Unfortunately, this negative impression of the Northeast enclave has tarnished the reputation of another up-and-coming neighborhood. Though it may not boast the affluence of other Capitol Hill neighborhoods, but if you're looking for boarded windows and abandoned warehouses, you're not going to find any on Trinidad Avenue. When I take people through Trinidad, they are often quite surprised to see a quiet neighborhood with mature trees and manicured front gardens.

11) Connecticut Avenue NW

From Farragut Square to Chevy Chase, Connecticut Avenue is the charming main street through several gorgeous parkside neighborhoods. The Red Line has helped create desirable neighborhoods and vibrant night life in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Cleveland Park. Scenic street life is complimented by an elegant bridge over Rock Creek and the main entrance to the National Zoo.

Tomorrow: #10 through #1, the champion.

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Dave Murphy is a Geographic Analyst for the Department of Defense and a US Army veteran. He is also a part time bouncer. He was born in Foggy Bottom and is a lifelong resident of the DC area. He currently resides in the Eckington neighborhood of Northeast. 

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Now we see the difficulties of making favorite and least favorite list of streets: occasionally the streets intersect.

I don't think I've ever thought of Connecticut as a "charming main street" (I think the car traffic is too heavy to say "charming," "bustling" maybe?). I've always though of it more as a means to an end. There are some odd sections of it, like the traffic control lanes in the northern stretches, the access road in Cleveland park, using flags to cross the street in Chevy Chase, and the underpass of Dupont circle (which, while great for getting through the circle, cuts pedestrian access off somewhat between opposite sides of the street).

by Steven Yates on Jun 30, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

I guess it's all in how you look at it... If I had to make a "Best of..." list regarding D.C.'s roadways, Florida and Georgia Avenues wouldn't ever see the light of day.

In fact, they'd be near the top on my "Worst of..." list. Neither is particularly friendly to pedestrians or bicycles, and the lack of traffic enforcement along either stretch is incredibly frustrating. I can't tell you how many times I've been stuck in backups along either avenue because someone was double parked or sitting in the curb lane with their hazards on - with the police driving right by as if nothing were wrong.

If Florida Avenue remained in its original (Boundary Street) state, then I'd have a different view. A perfect example of this quiet, tree-lined, unaltered pipe dream can be found on Florida between 11th and 15th Streets NW - at the former "northern bubble" of old Washington City: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/us.capitol/oneoone.jpg I absolutely LOVE this section of Florida. 2nd place would be the remainder of Florida between Mass Ave and 16th Street. The rest of it is a nightmare, in my personal opinion.

by Josh C. on Jun 30, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

M St SE? Really? Although it's still got that New Road Smell to it, it's pretty dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, and the surrounding area is mostly empty lots for now.

by andrew on Jun 30, 2010 2:40 pm • linkreport

Hoping to see 16th or 14th NW on the list tomorrow. Another beautiful street to drive from Georgetown all the way to 11th NW is Q Street.

by mattyillini on Jun 30, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

M St SE/SW has plans in work for a cycletrack, streetcar line, and lane reduction that will bring the road more in line with the surroundings.

by darren on Jun 30, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

M street SE/SW is in serious need of a road diet and traffic calming. Although the speed limit is 25, the traffic there regularly hits 40 in areas where there is pedestrian traffic. Having three open lanes in each direction with little traffic tends to do that.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 30, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

7th/Georgia scenic? You've got to be kidding. I would nominate 13th St (great views above Florida, elegant row houses at many intervals) or 16th Street over it.

Minnesota isn't as bad as it used to be , but it has a long way to go.

M St SW--what could be more forgettable?

M St NE/NW--beyond Georgetown, there's no there there.

BTW, Beach Drive doesn't start in Chevy Chase. That's a neighborhood or two over.

by Rich on Jun 30, 2010 3:14 pm • linkreport

Again, I have to reiterate that there was no formal metric for these characterizations other than my own personal preferences. Hopefully, my favorite streets piss off fewer people than my least favorites did!

Also, I tried not to pick streets that are similar to each other (I love Wisconsin and Connecticut for the same reasons, but I am more familiar with Connecticut, so it is on the list and Wisconsin is not, though Wisconsin certainly is a great street). All of these posts are intended to be conversation starters only!

by Dave Murphy on Jun 30, 2010 3:16 pm • linkreport

Clarification. Beach Drive doesn't pass through the municipal boundaries of Chevy Chase proper, but that part of Montgomery County has Chevy Chase addresses.

by Dave Murphy on Jun 30, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

M in Georgetown? There aren't any charming neighborhoods there...just a giant faux outdoor mall. And M st is clogged with buses...may be the most bus-crowded street in the city. Car spotting is fun, people spotting sucks because the sidewalks are too crowded.

About 3 blocks of M st parking near Wisconsin need to be eliminated, and the sidewalks extended.

M st in the west end is ok. The bike lanes there will be nice. M St by Conn. is a bit too crowded and I think the bike lanes will be counterproductive.

by charlie on Jun 30, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

Perhaps I'm stuck in the past a bit with M Street. I have memories of my late father, a Georgetown alum, walking me down M. Later on when M was a bit of a haven for punk rockers, I picked up some other fond memories.

No doubt this street can use a road diet. Frankly, I'd like to see it shut down to automobile traffic entirely, although that's not likely to happen any time soon.

by Dave Murphy on Jun 30, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

@ Rich

Georgia Avenue captures a lot of what I think of as "DCness". I love 13th Street, but I think of Georgia as more of a public space. No doubt it can use some work, but fortunately there's a plan for that underway.

by Dave Murphy on Jun 30, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport

"Another beautiful street to drive from Georgetown all the way to 11th NW is Q Street."

It's even better by bike.

How come I'm not surprised that Charlie thinks the best part about M St. Is the cars and the worst part the buses ?

by Reid on Jun 30, 2010 3:32 pm • linkreport

@Dave_Murphy; I found myself last night walking down 14th, wondering if they did a repeat of St Elmo's Fire if it would be on 14th instead of M. I don't think the cars are killing M St, it is the parking and the too small sidewalks. I walk through there almost everyday, and M from around 33rd to about 31st is painful. Some crazy bikers too. I almost killed one the other day; he had decided to make an illegal left on Wisconsin, and was riding in the wrong lane to shortcut.

by charlie on Jun 30, 2010 3:34 pm • linkreport

Oh, and the sidewalks along the south side of M St SE near the navy yard are frighteningly narrow.

(Also, little known fact: M St SE continues all the way to the water once you pass 11th St, and passes the new community boathouse that just opened last weekend. Google doesn't seem aware of the road's existence east 11th, and it'd be hard to blame them -- you'd have no idea you're in a city of half a million people while on that portion of the road.)

by andrew on Jun 30, 2010 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Dave Murphy:
You see, I was waiting for the next list to see if Wisconsin was on it. Personally I think it's a better version of Connecticut (maybe it's due more to familiarity). It doesn't have those odd bits I mentioned earlier about Connecticut.

by Steven Yates on Jun 30, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

I guess we're talking arterials more than neighborhood streets with this list. T St in Le Droit Park and 1st NW from NY Ave to Michigan Ave are some favorites of mine, but I do live nearby. Both have a unique neighborhood character.

I gotta think that H St NE from 3rd or 4th to the Death Star and 14th north of Scott Circle make the list. I also think Logan Circle should be on there if only for being the only circle left more or less in its original state. Go figure its the least congested, too. I also rather like K St NE; its wide and tree lined with generally well maintained homes. Pennsylvania Ave SE from the Hill to the Anacostia is top five on this list if not higher.

by dano on Jun 30, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

Just wanted to say that I think this is a great list, most definitely including Florida and Georgia. I work near their intersection and for better or for worse (and very often for better!) they are part of the essence of DC for me.

I look forward to the second part of the list!

(Captcha: Walloon explanation)

by davidj on Jun 30, 2010 5:22 pm • linkreport

@Dano- T is a favorite of mine. Not to spoil, but it was left off the list in favor of some other nearby streets.

by Dave Murphy on Jun 30, 2010 5:36 pm • linkreport

So good of you to give Georgia Avenue love, and for the right reasons too!

by The Brightwoodian on Jun 30, 2010 6:56 pm • linkreport

M St in Georgetown WOULD be awesome... if only the sidewalks were wider. Several people advocated for this when the street was rebuilt a few years back, but the status quo won out. Georgetown has a lot to offer, including the outdoor mall stuff, but M St has too much traffic and too little space for pedestrians. The only thing I could suggest is a new Metro station, somehow.

It would be fun to rank the best and worst sidewalks. Worst: 1700 block of U St, 1300 block of U St, 18th St in Adams Morgan... Best: 1400 block of P St, S/T block of 14th St, 16th St by Meridian Hill Park...

by M.V. Jantzen on Jun 30, 2010 9:25 pm • linkreport

I guess you're ranking these on beauty, but as a cyclist I hate several of these streets for having no decent place to ride, e.g. Connecticut Ave. From Calvert St to Nebraska Ave, no alternative route, very hilly, and no bike lanes.

Likewise, parts of Georgia and Florida are questionable at best, although I don't hate them as much as Connecticut Ave. (On most of Georgia Ave you've at least got decent parallel streets close by.)

Also, M Street in Georgetown is horribly congested. Just reminds me of breathing in lots of exhaust.

by Scott F on Jul 1, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

Hi Dave,
nice post, but I must point out that the Trinidad checkpoint thing was two years ago, not last summer.

by Inked on Jul 1, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport

I often walk and run through the city at dawn when the streets are empty - and Ive been doing this for 10 years. The best street in terms of scenery is Corcoran Street NW between 16th and 19th. The canopy of ficus trees with the million dollar rowhouses and condos in the backdrop are beautiful.

by Dave on Jul 1, 2010 10:39 pm • linkreport

Minnesota Avenue isn't technically in Anacostia. Good Hope Road is the boundary.

But yes, I agree, Anacostia IS a neighborhood that has been phenomenally recapturing its historic charm in recent years!

by DG-rad on Jul 1, 2010 11:33 pm • linkreport

glad to see some trinidad love in here! of course, i would nominate montello avenue as the more interesting thoroughfare in the neighborhood if its commerical strip would just fill up some of the vacancies and clean up the facades on the ones that are occupied.

by IMGoph on Jul 3, 2010 12:06 am • linkreport

I'm with Steve on the no-love for New Hampshire Ave, NW (old city) or 16th ST, NW.

I agree that 7th Street is iconic, but there is something about driving from the White House to the Maryland border on 16th St, NW, that always fascinates me. The reverse route is nice as well :).

As for New Hampshire Avenue, it has always been my favorite of the avenues of the L'Enfant plan. The trees alone, though far diminished from their glory days, are worth the visit, though it's much better as a stroll than a drive.

by Joseph on Sep 16, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

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