Who lives here: A mix of professionals, especially lawyers, federal workers, and professors from nearby George Mason University. Many stay for decades.
The vibe: Small-town. “It’s only six square miles,” says Ellen Brouwer, who moved to Fairfax 35 years ago, “but you could live here for a year and never go outside the city.”
Homefront: From 18th-century mansions and 1950s subdivisions to new condos and gated communities. There are plenty of fixer-uppers on big lots.
For sale: Prices are lower than in most of Fairfax County. Three-bedroom ramblers in Westmore, an older subdivision, cost $300,000 to $400,000. In Farrcroft, a gated community near the city’s heart, Colonials sell for $700,000 to more than $1 million. Many houses sit on the market for 90 to 100 days, but bargains move fast. Ann Marie Rodgers, a nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital, and her husband bought an updated 1980s split-level for $500,000—$10,000 under the asking price. “It was on the market only three days,” Rodgers says.
Easy living: “You can sit under 100-year-old trees or walk to small-town parades,” says Claudia Lewis, a longtime resident. Fairfax has a Chocolate Lovers Festival each February and a historic-homes tour every other year. Locals take classes at George Mason University and go to events at its Center for the Arts and Patriot Center.
The commute: City buses go to Metro’s Vienna-Fairfax-GMU station on the Orange line. Many residents work in the city or the county.
Makeover: The city is extending its pedestrian-friendly downtown. Designed to match the historic section, the new stretch will include boutiques, cafes, offices, parking, condos, and a new library.
Tax break: Property taxes are lower than in Fairfax County, yet locals rave about services. “If I can’t take my trash can to the front of the house, they come and get it,” Lewis says.
Downsides: Traffic in the center of town can jam up. Strip malls and older motels line parts of Fairfax Boulevard; the city is working on a plan to improve the corridor.
What Bowie can’t match: Residents walk downtown to run errands or eat at good restaurants, including Le Tire Bouchon, a French eatery. With 22,000 residents, Fairfax is more compact than Bowie.
On the Web: City of Fairfax (fairfaxva.gov); Historical Society of Fairfax City (historicfairfax.org); Destination Fairfax (visitfairfax.com).