- Falls Church is the best Virginia suburb overall for city-like amenities
- The Washington metropolitan area accounts for more than half the top VA locations combining suburban calm with urban advantages
- The City of Fairfax is top for real estate factors, #1 for both housing affordability and office & coworking space
- Warrenton is the best place for setting up shop and dining out, with the most businesses and restaurants per resident
- Williamsburg is the top Virginia suburb outside the DMV Area, scoring well all-round for lifestyle amenities
- Suburban populations in the Tri-Cities & Hampton Roads metropolitan areas grew by three times more than those across the DMV Area
Virginia’s reputation includes charming small towns and sites of historic interest, plus sandy beaches to the east and Blue Ridge Mountain scenery to the west. It also takes in the National Capital Region, and considering the stress and cost of living in DC, a pleasant Virginia suburb could be a very attractive alternative.
Often, however, people will only move to a smaller community if it offers the amenities their preferred lifestyles require. Fortunately for Americans wishing to enjoy life to the max but in a more relaxed setting, many suburbs across the nation have moved further towards providing this happy mix. And Virginia is no exception — it is for lovers, after all!
To see how well the Old Dominion combines suburban and city living, we evaluated thirteen prime metropolitan locations with populations between 10,000 and 100,000. Our metrics included the following: business, shopping and dining options; housing affordability and planned construction; population changes and density; health- and education-related amenities; public safety; and transportation and self storage options.
Towards the south of the state, Colonial Heights, Suffolk and Williamsburg offer a quiet ambiance but their amenities can look like those of a larger city. Meanwhile, suburbs in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area — around half of those we considered — often support urban lifestyles so well that regular travel to hectic DC would not be necessary. So, you can enjoy the quiet charm of Virginia’s suburbs and still get great options for healthcare, accommodation, education, shopping and dining out, not to mention good salaries and comparatively reasonable costs of living.
1. Falls Church, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
Falls Church is the suburb on our list closest to DC, just 10 miles away, and it is half that distance from Arlington. However, it can happily stand on its own two feet and is rather well known for its multitude of local community activities. As an independent city within the Commonwealth of Virginia, Falls Church has an interesting claim to fame, being the smallest county/county equivalent place in the US, accommodating its 14K residents on just 2.05 square miles.
Considering the proximity to DC, it is not surprising that Falls Church’s median annual household income, at no less than $155K, beats all other suburbs. And more people clearly want to move in, as not only has the local population grown by 6.6% over five years but way more building permits have been issued here than in the other suburbs considered — 60 for every 1,000 residents. There must be something in the water, as life expectancy here is also the highest at 83.8 years.
2. Fairfax, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
The City of Fairfax is another independent city in the National Capital Region, and although it is further out from DC than Falls Church it is also served by a Metro Orange Line station. It is also a self-standing, quality place to live with many fun events going on. Any of the 24K residents not employed in one of the area’s top jobs might be students at nearby George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public educational institution.
Fairfax combines some interesting benefits: it gets top marks for housing affordability and also has a high median household income at $118K, second only to Falls Church. And Fairfax residents could easily set up a business, as the city also gets first place for a combination of office space provision — 620 square feet per capita — and coworking spaces, while there are currently around 42 businesses per 1,000 people here.
3. Herndon, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
The incorporated town of Herndon has a similar number of residents as Fairfax and is just a few miles further out from DC. In addition, it is usefully near Dulles International Airport and is situated in the Dulles Technology Corridor, also called the “Netplex” — the headquarters of many tech companies are situated here. For leisure, residents enjoy walking and biking on trails created where the city’s railroad lines used to run.
Herndon is one of the healthiest places to live in this part of the world, with the lowest level of adult obesity among the suburbs we considered and the second-highest life expectancy at 82.6 years. It also scores highest of all in terms of safety, and less than three quarters of locals feel the need to use their cars. People clearly want to move here as the number of building permits issued here are second only to Falls Church.
4. Leesburg, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
In Loudoun County at the National Capital Region’s northwestern edge and with around 48K residents, Leesburg’s pleasant location near the Potomac River offers great vistas and sporting opportunities. The site of the Civil War Battle of Ball’s Bluff and the Old Dominion Railroad Park are pleasant places for a stroll. And there are plans afoot to reopen nearby White’s Ferry, so it may resume its quaint and historic role as the only ferry across the Potomac.
Leesburg’s tranquil location is matched by its safety, registering the second-lowest number of reported crimes as a percentage of population. And hand-in-hand with that goes good education — the schools register an average of 11.9 students per teacher, the second best among the Virginia suburbs we looked at. The median annual household income here of $116K is equal to or greater than in DMV Area locations closer to the center of DC.
5. Warrenton, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
Although counting only 10K residents, Warrenton is the county seat of Fauquier County, in the area of Virginia famous both for wine making and the breeding and racing of horses. There are also of course golf courses and country clubs, and being in the Piedmont region the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park are not so far away. Warrenton was recently included in a list of the nation’s best small towns to visit.
Warrenton serves its residents well, getting the highest rank for a combination of amenities such as restaurants, retail stores and parks. And they clearly enjoy the local economic climate — among the Virginia suburbs, the city has the most businesses per 1,000 residents, 47.3. While Warrenton’s $78K median household income is not the state’s highest, local housing costs compensate, with only Fairfax and Manassas being slightly more affordable.
6. Williamsburg, Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News
Our first location away from the National Capital Region, Williamsburg is not only in the Hampton Roads region but also, along with Jamestown and Yorktown, part of an area steeped in the history of America’s earliest European settlers — which attracts millions of tourists each year. Confirming this popularity, the city’s population grew by a healthy 2.1% over five years to reach its current complement of 15K residents.
There is clearly plenty of space to move around in Williamsburg: Not only is the 2.3K square feet of park space per person the second largest among our Virginia suburbs, but the average commute time of 18.7 minutes beats them all. Adding to the family-friendly vibe, both safety and education get third-best rankings in our study, while the city provides the most self storage, helping households easily maximize their living space.
7. Manassas, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
The independent city of Manassas, 30 miles from DC, is the seat of Prince William County and was the scene of the first major battle of the Civil War. Sites such as the Manassas Historic District, the Liberia plantation house and the Cannon Branch Fort make pleasant excursions for residents and tourists alike. Also serving the city’s 43K residents, the local economy includes employment opportunities in the high-tech and aviation industries among others.
Manassas offers its residents more besides, as not only is the median household income above $100K but housing affordability is also one of the best around. There are approximately 35 businesses for every 1,000 residents here, higher than in neighboring locations such as Herndon and Leesburg, while the numbers of restaurants and retail outlets are on par for the area. All of this maybe explains why the city’s population has grown by 3.5% in five years.
8. Fredericksburg, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
While Fredericksburg may be 50 miles from DC but it is near enough to Colonial Beach, the second largest beach in Virginia, with well-maintained sand and swimmable water. Visitors and the city’s 28K residents enjoy strolling through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and also the nearby Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve to try some birdwatching.
Fredericksburg may be known as “America’s Most Historic City,” but it is looking forward, having an excellent provision of coworking spaces and 153 square feet of office space per capita. All those workers who go about their business locally enjoy 5.2 retail outlets per 1,000 residents. And to help them maximize their living space, Fredericksburg self storage units are both cheap and plentiful, with 10 square feet offered per capita at a low average monthly rent of $97.9.
9. Colonial Heights, Richmond
Being part of the Tri-City Area, together with adjacent Petersburg and Hopewell — which scored 11th and 13th places in our study of Virginia suburbs — Colonial Heights shares in the area’s economic diversity, which takes in manufacturing and mineral extraction. A visit to the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier will help complete understanding of America’s history.
Colonial Heights excels at creating a city-like lifestyle, with 3.4 restaurants and 7 retail outlets per 1,000 residents. In addition, the cost of a self storage unit in Colonial Heights is the cheapest in our study at a monthly average of just $93.5. The city’s parks are great places to relax, although Petersburg beats out all Virginian opposition with 2.8K square feet of park space per capita. Emphasizing the desirability of the region, all three Tri-Cities have seen strong five-year population increases, between 3% and 4%.
10. Suffolk, Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News
Back in the Hampton Roads, Suffolk might be considered a suburb of Norfolk although its 93K population makes it the largest city in our top 10. Nature enthusiasts can visit the nearby Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for magical vistas and wildlife — especially all the turtles — and of course the attractions of Virginia Beach are also not far away. Completion of the ‘Commonwealth Corridor’ rail link will add to the city’s transportation options.
Suffolk’s population increased by no less than 7.1% in five years, more than in any other Virginia location we studied. In line with this growth, the rate of building permits issued to build more housing for them is also high. The families taking up these residences may be keen to hear about Suffolk’s educational credentials, which include getting top scores for math and RLA (“Reading Language Arts”) studies.
Self storage can further boost suburban living in Virginia
The self storage options in these Virginian suburbs can greatly enhance the quality of life there, letting residents extend their living space, keeping it free from clutter by putting items they don’t use every day in a storage unit, which always costs much less than renting residential space.
While renting a self storage unit in Colonial Heights and in Fredericksburg would the cheapest among our suburbs, at below $100 per month, the priciest are found in the Falls Church self storage and Fairfax self storage sectors. The larger metropolises in Virginia also offer good self storage rates, making city-center living also more feasible for many:
There has been a trend of more people leaving Virginia than moving in, although this may now be turning around. All but one of our top Virginia suburbs, however, have experienced a population increase over the past five years, further confirming their worth as places to live. A friendly and peaceful location combined with quality, city-like amenities — together with good local employment opportunities plus the increased potential to work from home — can these days make a Virginian suburb or small town a much more attractive residence than a large city.
Here are 13 of the best suburbs in Virginia, ranked by their ability to provide big-city lifestyle opportunities:
13 Large Virginia Suburbs Ranked by City-Living Flair
|Suburb||Overall Rank||Housing Affordability Index||Building Permits*||Single Family Homes %||Population Change (5 years)||Population Density (people/sq. mi.)||Businesses*||Median Household Income||Office and Coworking Space Index||Retail Stores*||Restaurants*||Park Space/ Capita (sq. ft.)||Health Care & Social Assistance Access*||Obesity||Life Expectancy (years)||Education Index||Crime Rate||Car Usage||Commute Time (minutes)||Self Storage per Capita (sq. ft.)||Self Storage Rent|
StorageCafe analysis of U.S. Census, Yardi Matrix, Commercial Edge, Coworkingcafe, Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FBI and Trust for Public Land data
This analysis was done by StorageCafe, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.
To determine the top Virginia suburbs that offer the best combination of urban and suburban living, we ranked 13 places located in the state’s major metropolitan areas with populations between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants.
The ranking is based on the suburbs’ overall scores. Overall scores represent an average of all the suburbs’ weighted scores based on the metrics presented below.
To calculate the number of retail stores, restaurants and health care and social assistance establishments related to population, we used U.S. Census data and made estimates based on ZIP code data.
To assess education, we created a ranking based on standardized test results, numbers of public schools per 1,000 locals and student-to-teacher ratios.
Obesity rates and life expectancy were calculated based on county-level data from the CDC.
The data on self storage costs was taken from Yardi Matrix, StorageCafe‘s sister division and a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self storage sectors.
Fair use and distribution
This study serves as a resource for the general public on issues of common interest and should not be regarded as investment advice. The data is true to the best of our knowledge but may change if amendments to it are made. We agree to the distribution of this content but we do require a mention in return for attribution purposes.