5 Washington D.C.

PopulationMetro: 6,216,589
Power meets play in America’s intriguing capital city.

The recent ubiquity of the nation’s capital in dramas on screens small and large (to say nothing of the real-life stuff) has escalated its resonance in the zeitgeist and helped propel it to Top 5 among America’s Best Large Cities. Winning Amazon’s coveted HQ2 in nearby Arlington, Va., has dominated local and national chatter since the September 2018 announcement.

Instead of building a massive second headquarters in one location, Amazon says it will invest a total of $5 billion at two locations (Arlington and New York City) and that each location will get more than 25,000 jobs. In Arlington, the jobs will be located in what Amazon calls National Landing, a newly minted place brand for the neighborhood known as Crystal City near Reagan National Airport.

In explaining its decision to split HQ2, Amazon sources cited being able to “recruit more top talent by being in two locations.” Indeed, Washington, D.C. ranks #2 in our Educational Attainment category—a pipeline of future Amazon talent for years.

The city also scores well in our Product category, including #4 in the country for its free museums—from the two Smithsonians (Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum) to the sprawling National Gallery of Art. But D.C. is stepping up its museum game, with plenty of new cultural heavyweights just opened or on the horizon.

Place 50
Product 43
Programming 16
People 77
Prosperity 66
Promotion 39

The Kennedy Center’s $175-million expansion project, the REACH, will open to the public September 2019 and offer 72,000 square feet of performance and events space, 130,000 square feet of landscaping and gardens, terrace seating for up to 1,600 people and a scenic walkway leading to nearby monuments and memorials.

Also recently opened (in November 2017) is the stunning Museum of the Bible—the largest museum dedicated to the best-seller. Modern technology presents the ancient teachings, a result of years of collaboration between scholars, techies and designers, including an immersive 17-projector theater that brings the stories to life.

Meanwhile, Phase II of The Wharf, the $2.5-billion mixed-use development opened in October 2017, recently broke ground and is estimated to complete in 2022. It will feature an additional 1.15 million square feet of mixed-use development, including office, residential, marina and retail space, as well as parks and public spaces, across an approximate half mile of the waterfront.

A dish at Officina, The Wharf

The Wharf is home to more than 20 restaurants, including offerings from Fabio Trabocchi, Mike Isabella and Nicholas Stefanelli. In 2016, Washington was named “Restaurant City of the Year” by Bon Appétit magazine, followed by the designation of “Hottest Food City” by Zagat. Then Michelin launched its first dedicated restaurant guide to the city. Today, visitors and locals have their choice of international arrivals like José Andrés and home-grown musts like ramen perfection at Erik Bruner-Yang’s Toki Underground.

Landing at #17 for Restaurants, D.C. is a rising star as an American food city, as well as a surprising #18 in the country when it comes to Nightlife.

Not just a place to eat, Wharf visitors can enjoy The Anthem, a 150,000-square-foot music venue that also serves as a convention facility. The Wharf currently offers 3.2 million square feet of hotel and retail space, rentable waterfront piers and a water taxi service to and from Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria.

This rapid development means the city is making an impact online, ranking a very impressive #4 in our Promotion category, comprising Google Searches, appearance in Google Trends, total TripAdvisor reviews, Instagram hashtags and Facebook check-ins. Given the arc of cultural and political development in the city, the planet’s curiosity about America’s HQ will only grow in the years (and election cycles) ahead.