Whether you live in the city or are a visitor, learning to navigate the Washington, DC street grid is a must!
The Washington, DC street grid is divided into four quadrants. The center of the grid is the Capitol building. From there, the street running directly to the north is called North Capitol Street. Directly to the east is East Capitol Street. Directly to the south is South Capitol Street. There is no West Capitol Street because that is the National Mall.
The four quadrants are NW, NE, SE, and SW. Whenever you’re trying to navigate Washington DC, you need to know which quadrant it’s located in.
For example, everyone knows that the address of the White House is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, right? The actual address of the White House is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. That is important because if you went to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, you would wind up at an apartment building!
What Visitors Need to Know About the DC Street Grid
Visitors spend most of their time in the northwest quadrant. The Northwest quadrant is where most of the downtown hotels are located. Also major tourist sites like the White House, the National Zoo, and Georgetown are located there as well.
However these days, depending on exactly what you want to see and do, you might wind up in all four quadrants at some point during your trip! If you’re traveling through Union Station, that is in northeast. If you want to go to a baseball game, Nationals Park is over in southeast. The new District Wharf is over in southwest.
Numbered and Lettered Streets
Starting at the Capitol, numbered streets run north and south. You always have to include the quadrant name at the end of each street. This is probably the most straightforward. Lettered streets run east and west. However, they are trickier.
You start with A Street. There is no B Street anymore. In the 1930s, the B Streets were renamed to Independence and Constitution Avenues. Then it goes up until I Street. It skips over J because the old fashioned I and J actually looked similar. They did not want people to get confused. The lettering then goes up to W. But, it skips over X, Y and Z. After W Street, the system switches to using two syllable words starting with the letter of the alphabet that they correspond to.
Once you get even higher up, they switch from two syllable to three syllable names. So, once you’re confident in your quadrants, your letters, and your numbers, DC is actually a surprisingly easy city to navigate.
State Named Avenues
Each state has its own Avenue (except Ohio, which has a drive in California, which has a street). State avenues run diagonal to the lettered and numbered streets. But, they do not run parallel to each other.
Using these avenues is often the fastest way to get from point A to point B. If you are using an app like Google Maps or Citymapper, it might be possible to navigate them with ease. But if you are relying on your instinct and the street grid alone, it can get a bit confusing. Once you get here and get a little practice using it, it’s really not so bad. Make sure to not forget which quadrant you are looking for.
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