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Named after a fort that was built during the Civil War as part of the Northern Defenses, the neighborhood of Fort Totten sits at a high point overlooking the Soldiers’ Home or Military Asylum and President Lincoln’s summer home. It is located near Washington, DC’s border with Maryland, close to Silver Spring, and several miles from the US Capitol. The area is bounded by Riggs Road to the north, the Metro tracks to the east, Hawaii Avenue to the south, and North Capitol Street to the west.
For many Washington DC residents, Fort Totten immediately conjures its Metro station. But residents of this upper Northeast community see it as much more than a transfer point. Locals appreciate getting more space for their money, and they like that the area provides an escape from the frenetic vibe of Downtown DC. It’s a quiet, middle-class neighborhood where a lot of federal government workers have lived since the 1950s and passed their homes down to generations. Though Fort Totten is a mostly older, African American community, young families have been moving into the area, too.
Since most of the homes were built in the 1900s, they appear more utilitarian and non-descript compared to housing in other parts of the city. There are also row or townhomes that were developed shortly after World War II and a few mid-to high-rise apartment buildings in Fort Totten built over the past few decades.
Art Place stands as the biggest development in Fort Totten. Just steps from the Metro station, the Modern At Art Place apartment complex was completed in 2017 with 520 studios to two-bedroom units, a great addition to the neighborhood considering the high percentage of renters here.
This neighborhood is mostly low in crime, with the exception of the far upper northeast corner, in the area just north of the Metro station.
The Fort Totten Metro Station serves as a transfer point for the Green, Yellow, and Red Lines. With three Metro lines, you can walk out your door and find a seat on the Metro in under three minutes. The convenience can’t be beat living one metro stop away from Brookland, Petworth, and Takoma Park. On average, it takes about 10 minutes to get to U Street, 15 minutes to Gallery Place, and a reasonable 30 minutes to the airport. Several bus routes also serve the area, with North Capitol Street and Missouri Avenue as the main thoroughfares. 18 bus stops in Fort Totten make it easy for commuters.
Drivers will have an easier time here with access to I295 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The National Park Service actually touts the latter as being designed especially for recreational driving since it links sites that commemorate important episodes in American history. Unlike other areas in DC, parking in Fort Totten is easy. And if you’re headed to Maryland, you’re a quick five minutes from the border.
Because of being further out from the urban buzz, the area is only somewhat walkable and bikeable. However, there are several options for bike and scooter rentals in the area.
In keeping with all the quiet space in Fort Totten, you won’t find any sit-down bars or restaurants here. The nearby neighborhood of Brookland offers the closest sit-down dining. For food on the run, there’s fast-casual food around, like Five Guys burgers, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s.
For arguably some of the best beer made in DC and an oft-raved-about ambiance, head over to nearby Riggs Park to visit Hellbender Brewing Company. Sample a range of Euro- and American-style ales served by the growler and pint. In good weather, there’s outdoor seating, so you can even bring your dog. Though Hellbender doesn’t serve food, they usually have food trucks catering to the crowd on weekends. And you can even bring your own snacks.
What you can get right in Fort Totten is a great cup of coffee served with savory empanadas, pies, and chorizo and eggs. Seek out La Coop Coffee set up in a charming renovated bungalow on 1st Street, NW. The owner sources their beans from his hometown in Guatemala and roasts them every few weeks, which speaks to the freshness of their product. You can also order croissants, bagels, and cupcakes with a chai latte, tea, or horchata.
Next door in Brightwood Park, you’ll find Jackie Lees. It’s worth a visit to this local watering hole for suds and light bar fare, especially the smoked ribs and wings. Pull up a seat at the bar and relax in its divey, dimly-lit atmosphere, or bring friends to play one of its vintage board games.
If you like to cook at home, you can shop for all your ingredients and staple groceries at nearby members-only Costco and Fort Totten’s Walmart Supercenter. When you’re in a pinch and need to pick up just a few items, stop into Price Grocery, where you’ll find a basic selection of goods along the lines of a convenience store.
With all the mixed-use developments happening, more and more retail is sure to move into the neighborhood attached to apartment complexes. However, Fort Totten does not currently boast much in the way of retail shopping (at least not at the time of the writing of this guide).
With all the space in the neighborhood, sport cycling and hiking are popular activities in the community. Take advantage of Fort Totten Park and the Washington Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs from the Silver Spring Metro Station to Washington Union Station in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC.
Fort Totten Park hosts the remnants of one of 68 Civil War forts that once defended the city, though the fort itself is overgrown and off-limits. You can see the moat, dry now, of course, and some parts of the walls. There’s a circular open field surrounded by wooded trails where, if you’re a wildlife lover, you can spot lots of deer.
Fort Totten is home to one of the campuses of the University of the District of Columbia Community College. UDC-CC offers associate degrees, certificates, workforce development, and lifelong learning programs that are market-driven and learner-focused. The Bertie Backus location operates near the Fort Totten Metro station, where students can enroll in practical nursing, nursing assistant, and home health aide programs and the architectural engineering, fashion merchandising, and construction management degree programs. The school plans continued expansion.