The four quadrants of DC

16 Feb

DC is divided into four quadrants with the Capitol Building’s rotunda as the center. The dividing streets are North Capitol, East Capitol, South Capitol and the National Mall. Therefore, the Mall is basically split down the middle: The Smithsonian Castle, Air and Space Museum and Lincoln Memorial are in southwest DC, while the Natural History Museum and American History Museum are in northwest DC. (Here’s a map of the Mall that I just discovered that newbies might find interesting.)

Street and number addresses start out at the Capitol so there are many identical addresses. That’s why it’s VERY important to note the quadrant, otherwise, you could be looking for a building on K Street SE, for example, when you are really meant to be on K Street NE. This would be a BIG error.

Streets running north and south are numbered (1st, 2nd, etc.) and streets running east-west are letters (interestingly, there’s no J).

The quadrants aren’t identical sizes and they never were. At one time it was an almost perfect square but now—see that big chunk out of southwest?—that’s Arlington and Alexandria, which the district eventually gave back to Virginia.

Northwest is the largest of the quadrants, covering over a third of the city. Its neighborhoods include Federal Triangle, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Adams Morgan and Georgetown, among others.  This quadrant is typically what people think of when they think “DC.”

Southwest is the smallest quadrant and is really just a sliver of the city. Therefore, it’s not often mentioned, and many people don’t realize that half the Mall is actually in the quadrant.  Southwest is dominated by the waterfront area (which is an up-and-coming residential area) as well as the Bolling Air Force Base and Anacostia Naval Station. Check out this local blog to learn more about this quadrant.

Northeast’s neighborhoods include Pleasant Hill, Fort Totten and much of Capitol Hill, among others. The National Arboretum (Love!) and Gallaudet University (a well-known school for the deaf) are also found in Northeast.

Southeast is bisected by the Anacostia River. The quadrant is known for high crime rates. The part west of the river includes the Library of Congress and Eastern Market, but when traveling east of the river you’ll want to be aware of your surroundings. Though that’s always a good idea, no matter where in the city you find yourself.

13 Responses to “The four quadrants of DC”

  1. Taz February 16, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    The ballpark is actually on the SE side of South Capitol, not SW.

    • marseadc February 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

      Gah! Thanks for catching that Taz. I’ve made the correction.

  2. Victoria (District Chocoholic) February 16, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Another very cool thing about the east-west streets is that after running through the alphabet up to “W,” the streets are named with two-syllable words in alphabetical order (with no J, X, or Z), and are then named with three-syllable words in alphabetical order (with no X, Y, or Z). Then, if you are really far out from downtown, the streets are named after flowers and trees in alphabetical order. Helps if you need redirection outside downtown neighborhoods.

    • marseadc February 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

      Thanks Victoria! Good tip. Lord knows I’ve gotten lost in DC more than a few times;c)

  3. Toddy February 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    I’ve lived in DC my whole life and I must say this is an excellent and concise wrap up. Cheers, T.

    • marseadc February 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

      Yay! Thanks Toddy! That means a lot.

  4. doug February 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    “but when traveling east of the river you’ll want to be aware of your surroundings. Though that’s always a good idea, no matter where in the city you find yourself.”

    If it were true of all parts of the city, why didn’t you write this clause in the descriptions for the city’s other quadrants? Are you even aware of when you’re being racists?

    • marseadc February 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your feedback. I’m sorry you feel it’s racist, that certainly wasn’t my intent. DC statistics show that part of the city to have the highest crime rate. That’s why I urged readers to be diligent, but I also wanted to point out that crime can–and does–happen anywhere.

  5. Brickhouse February 27, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    As a resident of Southeast, DC I also find it quite offensive that you don’t mention any of the other positives of Southeast aside from Eastern Market and the Library of Congress. In fact your second sentence is about the crime rate! Yes there are high crime rates in certain neighborhoods in Southeast, but I think that your blurb on Southeast makes it clear that you most likely have never been East of the Anacostia. The most dangerous neighborhood in DC is actually in Northeast, but without doing any in depth research/exploring of the city I doubt that you would know that.

  6. Quentin October 2, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    Bolling Air Force Base and the Anacostia Naval Station (located in Anacostia – duh) is also in SE.

    As a resident of SE, I don’t find your mention of crime here as racist. And yes, I live EAST of the Anacostia River. However, many statistics also point to many individual NE neighborhoods being more dangerous than many individual SE neighborhoods. As for business and infrastructure, SE is still lacking when referring to areas east of the river, but that will change with the relocation of DHS and all subordinate agencies to Saint Elizabeth’s by 2026.

  7. i heart newcomb July 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    I know some SE residents came down on you hard for your characterization of SE. I live in SE, absolutely love it, and wanted to offer you an alternative way to characterize our beloved quadrant. Our quadrant is plagued with negative stereotypes. Beyond those stereotypes, SE is actually a really interesting, up and coming quadrant. I thought maybe now that you are back (Welcome back!) you could consider the following as an update to your characterization:

    Southeast is bisected by the Anacostia River. Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress, Eastern Market, the Yards Waterfront and the National Ballpark are all located west of the Anacostia River. Neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River include Historic Anacostia, Congress Heights (see local blog, and Hillcrest, and attractions include the Frederick Douglass House Museum, the Anacostia Art Museum, and the THEARC.

    • marseadc July 27, 2014 at 2:32 am #

      Love this! Thanks for your thoughts. I’m planning on writing a post about each of the quadrants, and I’ll certainly include this info. Thanks again!

    • ELB November 5, 2014 at 12:20 am #

      Dear i heart newcomb,

      I love how diplomatic you are about your rebuttal to the author’s comments regarding your quadrant. Well said.


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