ARLINGTON, Va. — Among major America cities, Washington, D.C.’s skyline is the lowest. The lack of skyscrapers is part of what makes the District unique. Just across the river, Arlington County isn’t as restricted. The View of DC provides a free observation deck second only to the Washington Monument in height.

The View of DC

Located at 1201 Wilson Blvd and accessed from 1731 N. Moore Street, just steps from the Rosslyn Metro station, The View of DC has free admission. Guests 16 and older are asked to show ID to the security desk.

After processing, the elevator takes visitors to 31st floor observation area. Facing northwest, the elevator quickly delivers guests hundreds of feet into the sky. Georgetown, the National Cathedral and even Tysons are visible on the ride up.

The observation deck has large class windows in all directions. Since 1201 Wilson, also known as CEB1 Tower at Central Place, is the tallest building in the immediate DC vicinity, there are only a few obstructions to the view, notably the 1812 N. Moore Street building.

Looking north towards Georgetown and the National Cathedral

To the west, the Orange Lion corridor dominates the immediate view. To the northwest, the Tysons skyline and CIA headquarters are visible. Moving more to the north Georgetown, the National Cathedral, Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Silver Spring come into view. Moving more to the northeast, McKinely High School, Howard University and even Hyattsville can be seen. In the east, downtown D.C., the National Mall including the Washington Monument which is the only higher observation deck in the area.

The southeast view has the Potomac, Rosslyn’s twin towers2 as well as the Pentagon, Crystal City, Pentagon City and National Airport. Arlington Cemetery is in view. The southern view shows the high-rises of Alexandria’s West End and Bailey’s Crossroads.

Since entry is free, View of DC can be done regularly and with groups. I hope to go in all seasons. It’s a good family activity too.

Background

Starting 1970s, the tallest skyline inside the Beltway3 has been Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. Proximity to National Airport has kept the skyline from being even taller. According to folklore, when the Rosslyn Twin Towers were built, occupants on the higher floors were troubled by the sight of airliners on the River Visual approach flying below them.

Prior to the construction of 1201 Wilson, Tom Sarris’ Orleans House, known for prime rib and a large salad bar. I never ate there, but should have.

Looking up at The View of DC

Stats

Remember Emporis? It was the definite building database site before it got taken down for some reason. Thankfully, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine exists.

Anyhow, Emporis said that 1201 Wilson is the tallest building in Arlington by one foot over 1812 N. Moore Street (Nestle’s North American headquarters). That’s 391 feet above street-level. An online topographic mapping tool says street-level is 150ish feet above sea-level. Let’s be conservative and take 30 feet off the top of the building and add that up – that puts the observation deck at over 500 feet above the Potomac River which is sea level.

By comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall and 50ish feet above sea level. So, that’s a higher view, but with smaller windows, ticketed entry and chronic elevator problems (Washingtonian).

Getting there

Take Metro – the elevator to the top is only about 100 feet from the Rosslyn station which serves the Silver, Orange and Blue lines. Buses also stop near by.

Or ride your bike – its near the Mount Vernon and Custis trail terminuses.

Footnotes

1There was a period when it seemed like everybody I knew interviewed with the Corporate Executive Board. I interviewed with them twice. I don’t know anybody who got hired though.

2My first post-college job was in 1100 Wilson on the 24th floor looking south.

3The tallest building in the area and Northern Virginia is now at the Capital One complex just inside the Beltway in Tysons. That building though, does not have the highest prominence due to its lower elevation than the Tyson apex.

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