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Washington DC is a popular town for sports fans- people cheer for the Washington Capitals

Washington, D.C., is a popular city for Capitals sports fans. — Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Washington, D.C

Among D.C.'s pro sports franchises, the NFL Redskins and NBA Wizards have had a tough run. The more promising NHL Capitals have disappointed in recent seasons, and the MLB Nationals are still trying to come into their own.

But with the exception of the Redskins, whose stadium is in suburban Landover, Md., the aforementioned teams play in or near downtown D.C. — a convenience fans did not enjoy until the late 1990s. And with numerous NCAA Division I teams, including the Georgetown University Hoyas and University of Maryland Terrapins, the Washington area can field a contender in some sport in any given year.

And let's not forget how sports benefit from politics: Because D.C. is such a power city, fans often have schedule conflicts that free up tickets to games.

Not all Washingtonians work for the federal government, of course. This metropolitan area of 4.2 million stretches from the Chesapeake Bay in the east to the border of West Virginia and supports high-tech companies, media giants, nonprofit organizations and others. Yes, many rely on the government for business (defense contractors come to mind), but the amalgam of so many varied professions makes for a diverse city.

The District of Columbia (population 588,000) embraces more than 100 neighborhoods. Adjoining Prince George's County, Md., is bigger still, with 829,000 residents (and distinction as one of the nation's wealthiest predominately African American counties). The northern Virginia suburbs are also bustling.

The District itself has an easy charm. Skyscrapers are banned to preserve views of federal buildings, and rowing and kayaking on the Potomac River (which divides D.C. from Virginia) are almost as popular as jogging and bicycling on the dedicated trails alongside it. The National Zoo (free admission) is impressive, and the burgeoning restaurant scene has turned once-dreary neighborhoods into hot spots.

Flanking the National Mall (not the shopping variety but a 14-block, tree-lined grassy expanse) is the Smithsonian Institution, one of the world's finest concentrations of free museums. An excellent light rail system — the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro — serves a wide region and spells blessed relief from the district's horrendous traffic.

Unemployment is low, educational attainment high and entertainment offerings bounteous. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other venues stage a wide range of music and theater, and the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival (free) is among the many major events that pass through town.

The metropolitan area has a good supply of physicians and specialists, but a low number of hospital beds per capita. Rates are low for obesity but high for cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. A high share of residents say they eat healthfully and get regular exercise. Surprisingly, the metro area's ranking on our stress index is low. Apparently the power set knows how to let off steam too.

Next: Silicon Valley. »

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