Best Suburb

Fairfax County

For Washingtonians, it’s easy to think of the suburbs in terms of their IKEAs, their ethnic restaurants, and not much else. But that’s a trap. Washington suburbs are, in fact, very weird.

Take Fairfax County. Removed enough from Washington to avoid the spillover me-tooism of Arlington’s skyscrapers but not as remote as, say, Prince William County, Fairfax possesses strip malls enormous enough to satisfy any nostalgia for a suburban childhood. (The most exalted ones are called “town centres.”) With a top-ranked school system and status as one of America’s richest counties, it looks like nothing more than a good place to raise a family.

But underneath that bedroom-community image lurks a mixing bowl where rural Virginia and metropolitan Washington swirl around each other in odd, gothic ways. I-95’s high speeds and interchanges produce bizarre accidents. Horses are mutilated at a surprising rate. Teens film one another smashing gallons of milk in supermarkets and taking acrobatic spills.

And oh, the gangs. In 2011, 18 months ahead of the FBI, Fairfax County cops declared that Juggalos—fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse—were a criminal street gang.