Whenever relatives and friends from Georgia come to visit, the Parsons family knows they have to take their guests to landmarks such as the White House, the Smithsonian and the Washington Monument. But the good part is that they don't have to drive around. All they do is hop on a free shuttle bus from the complex where the family lives, Columbia Crossing. The bus takes them to the nearest Metro station, and in minutes, with little hassle, all are discovering--or rediscovering--Washington.

"So many people live far away and don't get to enjoy this," said Bill Parsons, a retired Air Force officer. "We enjoy all the things D.C. has to offer."

Close to the District, but not too close, can best define Columbia Crossing, a 248-unit garden-style rental complex in Arlington. And the free shuttle to Metro's Pentagon station is only one of the amenities provided by the rental community, built in 1989. It also offers 10 floor plans and free garage parking, available on a first-come, first-served basis--a perk that's especially handy over the winter, residents said.

The apartments also have crown molding, and every unit connects the kitchen and dining room with a pass-through counter that is trimmed with accent molding, adding architectural interest to the apartment. And, beyond that classy touch, each apartment features either a balcony or a patio, fully equipped kitchen with gas stove, plenty of closet space and a washer and dryer.

Parsons and his wife, Rita, are residents of three years. This is the second time the family has lived at Columbia Crossing: They once moved away after deciding to rent a town house. After only a year, though, the Parsonses were back at the rental complex. Now, they said, they can only imagine themselves moving if they buy a house. "It is a really neat community," Bill Parsons said.

The Parsonses didn't bother to look any farther when they decided to leave that town house. "We didn't even consider any other place," said Bill Parsons.

The shuttle bus, which in about 10 minutes takes residents to the Pentagon Metro, runs as early as 6:30 a.m. and as late as 7:30 p.m. For Rita Parsons, the shuttle is useful not only when she has visitors but on a daily basis as well: It takes her to work at the Pentagon, where she is a civilian employee of the Air Force.

Michael Jenkins, a federal employee who works near Judiciary Square, also has a nicer commute thanks to the shuttle. He, his wife, Tina, and Alexa, their 4-year-old daughter, have been living at Columbia Crossing since the family relocated from California. "If you are looking for an apartment in Arlington, this is the place," Jenkins said.

While relocating, the Jenkinses shopped around. "I looked at a lot of properties," Tina Jenkins said. "And this was the best one, considering the price and the location."

When they first saw the property, they were impressed by how clean it looked, she said. When they saw the size of the apartments, they were definitely sold. "They are bigger than average," she said. They are not only more spacious, but also have two nice details that caught her attention: the Edwardian molding and a step-down foyer.

Maintenance is another big plus at Columbia Crossing, Tina Jenkins said. It doesn't matter whether a problem is big or small, she said, it always is fixed right away. And the management, she said, "goes the extra mile."

The way that maintenance problems are solved at Columbia Crossing is one thing that David and Elizabeth Broich said they will miss when they leave. The Broiches, both of whom are with the Navy, bought a house in Virginia Beach and will relocate in November.

The Broiches will miss their neighbors, too. The fact that Columbia Crossing is a garden-style community accounts for a friendly atmosphere, Elizabeth Broich said. People end up having closer contact with their neighbors than they would in a high-rise building, she added.

"Everybody here is so nice," she said. During her pregnancy and after the birth of Katherine, who now is 8 weeks old, neighbors fussed over her, asking about the baby and her health, she said.

The youngest Columbia Crossing resident and her older brother, John, 2, usually have a good time at nearby Towers Park, which features basketball and tennis courts, a tot lot and picnic areas. But residents can find things to do at the complex as well. Several times a year, the management promotes parties and get-togethers, most recently an ice cream social and a barbecue pool party. A happy hour was scheduled for this past Friday.

"It's a way to say hi and get to know the residents," property manager Scott Finberg said.

With four people on staff, including a resident maintenance employee, Columbia Crossing is managed by Charles E. Smith Residential Realty Inc., a real estate investment trust based in Arlington that manages more than 15,000 units in the Washington area.

COLUMBIA CROSSING

1957 Columbia Pike

Arlington, Va. 22204

703-685-0855

* Application fee: $35

* Security deposit: None; $275 nonrefundable moving fee

* Lease term: One year

* Utilities: Not included

* Amenities: Swimming pool; fitness room; guest suite; clubhouse; storage room; 24-hour maintenance service

* Parking: Free indoor and outdoor lots

* Pet policy: No pets allowed

APARTMENT SIZE

QUANTITY

SQUARE FEET

MONTHLY RENTAL

1BR/1BA

102

765 to 862

$989 to $1,054

1 BR/1BA/DEN

32

960 to 1,003

$1,216 to $1,236

2 BR/2 BA

102

1,000 to 1,134

$1,255 to 1,440

3BR/2BA

12

1,234

$1,725