Washington, D.C. now has Google Earth 3D

Google has recently pushed out a number of new 3D areas. Of special note is Washington, D.C., the capital city of the United States of America. Google usually takes its time releasing capital cities as there are often a lot of landmark buildings and bridges in capital cites that Google pays special attention to. With Washington, D.C. we had assumed the delay was likely getting appropriate flying permission to fly over very security-sensitive areas. However, the imagery was captured sometime around October 2014. Not included in the 3D imagery are the most security-sensitive areas, the area known as the National Mall and surrounds, which includes the White House, the Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial. We don’t know whether this means that it is still being worked on, or will never be added.

When looking around Washington, D.C. we felt that the trees seem to look more realistic than they used to in older 3D imagery. We believe this is because Google has got better at dealing with overhangs in the 3D imagery processing. It is difficult to do comparisons of Google’s progress on 3D imagery, as they don’t date the imagery and many areas have been reprocessed or updated over time. However, there was a water tower in Paris that we looked at a couple of years ago and the improvement is clear. At that time almost all objects with overhangs had vertical sides down to the ground, which caused trees to look like large bushes.

A water tower in Paris, France, as seen in Google Earth 3D. Left: September 2014, Right: as it looks now.

Now, trees and other objects seem to have quite significant overhangs, with the trunk of the tree either visible or non-existent, but still a much better effect than vertical sides.

Although Google still can’t image the underside of trees, the overhang and level of detail of the road under the trees is impressive.

When Google adds 3D to an area they turn off the old type of 3D buildings, and often turn them off for a region around the new 3D area. This is also the case for Washington, D.C., but it seems to have been somewhat selective. The White House, for example, is missing but fountains on either side of it are still there. This is not censorship, as the old 3D models are still available if you switch to ‘historical imagery’.

Also of special interest, parts of Cape Town, South Africa are now in 3D. The Cape Town imagery was captured around January 2015.

To see what’s new see our KML file or for the very latest finds see the comments at the end of this post. Once again, thank you to all those GEB readers who contribute to finding new areas and/or drawing the outlines.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. More than 24 hours on from the post, 3D imagery for Washington DC has not appeared on my screen in the UK whilst fine elsewhere including nearby Baltimore.

    Any info on why or tips on getting the imagery to work gratefully received.

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      I have not experienced that before. In the past when I couldn’t see new 3D it turned out I had forgotten to turn on the 3D buildings layer or the ‘terrain’ layer in Google Earth Pro. Perhaps you could try clearing your cache?

      • Thanks for the tips. but the issue persists. 3D buildings was enabled and other 3D imagery works fine as mentioned. Neither the memory or disk caches can be cleared as the ‘delete file’ button is greyed out even though I am not logged in. GE help offers nothing under any heading or on search as far as I can determine.

        So I am still wondering if others are experiencing anything like this?

        • Timothy Whitehead says

          To delete the cache, you need to go to “File->Server Sign Out”. Alternatively exit Google Earth and do it manually. On windows it is found in “%AppData%\LocalLow\Google\GoogleEarth” and is named something like “unified_cache_leveldb_leveldb2”. You can safely delete the cache folder, but don’t delete other files found there such as your ‘myplaces.kml’.

          • Thanks again for the tips, but the first did not conjure up 3D Washington, and I cannot find equivalent caches on a Mac, so could there be some selective censorship?

          • Timothy Whitehead says

            Just to be certain, did you first sign out then delete the cache via Tools->Options->Cache->Delete Cache file ? If it is not an issue unique to your PC then it might be related to how Google replicates the data around the world. It wouldn’t be censorship and I can see it without a problem from South Africa.

  2. I hope your theory about Google wanting to touch the central parts up is correct, rather than an outright security ban. Censorship of public areas like this is pointless and annoying. Plenty of other countries have their national capitals in 3D.

    • Don’t worry. Sooner or later, all of Washington DC will have 3D imagery on Google Earth/Maps.

      Other companies, such as Vricon, have already provided 3D imagery for all of Washington DC on their applications, so it’s been done before.

      The reason why Google is taking its own sweet time is that it’s trying to make sure the 3D imagery is as detailed as possible.

  3. In reply to your 7 August comment, and thanks again for the tip, I could find nothing like that in Tools in the GE menu bar on my Mac, but clearing the caches via GE preferences finally did the trick (although no yellow triangle appears to show new 3D coverage). The question about censorship was only half serious

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      The yellow triangles have not been updated since October last year. For the extent of coverage use our KML file

      • The KLM is a great piece of research and very helpful. I suppose with all the clever 2D/3D/Street View stuff in Maps no one in Google has time to put the odd yellow triangle on the Voyager layers.

  4. As of this past week, the Washington DC 3D mesh is gone. I was looking at it again to show a friend and it was gone. I guess Google Earth didn’t want to release it permanently after all.

  5. Yes. What happened?

  6. I’m sure they’re waiting until the scaffolding is off the capital dome.

  7. Brian Stevens says

    The White House still isn’t in 3D… interesting.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.