7 Things to Do in the Shaw Neighborhood of Washington, DC
Updated: Aug 13, 2022
There is A LOT to see during any trip to Washington, DC. Before traveling to the nation's capital, you should also have an idea of which of DC's many neighborhoods you'll be staying in to maximize what you see and do. This post highlights things to do and see in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest DC--one of the centers and hubs of African American culture in the District.
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During a recent trip to Washington, DC, we decided to stay near the Shaw-Howard community of Washington, DC. Shaw is located in the Northwestern corner of DC and is well known for being a cultural hub of African-American life and Black entrepreneurship. Historically, the area was home to musicians and celebrities of "Black Broadway" such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Billie Holiday. Today, the area is home to a number of popular bars, restaurants, and nightlife venues, making Shaw an interesting blend of history, culture, and trendy city life.
There are several things to know before planning a trip to Washington, DC. Knowing the best way to get into the city is one of them. We flew into the area via the BWI Airport. From the airport, we took the Amtrak train into central DC's Union Station. The Amtrak is one of the most efficient ways to get into DC because it's efficient, fast, and budget-friendly. For two people, our roundtrip cost for the Amtrak into Union Station was only $10.00! Once you're at Union Station, you can easily access the rest of the city. The closest Metro stops to the Shaw Community are located on the green and yellow lines: U Street, Shaw-Howard, Mt. Vernon Square. All are within walking distance to the neighborhood.
During our visit to Shaw, we stayed at the Cambria Hotel near the Convention Center.
From the Cambria Hotel website:
The Cambria hotel is an affordable Washington, DC stay that I would recommend for solo travelers, couples, or even families with children. They hotel is a 7-10 minute walk to the Mt. Vernon Square - Convention Center DC Metro stop, ideal for accessing the rest of the city. The hotel is also within walking distance or a short metro ride from several central DC attractions, such as the popular monuments and Smithsonian museums, as well as several universities in the area.
Things to Do in Shaw:
1. Visit Howard University.
Howard University is one of the most well-known Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) in the nation and is steeped in African-American history. Howard was chartered in 1867 after the Civil War, originally to educate freed slaves. Howard has since become a staple in the National African American community, graduating famous Black Americans such as Thurgood Marshall, Chadwick Boseman, Kamala Harris, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison. If you do decide to visit, consider scheduling a tour with the staff in the Administration Building.
As Howard is an open campus, it is easy to access the campus. In recent years, with the increasing gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood, Howard has seen a number of visitors who have treated the campus as just another green space or park, which has garnered much push-back from the students. If you do decide to visit, it is important to realize that the campus is first and foremost a place where learning is ACTIVELY happening. Be respectful. Don't walk your dogs. Treat the campus as a hallowed space. (Note: Take this advice from a Howard alumna, a.k.a..... me.)
2. Have Brunch on U Street.
U Street is one of the most active and historical streets in Washington, DC. U Street is home to several Shaw area bars, restaurants, and clubs, making it a hot spot for day parties and nightlife. DC is known for its brunch culture! You haven't done a "Sunday Funday" properly unless you've done it in DC. Expect bottomless brunch and mimosas for a set price of ~$25-35 when you visit U Street restaurants.
On our most recent trip to DC, we visited Hawthorne for Sunday brunch. Hawthorne is a four-story venue with both indoor and outdoor patio options. Mimosas are bottomless for 90 minutes, with a price of $26.99 (with the purchase of at least one breakfast/brunch entree). This venue provided great vibes on Sunday with a DJ and bar serving a variety of other beverages.
3. Stop by the African American Civil War Memorial.
Located in a Plaza near the U Street Metro Stop, the African American Civil War Memorial pays homage to the 200,000+ Black soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. The Memorial includes a life-sized statue of Black Union soldiers and a wall that includes the names of the thousands of soldiers. There is also a small museum across the street from the Memorial that even features a database for soldier descendants.
4. Visit the Historic Ben's Chili Bowl.
Ben's Chili Bowl was founded on August 22, 1958 by Ben Ali and his wife. This restaurant has been named a historic landmark and is considered a staple of the Shaw community. Ben's Chili Bowl and its founders have contributed to the March on Washington, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was one of the few restaurants that stayed open during the DC riots of 1968. Today, Ben's Chili Bowl is known for its Chili Half-Smokes and has nationwide distribution. Ben's has also seen a number of celebrities, including Barack Obama, Dave Chapelle, Anthony Bordain, and several others.
5. Visit Ben's Next Door
If you're visiting the Shaw neighborhood, you can also head to Ben's Next Door, a late night bar attached to the historic institution, Ben's Chili Bowl. There, you can expect daily happy hours from 3-7pm and themed events that may include live bands or DJs. Of course, they also have an amazing brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays!
6. Bike Ride through the Neighborhood
Gentrification is in full swing in the Shaw neighborhood. A bike ride through the neighborhood can give you a lot of information on just how extensive that gentrification is. It is common to see a dilapidated building juxtaposed against a brand new Starbucks or Whole Foods. And even though this means that more money from outside of these communities is being shuttled in to revitalize neighborhoods, this also means that Shaw community members who have lived in these spaces for decades are being priced out of their homes. All visitors to DC should be aware of this ongoing phenomenon and be respectful of the residents who have made DC the cultural capital that it is today.
7. Get a Taste of Little Ethiopia.
Washington, DC has the highest concentration of individuals of Ethiopian descent living outside of Ethiopia. The area known as "Little Ethiopia" encompasses parts of U Street and K Street, and several restaurants in the area boast delicious, authentic Ethiopian food.
Our favorite Ethiopian restaurant whenever we travel to DC is Dukem. Dukem has some of the best Ethiopian food in the District, features a full bar, and also boasts live entertainment on certain nights. The Combination Sampler platters are a must, as well as the restaurant's honey wine!
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