Updated: Apr 22
There are A LOT of amazing things to do in Shaw, DC, and generally, in 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 Shaw, DC, a neighborhood of Northwest Washington, DC--one of the centers and hubs of African American culture in the District.
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History of Shaw, DC:
Shaw is one of the most vibrant and historic neighborhoods in Washington, DC, known for its diverse culture, rich history, and lively entertainment scene. Located in the Northwest quadrant of the city, Shaw has undergone significant revitalization over the years, making it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
One of the best things to do in Shaw is to explore the neighborhood's history. As one of DC's oldest neighborhoods, Shaw is home to many iconic landmarks, including the historic Howard Theatre and the African American Civil War Memorial. Visitors can take a walking tour of the neighborhood to learn about its storied past and see some of the city's most significant architectural gems. Historically, the area was home to musicians and celebrities of "Black Broadway" such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Billie Holiday. It was truly a cultural hub of African-American life and Black entrepreneurship.
Shaw is also known for its vibrant culinary scene. The neighborhood boasts a wide variety of dining options, ranging from casual street food to upscale restaurants. Visitors can indulge in some of the city's best soul food, sample authentic Ethiopian cuisine, or enjoy a craft cocktail at one of Shaw's many trendy bars.
Whether you're interested in history, culture, or cuisine, Shaw has something for everyone. With so many things to see and do, it's no wonder that Shaw has become one of DC's most popular destinations.
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.
Shaw is incredibly central, and the neighborhood is accessible by several modes of transportation, including Metro, bus, and car. If you're using public transportation, the best way to get to Shaw is by taking the Metro from Union Station. The Yellow and Green Lines both have stops in the neighborhood, including the Shaw-Howard University Station and the Mt. Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center Station. These stations are located just a short walk from the heart of Shaw, making it easy to explore the neighborhood on foot.
For those traveling by bus, there are several bus routes that serve Shaw, including the 70, 71, and 79 buses. These routes run throughout the city and provide convenient access to the neighborhood.
If you prefer to drive, there are several parking options in Shaw, including street parking and public garages. However, parking can be limited in the neighborhood, especially during peak hours, so it's best to plan ahead and arrive early to secure a spot. Another great option for getting to Shaw is by bike or scooter. The neighborhood has several bike lanes and bike-share options, making it easy to explore on two wheels. Additionally, electric scooters are available for rent throughout the city, providing a fun and convenient way to get around.
No matter how you choose to get to Shaw, it's easy to see why this vibrant neighborhood has become one of DC's most popular destinations. So pack your bags, grab your walking shoes, and head to Shaw for an unforgettable experience.
Accommodations in Shaw, DC:
Shaw is a vibrant and dynamic neighborhood in Washington, DC, with plenty of accommodation options for visitors looking to explore the city. From luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels, there is something for everyone in this bustling area. 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, DC:
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.
If you're looking for a quintessential DC experience, there's nothing quite like brunch on U Street. This vibrant neighborhood is home to some of the city's best brunch spots, serving up everything from classic American fare to global cuisine.
One popular brunch spot in U Street is The Fainting Goat. This cozy restaurant serves up creative dishes like chorizo tostada as well as more traditional options like Eggs Benedict . Pair your meal with one of their brunch cocktails, like the "Espresso Martini" or the "Seasonal Sangria."
Another must-try brunch spot in U Street is Busboys and Poets. This community-focused eatery features a diverse menu of comfort food classics, including buttermilk pancakes, french toast, and shrimp and grits. In addition to great food, Busboys and Poets is also a popular gathering spot for artists, activists, and intellectuals, with regular events and programming that celebrate the arts and social justice.
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.
Whether you're in the mood for classic American fare or international cuisine, U Street has something for everyone. So gather your friends, make a reservation, and enjoy a delicious brunch in one of DC's most vibrant neighborhoods.
3. Stop by the African American Civil War Memorial.
One of the most significant historical landmarks in Shaw is the African American Civil War Memorial. This powerful monument serves as a reminder of the sacrifices and contributions made by African American soldiers during the Civil War, who fought for their own freedom and for the Union cause.
The African American Civil War Memorial is located on U Street and features a bronze statue of three soldiers, representing the more than 200,000 African American soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War. The statue is surrounded by a Wall of Honor, which displays the names of more than 200,000 soldiers who fought for their freedom and for the Union.
In addition to the memorial itself, visitors can also explore the adjacent museum, which offers a fascinating look at the history of the Civil War and the role that African American soldiers played in the conflict. The museum features interactive exhibits, historical artifacts, and multimedia presentations that bring this important period of American history to life.
Visiting the African American Civil War Memorial is a powerful and moving experience that offers a unique perspective on the history of the Civil War and the contributions of African American soldiers. Whether you're a history buff or simply interested in learning more about this important chapter in American history, the memorial and museum are not to be missed.
4. Visit the Historic Ben's Chili Bowl.
No visit to Shaw would be complete without a stop at Ben's Chili Bowl, a beloved institution that has been serving up classic American fare since 1958. This iconic restaurant, also named as a historic landmark, is famous for its signature dish, the half-smoke, a spicy sausage that has become a DC staple.
Ben's Chili Bowl has a rich history that is deeply tied to the community of Shaw. Ben's Chili Bowl was founded on August 22, 1958 by Ben Ali and his wife Virginia, who opened the first location on U Street during a time of segregation and racial tension. Despite the challenges they faced, Ben's Chili Bowl quickly became a beloved gathering spot for people of all backgrounds, including activists, musicians, and politicians.
Today, Ben's Chili Bowl is a cherished part of DC's cultural fabric, attracting locals and tourists alike with its delicious food and lively atmosphere. In addition to the half-smoke, the menu features a range of classic diner fare, including burgers, chili cheese fries, and milkshakes.
One of the most notable features of Ben's Chili Bowl is its famous mural, which adorns the exterior of the building and features portraits of civil rights icons, local celebrities, and other prominent figures. The mural is a testament to the restaurant's role as a community gathering place and its commitment to social justice and equality. Ben's has seen a number of celebrities, including Barack Obama, Dave Chapelle, Anthony Bordain, and several others.
Whether you're a longtime fan of Ben's Chili Bowl or a first-time visitor, a stop at this iconic restaurant is a must when visiting Shaw. So grab a seat at the counter, order up a half-smoke and some chili cheese fries, and savor a taste of DC history.
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.
A visit to Shaw would not be complete without a stop in the neighborhood's vibrant Little Ethiopia district. Located along 9th Street NW, Little Ethiopia is home to a vibrant community of Ethiopian immigrants and offers visitors a chance to experience the unique culture and cuisine of this East African country.
Our favorite Ethiopian restaurant whenever we travel to DC is Dukem, a family-owned eatery that has been serving up authentic Ethiopian cuisine since 1994. The restaurant features an extensive menu of traditional dishes, including injera (a sourdough flatbread) topped with a variety of flavorful stews and curries, as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
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!
Shaw is a vibrant and dynamic neighborhood in Washington, DC that is packed with history, culture, and plenty of things to do. From exploring the colorful street art to enjoying a delicious meal at a local restaurant, there are always numerous things to do in Shaw, DC for visitors of all ages.
One of the things that makes Shaw so unique is its diverse community. The neighborhood is home to a variety of cultures and traditions, from the Ethiopian community in Little Ethiopia to the historical African-American community with roots in Shaw since th 1800s. This diversity is reflected in the neighborhood's food, music, and art scenes, making Shaw a truly authentic and eclectic destination.
Another great thing about Shaw is its accessibility. The neighborhood is located just a few blocks from downtown DC and is easily accessible by public transportation, bike, or on foot. This makes it a great place to explore for visitors who want to get off the beaten path and experience a more local side of the city.
Overall, Shaw is a must-visit destination for anyone who wants to experience the rich culture and history of the Black Diaspora in Washington, DC. With its lively atmosphere, diverse community, and endless things to do, Shaw is a neighborhood that will leave a lasting impression on any visitor.
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