Georgetown might be the first neighborhood that comes to mind when you think of Washington, D.C., but it doesn’t have a lock on neighborhood history in the nation’s capital.
Architecturally beautiful, culturally rich, and historically fascinating, the U Street Historic District is where those in-the-know come to enjoy themselves like a local.
Table of Contents
- 1 U Street in Washington DC
- 2 How to get to U Street
- 3 U Street Hotels and Vacation Rentals in D.C.
- 4 U Street History
- 5 Tours around U Street
- 6 U Street Nightlife
- 7 U Street Restaurants and Coffee Shops
- 8 U Street Off the Beaten Track
- 9 U Street Shopping
- 10 Pin it and Start Planning!
U Street in Washington DC
Whether you are in the mood for some history, shopping, nightlife, or just a whole lot of local flavor, take some time off from the National Mall and Smithsonian museums to work your way through our top 25 recommendations for U Street NW.
But first, a bit of planning and logistical information to get you there.
How to get to U Street
The easiest way to get around D.C. is to walk, bike, scooter or take the Metro. And the U Street neighborhood (sometimes called the U Street corridor)
- Nearest Metro stop: U Street Metro/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo
Parking in D.C. can be painful, and U Street is no different. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find parking; it just might take you longer to find an open spot on the street.
Pay close attention to parking signs, as there is a lot of residential permitted parking in the area.
U Street Hotels and Vacation Rentals in D.C.
U Street History
City Within A City: The Greater U Street Heritage Trail
A neighborhood of deeply important historical significance, U Street stands today, as it has over the course of the last century, as the civic and cultural heart of African American history in DC.
This 90-minute self-guided audio walking tour loops through the U Street Historic District, hitting all the highlights from its architecture and notable residents to the heart of Black culture and social significance.
The Harlem Renaissance in DC Walking Tour
Take a guided stroll through an era when DC’s “Black Broadway” was at its apex and the sidewalks of U Street were crowded with a who’s-who of Black artists, musicians, and intelligentsia.
African American Civil War Memorial
The Spirit of Freedom Statue and Wall of Honor commemorate the service of the 209,145 “U.S. Colored Troops” who died fighting for the Union in the Civil War.
African American Civil War Museum
Across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial, a gated alleyway leads to the African American Civil War Museum, home to a treasure trove of Black-American artifacts and information related to the Civil War.
Built in 1922, Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughn all graced the Lincoln’s stage in its heyday. Check online to see what’s playing now.
Built in 1910, the Howard stage was a centerpiece of Black Broadway, falling into and out of decline over the decades until its spectacular renovation completed in 2012.
Check online to see the current show schedule, or to grab a seat at the theatre’s Sunday Gospel Brunch.
Tours around U Street
U Street Nightlife
Housed in a club once owned by Duke Ellington and a DC fixture since 1980, 9:30 has hosted thousands of independent live music acts – and more than a few surprise performances by music legends – over its four decades of existence.
Nellie’s Sports Bar
Named after the owner’s grandmother and great grandmother, Nellie’s was a part of the first wave of new residents and businesses that arrived in the neighborhood in the early 2000s.
Now rooted in the U Street community and a popular watering hole for DC’s LGBTQ community, it’s a great place for a beer or some laid-back, high-quality bar food, music and nightlife.
The Saturday Drag Brunches are legendary.
Solly’s U Street Tavern
If you are looking for an old-school, no frills, kinda divey bar to toss back a few drinks and relax, Solly’s can’t be beat. Kick back at the bar or on the patio out front.
U Street Restaurants and Coffee Shops
Ben’s Chili Bowl
An iconic DC landmark, Ben’s is more than a place to grab a half-smoke, it’s a destination unto itself.
Plan enough time to peruse the photos that line every square inch of the walls and to just hang out and watch the neighbors come and go.
Henry’s Soul Café
A carry out mainstay in DC since 1968, Henry’s is known for “fine southern cooking and sweet potato pie.”
Come with an appetite, grab your grub, and head three blocks up to enjoy soul food alfresco in Meridian Hill.
Home to the largest Ethiopian community in the country, the DC area has no shortage of great Ethiopian restaurants to choose from, especially around U Street which was once dubbed DC’s “Little Ethiopia.”
Dukem is the largest and most established of the Ethiopian restaurants in the area, and its relaxed sports-bar-like vibe (there’s also an outdoor patio) is lively and welcoming.
Busboys and Poets
Named for poet Langston Hughes – who worked as a busboy at DC’s Wardman Park hotel in the 1920s – art, music, books, culture, politics, coffee, and food are all on the menu at this popular DC gathering spot one block north of U Street at 14th and T.
A new addition to the neighborhood, Lulu’s replaced local stalwart Vinoteca in early 2020 but the wine still flows, and the front and back patios buzz with conversation.
American Ice Company
No frills, tasty barbecue in a laid-back bar and beer garden. Try the “Swachos” (pork, queso, and jalapeno nachos) and swoon.
One block north of U Street at 10th and V.
Tacos El Chilango
Three generations of the Santacruz family have run taquerias in the US and Mexico and it shows. Fresh, bright, simple, good, and affordable food pours out of this D.C. taco joint.
One block north of U Street at 12th and V.
The Coffee Bar
Caffeinate like a local at this truly neighborhood joint. Get there early to grab a seat on the expansive sidewalk patio under the trees.
One block south of U Street at 12th and T.
The original of this local favorite’s two locations is one block south of U Street on 14th and T and features staff-made “coffee art” on the walls and a service counter salvaged from the old Hershey’s Chocolate Factory.
Come for the coffee and stay for the incredible cookies, scones, and more that are baked right behind the counter.
U Street Off the Beaten Track
If you don’t understand Go-go music, you don’t understand DC; get yourself educated at this unassuming shop housed inside of a cell service store.
The always-thumping Go-go beats emanating from the shop keep the neighborhood energy upbeat and offer a welcome dose of community history to this rapidly changing area.
In the Metro By T-Mobile store at the corner of Florida (where U Street intersects) and 7th.
U Street Farmers Market
The corner of 14th and U is transformed into a festive outdoor market every Saturday morning, Spring through Fall, with everything from fresh produce and baked goods to gelato on offer.
Meridian Hill/Malcom X Park Fountain
Designated National Historic Landmark in 1932, you will find the peaceful, cascading fountains of Meridian Hill/Malcom X park – the longest of its kind in North America – a quick two block walk north of U Street at 15th and W.
Atlantic Plumbing Landmark Theatre
The Landmark Theatres are the DC-area’s answer to art house; get there well ahead of the movie or stay late after for drinks in the airy and stylish full-service bar.
U Street Shopping
Eclectic vintage furniture, clothing, décor, baubles and more.
A newer addition to the eclectic U Street shopping scene, Joint Custody is the destination for vintage music, sports, and culture clothing and ephemera.
Spend hours shopping Zawadi’s inspired global inventory of clothing, design items, home goods, jewelry and more.