10 Things to See & Do On U Street

With so much to offer, here are the top must-do activities in and around the strip

1. Live Music

From the underground U Street Music Hall to the spacious 9:30 Club, live music abounds. Catch jazz or eat brunch gospel-style at Howard Theatre, or get down to funky ska bands, European-imported DJs and EDM sets in the neighborhood’s other performance spaces.

2. Duke Ellington Statue

Duke Ellington Statue
Photo by DDOT DC

Duke, the prodigal son of DC, is celebrated in a new, photo-friendly memorial standing proudly outside the facade of Howard Theatre. The statue was dedicated in 2012 at the opening of the theater. Ellington sits next to a treble clef, emblematic of his contribution to music and culture in DC.

3. 14&U Farmers’ Market

Though fantastic and affordable restaurants are sprinkled throughout U Street, we recommend waking up early and perusing the farmers’ market spread out at the northwest corner of 14 and U. Area growers truck in vibrant vegetables, dairy, meat and other edibles. It’s open Saturday mornings, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., from May to November, and is a great way to get to know the locals (both people and produce).

4. Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park

Situated a couple blocks north of U Street, Meridian Hill Park is the largest in this part of town. The design inspiration comes from an Italian garden, complete with a cascading fountain. A unique, community-led drum circle forms every Sunday afternoon and evening, while groups play soccer, have picnics and simply enjoy the sun. Locals often refer to it by its alias: Malcolm X Park.

5. Vintage Shopping

If you’ve already hit the national retailers or prefer to hunt around, wander through the many vintage and secondhand shops lining U Street. You’ll find everything from dresses to dressers to tees and end tables at funky, offbeat establishments like Junction, GoodWood and Legendary Beast.

6. Ethiopian Restaurants

Among its many nicknames, U Street was also once known as “Little Ethiopia” for a stretch of restaurants that dotted the street. Many Ethiopian eateries have since moved to Silver Spring, MD and Alexandria, VA, but there are still a couple of time-honored eateries that pay tribute to the Horn of Africa region, like Dukem Restaurant. Go there for intriguing spices, bright colors and a spongy bread called injera, all of which you can eat with your hands.

7. African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

This important memorial is hidden in plain sight, right at the U Street Metro stop exit. Admire the bronze statue and its related museum just across the street, where kids can try on Civil War attire and commemorate the more than 200,000 African-American fighters for the Union during the Civil War. The memorial and museum were placed here in honor of the neighborhood being a heart of African-American culture in the city.

8. Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Speaking of history: nothing says both “culture” and “delicious” like a stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s been continuously serving the community since 1958. Locals, celebrities and even U.S. Presidents have walked inside for service at the original stools, booths and Formica counter and for Ben’s signature dish: the traditional DC half-smoke smothered in chili. It’s open early and very late, and now offers multiple locations, including one at Reagan National Airport.

9. Street Murals

Street Murals

Photo by The Phillips Collection

Sure, DC may have more museums than any city in the country, but you can also find art on the streets. From the Phillips Collection-commissioned work on 905 U Street NW to the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl, street murals are waiting to be admired up and down U Street.

10. Happy Hour

After a long day of taking in this one-of-a-kind street, do as DC’s 9-to-5 set does and unwind at a happy hour. The many restaurants and bars here offer fantastic deals starting at 5 p.m. on food and drinks. Take a minute to relax.