A Day Out Around D.C.'s U Street

by Miriam Chernick
Average rating of 4.5/5. (2 Ratings)
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Well-known as Duke Ellington's birthplace and — in the heyday of jazz — a regular destination for Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, the U Street neighborhood is still a draw for nighttime clubgoers. But for families with kids, the best time to visit is during the day. There are plenty of good restaurants (including the famous Ben's Chili Bowl), historical landmarks and residential streets lined with 19th-century Victorian row houses. The U Street corridor is part of the larger Shaw neighborhood, which grew out of freed slave encampments and became a thriving, though segregated, African American community in the early 1900s. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968, riots erupted and the neighborhood was severely damaged. Only in the last 20 years has the area been rebuilt and revitalized, making it a fun and interesting local destination.


Miriam and her children, Sydney (13), Hannah (11) and Ben (8)

Why families love it:

Its history, interesting architecture, good food and local charm make the U Street neighborhood a fun place to spend a weekend afternoon.

How to get there:

U Street is right at the U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro station on the Green line. If you drive, metered parking is available on U Street and some side streets. On weekday mornings and afternoons, parking is fairly easy to find. Nights and weekends can be more difficult.

Driving Directions from Virginia on I-395: Take I-395 northbound into Washington, DC. The bridge you cross puts you onto 14th Street. Continue straight (north) on 14th approximately 1.5 miles to U Street. As you drive straight on 14th Street. you will pass the Washington monument, downtown buildings, Thomas Circle and a residential/commercial district.

Driving Directions from Maryland (Silver Spring, Bethesda): Take 16th St. southbound into Washington, D.C., to U St. NW.

Miriam's U Street picks:

1. The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

1000-1200 U St., N.W.

Washington, D.C., 20009

In 1865, President Lincoln said, "Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the south could not have been won." A striking bronze statue memorializing these soldiers stands at the corner of 10th and U streets, with three soldiers and a sailor on the front side, and a soldier saying good bye to his family on the other. Behind the statue, a Wall of Honor is inscribed with the 209,145 names of all the soldiers and officers who were registered in the Bureau of United States Color Troops. Read more ...

2. Busboys and Poets

2021 14th St., N.W.

Washington, D.C., 20009

Named for Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy before becoming known as a poet, this restaurant/coffee shop/bookstore/performance venue is one of the hot spots in the U Street neighborhood. There's something for everyone on the extensive menu and friendly servers will explain the more esoteric options. Top picks for my family are the panini sandwiches, the sweet potato fries and the key lime pie, but many people go straight for the catfish. Read more ...

3. The Greater U Street Heritage Trail

13th and U streets, N.W.

Washington, D.C., 20009

The best way to get a feel for this neighborhood is to take a self-guided walking tour set up by Cultural Tourism DC. The Greater U Street Heritage Trail's 14 poster-sized illustrated signs combine story-telling with historic images to follow as you walk. Among the places you'll see are the first African American YMCA; the Whitelaw Hotel, which was the segregated capital's first luxury hotel for African Americans; and the revived Bohemian Caverns, where the Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded the album "In Crowd." Read more ...

4. Oohhs and Aahhs

1005 U St., N.W.

Washington, D.C., 20009

If your kids like mac and cheese, don't miss a stop at Oohhs and Aahhs. Known for serving the best mac and cheese in the city, and for its flavorful soul food, this restaurant offers delicious fried chicken, collard greens, yams and potato salad. My kids especially love the chicken wings and the corn bread. Just inside the entrance you can sit at a bar to eat and watch the chefs cooking, or you can take your food to the small dining room upstairs. Read more ...

5. Meridian Hill Park

1550 W St., N.W.

Washington, D.C., 20009

There's no need to cross the Atlantic next time you're looking for a European park. Just head over to Meridian Hill Park, which, completed in 1936, was modeled on the grand parks of Europe. At the top of the twelve acres are two long, grassy fields bordered by a concrete path. Kids love to run around this wide open space, dodging frisbee and soccer players. On summer Sunday afternoons, drummers gather for a longstanding tradition of jamming and dancing. Read more ...

Children's writer Miriam Chernick enjoys spending time with her family discovering new places in and around Washington, D.C.

Top Image Courtesy of Byron Peck/City Arts Inc.

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