Experience the renaissance of Duke Ellington's neighborhood, the historic heart of DC’s African American community, where name entertainers, black-owned businesses, and grand movie theaters once made U Street the place to be.
This neighborhood predates New York's Harlem as a mecca for African Americans. Civil War encampments in the area sheltered freedom seekers in the 1860s, and the mission churches they founded live on today. Howard University, just north of this neighborhood, began to attract the nation's black intellectual and artistic leadership in the 1870s. By the early 20th century, the area was the nerve center of the city's black community, home to businesses, entertainment venues, and the major social institutions of black Washington. Until 1920, when Harlem surpassed it, it was the largest urban African American community in the nation. All the great entertainers played at its lively theaters and clubs. The old timers say that U Street was so grand that to go there, “you had to wear a tie.” Duke Ellington was one of many national figures who called this neighborhood home.
Today, with a Metrorail station, a resurgence of nightlife, and the renovation of many of its historic buildings underway, the neighborhood has regained its status as one of the city's liveliest. To learn more about U Street's storied past and how it got to where it is today, walk City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail, visit the Greater U Street Neighborhood Visitor Center or take a guided tour.
Also, explore our African American Heritage Trail, which includes many fascinating sites in the Greater U Street area, and throughout the city.
This self-guided walking trail reveals Greater U Street's many stories, on 14 poster-sized illustrated signs. Follow the signs on Cultural Tourism DC's very first Neighborhood Heritage Trail to learn more about U Street, where a nationally significant, self-sufficient African American community flourished in the early 20th century.
Check out the City Within a City audio tour hosted by NPR’s Korva Coleman! Follow the signs on this self-guided Cultural Tourism DC Neighborhood Heritage Trail to learn more about Washington's Greater U Street neighborhood, where a nationally significant, self-sufficient African American community flourished in the early 20th century.
Come Explore U Street! The Greater U Street Neighborhood Visitor Center features maps, shopping, attractions, and dining information about the Greater U Street area. The visitor center is conveniently located right next to Ben’s Chili Bowl, across from the U Street metro, and is the perfect spot for both visitors and resident to start exploring the greater U street area.
Location: 1211 U Street NW, above Ben’s Next Door
Hours: Monday through Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm
Check out our Calendar for up-to-date information on exhibitions, lectures and other heritage happenings in the city.
"The Heritage Trails which you create are such gifts to DC.
H Street NE will be enhanced immeasurably by the addition of its guiding signposts of the past and point us towards the future."