Washington, D.C. is one of the country’s most historic and vibrant cities. As the nation’s capital, some of the most brilliant and powerful people in the country live here. But even within this exciting city, there are several individual neighborhoods that serve as cultural centers and hotspots in their own right.
One of these neighborhoods is Shaw, which has a long history of being a lively place to visit and to make your home. This guide lets you explore some of the most interesting places in your neighborhood for the best price of all: free. Read on for your guide to five of the free things that you can do in Shaw.
Check out the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House
Shaw is well-known for its origins as a center of African-American history. Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the noteworthy African-Americans who lived in this neighborhood. She was a renowned Black educator and politician and worked to help Black women in their careers at a time when few others were standing up for them.
The Council House offers free tours on Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm. It’s not a long tour but it’s still worth the visit — especially if you’re able to visit the Smithsonian Museum of African-American history first (which is also free and highly recommended, but located in another neighborhood.) The museum is in the well-maintained house, which has fabulous original architecture and just finished a two-year restoration project.
You may notice that the Smithsonian museums and properties have a major presence in Washington, DC. These cultural sites are all free to visit and are a major perk of living in this city. While most of the institution’s sites are in other neighborhoods in DC, you’re lucky enough to have one in Shaw: the Smithsonian Garden.
You’ll find that your experience here differs based on the season. It’s beautiful in spring and summer, when camellias are blooming and butterflies are roaming. They also have holiday exhibits to make this a nice place to stop during the winter.
See some of the city’s greatest icons
The Howard Theatre is one of the city’s oldest venues, and musical performances are still held there to this day. While going to a show isn’t free, we recommend that you take the chance to go at least one. The historic architecture is amazing and adds to the overall experience.
But there are also great bronze statues of some of the legends who have played at this theatre: Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. This is a perfect spot to get some Instagram-worthy selfies.
Explore the shops in Shaw
Shaw is notable for its diverse collection of independent shops and boutiques. You’ll have a great time browsing the wares at Lettie Gooch Boutique and will be impressed by the men’s and women’s wear at woman-owned Tribute Collective. The ZAAF Collection features high-end designer products from Africa. ArtSpace is a hidden gem that offers classes and gallery space, offering inexpensive classes and drop-in activities for kids to create art.
If you have a few bucks to spend, stop in at The Roasted Boon. It’s an Eritrean-owned shop and their drinks are delicious — perfect for warming (and waking) up.
Enjoy beautiful music
National City Christian Church is a landmark in the Shaw neighborhood. You wouldn’t expect it from a church, but this is a gorgeous building to visit and to hear beautiful pipe organ music. They hold music performances every Friday from 12:15 pm to 1pm. You don’t have to be religious to visit or to enjoy it.
Shaw is an interesting, exciting neighborhood that’s full of history. That history is still alive today, especially in alleys full of restaurants and shops and in historic buildings. Take the opportunity to get out and explore the lively world outside your front door.