Shaw DC Neighborhood Guide


We are grateful for the sponsor of this guide: Kelly Kelley, who is an expert in this area. Please be sure to check out thorough details about her practice below. We are thankful for her sponsorship, which allows us to continue to bring DC Area Moms resources like this.

Shaw is a vibrant, historic neighborhood just north of downtown DC. The neighborhood got its start as a freed slave encampment and is home to a great deal of rich cultural African American history. Although this neighborhood struggled quite severely during and after the riots in 1968, it has seen a renaissance in the past two decades and is an extremely sought-after area for real estate, both for young urban professionals and families. For nearly 8 years, my family called Shaw our home. We recently relocated further north, but this downtown neighborhood will always hold a piece of my heart as our family’s very first DC home.

The mid-city Shaw area encompasses our former small neighborhood (Mt. Vernon Square), a tiny area right by the Convention Center. The original Shaw Urban Renewal Area is huge and contains what is now known as U Street, Logan Circle, Truxton Circle, Mid-City, Blagden Alley, Naylor Court Historic District, and parts of the Mount Vernon Square Historic District. This map shows how vast Shaw spanned in the 1970s.

What is your favorite thing about raising kids in this area?

There is SO much that is accessible from this neighborhood. There are row homes and condos, but this neighborhood definitely has more of a “downtown” feel. Living right by the Convention Center, it’s an easy walk down to everything offered on the Mall. Shaw is truly a walker’s paradise. In fact, with two kids and no car, I got around very easily for 7 years!
The author’s girls going for a scoot on their block in Shaw/Mt. Vernon Square.

What makes this neighborhood family-friendly and unique?

One thing I love about this area is the mix of generations. Some of our neighbors have lived in their homes for decades, while others were newcomers. While there are certain attractions (Michellin-starred restaurants, for example) that draw visitors, Shaw does not have the tourist vibe that many other DC neighborhoods have.

What community events or local attractions are there?

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is at the southern boundary of Shaw. There are TONS of events each year that are hosted here. Some favorite family-friendly ones include the DC Auto Show and the National Book Festival. Learn about the rich history of this neighborhood by walking the Shaw Heritage Trail. Visit the African American Civil War Museum (located between the Shaw and U Street metro stations) to learn about the significant—but often overlooked—contributions of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War. Take part in the annual Art All Night festival, which began in Shaw in 2011. Shaw Main Streets also organizes an annual, family-friendly Shaw Open House, where you can meet local business owners and sample fares. If you feel the need for more green space, visit the Marion Street Intergenerational Garden, run by CityBlossoms, with your kiddos.

Why would you recommend Shaw to families?

If you really love city life, you would love living here. Shaw is a wonderful mix of quiet residential streets and bustling commercial corridors. To stay in the loop with other residents, join [email protected] There are several parent listservs in and around Shaw; for U Street parents, there is [email protected] and closer to Mt. Vernon [email protected] (if you are in the Mt. Vernon Square/Triangle area—yes, two shapes for two adjacent neighborhoods). Towards the west [email protected] and for those in the eastern parts of Shaw, join the neighboring [email protected]

What nearby schools or childcare places do kids go to?

My eldest daughter attended Seaton Elementary School, and we had a wonderful experience there. Other local families attend Garrison Elementary or Cleveland Elementary. While technically not in Shaw, Thomson Elementary School is very close, and many Shaw families are zoned for this school. Charter schools include KIPP DC’s Shaw campus and Center City PCS’s Shaw campus, Friendship PCS- Armstrong campus,  Meridian PCS, and Mundo Verde PCSOf course, you can also play the DC school lottery to get an out-of-boundary public or public charter school spot.
You can search for licensed daycare options in Shaw by using the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) My Child Care website. The search options leave much to be desired, but you can search by ward, distance from your home, zip code, and other factors. You will get several pages of results, and attempts to narrow those results by age and programming may bring back no results or a new search.
Beautiful homes from the late 1800s fill the residential blocks throughout Shaw.

Where are your favorite places to shop in Shaw?

Union Kitchen Grocery is a small specialty grocery and gift shop. It’s a nice place to pick up a small gift (think: tea towels, candles, local chocolates, etc). Check out the awesome art at Cherry Blossom Creative if you want to rep your favorite DC neighborhood. The team here makes colorful prints of DC neighborhoods—and other US cities, too! DC Grand Cata is an amazing Latin American wine shop on 7th Street. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and it is a very enjoyable experience picking out the wine. They also offer wine classes and a wine club!

What are some of your favorite places to eat in Shaw?

The robust Ethiopian community in DC provides some amazing dining options! Along 9th Street NW, also called “Little Ethiopia”, you will find numerous options for family-friendly Ethiopian dining. Check out Chercher, Queen of Sheba, or Dukem Restaurant.
If you can get a reservation (and a babysitter), a meal at The Dabney in Blagden Alley is a must. This Michelin-starred restaurant is worth the hype; my foodie husband declared it easily the best food he’s had in DC. Food is regionally sourced to highlight the specialties of the mid-Atlantic. Another swoon-worthy dining experience can be had at Kinship (and if you are really looking to splurge, go for gold at Metier, located one level below). Just looking for a nightcap? I recommend The Columbia Room for seriously the best cocktails in DC, perennial Shaw favorite The Passenger, mezcal at Espita Mezcaleria, some wine at Maxwell, or enjoy the beer garden at Dacha.
Family-friendly destinations include Unconventional Diner by the Convention Center, Ted’s Bulletin near U Street, All Purpose Pizza, and Alta Strada City Vista (with great pizza deals for happy hour to please all ages).
There are multiple coffee shops available for you to get your caffeine buzz. Try out La Colombe, DC’s own Compass Coffee, or the very trendy The Coffee Bar. Not feeling coffee? Definitely give women-owned Calabash Tea Bar and Cafe a visit. Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? Look no further than Buttercream Bakeshop, where my kids are on a first-name basis with much of the staff. I’ve tried pretty much everything here, from the breakfast bombs to the unicorn bars to birthday cakes and all the lattes—and it is all amazing.

What places make Shaw feel kid-friendly?

When your kiddos need to burn off some energy (so, every day, right?!) Kennedy Recreation Center, run by DPR, has great playgrounds (one for kids 0-5 and another 5+) and a splash park for the summer months. There’s a basketball court and a tennis court available, as well as lots of green space for just running around. Westminster Playground is a bit of a hidden gem that is a hit with young kids. Westminster is operated by the community, for the community, which lends a special touch to it. We’ve actually hosted birthday parties for two of our children at these two playgrounds!
The Shaw Public Library is another great resource. There are great storytime/music options (including weekend family storytime), yoga for little ones, “crafternoons,” and building clubs. Our favorite for years was the Tuesday morning “Pop of the Tots”, for ages 0-5 (but get here early, because it fills up fast!).
Looking for a playgroup? Just beyond U Street, you can find the Lemon Tree Playgroup! Several friends have raved about this bright and airy space which hosts new mom groups, membership playgroups, or more informal drop-in open playtimes.

What advice would you give to families who are new to Shaw?

Like any neighborhood, it’s important to get to know those who live around you. As newcomers, we learned so many amazing facts about our area just by chatting with our neighbors. Shaw is an active area—people are always out and about on walks or running errands; don’t be afraid to chat people up. My children ALWAYS stop people who are walking their dogs, and we have always encountered friendliness. Get connected by staying in the loop with the local ANC meetings and joining community listservs (see above for specific information on those). If you are willing to invest your time, energy, and love in the community, it will pay off tenfold.

If someone was visiting Shaw for one day, what would you recommend they do?

Walk, walk, and walk some more! There are so many cute alleys to explore and mesmerizing murals to see, and the Victorian architecture of the homes is stunning. There’s no shortage of cafes or restaurants to stop and try something delicious as you wander these storied streets. Check it out today and see why locals call it #Shawsome.

Expert, experienced Realtor for the Shaw DC Neighborhood:Kelly Kelley with Compass Real Estate

Kelly Kelley works closely with her clients throughout the DC/MD/VA area and has a well-earned stellar reputation for her extensive knowledge of the market, strong negotiation skills, and smooth transaction processes. Kelly‘s clients enjoy exceptional service and a client-focused, educational approach to buying their next home or investment property. Kelly has lived and worked in Washington, DC, and Virginia for over 16 years.  She and her young family live in the Logan/U St. neighborhood.  She’s an expert in navigating the complexity of the school systems in and around DC and the surrounding suburbs, including but not limited to the DCPS lottery and area private school systems. Contact Kelly at [email protected] or at 540-529-4804. Look at her website at, and be sure to follow her group on Facebook and Instagram.