Mural depicting slaves who built the Lincoln Memorial by Garin Baker in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Where to Find the Best Street Art in Washington DC

We do a lot of walking when we travel. And we do so with purpose. We love architecture, urban green spaces, and the serendipity of discovery, whether that’s a neighborhood coffee shop or a bistro at the end of a nondescript alleyway. But first and foremost, we’re on the hunt for street art. There’s no better way to get a finger on the pulse of a city. Street art is an expression of a city’s past, the issues it grapples with present day, and its aspirations for the future. Through incredible initiatives such as MuralsDC, an organization collaborating with the city’s Department of Public Works and Commission on Arts and Humanities, DC has created a veritable cornucopia of street art. The goal is to replace illegal graffiti with artistic revitalization projects, and in this endeavor they have been very successful.

So whether you’re looking for the perfect backdrop for your #OOTD or you’re looking to discover some great local artists, here are some of the best places to find street art in Washington DC.




Blagden Alley 

Mural of former Georgetown Basketball Coach John Thompson by Billy Colbert in Blagden Alley in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @billy_colbert. Mural of former Georgetown Basketball Coach John Thompson
Love mural by Lisa Marie Thalhammer in Bladgen Alley in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @lisamariestudio

Authors in front of a dog mural by an unknown artist at Blagden Alley in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Blagden Alley is the name given to a collective network of small alleyways boxed in by 9th and 10th Streets and M and N Streets. The area was designated as a historic district in 1990, and growing reinvestment has turned it into a haven for hip bars and eateries. But the area is also home to The DC Alley Museum, which came about through the combined efforts of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Blagden Alley neighbors. Commissioned murals cover garage doors and facades, and plaques carrying the name of the piece and the artist can be found beside them, like in any other museum. But since Blagden Alley has grown in reputation as a street art hub, uncommissioned murals now also fill its nooks and crannies.

Liz Taylor mural by Byron Peck at Dacha Beer Garden in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @peckbyron. Location: Q Street and 7th Street at Dacha Beer Garden
Abstract Washington DC mural by No Kings Collective in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @nokingsdc. Location: T Street by Howard Theatre

Blagden Alley gives you the most bang for your buck, but if you can spare the time, strolling around the Shaw neighborhood will yield many street art treasures as well. Perhaps you’ll even stumble upon the Watermelon House (yes, it’s a house painted to look like a watermelon!).




Dupont Underground

Colorful mural at an entry to Dupont Underground by Jay F. Coleman in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @jayfcoleman

Interior view of Dupont Underground space with colorful graffiti on the left and visual arts on the right in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Any city of consequence has enduring institutions, but the sign of a great city is the way in which it reinvents itself. For famous examples, look no further than New York City’s Highline or Seattle’s Gas Works Park. And Washington DC has reinvented itself, too, with projects both big and small. One shining example is Dupont Underground, a former subterranean streetcar station that has been repurposed into a 15,000 sq.ft. multidisciplinary platform for creative expression. At the core of Dupont Underground is Up From The Underground, an exhibition of contemporary and historic graffiti from six generations of local artists. You’ll find intricate, vibrantly colored tags and illustrations from the entrance to its terminus and every inch of its subway-tiled walls in between.

Pro Tip: Checking Dupont Underground’s event calendar is a must. Beyond being an incredible street art destination, it hosts traveling exhibitions, festivals, concerts, and much, much more. You can also rent the space for private parties.

U Street Corridor

Mural featuring the Obamas, Prince and other celebrities by Aniekan Udofia on the wall of Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @aniekanreloaded. Location: U Street between 12th and 13th Streets at Ben’s Chili Bowl
Colorful modern U Street mural by Mixed Scene in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @mixedscene. Location: U Street and 11th Street at The Greek Spot
Mural of George Washington with mouth taped over by Aniekan Udofia in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @aniekanreloaded. Location: U Street and 15th Street
Mural depicting two swimmers by James Bullough in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @james_bullough. Location: U Street and 9th Street

The U Street Corridor has a number of memorable murals, the most famous of which can be found on the walls of eatery and local landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ben’s Chili Bowl recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, and it has played a prominent role in Washington DC history during that time. It’s most significantly remembered as the only spot that was allowed to stay open during the riots of 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it counts many celebrities and politicians among its clientele. But Ben’s Chili Bowl isn’t the only draw. If you walk along U Street and take the time to look down the alleys, you’ll find most of the walls are home to striking street art, some extending the length of the entire building.

Pro Tip: While you’re here, you can fold in the Greater U Street Heritage Trail, which highlights important African American history that took place in the neighborhood. Whether you choose to download the audio tour or just follow the map, you’ll learn about leaders in civil rights, law, science, and the arts such as Duke Ellington and Thurgood Marshall who have all left their mark here.




NoMa and the Metropolitan Branch Trail

Comic style mural by Richt in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @richtpaint. Location: K Street between North Capitol and 1st NE Streets
Colorful dragon mural by Wing Chow on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @wing.chow. Location: Metropolitan Branch Trail
Author in front of colorful circular mural by hoxxoh in Washington DC via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist: @hoxxoh. Location: 1st St NE between M and N Streets

New York City loves its abbreviated names for neighborhoods, and so does DC. NoMa stands for North of Massachusetts Avenue, which covers the area between Union Station and trendy food hall Union Market. Thanks to POW! WOW! Washington DC, murals by artists from all over the world blanket NoMa and extend all the way up the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The Met Branch Trail is a busy urban rail-with-trail that shares a corridor with Metro’s Red Line, MARC commuter service, CSX freight trains and Amtrak. POW! WOW! originated in Hawaii but has since expanded its week-long street art festival across the globe, and Washington DC holds its annual festival in May. But don’t fret if you can’t make it out for the festival, the artwork can be easily visited year-round with their handy map. (Thanks for the tip, StreetArtChat!)

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our time in New York City, it’s that to understand a city, you have to walk its streets. And Washington DC is no different. It’s easy to get caught up in the monuments, government buildings, and world-class museums. But people live, work, and die there, day in and day out, like in any other city. So, challenge yourself to go out and explore. Get the street-level view of DC’s heart and soul: the character of its neighborhoods, the diversity of its residents, and the stories they have to tell. You’ll find it written somewhere on a wall.

And if you find yourself famished after all that street art hunting, check out our post on Washington DC restaurants every travel foodie must visit!

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A pic of a mural of a woman's face at the entrance to Dupont Underground via Mad Hatters NYC blog. A pic of a wall mural in Washington DC depicting two people swimming underwater via Mad Hatters NYC blog.

– L. & J.

 

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Mad Hatters NYClynnDippy Dotty GirlCynthia | Adventuring WomanNatalie (backinamerica.co.uk) Recent comment authors
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Tara Kothari
Guest

Street Art and food– sensing a pattern there. 🙂
Love how you guys went out looking out for murals and actually got tips from sources to go see it.
I particularly enjoyed looking at the murals from U street corridor.

Michael Blackwell
Guest

Awesome! You and Justin should be made honorary Washingtonians. All our favorite spots in the city high fived. From NoMa to Blagden Alley to Dupont Underground.. and there’s still even more to discover. It was a pleasure to have you visit Dupont Underground, and you make us look so good. Looking forward to your next visit… check out our calendar and joins us for one of our amazing art events.

Tip
Guest

Another excellent blueprint for a trip to DC. Again, outstanding photography. I really liked the piece by @hoxxoh where Lynn is standing in front of the wall. Amazing depth from spray paint on bricks.

Hilary
Guest

Great post! Definitely saving for later in the hopes I get to DC at some point soon!

Natalie (backinamerica.co.uk)
Guest

We’ve been to DC, but it was only for a few hours. We didn’t know about this district! It looks fabulous and you’ve captured some wonderful images. We’ve been to Wynwood Walls in Miami but I found the area a little seedy which spoiled my enjoyment. This looks far nicer! Hopefully we will return to Washington (for longer next time) so we get to see this wonderful street art.

Dippy Dotty Girl
Guest

Another checklist for street art. We are on! Now cannot wait to get back to DC with your recommendations. Just how did you manage to gather all these graffiti shots in just a few days?!

Cynthia | Adventuring Woman
Guest

Wow, looks like DC is a street art Mecca. So many wonderful pieces. Love the james_bullough underwater people and the peckbyron lady at Q Street and 7th Street; it fits so well with the architecture of the building. But what a tease: why no pic of this Watermelon House in the Shaw neighborhood? I want to see a watermelon house! I guess I will have to visit DC 🙂 I love your posts about street art and seeing all the gorgeous pictures. Hope you’re having a lovely weekend.

lynn
Guest

Well done! I think I’m partial to the mural at U St. & 9th St., and those rainbow-painted garages. DC needed some cheer! I remember the first times I went as an adult, and the sense of heavy bureaucracy that permeated so much of the architecture in the city. This looks way better.