Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant are adjoining neighborhoods in north-central Washington DC just east of Adams Morgan and north of Shaw. Columbia Heights is east of 16th Street and Mt. Pleasant to the west.
Columbia Heights includes the Tivoli Theatre, home of the GALA Hispanic Theatre, and the DCUSA shopping mall, which includes several major chain retailers including Target, Best Buy, Marshall's, DSW, Five Below, and Bed Bath & Beyond. The neighborhood also includes many bars popular with young people, weekly swing dancing in a beautiful mansion, and Meridian Hill aka Malcolm X Park, the site of the weekly drum circle on Sundays when the weather is nice. The park includes dramatic terraces as a result of its location on a geological formation known as the Fall Line, which runs along Florida Avenue. This steep escarpment divides America's Piedmont Plateau from the Tidewater region of Virginia. If you are looking for a good view of the city, head to the hill on 13th St just north of Florida near Cardozo High School.
Mount Pleasant is a more residential neighborhood with a large Latin American community and more of a hippieish vibe too. It is focused on Mount Pleasant Street, a strip of shops, restaurants and bars.
Throughout the 1700s, the area that is north of what is now Florida Ave was a farm called "Pleasant Plains" owned by the Holmead family. In 1822, construction of Columbian College was completed just north of what is now Florida Avenue.
The neighborhood was part of the Village of Mount Pleasant, which was part of the District of Columbia, but not part of the city of Washington, until 1871.
In 1882, Senator John Sherman, author of the Sherman Antitrust Act, purchased much of the neighborhood and set out to develop upon it rowhouses geared for high level federal employees, such as Supreme Court justices. The neighborhood was renamed Columbia Heights after Columbian College, although the college moved downtown and was renamed George Washington University in the early 1900s.
In 1902, an expansion of the Washington streetcar system led to a building boom in the neighborhood. At the time, prices for houses were in the range of $2,000-$5,000.
In the 1940s, the demographics began to change and the area eventually became a middle class black neighborhood.
Like much of the city, Columbia Heights was devastated by the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the late 1990s, an effort to revitalize the neighborhood began with the opening of the Columbia Heights Metrorail station and the revitalization continued with the opening of DCUSA in 2008.
The area around the Columbia Heights Metrorail station now has a mix of low-income housing and expensive luxury apartments, providing an example of some of the large income disparities in the city.
For more information on riding the Metrorail in Washington DC, see Washington DC#Get_around.
The Columbia Heights Metro station on the Green and Yellow Lines is located at the main commercial intersection of Columbia Heights. The metro station's east entrance features a stained glass mural with a theme of Ghanaian Sankofa birds.
The following are the main bus routes operating in Columbia Heights, along with links to timetables and route maps. For more information on riding buses in Washington DC, see Washington DC#Get_around.
- 52, 53, & 54 operate north-south along 14th St from the National Mall through the East End and Shaw to the Columbia Heights Metrorail station, and then north to the Takoma Park Metrorail station.
- H2, H3, & H4 run east-west from the Tenleytown Metrorail station on the Red Line in Upper Northwest through Mount Pleasant, past the Columbia Heights Metrorail station, the Washington Hospital Center, and on to Catholic University in Brookland.
- D.C. Circulator Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square "Green" Line runs from the Woodley Park Metrorail station on the Red Line in Upper Northwest through Adams Morgan, then the Columbia Heights Metrorail station, and then goes south along 14th street through Shaw, and on to the McPherson Square Metrorail station in the West End.
The main streets for driving north-south are 16th St and Georgia Ave, although 14th St can be a surprisingly quick route north of U St. Major east-west routes are fewer and more confusing: Columbia Rd is the best route to go between Connecticut Ave in Dupont Circle and the Washington Hospital Center and Catholic University in Brookland.
It is relatively east to find street parking on side streets in Columbia Heights.
Taxis are easy to hail on 14th & 16th Sts.
The Columbia Heights Heritage Trail is a 2-hour self-guided walking tour around the neighborhood. The tour will take you to 19 poster-sized street signs that include historical information, pictures and maps.
- 1 Meridian Hill Park (aka Malcolm X Park) (bordered by 15th St, 16th St, W St, & Euclid St), ☎ . A 12-acre park centered on a long, stunning, cascading waterfall, surrounded by European-style terraced landscaping, and administered by the National Park Service. The grounds have long been an esteemed commodity in the city, first surrounding an 1819 mansion that became President James Quincy's home following his presidency. Around the time of the Civil War, Congress considered moving the Presidential residence here from the White House since the White House was just north of the putrid stench of the mosquito and sewage-infested Washington City Canal in Waterfront. The plan didn't pass the House of Representatives. In 1910, the federal government purchased the ground and later converted it into the extravagant Italianate park that you see today. After the 1968 riots, the park was a haven for open-air drug markets, which got worse and worse throughout the crack epidemic of the 1980's. Following the murder of a teenager in 1990, the community decided to take back control of the park, and organized regular citizen patrols throughout the day and night. They were very successful, and the park is quite safe today. The sword from the statue of Joan of Arc—the only female equestrian statue in the city— was stolen in 1978, but finally replaced in 2011.
- Mexican Cultural Center, 2829 16th St NW (between Fuller St & Harvard St), ☎ . Gallery: M-F 10AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-4PM. Housed in the beautiful former Embassy of Mexico, the cultural center has a nice collection of Mexican artwork, and puts on frequent classical and other musical performances, as well as film screenings, lectures, and other events. The gallery and many of the events are free but some require hefty donations.
- Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home (Ingleside Estate), 1818 Newton St NW, ☎ . Mount Pleasant's residential streets are filled with beautiful old single-family homes and rowhouses, and several old estates. This former 19th century estate, which was far larger than the present day property, now houses what is probably the city's most architecturally significant retirement home!
- 1 GALA Hispanic Theatre at Tivoli Theatre, 3333 14th St NW (between Park Rd & Monroe St), ☎ . Shows usually Th-Sa 8PM, Su 3PM. GALA stands for Grupo de Artistas Latino Americanas. The Tivoli Theatre was the grandest of D.C.'s early twentieth century movie palaces, built in ornate Italianate Renaissance style for a whopping one million dollars in 1921. Today the theatre is mixed use, with the important use being the small stage for GALA. Most of GALA's performances are in Spanish, with English subtitles, and range from classical Spanish drama to contemporary Latino theater. They also put on frequent non-dramatic performances of dance, music, etc.
Festivals & Events
- Sunday Drum Circle @ Meridian Hill Park (at the Joan of Arc statue, top of the steps in the park, 15th & Belmont St). Nice weather: Su 3PM-9PM. The weekly Drum Circle has been going on for nearly 50 years, and is one of the coolest events in the city, with the most diverse section of drummers, acrobats, and dancers. Come to hang out and enjoy the vibe, or bring your drum and join in the jam session!
- Tuesday Swing Dancing @ The Jam Cellar, 2437 15th St NW (between Chapin St & Euclid St), ☎ . Tu 8:30PM-midnight. Weekly swing dancing in the Josephine Butler Parks Center, a 1920s marble-filled mansion that once housed the Brazilian and Hungarian Embassies. The weekly event attracts most of the dedicated swing dancers from the area and there are always a couple top notch instructors around to get beginners started for free. The limited number of window air conditioning units and restrictions on opening the windows due to noise can make the dance floor as hot as a sauna in the summer, but free ices are provided. BYOB.
- Columbia Heights Initiative. Operates several events throughout the year including a Spring street festival, Easter Egg Hunt, Fall Festival, and Halloween trick or treat.
- DCUSA Shopping Mall, 3100 14th St NW (At Irving St and the Columbia Heights Metrorail station). The largest retail development within the city limits; includes the large discount chains of Best Buy, Target, Marshall's, Bed Bath & Beyond, DSW, and Five Below.
- El West, 3167 Mt Pleasant St NW (At Lamont St), ☎ . M-F 10:30AM-7:30PM, Tu 11AM-7:30PM, Sa 9AM-8PM, Su 9:30AM-7PM. One-stop gaucho shop. Snakeskin check, leather (crocodile, cow, and others) check, cowboy boots, check, large cowboy belt buckles, check. OK, it's not just gaucho apparel, and there are women's items here too, but most of the items are leather of some sort. And it's expensive.
These outdoor markets, held on Saturday mornings year-round except winter, are extremely popular places to buy locally produced goods from farmers and bakers.
- Mount Pleasant Farmers' Market, Mount Pleasant Street Plaza. 9 am to 1 pm each Saturday; April thru December.
- Columbia Heights Community Marketplace, 14th Street NW & Park Road NW. 9 am to 1 pm each Saturday; April thru December.
Salvadoran Cuisine, provided by the area's enormous Salvadoran community, is the food specialty of Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant. There is one word that you will know after a visit, and that is pupusa. Pupusas are thick corn maize tortillas stuffed with soft cheese, cheese + loroco (a Salvadoran flower), squash, pork, refried beans, or all sorts of other things, then topped with pickled cabbage (curtido) and tangy red sauce. They generally cost $1.50-$2.00 each, but you will need at least a few if you are hungry. Pupusas revueltas include more than one filling, such as bacon and cheese - a local favorite. They are delicious. Pupusas in D.C. are serious business; they are always cooked to order, and will take at least ten minutes to prepare. Someone will almost always speak some English, but it's a good idea to keep a little Spanish in your pocket (dos pupusas de loroco con queso, por favor). Aside from pupusas, look for Salvadoran soups and delicious atoles. An atol is somewhere between porridge, hot chocolate, and a milkshake, made from corn meal, most of the spices you'd expect in pumpkin pie, and occasionally chocolate.
The Salvadoreños do Peruvian food quite well so you'll find good lomo saltado everywhere, and occasionally some incredible pollo a la brasa.
There are several chain restaurants near the Columbia Heights metro including Cava, Five Guys, Chipotle, IHOP, Panda Express, Z-Burger, and &Pizza.
- El Pollo Sabroso, 3153 Mt Pleasant St NW, ☎ . M-Sa 10:30AM-9PM, Su 11AM-8PM. Peruvian roast chicken, with its spices and green salsa, is good. This is the place in the city to get it, with a side of fluffy Spanish rice, yucca, fried plantains, etc., and washed down with some fruit licuados or horchata. It's a Peruvian place so skip the pupusas. $5-11.
- Pollo Campero, 3229 14th St NW (between Kenyon St & Park Rd), ☎ . 10AM-9PM daily. A Guatemalan fast food chain offering fried chicken which is of significantly higher quality than what you would get at a KFC or Popeye's, along with Central American sides and drinks. It's hardly the best food in the area, but it is fast food, and a fun experience. $4-8.
- Taquería Distrito Federal, 3463 14th St NW (between Oak St & Otis Pl), ☎ . Su-W 8AM-9PM, Th-Sa 8AM-11PM. D.C.'s sole authentic Mexican food is served out of this tiny hole-in-the-wall. The tacos are surprisingly good, even compared to those you would get in a city with a large Mexican community, and you won't go wrong with any of the available fillings. Their menudo, available only on weekends, is likewise excellent. $1.50-7.
- Don Jaime Restaurant, 3209 Mt Pleasant St NW. An odd mix of Salvadoran and American diner food on offer, this is an especially good place for brunch. It's very accessible to non-Spanish speakers, and has a bar. The owner is exceptionally friendly. $3-12.
- Don Juan Restaurant, 1660 Lamont St NW, ☎ . 11AM-2AM daily. Don Juan is less accessible to non-Spanish speakers, but the pupusas are some of the best in the city. The atmosphere is a little weird, with a big disco ball complimenting the big flat-screen TV, some deer heads on the walls, and the requisite thumping polka on the jukebox, but that can heighten the experience with the right attitude. Separate take-out entrance is in the back. $1.50-15.
- Ercilia's Restaurant, 3070 Mt Pleasant St NW, ☎ . M-W 8AM-10PM, Th-Sa 8AM-11PM. Mount Pleasant's nomination for friendliest Pupusería in town. It's not just a take-out; there is a nice little restaurant inside, so you can sit back, linger over tasty soups or snack on yuca frita. $1.50-9.
- Gloria's Pupusería, 3411 14th St NW (between Monroe St & Newton St), ☎ . 6AM-11PM daily. This is the best known of all the pupuserías in D.C., but its quality thankfully has not yet declined. $2-9.
- Pho 14, 1436 Park Rd. Arguably the best Vietnamese food within the city limits.
- Maple, 3418 11th St NW, ☎ . Light meals with a great craft beer and wine selection.
- Mi Cuba Cafe, 1424 Park Rd NW, ☎ . Cuban food in a tropical-themed restaurant.
- The Heights, 3115 14th St NW (between Irving St & Kenyon St), ☎ . Mo-Th noon-10:30PM, F noon-midnight, Sa 9AM-midnight, Su 9AM-10:30PM. An American/Continental bar and restaurant with lots of outdoor seating and a good brunch. $10-30.
- Thip Khao, 3462 14th St NW (between Newton St & Meridian Pl), ☎ . Laotian food and exotic cocktails. Modern ambiance.
- El Chucho, 3313 11th St NW (between Lamont St & Park Rd), ☎ . Mo-Th 4PM-2AM, F 4PM-3AM, Sa 11:30AM-3AM, Su 11:30AM-2AM. This taqueria / bar is known for their happy hour specials, which include $5 margaritas (including a habanero spiced margarita that has a real kick), $3 for a pair of tacos, and $2.50 for their famous grilled corn with cheese (named by Washingtonian magazine as one of DC's "2013 dishes you absolutely need to try"). Note that the kitchen closes before the bar does.
- Lou's City Bar, 1400 Irving St NW (At Park Rd), ☎ . A popular sports bar.
- Meridian Pint, 3400 11th St NW (At Park Rd), ☎ . A popular bar focused on sustainability.
- The Pinch, 3548 14th St NW (At Park Rd), ☎ . Great beer selection as well as karaoke and trivia nights.
- Room 11, 3234 11th St NW (between Kenyon St & Lamont St), ☎ . Su-Th 5PM-1AM, F-Sa 5PM-2AM. A new neighborhood wine bar/café/cocktail spot. It has a tiny inside and a bigger patio area. They specialize in good wine for a good value, and they make great cocktails, which rotate frequently. They also have tasty small dishes like salads, soups, and panini, plus cheese and meat plates. A nice spot to relax, have a drink, and if you're interested, discuss wine and cocktails with the bartender.
- The Wonderland Ballroom, 1101 Kenyon St NW, ☎ . 5PM-2AM daily. Columbia Heights' neighborhood bar is beloved by the neighborhood's residents, especially the hipsters for the welcoming, local neighborhood bar vibe. There's a lot of history at this bar. Its previous incarnation as Nob Hill was a legendary gay bar that had quite a run from 1954–2004. Weekends are crowded, but people will be happy to let you squeeze. Dance floor upstairs.
- Zeba, 3423 14th St NW (between Monroe St & Newton St), ☎ . A multi-level bar with a dance floor, friendly bartenders, hookah, and good pizza.
- Le Caprice DC, 3460 14th St NW (between Newton St & Meridian St), ☎ . A French cafe and bakery that serves French sandwiches and quiche.
- Coffy Café, 3310 14th St NW (between Park Rd & Monroe St), ☎ . A 1960s-themed cafe that serves crepes.
- The Coupe, 3415 11th St NW (between Park Rd & Monroe St), ☎ . A large cafe and lounge with great cocktails, albeit with a somewhat pretentious atmosphere.
- Asante Sana Inn, 1207 Kenyon St NW, ☎ . Bed and breakfast. Onsite staff is limited and advanced reservations are required. $126.
As in many large cities, muggings are a problem. Muggings happen more often on quiet side streets at night, so simply restricting your walks to the main streets and traveling in groups of three or more will lower your odds of a problem.
In addition to the cafes/coffeeshops above, the Mt Pleasant Branch Library is a great place to surf the web on the public terminals or the free Wifi:
- [formerly dead link]Mt Pleasant Library, 3160 16th St NW, ☎ . M,W 1PM-9PM, Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM. This is one of the city's loveliest libraries, the third oldest in the city (1925), built in the Italian Renaissance style.
- Adams Morgan - nightlife options to the west
- Dupont Circle - a wealthier neighborhood to the south
- Shaw - a nightlife destination to the south
- Near Northeast - additional nightlife options
- Upper Northwest - the Zoo and parts of this neighborhood are in easy walking distance
- Wheaton - the location of more fantastic ethnic dining options
|Routes through Columbia Heights|
|Greenbelt ← Petworth ←||N S||→ Shaw → East End|
|END ← Petworth ←||N S||→ Shaw → East End|