DC is a Broke College Student’s Best Friend

Hailing from the cold and clammy city of Boston (all puns highly intended), I always thought my hometown had much to do. From the vibrantly multicultural enclaves of Roxbury and Dorchester where you can find soul food, Caribbean, and African restaurants all on the same block., to the beautifully gentrified downtown area of Newbury Street where the redlining shone as bright as the regularly stocked diamonds of the Tiffany & Co. store right across from Chanel. I just knew my city was the best. It wasn’t until returning from my time away at my first university in the empty city of Springfield, Massachusetts, that I came to the shocking realization that my city was in fact boring.

While during the summer there were things like Pride and the annual Juneteenth celebration at the Museum of Fine Arts, besides the local shopping strip and winter ice skating on the frog pond, there wasn’t much to do for an adventurous Sagittarius college student looking to have fun while still saving a coin. For the longest, I thought this was just how all cities were, but with a transfer, flight, and admissions to the beloved, star-studded, and illustrious university that is Howard, I came to know that indefinitely all cities are not created equal because DC was this broke college student’s best friend. 

While it might seem to the naked eye that DC is NYC’s distant cousin in terms of the price of living and things to do – which in some ways it is – DC can be very budget-friendly, if you know where to go. From free museums and poetry nights to local cafes and restaurants with great happy hours, DC serves as a great place to experience city life without always spending an arm and a leg. 

Completely Free Attractions

From Fredrick Douglas’s home and Howard University African American Heritage Trail to Meridian Hill Park and Rock Creek, DC is full of captivating history and beautiful parks and landmarks. The best part of it is that many of these landmarks and museums are completely free. Want to explore history and art? Take a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of African Art, or the National Museum of Natural History. Love going out to the park or sightseeing? Check out Meridian Hill Park, Rock Creek, The United States Botanic Garden, The Martin Luther King Memorial, or The Washington Monument

Restaurants with Great Food & Great Happy Hours 

Every college student loves to have a friend’s night out or brunch at a nice restaurant with great food and even better, drinks. Not only are each of these restaurants affordable, but they also have a great atmosphere and are sure to be something you can post on Instagram or use in your latest TikTok. Number one on the list: Busboys and Poets

With a host of vegan, vegetarian, and all-American options, Busboys and Poets is a go-to restaurant for any broke college student looking for great food and atmosphere. Best known for dishes like their shrimp & grits, sweet potato pancakes, and vegan chicken sandwich, Busboys and Poets serves as a great one-stop-shop for food, drinks, and leisure. The restaurant not only has a café area where one can be productive and tackle the assignments of the day, but it also has an in house bookstore where you can find everything from Nicole Hannah Jones’ “1619” to Tabitha Brown’s “Feeding the Soul (Cause That’s My Business).” 

Not into the café vibe? Try out King Street Oyster Bar! Nestled into the up-and-coming NoMa neighborhood, King Street Oyster Bar is a must-have on a hot summer day. Enjoy a slew of oysters and seafood options during regular hours, and $1 oysters and $7 drinks and food during happy hour. King Street Oyster Bar is perfect for a great midday outing and lunch! 

Want something more fun and upbeat and close to college parties and campuses? Check out Ben’s Next Door on the busy and vibrant U Street. Taking southern comfort food and bringing it to your plate, Ben’s Next Door serves as the perfect place to experience the vibrancy of DC while eating some really good dishes. With everything from barbecue jerk salmon sliders and fried cauliflower to shrimp & grits and crab mac & cheese, Ben’s Next Door is one place you won’t only leave full, but longing for your next time back. And with no main dish over $9 at happy hour, it’s the perfect place to ball on a budget. 

Places to Be 

Bored and want to have some fun on a Friday night? DC has the perfect place for you and some friends to go out, shop, and make memories that will last forever. Located by the southwest waterfront, The Wharf is the perfect place for light shopping and enjoying food. With different seasonal events like the sunset cinema and Friday night dancing, The Wharf is a great place to truly experience a DC night. 

Not really a night owl, and love a good day trip? Visit Union Market! Located a couple of streets over from NoMa Gallaudet metro station, Union Market is home to many amazing vendors and food. Speaking from personal experience, this market has all the food options you would want for a midday lunch, including a great bourbon brown butter bread pudding from Puddin’, and it’s the perfect place for shooting Instagram and TikTok content. Not ready for lunch? Check out the local shops and bookstores nearby, like Politics & Prose, and pick up a great book or a memorable trinket.

While it might not be better than one’s hometown, like in my case, DC is the perfect city for college students wanting to have fun on a budget. From the shops and the restaurants to the museums and markets, DC has many attractions and activities that not only can be free but also create memories that last a lifetime. With the flash of a student ID, public transport can be free, and most places are within walking distance from one another. DC has been this broke college student’s best friend and it can be yours too following this list. 

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