By Rachel Hill
Over the past four years, there has been a significant influx of Black Americans who have become intentional about traveling around the world. We are showing up to incredible, international destinations in droves and we have social media to thank for allowing us to share while we flex in our best poses.
As travel amongst Black Americans takes off, what better time to explore more of the United States and dive deeper into Black culture and history than in February?
When you’re thinking about cool trips to take this February, add these three major Black cultural hubs to your list: Philadelphia, PA, Harlem, NY and Washington, DC.
With easy access, user-friendly public transportation, tons of historical attractions, tasty eats, and entertaining experiences, these three amazing cities are great travel destinations for anyone who wants to have a blast while appreciating…us!
Check out our ultimate Black History Month guide to Philly, Harlem and DC:
While many cities claim to be the center of American music, very few can compare to the amount of talent that has come out of Philadelphia. From Philly Jazz of the 1930s to 1950s (Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane) to Philly Soul of the 1960’s to 1970’s (The O’Jays and Patti LaBelle) and then to the New Philly Sound of the 1990s (think Boyz II Men, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild), Philadelphia has birthed some of the most significant notes to hit our eardrums.
A good place to start your musical exploration of The City of Brotherly Love is with a self-guided tour of 25 places where Philly music and its’ musicians made history.
If you’re looking for live music, check out SOUTH where you can enjoy Cajun cuisine and a stiff cocktail. Operated by The Bynum Brothers, this black-owned restaurant and jazz lounge has been rated Top 50 in Philadelphia. Honorable mention goes to the brothers’ other establishments; WarmDaddy’s and Relish, which also offer live music by locals artists and celebrities alike. If you’re lucky, you may find Jill Scott singing an impromptu tune or two.
Want to truly embrace the feel and sounds of Philly jazz? Take a lesson at The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts Center. Founded in 1966, The Clef Club was created from Union Local 274, the second largest Black American Federation of Musicians. Some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians were members including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone.
If quaint and hidden away is more your style, try to get a spot at the speakeasy, Fiume. Located above the Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, this tiny space has no sign, no phone number and no website. They do, however, have a wide range of craft beers, refreshing cocktails and some terrific local musicians. Also, note, this place is cash-only—if you can get in.
Lastly, don’t leave Philadelphia without heading to the African America Museum of Philadelphia and the Underground Railroad Museum. And of course, consider taking a trek up to North Philly to Max’s for one of the best cheesesteaks you’ll ever have!
Harlem, New York:
While today’s Harlem isn’t what it was 20, 10, or even five years ago (there’s a Whole Foods on 125th St. for goodness sake!), Harlem still is holding tightly onto its culture and historic charm.
One of the best ways to experience art and culture in Harlem is through guided walking tours. Here are three great excursions to check out:
- Harlem Street Art Mural Private Tour: This tour guides you through various neighborhoods in Harlem where you’ll learn both the artistic and historical significance of the area. Sometimes, you may even have an opportunity to meet some of the area’s most prominent artists and curators.
- Taste Harlem: Food & Cultural Tours: This tour emphasizes historic local music and culture that predates the Harlem Renaissance. It’s also interesting to note that this tour focuses on both the shared experiences of the Black and Jewish communities within Harlem.
- Street Art Tour Of East Harlem: If you want to do a self-guided tour, then consider this map of street art in East Harlem—the historically Hispanic area north of 96th street.
You should also stop by El Museo del Barrio, a museum dedicated to showcasing artists in the underrepresented Latin and Caribbean communities. The museum also highlights the Nuyorican artistic influence, an art movement that originated in the Puerto Rican community in Harlem.
If you’re interested in experiencing a genuine feel of Harlem, then take a step back into time and check out 67 Orange Street and Bill’s Place—two intimate speakeasies that pride themselves on bringing you the real essence of Harlem.
When it comes to Black history, what used to be known as “The Chocolate City” has days, if not weeks, worth of sites, museums, monuments and more to embrace.
Your first stop must be the National Museum of African American History and Culture, but make sure you secure tickets to the museum in advance because they are in high demand. You might get lucky with people giving away tickets at the entrance (but I wouldn’t chance it). Make sure to give yourself plenty of time (as in a full day or two) as there is a lot to see, read and experience in this monumental museum.
After the NMAAHC Museum, walk over to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Etched into the monument is a quote that defines our times: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” from Dr. King’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. In addition to fantastic photo opps, take some time to read the quotes, mentions and dedications around the monument.
The African American Civil War Museum and Memorial is another must see. The museum features uniforms, newspaper articles and photography that commemorate the lives of 145 African American soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War.
Located on “Washington’s Black Broadway,” the Lincoln Theatre was home to many Black artists, musicians and actors who were not allowed to perform in other venues in the city. Among the legends who have played here are Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. If you have time, enjoy this snapshot of DC’s history by catching a show or concert.
After your explorations, head to Bukom Cafe for some West African cuisine and live music in a cozy setting. If you’re looking for a late-night, soul food spot, check out Oohh’s and Aahhh’s. Both of these black-owned establishments are popular with the locals.
Lastly, if you’re in DC on a Sunday, make sure to come to the Drum Circle at Malcolm X Park. Take in the vibrations, sounds and rhythm of drummers, dancers and patrons who enjoy the healing frequencies of these ancestral instruments. This is a unique experience that is well worth your time.
Let us know what are some of your favorite Black sites, sounds and tastes in Philly, DC and Harlem. Happy travels!
Rachel Hill is a digital strategist, travel influencer, and speaker that is location independent but has roots in Atlanta, Georgia. Her mission is to build awareness about Black travelers within the global travel and tourism industries.
Follow her on Instagram @RachelTravels for other travel guides, insights and information about being an influencer.