The first time I visited Philadelphia, I was astounded by the undeniable energy there. Like many people whose only knowledge of the city is through history books, I expected to see cobblestone streets, buildings that served as the sites for historic moments in our nation’s history, maybe even the spirit of Ben Franklin looming overhead. And while all of that history is there, Philadelphia is so much more—and much more modern. Broad, colorful murals catch your attention at nearly every corner, aromas from restaurants entice you into their entrances, and the quotient of “Black cool” per capita is next level.
But I’m an outsider. To properly introduce you to the city, Philadelphia native Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter, of The Roots, shows you the best of the city’s history, food, shopping and culture in a new black travel series featuring Luvvie Ajayi, Vanessa Simmons, Tai Beauchamp, Dustin Ross and Cory Townes. Once you’ve been sold on the city, head over to visitphilly.com to plan your trip.
Don’t think that the presence of Black folk and our legacy in the city is not strong. Philadelphia history is Black history. Tarik took Cory Townes, entertainment editor for Cassius, to the Johnson House in Germantown. A stop on the Underground Railroad, the Johnson House was a place where enslaved Africans sought refuge in their quest for freedom. Way across town, more Black history comes to life in Philly’s Seventh Ward. That’s where the 19th-century neighborhood where W.E.B. DuBois did his seminal sociological study on Black folk. It’s also the home of Mother Bethel A.M.E., which is the denomination’s founding church which currently resides on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African Americans.
Of course, we all know about the cheesesteaks. Tarik heads to North Philly to grab a cheesesteak from a place that locals love. And while you shouldn’t leave without one, Philly’s abundance of global cuisine can’t be denied — or ignored either. So don’t forget to hit up a any number of ethnic restaurants, from West African to Middle Eastern.
If the daily grind has gotten you down, you don’t have to leave the city to get away. With Fairmount Park (which is way bigger than Central Park) and the scenic, Delaware River Waterfront (especially with spring-to-fall Spruce Street Harbor Park, one of the best urban beaches in America), you can enjoy the serenity of nature and the buzzing city life in one place.
Philly’s street art game is major, with over 3,000 public murals—more than any other city in the world. You see them everywhere. You see lots of moasicked walls, too, but the biggest, coolest one is along South Street: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a massive piece of art you can explore on your own, is definitely worth a visit. And don’t even get us started on the music. You can’t say Philadelphia without talking about the legendary Roots crew, Jill Scott, and for the old heads, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and the incomparable Patti LaBelle.
Whether you’re into vintage threads, eclectic, one-of-kind jewelry, or some fly kicks, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for in Philadelphia. And the fact that clothing sales are tax-free certainly doesn’t hurt.