I’m a lover of the world and far off places who is so excited that you’re here. Looking forward to sharing more of my world with you and all the things I love. I hope this site really does feel like a wellness oasis right here on the internet.
Although travel is not what it once was, it’s still possible to travel safely and, taking all precautions, I decided to travel to Arizona in the last week of February to delve deeper into Black history and wellness. This is a trip I’ve been looking forward to for awhile and a trip that has been in the works for quite some time. I was so thankful United Airlines had direct flights and has really paid attention to cleanliness on their flights. Operating without a change fee is also so great as we know plans change these days, and no one needs that added stress. The terminal at Chicago O’Hare is so efficient and easy to get to from my new home.
Let me start off by saying Black history is American history but in many parts of the country, it’s easy to walk right past major historical areas hidden in plain sight. I picked a city with so much to offer that is not the first to come to mind when thinking about Black history. I’ve always liked to challenge the norms and do things in a unique way, so this is no exception. I knew it would be best for me to find ways to keep my body moving during this trip because history can be a lot to process, so movement (and warmth) would be crucial. I was excited to pick a destination with so much to offer in both areas.
I decided to take this trip a little slower than usual, and I took a full week to explore Phoenix and Tempe but you could definitely enjoy the area within just a few days. The weather was perfect in Mid-February, and I’d say Arizona is a great mid-winter getaway if you’re located somewhere cold and need a little sun. I kicked off my trip just outside of the Downtown Area at the historic Wigwam Resort, which was an awesome oasis with so much charm of its own. If you’re able to visit while they’ve got the art festival happening, it’s definitely worth it! I loved looking at the art, and since it’s outside, I felt safe walking around with distance from others. I got a caramel apple (served freshly cut) and some kettle corn that really hit the spot. There’s a ton of great food, beverages, and art which are very easy to access if you’re staying on property. The property also has ongoing wellness content and a great golf course. After spending a few days settling in and trying a few Black-Owned Restaurants on my list, I headed downtown and stayed at the Found:RE Phoenix Hotel. I’d highly recommend the property if you’re interested in local art because the property is not only a hotel with great new rooms and an awesome location, but a gallery as well. The pieces in the overall collection change every few months and each piece is made by a local artist, so you really feel like a part of the community while you’re there. After chatting with the Art Curator and Director, I learned that each piece really has a purpose and there’s so much thought that goes into creating a unique immersive experience.
Staying downtown allowed me to explore so much of the Roosevelt Row art district on foot which I loved. As a New Yorker, I love to walk around. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to get to know a new city. I was able to enjoy so much of the art that is on each of the streets even when I wasn’t going far. Mural hunting isn’t my usual vacation activity, but it was a great way to get to know the city, get some steps in, and see some of the awesome Black History Murals I was looking forward to finding. I share more about the murals here if you’re curious as to exactly which ones I’d find and recommend. I found this one to be especially impactful as it depicts some of the music’s greatest influences. It was also located just around the corner from a new mural showcasing both Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.
A huge reason I went to Phoenix was to explore Black History–not just to see it through current art, so I was excited to be able to visit awesome historic sites located very close to the downtown area. There are a handful of really impactful Black History sites you don’t want to miss if you’re in the area. If you don’t know they’re there, it’s easy to drive right past but I’d encourage you to stop and take it all in. It also makes you think a lot more about what Black History lies beneath the surface of your own city. I wanted to make this information a lot more accessible since it took me ages to find as I was looking for information to prep for the trip. If you want to visit these sites, you can easily visit them all via car with about 10-15 mins max between sites. Many of them are in the Eastlake Park area, so they are walkable, but I’d suggest leaving yourself an afternoon to dig into these so you’ve got time to take it all in.
Eastlake Park: The oldest park in the city and the epicenter of the Eastlake park neighborhood which was the center of early African-American life in Phoenix. The park may seem just like a regular park until you take a look at the panels and do a little more research on the events that have been held in the space over the years. The civil rights memorial (pictured) is a reminder of all that happened right in that very area. The park has been home to civil rights rallies, and has seen many civil right leaders pass through over the years. This spot is also incredibly powerful as it’s known to be the starting point of all civil rights marches to the Capital.
Tanner Chapel A.M.E Church: This church is still open and operational which is awesome to see. The Church is located in the Eastlake Park neighborhood and it’s home to the oldest African-American congregation Arizona. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke here in 1964, which is a testament to the importance of the church and neighborhood as we look back at American history.
Swindall Tourist Inn Site: Sadly not still in operation, but you can visit the site which is still standing. The building is now used for other businesses so it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking. When it was running, the Tourist Inn was one of few public accommodation options for African Americans during segregated times.
George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center (Currently Closed due to COVID, Feb 2021): I was able to drive by and see the site, which is open but was closed during my visit. The cultural center was formerly known as the Phoenix Union Colored High School, exclusively for African American students. It was renamed in 1943 and then closed in 1954 after segregation was declared unconstitutional. When this center is open, you can explore Black history and culture here. In the meantime they’ve got a selection of virtual programs available online.
Booker T. Washington Hospital Site: This site is so much more than an empty lot. This is the easiest historical landmark to walk past because the building itself is gone. The Hospital was founded by Dr. Winston Clifton Hackett (1881-1949), the first Black Physician in Arizona. The hospital served the early Black population within the Eastlake Park area. If you’re visiting the park, this is just a short walk a few blocks away. This location can be hard to find, but it’s located at 1342 E. Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona. In 1927, the Arizona Republican referred to it as “the finest and most completely equipped hospital owned and devoted to the welfare of colored people west of the Mississippi.” which goes to show just how monumental it really was.
All sites above, shown below, ordered from left to right.
Black history didn’t stop in the civil rights era and there is a thriving Black community in Phoenix to explore. The murals are a great way of looking at the art, but there is such a great dining scene in Phoenix that I’d encourage you to enjoy as well. Mural hunting and exploring is bound to make you hungry, so here are some amazing Black-Owned Businesses in Phoenix:
Rag’s Real Chicken and Waffles: A hidden gem in the West Valley, Rag, a.k.a Ken Smith, has been operating here since 2015 and this spot is true neighborhood favorite. His wife and sons help to run the restaurant and you can taste the love. All food is made to order, and the portions are known to be generous.
Trapp Haus: We went here on one of our first nights and really enjoyed it. The Philly Crack Wings are well-known and do sell out, so I’d recommend going earlier in the day. Pitmaster Phil Johnson, aka Phil the Grill, or the “Jay Z of barbecue” does not disappoint. You may have seen Phil the Grill featured on TV, and after tasting the wings, you’ll see why he’s so well-known. The restaurant is conveniently located within the Roosevelt Row Art District so it’s within walking distance from the Found:RE hotel
Monroe’s Hot Chicken: Monroe’s Hot Chicken was one of the first Nashville-style hot chicken restaurants in Phoenix and it’s here to stay. There are two locations (one is also located in Tempe), and this is the perfect spot for lunch. If you don’t eat meat, or egg (chicken is made with egg), they’ve got a vegan option. I loved getting the crinkle cut fries dusted with their signature dry rubs if you’re just looking for a snack. The greens and hot cheetos mac and cheese were fun too! My partner tried the chicken sandwich, which he said tops his list of all the sandwiches he’s had over the years.
Jupiter Rings: Jason Higgins and his son Rashaad offer the gift of choice at Jupiter Rings. Almost anything on the menu can be made vegan. My dad doesn’t eat meat,so he tried the vegan wings while I had the chicken option and we were both happy. The restaurant features plant-based eats like vegan chicken sandwiches, chicken wings, and decadent platters of fries. The sauces are not made with egg, and the team is really great about allergies. Jupiter Rings Buffalo Sauce (vegan) is it’s claim to fame and it’s actually sold online as well as nationwide.
Honey Bears BBQ: One of the most historic BBQ spots in Phoenix that’s been open since fall of 1986. The small and slightly-unassuming spot has an awesome selection of slow cooked BBQ that falls right off the bone. This is definitely a traditional BBQ style eatery so expect sizable portions and meat heavy options.
Larder + Delta: This was one of my favorite dinner spots because it was so refreshing to see such a unique take on southern cuisine. According to their website, Larder + Delta is part of a new movement; a community of chefs who work collaboratively and share collectively; a menu that’s designed to illustrate the diversity through local Arizona produce with dishes that highlight how one ingredient can be presented in various of ways. They take the unfamiliar and making it enjoyable, most importantly evolving the rustic and making it new. I loved their fried chicken skins (something I’d never tried before) and the selection of innovative, fresh cocktails.
Breakfast Bitch: I went here three times during my trip and breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day so that says A LOT. I struggle to find options at typical breakfast eateries because I’m allergic to egg. I usually have to triple-check a breakfast menu before heading in. I was shocked to discover Breakfast Bitch had several options that I could eat and enjoy like the vegan cakes (obsessed). Not only is the food great, but the vibes are also on point and it’s just fun. A restaurant that serves great food but doesn’t take itself too seriously. The spot is perfect for a boozy brunch with outdoor and indoor dining options. The restaurant is good, so don’t be surprised when you see a crowd. They don’t take reservations, so go earlier in the morning or on a weekday. I’d also recommend takeout which we did twice!
The Breadfruit & Rum Bar: This was not a restaurant I was able to try because they are closed for dining service due to COVID, but I was able to meet the owner Dwayne for coffee. He’s an incredible man hailing from Jamaica that really put a lot of love and thought into the restaurant. The Breadfruit & Rum Bar serves traditional Jamaican cuisine in a unique, playful and yet historic way. This isn’t where you’ll go to find a casual beef patty, but this is a great place to explore the various flavor profiles Jamaica has to offer. Dwayne has made it a point to source meats, fruits, vegetables and seafood locally whenever possible–just as his grandmother did back in Kingston. For now, if you are in the area, keep an eye out for their Jerk Pop Ups which will allow you to get a taste of Jamaica at home. I asked Dwayne about the future of the restaurant, and he told me to expect more. So, as soon as the next one opens, I’d add it to your list. While I wasn’t able to sample any of the amazing food on my trip, I was able to try Dwayne’s latest venture, Big Marble Organics Ginger Beer. It was spicy, bubbly and fresh. If you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend.
Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles: This is a great restaurant but also a great site with (3) Black History murals currently on the exterior.
Hint of Soul: Although I wasn’t able to make it to here, I heard amazing things! Rumor has it that they have the best soul food in Phoenix, so I will definitely make it a point to stop by on my next trip.
Stacy’s Off the Hook BBQ & Soul Food: This BBQ & Soul food restaurant is known for having old school soul food that tastes like food from your childhood (if soul food reminds you of your childhood, of course).
Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe: This is yet another great restaurant that has murals as you drive into the parking lot. The food is supposed to be out-of-this-world–I heard nothing but great things, so I highly suggest you check it out.
There is so much more to Black-Owned business in Phoenix outside of food. Of course, with the pandemic, things are always evolving. For now, here are some other great Black-Owned Businesses to check out!
After visiting Phoenix, I shifted gears to spend some time in the nearby college town of Tempe. Downtown Tempe is about 20 minutes away from Downtown Phoenix and actually much closer to Sky Harbor Airport. A great addition to any trip to Phoenix with so much art, history, and nature to offer. I not only explored art and history in Tempe, but I also explored Black-Owned businesses. To read more about my weekend in Tempe, check out my blog post! I also talk more about wellness and how I used movement to process all of the history.
If you are heading to Tempe, here are a list of Black-Owned Businesses to check out:
Caffe Boa: Out of all of the Black-Owned Restaurants I visited in the area, this was one of my favorites. This place has been around for more than 20 years with amazing food and craft cocktails. I especially loved the customizable pizzas and the fresh pastas made without egg. Make sure you head to the one that’s located downtown with two “f”s in the store name because there are two.
Acai Bowl Paradise: They focus on serving our community with delicious healthy Acai Bowls, Plant Based Smoothies, Protein Shakes and More. Menu items are organic, Non-GMO, dairy-free and vegan-friendly. They’ll be moving soon, but the acai bowls were really good.
ATL Wings: All-The-Luv (ATL) Wings was originally established by husband and wife team Mike and Cianna Kirksey, and this spot was perfect for takeout. I loved their fries (perfect size in my opinion, not too thick yet crispy), and the wings were great too. I got the honey BBQ and Garlic Parm wings which didn’t disappoint.
Cafe Lalibela: This was another one that we didn’t get a chance to visit, however, we were really looking forward to it. Family-owned and operated for nearly 20 years, Café Lalibela offers an authentic, aromatic Ethiopian dining experience. Their diverse menu offers unique flavors, including vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.
This trip was months in the making, and while I did a lot of research on my own, a huge thank you to the local Visit Phoenix, Tempe Tourism and United Airlines teams for making this possible. Sharing in the hopes that everyone is inspired to find history wherever they’re located within the U.S.