Over the Labor Day weekend, the southwestern Washington, D.C., waterfront Wharf neighborhood was alive with the sound of music. Grammy-winning chanteuse Samara Joy headlined the annual DC JazzFest and serenaded overheated festival attendees and dockside bystanders. Restaurants overflowed with handsome couples and groups of singles ready to mingle, while carefree kids and grown folks alike grooved to the ’80s funk and soul flowing from an outdoor DJ set. 

As a proud alumna of Howard University, this is the DC I love to see. This upwardly mobile and melanin-blessed scenery was an idyllic backdrop for my solo getaway. 

If you’re ready to follow my lead, here are some highlights of what to do and see on a trip to the District of Columbia this fall.

Where to stay

“With open arms, we welcome you to your haven away from home.” 

Get a spacious room with a view at the Salamander Washington DC, which recently took over the 373-room Mandarin Oriental. Owned by Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET and founder and CEO of the luxury Salamander Hotels & Resorts portfolio, the hotel is the epitome of classic hotel elegance. The common areas have a floral fragrance, and the property’s tucked-away location between the landmarks on the National Mall and the Wharf make it a great launch pad for sightseeing. 

The customer service is topnotch and African American patrons in particular will appreciate that everyone is treated like royalty. Room features include deep soaking tubs and aromatic Diptyque bath and body products. Complimentary coffee and tea is set up in the lobby daily. 

Don’t miss the Salamander’s opulent Afternoon Tea ($95 per guest, Saturday and Sunday seatings at 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.) in the sunlit lobby lounge. Surrounded by well-heeled ladies who lunch, sip sparkling wine and organic teas, and luxuriate in the sophisticated setting, punctuated by ambient jazz. Have a leisurely nosh on tiers of tea sandwiches, sweets, and homemade scones served with lemon curd and jam.

And no stay at the Salamander DC would be complete without treating yourself to a rejuvenating and rebalancing facial, massage, or body treatment at the Salamander Spa, which is a serene self-care sanctuary for both guests and non-guests. Before or after your treatment, allot time to relax in the steam room, sauna, and plunge pool. 

Art and culture

Whether you go for the first or the fifth time, the National Museum of African American History & Culture (https://nmaahc.si.edu/) never disappoints. Through August 2024, view the thought-provoking “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures” exhibition on the lower level, spotlighting Black innovators in sci-fi, tech, pop culture, and activism. The motivating theme is that “Afrofuturism is Black resiliency and evolution,” and the immersive exhibit features eye-catching album covers, instruments from pioneering musicians, and costumes from the original Broadway show “The Wiz” and the blockbuster film “Black Panther.” Admission is free, but timed-entry passes are required. 

Explore the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (https://hirshhorn.si.edu/), and admire internationally renowned artist Mark Bradford’s ongoing, large-scale exhibition, “Pickett’s Charge.” Admission is free.

Along the National Mall’s Tidal Basin and a bit off the beaten path, visit the striking Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (https://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm).  

Where to eat and drink

The Wharf (https://www.wharfdc.com/restaurants/) is where locals and in-the-know tourists go to eat, drink, and be merry. Budget-friendly picks include the Union Pie pizza kiosk for tasty thin-crust pies, Fat Fish for poke bowls and sushi-style hand rolls, and bartaco for fresh Mexican street food and specialty cocktails.

For festive restaurants and bars, trendy shops, and a convenient Trader Joe’s, head to the lively northwestern 14th Street corridor. Two reliable Black-owned staples are the original Busboys and Poets (https://www.busboysandpoets.com/) and the iconic Ben’s Chilli Bowl (https://benschilibowl.com/), now in its 65th year in business.

Rooftop viewsNot far from Dupont and Logan circles, relish small bites and spirits at Hedy’s Rooftop (https://www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/zena/dining-nightlife) at the female-empowerment-themed Hotel Zena. For sunset views, fire pits, and happy hour sips and bites, pop by Lady Bird (https://www.ladybirddc.com/), perched atop the Kimpton Banneker Hotel. In Downtown D.C. at walking distance from Black Lives Matter Plaza, go to Eaton DC’s rooftop bar and lounge Wild Days (https://www.wild-days-dc.com/new-page-2) for cool music vibes in a plant-and-mosaic-art-filled setting.

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