Philadelphia in the Phall: It's More Than Just the Liberty Bell

Tail end of summer, lead-up to the holidays, beginning of “The Season”, or just a nice time of year all by itself: Autumn is almost upon us. We’re all going to be busier now, what with the kids back in school and the holidays looming; no more lazy hazy crazy days of summer for us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t squeeze in some fun time before the good weather goes away for good, right?

So, I’m thinking Philadelphia. Not the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, Philadelphia Zoo and Rocky Steps, South Street and Franklin Institute Philadelphia of tourists and school trips; something a little more, I don’t know. . . off the beaten path, esoteric, a little less well-known? You with me? Because there’s plenty of that in Philly, and seriously – it’s pretty much right next door.

Spruce Street Harbor Park
Spruce Street Harbor Park: hammocks, a beer garden, swan boats, LED lights in the trees, games and a playground for the kids . . . what’s not to like? But get there fast if you want to enjoy this popup park: it’s scheduled to close for the season on September 27.

Dilworth Park: get drenched in the fountains while the weather’s still warm. Or, if you can’t make it before the weather turns cool, wait till November when the fountains become an ice rink.

Penn Treaty Park: when there are no events scheduled, this is a quiet and relaxing little Fishtown park with a view of the Delaware, next to the looming, empty, and fascinating old Delaware Generating Station. If you’re more interested in some autumn fun, come for the River City Festival on October 10 or the Halloween Hoedown on October 17.

Race Street Pier: take advantage of the last of the warm weather. Sit and relax and enjoy the view of the Delaware and the soaring Ben Franklin Bridge.

The crack in the Liberty Bell serv es as a hole in Franklin Square's mini-golf
Franklin Square: open all year, with a Philadelphia-themed mini golf course and carousel, a playground, and a Steven Starr hamburger place.

Bartram's Garden, a 45-acre treasu re hiding in plain sight on the Schuylkill
Cruise along the Schuylkill to Bartram’s Garden: there are cruises coming up in September and October that you can still catch.

The Schuylkill Banks boardwalk
Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk: walk, bike, or relax on the grass. Especially nice on a crisp fall day.

Reflection of St. James Episcopal  Church, which isn't there
Murals – yes, I know you already knew about Philadelphia’s many, many murals but this, at 22nd and Walnut, is the one that blows me away. Take a look. See the reflection of the church? That church is not there.

Eastern State Penitentiary: while this fascinating place is open for tours all year long, it gets really, really cool around Halloween.

Christmas Village: your excuse is that you’re getting your holiday shopping done but no one will blame you if you’re really just here for the waffles, bratwurst, hot mulled wine and other treats. Over 60 food and craft vendors will descend on Love Park from Thanksgiving through December 27. I go every year just for the atmosphere. And the wine.

The Divine Lorraine. Just. . . wow
Divine Lorraine Hotel: you can’t go inside this beautiful abandoned building, but it’s worth driving by just to look at it. This architectural exclamation point is due to be restored – finally! – so I hope it’s not covered in scaffolding when you see it.

How about some culture? Philadelphia has its own opera company, and their season opens in the fall. You don’t want to sit for three hours in a stuffy opera house and spend all that money for a ticket? Well, the Academy of Music is a beautiful venue with a rich history, but on October 3, you actually can see their season opener, La Traviata, for free, on a big screen, out in the open air! (It’s free but you do need tickets, which become available Sept 2.) And if you’re thinking you don’t want to sit out on the mall to hear some music you don’t even know – actually, maybe you do know it. Listen to this, and this. Both are from La Traviata and I bet you’ve heard at least one of them (you don’t get Anna Netrebko at the Philly production, though).

Philadelphia is home to two highly regarded music schools, the Curtis Institute and the Academy of Vocal Arts. They both put on performances for the public. Here is a list of this season’s student recitals, concerts, and operas from Curtis. Ticket prices are reasonable; in fact, the student recitals are free! And here are the 2015-2016 season offerings from AVA.

If you prefer your arias while you’re eating, check out the Victor Café, where the waiters do more than bring food. I’m not even going to try to explain this; here’s their website. Oh, and there’s a Rocky connection too.

There is also the Philadelphia Orchestra (opening night September 30), the Art Museum – it’s not just the Rocky steps! Go inside! – and plenty of theatre. Visit the Rodin MuseumNote 1 Does anyone else think of a giant, smoke-trailing pteranodon when they think of Rodin? No? Just me, then. Never mind.; non-flash photos are encouraged, so go with your sweetie and take a selfie in front of The Kiss. (Don’t forget the gift shop, a small but glorious combination of classy and kitsch – last time I was there, they were selling Thinker pickle ornaments. Yes, I said Thinker. Pickle. Ornaments. Be still, my heart.) Then hit the nearby Barnes, which I can only describe as an overwhelmingly overwhelming art experience. Less than a mile away is The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) – check out the cool outdoor sculptures of the paintbrush and airplane, and visit the gift shop – it’s a trip in itself.

If sports are more to your liking, Philly has the Phillies (go Phils!); their season runs through Oct. 4 so you can still catch the end of it (yeah, I don’t think we’re looking at a postseason here. But I’d be happy to be wrong). The Flyers’ first home preseason game is September 25. And of course the Eagles’ season is just about to get going, as is the 76ers’. The Union’s season ends October 25, so you still have time to see a soccer game!

Cool autumn days make you work up an appetite, and anyway, you’re going to need some nourishment if you’re going to do all this sightseeing. So here’s a very, very personal list of good places to eat and drink in Philadelphia.

Parc, at 227 S. 18th St. (across from Rittenhouse Square) and The Dandelion, on 18th & Sansome, are just two of many Steven Starr restaurants in town.

Brauhaus Schmitz at 718 South St. Go here for good German food and beer.

Caribou Café at 1128 Walnut, serves French food. I don’t know how authentically French it is, but I like it.

Philadelphia, of course, is known for lobster roll. OK, no, it’s not. But if you have a craving for some authentic New England Lobster Roll while you’re roaming around, Luke’s Lobsters at 130 S. 17th St. will be happy to accommodate you.

Three generations play Jenga at Frankford Hall beer garden.
Frankford Hall at 1210 Frankford Ave. A family-friendly, indoor/outdoor beer garden in my favorite neighborhood, Fishtown, where the food and games are as important as the beer.

Girard on Girard, 300 E. Girard Ave. (also in Fishtown), where the staff is paid a fair wage and get paid vacation and sick days – so no tipping necessary.

I’m not foolish enough to pick a cheesesteak place. You know about the rivalry between the two supposed best, Pat’s and Geno’s, but Philly insiders tell me that Tony Luke’s, Joe’s, or Jim’s are the places to go. Oh, and don’t embarrass yourself; ask for Whiz or provolone.

Yay, we’re having ice cream! Try Big Gay Ice Cream, 521 South Broad (have the Bea Arthur. Yum.) or Little Baby’s Ice Cream, 2311 Frankford (haven’t been there but reliable sources tell me it’s great).

If you still can’t decide, go wander around Reading Terminal Market. I promise you’ll find something you like. Just be aware that many of the vendors are closed on Sundays.

Here are some websites to help you find even more Philadelphia phun:

You may have noticed I’ve written nothing about Pope Francis’s September visit to Philadelphia, which is, of course, THE Philadelphia event of the season. This isn’t an oversight. I love Francis, but this blog is about the fun anyone can have in normal, everyday Philly – and Philly will be anything but normal and everyday during the papal visit. Certain roads, bridges, and even neighborhoods will be closed, and public transportation will be very limited. So unless you already have plans to see the Pope, plan your trip for before or after.

More information can be found at:

Note 1 Does anyone else think of a giant, smoke-trailing pteranodon when they think of Rodin? No? Just me, then. Never mind.
-Barbara Smith


Popular posts from this blog

Ocean-in-a-Bottle Craft for Kids

Neil Gaiman Ruined My Life

Happy National Peanut Month!