Thursday, January 7, 2010


About Philadelphia:
By way of background, 'Center City' Philadelphia is the equivalent of Manhattan to the rest of NYC (obviously on a much smaller scale) shaped like a rectangle, bordered on the West by the Schuylkill River and on the East by the Delaware River. To the West of the Schuylkill is the University of Pennsylvania and to the East of the Delaware is Camden, NJ. The main East to West streets for shopping, restaurants and bars in Center City are Walnut, Chestnut and Market. Broad Street (also referred to as the Avenue of the Arts) is the main North to South street and houses most of the venues for performing arts, including the new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Philadelphia City Hall is an impressive building and is also located on the Avenue of the Arts at Market Street.I would say the biggest things to see are Independence National Historic Park...Elfreth's Alley...(2nd between Arch and Race) - "picture-perfect"alley of 18th-century brick row houses said to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S. It's a national historic site.And the Betsy Ross House (Arch between 2nd and 3rd) - this 1740 house is where Betsy Ross is said to have lived and is typical of the time period. Good to see if you want a historical perspective. After that, if you are traveling with kids or are a kid at heart, then head into Camden, N.J. and check out the Battleship NJ....Or the Adventure Aquarium...The main areas of Center City are: OLD CITY - bounded by Chestnut and Vine Streets and N Front and N 5th Streets.If you hit these sites you've probably had all the history you will want for the weekend and they are all close so you can do them pretty quickly: Independence National Historic Park (6th and Market) -probably the most visited site in Philly. It includes the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, etc. (see above)
*Note that you can also pick up a lot of tours in Old City including the Duck Tour (6th and Chestnut), Philly Phlash and several walking tours.
SOCIETY HILL - bounded by Lombard and Walnut and 2nd and 7th - not many sites, but a beautiful, quaint neighborhood with cobblestone streets and 18th-century homes to walk around.SOUTH STREET- bounded by Front and 8th - again, not many sites, but resembles NYC's Greenwich Village for a funky neighborhood to walk around with shops, bars and restaurants.ITALIAN MARKET - S 9th from Washington to Christian - 120 open air stalls and specialty food stores.RITTENHOUSE SQUARE - bounded by Rittenhouse Square and Walnut and S 18th and Rittenhouse Sq West - the best of the 5 city squares laid out by William Penn surrounded by NYC-style apartments and a few outdoor cafes (including trendy Rouge and new-comer Parc which is by Stephen Starr) this is a very nice, but small, park to stroll through, before shopping along Walnut Street (between 18th and Broad).Other Activities in Center City: Philadelphia Museum of Art (26th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway)- the place with the famous "Rocky Steps" is one of the largest art museums in the U.S. Check out their schedule to see what exhibits are in town. It is quite an impressive place even if museums aren't your thing. Or just go to look at the Rocky statue and to see if you can run up the stairs!Rodin Museum (22nd and Benjamin Franklin Parkway) - If you can't make it to the one in Paris, this one in Philly is very small, but has some nice sculptures of Rodin's works. It is located within a short walk of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and can probably be done in 30-45 minutes.Please Touch Museum (4231 Avenue of the Republic) - this is a museum designed for younger kids where the concept is that you can touch everything! You can also check out The Franklin Institute (20th between Race and Winter) if you are with kids who are into science.And The Academy of Natural Sciences (19th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway) if your kids are into dinosaurs. Again, these are within a short walk of each other and the Museum of Art.Reading Terminal Market (Market between 11th and 12th) - this indoor market selling every kind of food imaginable is a great place to grab a snack or even lunch. In addition to several Amish merchants from Lancaster County, there is Basset's Ice Cream and Famous 4th Street Cookies (for the BEST chocolate chip & oatmeal raisin cookies), which are both great.Philadelphia Zoo (Girard and 34th) - America's First zoo...It feels as though you can get up and close to the animals...very nice!Boathouse Row (located just behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art) - A group of 10 late 19th and early 20th century boathouses along the Schuylkill River. Arguably the best view of Boathouse Row is from the Schuylkill Expressway at night when they are lit up. If the weather is nice, take a walk along the river on a bike path after leaving the museum. It's great exercise and a good way to see the boathouses now used by various rowing clubs. Note that you cannot go inside the boathouses. Not a must-see but given its proximity to the Museum of Art it might make sense to check out.30th Street Train Station (just across the Schuylkill river from Center City) - Less of an attraction than Washington DC's Union Station, it is a beautiful building. Unless you are an architecture buff you can probably skip it.Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (Fairmont between Corinthian and 22nd) - massive fortress completed in 1836 where each prisoner was kept in solitary confinement.Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul (18th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway) -beautiful cathedral if you are into visiting cathedrals.If you want to venture outside of Center City, you can take a short drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge to the Camden Waterfront to check out the Adventure Aquarium and the Battleship NJ which are right next to each other (see above).
Also, Manayunk is a very cute town with shopping (especially for furniture), bars and restaurants about 15 minutes away by car. Finally, the King of Prussia Mall (actually 2 separate buildings, one nice and the other not as nice) is about a 25-30 minute car ride from Center City if the weather is not good.Food in Philadelphia: Philly is a great food town! The most popular thing to eat would of course be the Philly Cheese Steak - and you should eat them at Geno's...
Pat's...or Jim's....Geno's and Pat's are both at the intersection of 9th and Passyunk. Personally, I think Jim's is the best (4th and South) and not as greasy as the rest.Another Philly tradition is Rita's Water Ice (15th and Spruce near Rittenhouse Square & other locations throughout the city as well- but note that they're only open in the warmer months) - My favorite flavor is mango with custard- it's called a Gelati. There is a really cool, old fashioned ice cream parlor called Franklin Fountain (Market between 1st and Second) that you should check out after seeing the historical stuff in Old City.Another neat ice cream shop is called Scoop de Ville (Chestnut between 17th and 18th across the street from Continental Restaurant) where they make really great blended ice creams named after candy bars - try the 'Pay Day'.For great coffee near Rittenhouse Square try La Colombe (19th between Sansom and Walnut- there is also one in Manayunk).Or DiBruno Brothers. (1730 Chestnut Street) This place is not only just great for coffee and pastries in the morning, but also for lunch sandwiches, salads and awesome soups. I cannot say enough about this place other than that if you are in Center City, then you should go!If possible, you should hit one cheesesteak place, one of the ice cream parlors and Reading Terminal Market for lunch and/or snacks. As far as restaurants go, some suggestions are below. The finest dining experiences in town are Le Bec Fin (1523 Walnut Street)...And La Croix at the Rittenhouse (210 W Rittenhouse Sq). They are both great if you are looking for excellent French meals.For good pub fare, my favorites are Pub and Kitchen (1946 Lombard Street)- A gastropub that serves great fish and chips and burgers.The Black Sheep Pub- which has great mac n cheese (17th and Latimer)And Monks for a wide selection of Belgian beers and some really yummy mouilles frites (16th and Spruce).For brunch, try Jones (7th and Chestnut) for a 'Brady-Bunch' decor and comfort food...or Sabrinas (Christian between 9th and 10th) for a hipster/shabby-chic setting (but go early or expect to wait)... Or Creperie Beau Monde (624 South 6th Street) for some french flair and delicious crepes (breakfast or lunch)...BYOs are very popular in Philly (note that wine can only be purchased in a handful of government-run liquor stores around Center City) and some of them are really outstanding including Melograno (Sansom between 20th and 21st)...a minimally decorated but great Tuscan BYO.Audrey Claire (20th and Spruce)- a Mediterranean cuisine BYO...Lolita - which is a Mexican place where you can bring your own tequila and they'll make the margaritas (13th between Chestnut and Sansom)...they call it a BYOT!And Porcini (Sansom between 20th and 21st)- an Italian BYO with fresh homemade pastas.Most are very small and don't take reservations, but they are a lot of fun, a great value and very common in Philly. Note that Audrey Claire and Lolita are cash only.
Finally, Stephen Starr is the restaurant guru in Philly (and has recently expanded his empire to include Buddakan and Morimoto in NY). Continental (Chestnut and 18th) is his original restaurant and a lot of fun with interesting food and good drinks- think retro diner. The one on Chestnut and 18th is better, but there is also one on Market and 2nd.His other restaurants include Parc (227 S 18th St)- a french brasserie that will truly make you feel like you are dining in Paris instead of Philly... Jones (which I mentioned above), Morimoto (723 Chestnut Street) for amazing sushi...Alma de Cuba (1623 Walnut Street)- for terrific Latin food and drinks in a spot that'll make you feel like you are in Cuba... Buddakan (325 Chestnut Street)- for out of this world Asian food... El Vez (121 South 13th Street)- for great margaritas and Mexican food in a really cool space. I spent many New Year's Eve's at this restaurant- it's a fun place. Pod (3636 Sansom Street) a Pan-Asian restaurant in University City. You can sit at one table in the restaurant and your sushi will come to you on a conveyor belt! Barclay Prime (237 South 18th Street)- an expensive steakhouse unlike any other steakhouse you've probably been to. Definitely try the Kobe beef sliders here...they're GREAT!!!And Washington Square (210 West Washington Square)- a New American restaurant. I've never been for dinner, but I do think they have a good brunch. If you are looking for some cool restaurants for a young couple that have a hip vibe I would suggest Parc (mentioned above)...or Rouge (205 South 18th Street) which are next door to each other on Rittenhouse Square). They are both cool for either before dinner drinks, dinner or even brunch. Rouge was one of my go-to spots when I lived in Philly. If you go, I suggest trying their burger. It's also a great spot to sip wine and people watch- especially at an outside table when the weather is nice.Also cool for dinner is Raw (1225 Sansom Street) if you like sushi and great sake.Or if you are willing to take a cab ride then Osteria (640 N Broad St) is a great restaurant. If you go, order one of their pizzas- you won't be disappointed!If you want a "foodie" restaurant that has sophisticated food and an authentic Philly experience, I would suggest the following restaurants for dinner:
VETRI (1312 Spruce Street)- you'll think you've died and gone to Italy!ANSILL (627 S. Third St. & Bainbridge)- for great wine and eclectic small plates. TINTO (114 South 20th St. at Sansom)- (note that it is a tapas restaurant) - if you decide to go here try to sit upstairs and grab a table near the open kitchen.Some newcomers to Philly that I haven't tried yet are: Bibou- (1009 South 8th Street) a BYOB in South Philly that is all French!Distrito- (3945 Chestnut Street) for fabulous tacos and Mexican food that tastes like it was imported from Mexico. Supposedly their tacos are better than ones you would find in Houston or L.A.!
There is so much to do and there are so many restaurants that I know I left out, but just couldn't fit them all in. No matter what you do in Philadelphia, you are sure to love the City of Brotherly Love!


  1. Yup, I think that just about covers Philly :)
    Alma de Cuba and Buddakhan are awesome. I will have to check out some of the new stuff soon.

  2. If in Philadelphia, definitely go see America's First Zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo. They have a great newly-restored bird house, a highly acclaimed big cats exhibit (Big Cat Falls) with rare-and-beautiful white lions, plus a rare opportunity to ride in a real hot air balloon.

    Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America's Best Zoos