When we first moved to the Bay Area (and before, when we lived in Washington DC and Philadelphia), I hunted around tons and tons of websites, blogs, friends, etc. etc. But most of those resources provided a few suggestions at a time (with the notable exception of one dear friend who sent me a list equal to my own; I quickly realized we were soul sisters).
Through the course of my research, I compiled a giant list of places we’ve visited and want to visit, and I’d love to share the wealth. So when you’re doing your research, you at least have a jumping off place with a TON of recs. While I’ll continue highlighting some favorite spots in our area and in our travels in more depth/detail, I’ll also to put together what I’ll, very inventively, call Big Giant Lists. The BGLs will be just that – a giant list of suggestions for an area, so if you want a ton of options, you can come here as a landing place, and read through posts to get a better idea if you have questions on specific items.
I make ZERO claims to these being comprehensive lists – I’m certain there are many, many things I’ve forgotten/missed/neglected to include, and surely there are new places popping up all the time. Still, I’ve had quite a few people over the years ask me to share MY lists, so here they are. If there’s something/somewhere you love for any of these cities, please let me know in the comments so I can add it in!
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d start with one of my most beloved cities – Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.
Enjoy – I hope this is as helpful to you as it’s been to me!
- Independence Hall/Liberty Bell
- National Constitution Center – (don’t miss the great half-hour-ish intro show)
- The Library Company of Philadelphia – the oldest lending library in the country
- Carpenter’s Hall – meeting of the first Constitutional Congress
- Congress Hall – served as the meeting place for the U.S. Congress for about a decade
- Christ Church – a beautiful church where many of the Founding Families attended
- City Hall – the largest municipal building in the country and the world’s second-largest freestanding masonry building – can do a tour to the top that has a great view
- Edgar Allen Poe home
- Elfreth’s Alley – the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited street
- Betsy Ross home
- Masonic Temple
- Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital
- Washington Crossing Historic Park – where Washington crossed the Deleware – they occasionally have reenactments and such
- The Bourse – cool old building – was an exchange place
- Saint Peter & Paul Basilica – the gorgeous main Catholic cathedral
- Penn’s campus – oldest university in the country, yada yada. Oh, and our alma mater. 😉
- Fine Arts library – one of the most gorgeous libraries I’ve visited
- Main library: see original copies of the Book of Mormon and Bible that you can hold and peruse (you need an appointment for this)
- Arch Street Friends Meeting House – an old Quaker meeting house
- Valley Forge (a bit of a drive, but amazing and beautiful)
- Oldest post office (and the only one in the country that does not fly a US flag, to keep with tradition, since the flag didn’t exist during that time)
- 30th Street station – beautiful old railway station
- Wannamaker Organ – world’s largest (playable) organ (in the Macy’s building, the oldest department store in Philly) – look up one of the free concerts!
- Philadelphia US Mint tour – One of only two Mints in the country that allow tours
- Masonic Temple
- The Kimmel Center/Philadelphia Orchestra
- Curtis Institute student concert – these are typically free and incredible
- The Mann Center – Philly Orchestra’s summer outdoor venue
- A Phillies baseball game (yes, this falls under cultural :)). Or an Eagles game, but those tickets are harder to come by.
- Mural Arts Tour – Philly is the mural capital of the world and these tours are really fantastic. My husband used to volunteer with this excellent organization!
- Eastern State Penitentiary – cool old prison, and the first to employ solitary confinement. Had some famous residents, including Al Capone
- Academy of Music – gorgeous old building where the opera company performs
- Union League – another gorgeous building that now is a Republican building
- Japanese House & Garden – traditional Japanese house and acclaimed gardens
- Bartram’s Garden – America’s oldest surviving botanical garden
- Manayunk – cool old neighborhood with an artsy/hipster sort of vibe
- First Friday gallery walk
- Philadelphia Museum of Art – one of the largest and best in the country – really fantastic Impressionism section – the Rocky steps/statue are also here
- Rodin Museum – second largest Rodin collection in the world (after the Parisian one)
- Penn Museum of Anthropology & Archaeology – one of the very best in the world – has some really fantastic exhibits
- Franklin Institute – an amazing museum focused on science but that has tons of interactive exhibits, a planetarium, etc.
- Brandywine River Museum – a lovely collection that has lots of history with the battle that took place there
- The Barnes Foundation – a terrific collection with some of the best in Impressionism in the US
- Independence Seaport Museum
- Mutter Museum – of medical anomalies. Weird but cool.
- Please Touch Museum – a fantastic children’s museum
- Philadelphia History Museum
- National Museum of American Jewish History – beautiful and well-arranged exhibits
- Crayola Experience – crayon factory/museum in Easton, PA – so fun!
- The African American History Museum in Philadelphia – opened during the 1976 national Bicentennial celebrations
- Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University – oldest natural science museum in America
- Institute of Contemporary Art (part of the University of Pennsylvania)
- Mummers Museum – costumes from the famous Philadelphia Mummers parades
- National Liberty Museum
- Academy of the Fine Arts – oldest art museum & school in the nation
- Penn’s Landing – totally redone a few years ago and includes Spruce Street Harbor Park, a lovely urban park with food, grass, hammocks, etc.
- Magic Gardens – kind of cool mosaic display
- South Street – lots of kooky shops, but a definite experience
- Walnut Street – lots of moderate to upscale shopping, right by Rittenhouse Square
- Franklin Square – in warmer weather, includes Philly-themed mini golf and a carousel
- Washington Square – part of Independence National Historical Park, and is my favorite of the Philadelphia squares. It’s beautiful for strolling and I love all the old homes. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier can be found here.
- Fabric Row – a historic fabric district
- Jewelers’ Row – the oldest diamond district in the country
- Fairmount Park – largest urban park in the country – includes Fairmount Water Works, Boathouse Row, and the cool old Laurel Hill Cemetery (a National Historic Landmark), Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square, etc. Lots of opportunities to stroll, jog, boat, watch the crew teams on the Schuylkill (“skoo-cull”) River, visit the Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse (which is terrific!)
- Philadelphia Zoo – America’s first zoo
- Morris Arboretum – a really fantastic arboretum
- Longwood Gardens – gorgeously maintained gardens that also have occasional concerts and events
- Love statue
- Philadelphia Flower Show – takes place in early March and is the largest indoor flower show in the world
- LDS Temple
- Amish Country – a bit of a drive, but gorgeous
- Ben Franklin Bridge – I believe you can walk across on a nice day (or a yucky day, I suppose, it’s your trip)
*Note: new food pops up ALL the time in Philadelphia. These are tried-and-true favorites from our time living there, which ended in 2009. I feel 100% confident in still recommending all these, but I’m sure there are tons of new greats, too.
- Reading Terminal Market – awesome eatery with tons of stalls slash cheap farmers’ market slash gold mine. One of our favorite places in Philly.
- Italian Market – oldest outdoor farmer’s market in the country. Be sure to do some olive sampling and stop at Termini Brothers for a cannoli.
- Scannicchio’s – one of our favorite restaurants in Philly. Great staff, awesome Italian, moderately priced. They always remember my order of eggplant rollatini. 🙂
- Sabrina’s Cafe – our favorite place for brunch in Philly. The Italian Market location is best for atmosphere but get there early because it gets crowded.
- Federal Donuts – I am not a doughnut person, but these are phenomenal
- Lolita – excellent Mexican fusion
- Vetri – pricey, but great
- Franklin Fountain – old fashioned soda fountain with some truly excellent ice cream
- Capo Giro Gelato – terrific gelato
- El Vez
- Pat’s/Geno’s – cheesesteaks – self explanatory. Get one of each and compare.
- Rita’s water ice – a Philadelphia icon. Just make sure you call it “wooder” ice.
- Wawa – another Philly staple (convenience store, but it’s SO much better than 7-11)
- Talula’s Garden
- Zahav – great Middle Eastern
- Vedge – As a vegetarian, I’m typically highly suspicious of veg-only places (fake meat weirds me out), but this place is really excellent
- Victor Cafe – opera singers will come to your table as you dine on Italian
- Parc Brasserie – I haven’t actually dined at this Stephen Starr resto, but the setting is darling and right on Rittenhouse Square
- Alma de Cuba