Philadelphia: Fast and Fun Attractions for the Family

Genie Davis September 29, 2011 No Comments

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Philly was a fast stop for my family and me on our recent trip to the East Coast. But we packed a great deal of fun into a short stay, and included some locations beyond the standard ones that you may not consider as a part of your vacation – but you should.

Philadelphia Love sculpture

We enjoyed the fountains and sunshine around the Love sculpture in the heart of Philadelphia.

Small children and big kids alike will find there’s plenty to love about the City of Brotherly Love, including the iconic Love Statue located in the heart of the city’s business district. With a pretty park, fountains, and often food trucks to snack from, this picture stop can make an enjoyable place to linger. But if you’re looking for truly excellent snack food – or a real meal – head on down the street to Reading Terminal, former bus depot and current purveyor of food stalls of all kinds. We found fresh fish, fruits and vegetables along with great pizza, and Philly’s own variation of pizza – the tomato pie. Not familiar with that? It’s basically pizza crust with spicy tomato sauce, cheap and tasty. We also found plenty of examples of the famous Philly Cheese Steak – tender thin sliced beef, onions and cheese. But if you’re not a meat eater, as many in my family are not, there’s even a vegan Philly Cheese steak, with finely sliced seitan as the meat substitute. Just as greasy and delicious as the original, available in the market at the Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar. We’re not quite sure what the basic four is, but if it included the bun, onions, peppers etc. on the sandwich, they were good.

We proceeded on to the historical tourist heart of Philadelphia and walked off our lunch. We made a stop at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the National Constitution Center. We recommend starting at the Visitor’s Center, because you can score timed tickets to Independence Hall there. We started in the middle, unaware of the ticketing needs until a wait for our ticket time was necessary. We began our visit at the Liberty Bell, waiting in line – apparently there is always a line, so be patient for the security screening which isn’t anywhere near as invasive as TSA offers up. The bell is beautiful, and you can see it up close, without any glass shielding it. At the National Constitution Center, the centerpiece is a sit down multi-media experience called The Story of We the People, which combines a live performance with slides and film clips. We enjoyed a lot of the interactive displays too. The performance may make the smallest travelers restive, but is great for ages six and up. In Signers Hall you’ll find sculptures large enough to walk among depicting the signing of the Constitution. We also enjoyed traversing the hall containing the American Experience, filled with  interactive family-friendly exhibits designed to explain the role the Constitution plays in American life. The kids will enjoy voting for favorite president, taking an Oath of Office, and sitting in the same seat as a Supreme Court Justice. Cartoon oriented exhibits explained the balance of governmental power, making it easy for children to understand the workings of the government. While great for ages six and up, under six may need a quicker trip through this part of the exhibit hall.

Philadelphia Liberty Bell

Another Philadelphia icon - the Liberty Bell

It was a hot day and we had to force ourselves out of the air conditioning and away from the cool interactive exhibits. We made our way across a broad green space to the Quaker Meeting Hall where a costumed congregant explained the Quaker philosophy and the meeting hall’s function. Adjoining it is the Christ Church Burial Ground that inters Ben Franklin’s remains among other historical figures. A further walk took us to the Betsy Ross House. Small but fascinating, this museum allows families a trip through Betsy’s living area and shop. Betsy was an early feminist – working as an upholsterer in a time when that was a man’s job. While this expert seamstress is most famous for sewing the American flag, her struggles to support her family are fascinating reading. Kids will enjoy the recreations of colonial life – and climbing the narrow stairs. If you’ve brought small children in strollers you will want to park them outside the residence and carry your tots.

Not too far away you’ll find Elfrith Alley, the oldest residential street in America. Its shady cobble stones and side courtyards are fascinating to explore and small children will enjoy being able to cut loose for a bit in the courtyards along this traffic-less byway. Elfreth’s Alley was created in the early eighteenth century, when the city had grown into a thriving business center. The street is essentially a recreation of what colonists remembered from their homes in the U.K., and has a decidedly old England feel. It’s a living street, with for-rent signs in the windows and mail boxes by the front doors. Thirty-two houses, all built from 1728 and 1836, run along the street, forming a rare intact early American street scene.

Kimpton Palomar Hotel

Kimpton Palomar Hotel.

We were staying at the thoroughly modern Kimpton Palomar Hotel near Rittenhouse square, and while we walked comfortably from the hotel to Elfrith, it was time to partake of the comforts of a taxi for our return. The Palomar Hotel is family friendly yet hip, and we were happy to walk into happy hour, with free lemonade for the kids.  Read more about our stay at this wonderful hotel and more of our experiences in my article: Philadelphia – Ben Franklin’s Town.

If a nap isn’t quite in order, the hotel’s location is near the very pretty Rittenhouse Square park, which makes for a great stop for kids to let off some steam running around the green space.

Hotel staff recommended and we thoroughly enjoyed the sushi at trendy, but surprisingly peaceful Zuma Japanese Restaurant in Rittenhouse Square. Kids will enjoy the large wooden fish hanging from the ceiling; waitstaff is efficient, booths are comfortable, the avocado rolls are awesome, and it’s a short walk to the Palomar.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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