More Fabulous Philadelphia – Off the Beaten Track for Families

Genie Davis November 4, 2011 No Comments


There are undeniable differences between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the city of New York. Some travelers may prefer the vast cosmopolitan choices New York City offers, but Philadelphia’s relatively compact size and concentrated historic districts make it an ideal destination for history loving families and parents seeking sights kids will enjoy seeing. One comment I must make to families, is that outside of the central historic and downtown districts, block to block you’ll find wonderful shops to browse and sights to see and empty buildings or run down former hotels-come-low budget shopping arcades. We never felt uncomfortable, but be aware when walking this city,  not every street is filled with great sights to explore, or traveler-centric option. In other words,  if you spy a coffee shop or convenient hotel lobby bathroom and you or the kids need a place to take a break, don’t count on finding an alternative in close proximity. Bearing that in mind, you’ll be able to cover a lot of ground in Philadelphia by foot and public transport; because of the city’s relatively compact size even sinking into a taxi at the end of a long day of exploration won’t break the bank. Besides, I’m about to introduce you to some incredibly economical and wonderful Philly sights.

City Hall Philadelphia

Once you’ve experienced the history of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, there are still plenty of other Philadelphia historical landmarks to enjoy. One land mark we just loved was the iconic City Hall. Less tourist-centric than the revolutionary era artifacts, this nineteenth century building is impressive in its own right. It stands five hundred and forty eight feet in the center of the city, with beautiful bronze figure of state namesake William Penn, on top. The Penn statue is just the icing on a well sculpted cake, there are a total of  250 statues created by renowned artist Alexander Milne Calder both inside and out of the building. There’s a great observation deck on the top with a nominal entrance fee – on a clear day you can see thirty five miles of city, river, and outlying regions.

Our Dining Choices

We were almost able to spy our dining destination, Chifa on Chesnut Street. The restaurant is Chinese and Peruvian in cuisine, but shhh don’t tell the kids and they’ll love it. I had objections all the way to the restaurant, of “that sounds weird,” or “what kind of food is that, anyway?” but once they started to experience it, they were hooked. We all loved a bowl of bread balls served first, with guava butter for dipping. While you can almost fill up on that, there are plenty of other, small, tapa-like dishes including seafood chowder, perfect vegetable samplers for our vegan, and fragrant, cinnamon rich desserts. A fun, friendly spot for lunch or dinner.

Another eclectic food choice is Zahav, a Middle Eastern spot ensconced in tony Society Hill. This trip we focused on lots of restaurants with ‘little’ plates, which satisfied the diverse diets and food cravings in our family. The tasting menu here is called the ta’yim, and we were able to enjoy  hummus, fresh baked pita, grape leaves, and couscous.

Magic Gardens Philadelphia

One of the amazing murals in Philadelphia's Magic Gardens - a must-see off the beaten track stop.

Philadelphia Magic Gardens

Veering a long way from the typical tourist sightseeing of the historic district, our next stop was the equally unique Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street. The kids will love this attraction, and you will too – children under 12 pay only two dollars for a great deal of fun, and under six years, admission is free. Here you get to tour galleries filled with mosaics, and best of all a labyrinth sculpture garden. We spent a surprisingly long time in this fascinating space, studying the tiles and sculptures and reading some of the strange and cool writing semi-hidden on the walls. There are on-site “Garden Guide interpreters” able to introduce the works, but we stayed on our own, exploring the outdoor maze made up of cements and tiles, trinkets and tires. Everything more or less but the kitchen sink. Artist Isaiah Zager wasn’t present when we were, but is reputedly known for wandering through his own creation. This amazing folk art museum/garden is something you don’t see every day, part folk art, part gallery, and all nonprofit. You haven’t seen authentic Philly without it.

North Bowl Philadelphia

The interior of North Bowl is awesome, and the vibe is pure fun.

Pizza and Bowling

Locals told us that something else you shouldn’t leave without experiencing is a slice of pizza from the small corner eatery Lorenzo’s Pizza, reputedly serving one of the city’s most renowned offerings of cheese, dough and tomato. It’s reasonable too, at $1.50 per slice of plain cheese, always our favorite selection.

Now my son loves bowling, and pizza and bowling just go together, don’t they? We were advised by another local friend to check out North Bowl, also off the beaten tourist track. This is a converted garage filled with modern art and the glow in the dark bowling style beloved by extreme bowling fans nationwide. It looks like the 1950′s crossed with Andy Warhol’s rec room, and kids are allowed in until 9 pm. It’s a pretty fabulous spot, and a wonderful contrast to walking around the Parisian influenced fountains near the Art Museum or strolling through Independence Hall.

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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.

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