I am the Director of Marketing for Founding Footsteps Tours as well as the company’s resident millennial and first full time hire. I’ve lived in Philly for nearly ten years, and like most long-term residents, I absolutely adore it. When my Bostonian best friend (I try not to hold the Boston thing against her) told me she and her husband (who has never been to Philly) were planning on spending a long weekend in Philadelphia, I was so excited to set up this itinerary for the three of us. I like to think of it as a good balance between classic Philly and local best kept secrets.
It’s the very first day and the best way to get acquainted with the city is from the top of Philly’s most iconic building, City Hall. The rickety elevator ride is just as charming as the panoramic views from 548 feet up. The waiting room before the ascent is full of interesting facts about the municipal behemoth (like that it’s the largest masonry building in the world and that it took them thirty years to build) and the elevator operator is always up for some light conversation. Even though there are tons of places in the city with a great view, there’s nothing quite like being right underneath William Penn’s feet. Fun bonus fact: This is where our founder proposed to his wife.
Reading Terminal Market is a fairly standard tourism spot, but it’s a classic for locals as well and once you go inside, it’s easy to see why this iconic Philadelphia landmark is so beloved. Opened in 1893, it’s one of America’s oldest and largest public markets and it currently houses over 80 different food vendors offering every type of cuisine you could possibly imagine. One of my absolute favorites? DiNic’s Roast Pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and provolone – this could easily be split three ways and would leave some room for Beiler’s Doughnuts or a few cookies from 4th Street – heck, why not both? It’s vacation after all!
For the first day, I mostly wanted to explore greater Center City and the museum district. I’ve found that taking the “tourist friendly public transportation” Phlash Bus is the easiest and most cost-effective way to do this. It stops at every major tourist attraction from Old City to Fairmount Park, and only costs $5 to ride all day. SEPTA key card holders (myself) ride for free. From May 1st – September 2nd, it runs every daily every 15 minutes from 10am till 6pm. My friends and I will hop on at stop #4, right outside of the Reading Terminal Market, on the corner of 12th and Market.
Eastern State Penitentiary is another classic tourist spot but definitely worth the visit. The museum, which is inside a once operational jail, offers really interesting details about the “Pennsylvania System” and the impact it has on modern day prison systems. You’ll get to explore most of the prison including the infirmary, “the hole”, and Al Capone’s lavish jail cell. The self-guided audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi, abandoned castle like architecture, local artist instillations and the deep reflection on our modern-day prison system are absolutely worth the $14 admission fee.
(Hop off at Phlash at stop #12, and transfer to the Zoo/Please Touch museum loop. Exit at the Please Touch museum, the Shofuso house is about a three-minute walk)
The Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is one of Philadelphia’s best kept secrets. This traditional 17th century style Japanese house and garden was actually built in Japan and currently resides in Fairmount Park (the largest municipal park in the United States). The beautiful and tranquil environment makes it easy to forget there’s a bustling city less than a few miles away.
After the Shofuso House, we’ll hop back on the Phlash to City Hall (stop #15) and take the Market Frankford El (our east/west subway) eastbound towards Northern Liberties. Hop off at the Spring Garden station and it’s about a six-minute walk to our chosen dinner spot, Standard Tap. Their menu is constantly changing and they offer a wide selection of hearty dishes using seasonal ingredients and local produce. You can get anything from a burger, to a chicken pot pie, to a duck confit salad. Along with outstanding food, they have an impressive locally brewed beer list, outdoor seating and they support initiatives like Pennsylvania’s Buy Fresh Buy Local movement and urban agriculture from Greensgrow Farms. Not only does everything taste good, but it feels good too.
Despite the fact that it’s been a long day, it’s Friday, Friday and we’ve gotta get down on Friday! Might as well hit one more spot before calling it quits, so off to one of my favorite breweries…
It’s about a twenty minute walk from our last stop, so unless you’re up for that, the easiest way to get here is via Uber.
Philadelphia rich brewing history is currently being matched by a vibrant brewing culture and tons and tons of breweries. With its’ friendly staff, delicious beer, and cool modern space, Love City is easily my favorite brewery. Their motto: “We’re about good people, good beer, and a good way to cap off the day. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.”
I understand this is a bold statement, but I’d argue that Knead makes just about the best breakfast sandwich in the city. All of their eggs are free range and their house knead aioli is made of pure magic. It’s also right across the street from Washington Square Park so if there aren’t any tables available, you can enjoy your sandwich surrounded by nature and lots of hungry squirrels.
Knead is right on the cusp of Old City, which is a lovely area to explore. It’s called old city, creatively, because it’s the oldest part of the city. Philadelphia in general, and this area in particular, has tons of history to the point where it can be a bit overwhelming. My friends and I are going to take, what I call, the “history light” option, and stop by a few easily accessible and picturesque places.
After all this, we’ll take a break from the history and do a little shopping and art gallery perusing. There are tons of adorable boutiques, non-cheesy souvenir shops and pop up art instillations worth exploring. All that wandering around will work up your appetite so it’s time for lunch…
This tiny pub, tucked away in old city, specializes in Southern, Cajun and Creole cuisines, with 22 rotating craft drafts. Fun fact: the back bar was crafted by German woodworkers and used in the Centennial Celebration in 1876 prior to its use at Khyber Pass. The pubs old school coolness, delicious food and great beer selection make it the perfect place to take a mid-afternoon break.
Edgar Allan Poe lived in Philadelphia for six years and many people describe it as his most productive era. He lived in this home with his wife, Virginia and mother in law in 1843 before moving to New York City. While living here he wrote The Black Cat in which he describes a basement eerily similar to the one in his Philadelphia home. You have the opportunity to wonder around the house, check out the exhibits on his family, and chat with the park rangers who discuss the financial and emotional hardships he experienced while in Philadelphia. Not only will this chilling house put you in touch with Philly’s darker side, it’s also free!
If the Edgar Allan Poe house left you feeling (understandably) a little uneasy, Spruce Street Harbor Park will definitely cheer you up. This beautiful outdoor space is situated along the Delaware River and has all your summer needs – an abundance of colorful hammocks, gourmet food trucks, games for all ages, and tons of beer gardens. Luckily it isn’t just for beer lovers as they also sell frozen drinks in silly containers which is my personal favorite. We’ll sample tacos, burgers and soft pretzels from the food trucks and drink frozen drinks to our hearts delight. Depending on how nostalgic we’re feeling perhaps we’ll pay the $10 fee to paddle around on those silly swan boats (we’ll say we’re doing it for the gram, but really, we’re doing it for our childhood selves). Spruce Street Harbor Park is one of the best places to spend a few leisurely hours on a nice summer day.
Around 7pm, we’ll start heading towards the pickup location for our “Beer and Band” tour put on by my favorite local and family-owned tour company, Founding Footsteps. (Full disclosure – they do pay me but I’m not obligated to say that – although it doesn’t hurt) One of the company’s liveliest tours takes place on our BYOB trolley as live musicians entertaining you en route to visiting some of Philadelphia’s best beer gardens and breweries. You may get on the trolley as strangers, but after loudly (and poorly) singing along to “Don’t Stop Believing” and other bar favorites, you’ll leave as friends. The tour ends at 10pm at the Independence Beer Garden, which is a great place to have one final drink (or two).
We’ve avoided the quintessential millennial “B” word up until this point… but hey, it wouldn’t be Sunday Funday if we didn’t do brunch.
This place is a little out of the way, its technically in the Pennsport neighborhood but it’s worth the trek! It’s a breakfast and lunch spot only with cuisine inspired by the Pennsylvania Dutch, hence the name, The Dutch. They have the perfect mix of sweet and savory including Ana Banana Pancakes, and my personal favorite, an interesting twist on eggs Benedict where slices of ring bologna take the place of Canadian bacon and instead of hollandaise creamed chipped beef. Don’t come here on anything less than a completely empty stomach.
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has a few of these pop-up beer gardens throughout the city, but the one on South Street is my favorite. The shabby chic ambiance and refreshing seasonal cocktails make this the perfect place to relax post brunch. Plus, all the proceeds help support the PHS mission to create healthier living environments and increase access to fresh food.
The Magic Gardens, a two-block mosaic art environment created by artist Isaiah Zagar, is uniquely Philadelphia. The interactive museum hopes to inspire creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic, and visionary art. Its’ beauty inspires awe, and of course, a social media post or two.
After the Magic Gardens, this is a great opportunity to take in South Street. It’s one of the cities most vibrant streets and is currently home to vintage shops, bars, boutiques, music venues and restaurants. If you look closely you can still see remnants of its’ counter culture scene from the 60’s and punk vibes from the 80’s. It’s the focal point of the Orlon’s song “South Street”, which asks the question “Where do all the hippies meet?” and was referenced in the song “Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkmen. Nearly forty years later, the street has held onto its funky scene and remains a great place for people watching.
Keeping up with our South Philly theme of the day, our next spot is Bok Bar. This self-proclaimed “neighborhood bar giving you views of the neighborhood” resides at the top of an old school and easily offers one of the best views of the city. The idea that all of Philadelphia is one big neighborhood really resonates with me and feels like an ode to the sometimes gruff but overall wonderful attitude of the city. It’s easy to ponder this, and all the other reasons to love Philly while hundreds of feet above it, watching the sun set with loved ones. It would be the perfect end to the trip… but we have one more stop.
So by this point, we’ve ate and drank ourselves silly. But it’s the last night and I figured we could splurge a little at one of the Philadelphia’s nicer restaurants. The inspiration of this eatery is one of Italy’s wildest and most unspoiled regions, Abruzzo. They strive to serve the cuisine of the shepherds, farmers and fishermen, and man, is it delicious! The meats are house-butchered, the pasta is cut by hand, and the passion and love put into the food is obvious. These little details and the authenticity of it all makes for a truly remarkable dining experience.
After being so full of pasta that we can barely move, I’ll say goodbye to my friends (and readers – hi mom!), hoping that I’ve imparted a little bit of Philly love and appreciation.