Last month, international travel guide company Lonely Planet named Philadelphia
the top U.S. destination for 2016. To all you future Philly-bound travelers, here's a bit of advice on getting the most out of your stay, skipping the tourist staples, and getting a nuanced look at the quirks and charms of this fair city.
SKIP: The Barnes Foundation
PERUSE: First Friday
Yes, the Barnes Foundation contains one of the most stunning collections of Impressionist art in the world, but is there free wine? If you want to see what Philadelphia's contemporary artists are up to -- you know, the folks who actually live and work in the place you're visiting -- head out to galleries across the city on the first Friday of every month. Most spots roll out the red carpet, offering complementary refreshments alongside intriguing art and cutting-edge crafts. Corridors to consider strolling: 2nd and 3rd Streets in Old City (over 40 galleries) and Frankford Avenue in Fishtown,
EAT: Ethnic food in South Philly
Yes, a hot whiz-wit is delicious, but if you really want to take your tastebuds on a trip, tour South Philadelphia's immigrant communities via their cuisine. Stroll through the Italian Market -- which is now filled with Mexican businesses run mostly by immigrants from Puebla -- and visit Tortilleria San Roman
for hot tortillas, fresh salsas and the best chips on the Eastern Seaboard. Then check out Mole Poblano
for a plate of, you guessed it, mole poblano.
Just a couple blocks over, dip into the Vietnamese plaza at 11th and Washington for steaming soup at Pho 75
, or walk a couple blocks east to 6th and Washington for bahn mi and iced coffee at Ba Le Bakery
The neighborhood also boasts a growing Cambodian community centered around 7th Street in deep South Philly. Munch on deep friend quail and citrusy raw beef salad at Khmer Kitchen
or head to Mifflin Square to purchase sticky grilled wings and spring rolls from the pop-up vendors.
Not satisfied? Trek across Broad Street to Hardena Resto Wareong Surabaya
for a classic Indonesian platter of beef rendang, greens with coconut milk and fish curry.
SKIP: The Liberty Bell
SEE: Toynbee Tiles
Jon Foy's Resurrect Dead
is one of the most Philly
movies of the last decade. Made by a bunch of guys who once shared a punk house in West Philly, it's an exploration of an enduring local mystery: a series of linoleum tiles pressed into asphalt bearing the cryptic phrase, "Toynbee idea in Kubrick's 2001 resurrect dead on Planet Jupiter." Foy and his compatriots get pretty close to an answer, and in the process make the viewer ponder the layered urban environment we move through every day. See the movie and then see the tiles (here's a map
). But act fast: Thanks to repaving, they're an endangered species
SKIP: City Tavern
TASTE: Local beer
Sure, it's cool to see how Philadelphians ate during the Colonial era, but it's just as exciting to explore how they eat (or drink) now. The all-local draft list at Standard Tap
is a great place to start. While most Philly watering holes carry a heavy dose of regional brews, the board at this Northern Liberties institution offers tipples exclusively from the beershed.
Pair something cold from Tired Hands
with a killer burger or salty fried smelts.
SKIP: Reading Terminal Market
SHOP: Headhouse Square Farmers' Market (Sundays May - November)
OK, Reading Terminal is awesome. But it can also be a mob scene, and outside of a few select stalls (such as the Fair Food Farmstand
), it's not really the best representation of the region's agricultural offerings. Do you know what is? The Headhouse Square Farmers' Market
Currently on hiatus until spring, this sprawling series of stalls under the Shambles in Society Hill is a colorful showcase of the area's seasonal bounty. From fresh asparagus to bitter greens to plump berries, it should be a delicious May at Headhouse. Beyond produce, snag some pasture-raised eggs, local cheese from Birchrun Hills Farm
, fresh roasted beans from Philly Fair Trade Roasters
, creative chocolates from John & Kira's
and healthy soups from Good Spoon
. All that shopping make you hungry? Grab a couple al pastor tacos from the Los Taquitos de Puebla
SKIP: The Phillies, Sixers, Eagles and Flyers
SPECTATE: A softball game at Capitolo Playground
And it's not just because all those teams are terrible! Why spend all that dough when you can watch an auto body shop face off against a tomato pie joint for softball supremacy. Hungry? Ignore Cheesesteak Vegas (Pat's and Geno's) and stop in for a drink at Garage
before heading down East Passyunk Avenue for a bevy of exciting dining options.
SKIP: Rittenhouse Square
STROLL: Frankford Avenue
You could see and be seen with the one percent in Rittenhouse, or you could hang with the normcore-tastic tastemakers in Fishtown. Sure, this Riverwards neighborhood's rep as a hipster mecca fades on the weekends when the bro-ish party scene descends, but Frankford Avenue remains an exciting place to check out Philly's makers, artists and scenesters. If it's nice outside, grab a stein in Frankford Hall
's German-style beer garden or in Kensington Quarters'
brilliant back patio before checking out La Colombe
's gorgeous new flagship for an on-tap latte, some of the best bread in town or a rum cocktail. In the future, you'll be able to visit a new outpost of Cheu Noodle Bar
. Keep heading north and you'll hit Philadelphia Brewing Company
, Pizza Brain
and Little Baby's Ice Cream (see below).
SKIP: Franklin Fountain
COOL DOWN: Weckerly's or Little Baby's
You've already gotten your fill of mustaches in Fishtown, right? Franklin Fountain's from-scratch ice cream and vintage-inspired creations are tasty, but there are more creative creameries in town. Weckerly's Ice Cream
-- based out of Globe Dye Works
and available at shops and street fairs across the city -- specializes in seasonal flavors and delectable ice cream sandwiches: think spicy chocolate on snickerdoodles or pumpkin butter bourbon on ginger snaps. Not creative enough for you? Stop in at Little Baby's Ice Cream
in East Kensington or West Philly for flavors like Balsamic Banana, Pizza and Thai Iced Tea.
SKIP: Elfreth's Alley
EXPLORE: Washington Square West's quirky side streets
If you don't want to wait in line for your 'grammable
moment, skip this Old City favorite (America's oldest continuously inhabited residential street) and head to the historic blocks between 10th and Broad and Locust and Lombard. Pay special attention to the stretch of Quince Street between Locust and Spruce, a magical haven of brick and ivy in the bustling city. The key is to get your wander on: Take the path that draws you in, even if it's a dead end.
SKIP: Riding the Ducks
RIDE: The El
Save some cash -- and stay on dry land -- when you hop aboard this magical mystery train. Outside of the approximately 10-block stretch under Center City, this rail line offers a unique view of Philly's neighborhoods. In West Philly, enjoy glimpses of Steve Powers' A Love Letter For You,
a series of murals along the Market Street corridor. Jump off at the 69th Street Terminal and walk into Upper Darby, one of the region's most diverse suburbs, for dumplings, Peruvian chicken, spicy Laotian salads and Korean wings at H Mart
LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite Media. Follow her on twitter @stabert.