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Help Me Plan A Vacation In Pennsylvania
May 27, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Looking at taking vacation in Southeastern Pennsylvania third week of June: Lancaster County (Amish), Gettysburg, Hershey, that area. We think we'll stay at a Four Points Sheraton in York using accumulated points, which puts us close enough to all of those things so we can hit any combination of stuff over the space of a week. Two adults, one 11-yr-old girl. Please share your first-hand impressions, suggestions, things to do or avoid. Thanks.

We will be driving from the Boston Area. BONUS: any breakaways worth doing on the drive to/from?
posted by briank to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Harley Davidson factory tour is really fun. Even if you're not into motorcycles.
posted by valannc at 12:17 PM on May 27, 2012


The Celtic Fling at the PA Ren Faire site is June 22-24. It features live bands, Ren Faire type foods and Google says it is about 45 minutes from York. I'm not sure where that weekend falls in falls in relation to your trip, though.
posted by ladygypsy at 12:34 PM on May 27, 2012


Harrisburg PA's minor league ballpark is awesome and well worth a visit if your group is remotely interested in baseball. It's on an island which is a city park, the park is nice, the games are well-attended for minor league ball, it's a great atmosphere.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:37 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like the Harrisburg Senators are playing at home from June 12-17, with fireworks at the ballpark Friday night, and "Cowboy Monkey Rodeo" on Thursday. (other promos the other nights too)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:42 PM on May 27, 2012


If you have knitters, spinners, other textile fans in your group, The Mannings in East Berlin PA is a fun spot with great classes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:45 PM on May 27, 2012


For date-sensitive activities, we expect to be there June 18-22, traveling on the 17th and the 23rd.
posted by briank at 12:47 PM on May 27, 2012


If you wanted to go to a city, you'll be pretty close to Baltimore too - which has the aquarium (pricey), the American Visionary Art Museum, and other galleries, neat places to shop, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:48 PM on May 27, 2012


As seen previously...

Aside from Hershey....

Where to stay (for cheap) near Harrisburg, PA?


Getaway for two
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:49 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, a day trip to Baltimore would also be something we'd be interested to do.
posted by briank at 12:50 PM on May 27, 2012


Also in Baltimore: Walters Art Museum has a good collection of armor and other art.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:50 PM on May 27, 2012


Perhaps on the way: A stop at Knoebels Amusement Park, a wonderfully retro playland with rides, a pool, arcade games, an itty-bitty train ride, awesome food. It puts Hersheypark to shame in terms of pricing, because there's no entrance fee and you purchase books of tickets and choose how to spend them, depending on what you want to do. You can bring your own food and have a picnic, if you wish. In my experience, parkgoers are fairly laid back and polite and the atmosphere is totally family-oriented (as opposed to product-oriented). I can't recommend it enough for the combination of potential for fun and relief from the stress of ohmygodijustpaidhowmuchandlookatthelines. It's very, very sweet. IIRC, it's pretty much the only game in town, and there aren't any handy grocery stores along the route so if you want to picnic, prepare in advance. The park food ranks among the nation's best, though...

***

Separately, here's a recent article on Central Pa. factory tours. Be sure to check the Patriot-News closer to your vacation dates for a list of things that are going on in the midstate. Here's a calendar for Lancaster events. The Ren Faire is great if you like those sorts of things, and the Celtic Fling is a particularly good weekend.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:08 PM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you are driving from NY on 78 (I don't know whether that's the best route), the towns of Bethlehem/Allentown/Easton include cute college-town downtown areas where you could get out and stretch your legs. Easton PA I particularly remember as having a nice little walkable downtown area and it's right off 78. They apparently also have a visitor's center called the Crayola Factory, which might be fun depending on your daughter's interests; I haven't been there and have no first-hand reports.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:20 PM on May 27, 2012


Re the Lancaster area, MonkeyToes just posted a link to the Aside from Hershey ... question from last year which I was about to recommend as having lots of good answers, including my recommendation to visit Mount Gretna, PA. Mount Greta is definitely worth a visit (though staying over at a place close by like the Mount Gretna Inn would be my choice over a day trip), with a nice lake and kid friendly things like miniature golf and The Jigger Shop ice cream parlor, and hiking up the trail up Governor Dick mountain (this non athlete had no problem doing this as a kid younger than your daughter). Here's an article from a few years ago that is still pretty up to date.
posted by gudrun at 1:20 PM on May 27, 2012


Mt. Gretna overview. It might be traitorous to say so, but the Jigger Shop food is...meh. Good ice cream, though, and a retro vibe. Bring your mosquito repellent. My take is that Mt. Gretna is really for the older set, and while mini-golf and ice cream are fine, your 11-year-old may not be all that impressed with the charm of the place.

I can't vouch for Dutch Wonderland, but it is an option and would likely be fun for your daughter.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:29 PM on May 27, 2012


Lancaster the town is surprisingly nice, though small, with scattered art galleries and good places to eat. And the covered market at the center of town is fantastic, I highly recommend it.
posted by sepviva at 1:48 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


In case I wasn't clear, you go to the Jigger Shop for the ice cream, not the food, and you go to Mount Gretna to slow down, not speed up. I know plenty of 11 year old kids who are fine with its attractions, including my somewhat hyper sister at that age, but briank knows his kid best and can judge what would be best for her. Every vacation does not need to be nonstop activity all the time, and an afternoon swim at a nice lake, or whacking around some miniature golf balls, with some decadent ice cream as a snack, is not just for the older set.
posted by gudrun at 1:55 PM on May 27, 2012


Will you be stopping in Carlisle? The city's historic district is beautiful; the architecture dates from between 1751, when Carlisle was founded, and about 1890, and it has been beautifully preserved. The Carlisle Barracks were built during the Revolutionary era and have been in use ever since -- it's still an operational Army installation, but you can tour the original barracks (well, the ones rebuilt after the Confederates attacked and burned them in 1863) and there's a nice museum/visitor center there (the War College is located in Carlisle) and memorials to all wars fought by Americans. If you're going to Gettysburg it might be overkill, but I think it's less touristy and still full of history.
posted by tully_monster at 2:16 PM on May 27, 2012


Cunningham Falls State Park?
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:16 PM on May 27, 2012


I can vouch for Dutch Wonderland. I went many times as a kid (had my 12th birthday party there) and it's a blast. Much less waiting than you have at Hershey, and more oriented towards pre-teens.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:39 PM on May 27, 2012


York and Lancaster both have Atlantic League baseball teams. Matter of fact, the York Revolution is playing the Lancaster Barnstormers in York on Friday, June 22.

I don't know how far you want to drive, but Washington, DC is a little less than two hours south of York.
posted by MegoSteve at 2:48 PM on May 27, 2012


We spent a week in Washington a couple of years ago, so that's probably not going to be part of this trip, but thanks.

Thanks to everyone so far for the recommendations. Anything you folks think is definitely skippable or not worth the price/time?
posted by briank at 2:55 PM on May 27, 2012


Central Market is an historic farmer's market in downtown York open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Roots Market is a farmer's market in Lancaster County open on Tuesdays. There's also The Green Dragon off Route 272 in Ephrata, Lancaster County, which is open Fridays. Both the Lancaster markets have a heavy Amish presence.
posted by MegoSteve at 3:08 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have a spare moment and like kitschy roadside attractions you should visit the Shoe House, it's right near your hotel.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:55 PM on May 27, 2012


The grave of Thaddeus Stevens in Lancaster. One of the greatest Americans -- the turnout for his funeral was second only to Lincoln's, and was half Black.
He requested burial in an integrated cemetery because ... "finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator."
posted by LonnieK at 5:33 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did someone say kitschy roadside attractions?

Roadside America. Besides, it's right along Route 78, if you're going that way. Not far from Hawk Mountain, either, which is not at all kitschy but has some great hiking and birding.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:56 PM on May 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Depending on how southeast you're going, there's some cool stuff.

If you want to visit an actual honest-to-god chocolate factory, don't go to Hershey, because you can't see the factory and also their chocolate really isn't very good! Instead, check out Asher's Chocolate, about 15 minutes from the Lansdale turnpike exit. They also have a charming little shop where you can buy little chocolatier-type chocolates, or, alternately, deeply discounted bags of chocolate-covered broken pretzels that are sold by weight at dangerously low prices.

Ringing Rocks is a really cool sort of thing that is just really hard to describe. It's a field, and it's full of big rocks, and they're all piled up, but it's interesting, right? Because, as it turns out, the rocks ring almost like bells when you give them a good solid whack with a hard object like a crowbar. It's really weird, if nothing else.

If you're from Boston, odds are that you're far enough north that the most exciting supermarket you've ever had a chance to visit is, at best, Stew Leonard's. Wegmans is an upstate New York-based chain of just the greatest supermarkets you can imagine, like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods except with absolutely no chance of anyone even thinking of it as pretentious, and with store-brand foods that are usually at least as good as the brand names. There's usually a big buy-tea-leaves-by-weight section, an outstanding in-store bakery, a huge produce section with some pretty uncommon stuff (I once visited when they were giving out samples of jicama that was prepared in some interesting way or other, and I've very nearly bought a Buddha's Hand citrus to make a liqueur with in the past), and there's even usually a little model train that runs overhead around the edges of the store. Basically, I'm planning on treating it as an exciting thing to look forward to when I'm back in America this summer, if only because there's just nothing to compare it to.

Zwahlen's ice cream in Norristown is some of the most ridiculously delicious ice cream you're likely to come across (and I say that knowing you're from the area that has things like Cabot's). My brother used to make a trip a half-hour each way on a regular basis to get ice cream there, because it's really unique — it turns out that the difference between soft-serve and hard ice cream is the amount of air that gets mixed into it, with lots of air in soft-serve. Zwahlen's serves hard ice cream, but it's still fresh enough that it's yet to have a chance to really solidify (because they are pretty much just constantly making it), so you get ice cream that's just incredibly rich and dense (substantially more so than, say, even Häagen-Dazs) but still very smooth and soft like something from Dairy Queen or something. Plus they have a unique flavor of the day every day, which is usually amazing.

Oh, also there's this major city, Philadelphia, that you may have heard of at some point. I hear it's reasonably popular.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:01 PM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and a definite can't-miss is the historic Gettysburg battlegrounds. You can also get a ghost tour in town. There's nothing else to do there, though.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:14 PM on May 27, 2012


Do you have your route figured out? I have a good one that keeps you off 95 and goes through some pretty spots.

I frequently make the drive from western Mass to Baltimore, going through York. I take 91 to 84W (I guess you would take the Mass Pike to get to that point?), then the 684 to White Plains, switch to the 287 across the Tappan Zee and stay on the 287 going south, then get on the 78W. Stay on that until Allentown, then exit at Hamilton Blvd/Rte 222. The 222 takes you through Amish country all the way to York (at some point it tyrns into Rte 30) and there are lots of farm stands and places to stop. It's gorgeous too, especially across the Susquehanna. Unfortunately I don't have specific recommendations, since I'm always driving through! It's a lovely drive though. Oh, and the only tolls are $1 going into Pennsylvania, and $5 crossing east on the Tappan Zee.
posted by apricot at 7:11 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I made a comment in a previous thread all about what I did when I did this.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:43 AM on May 28, 2012


This is not a specific activity but Maple Donuts based in York offers some really, really, really delicious donuts.
posted by robot vacuum at 8:10 AM on May 29, 2012


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