Please to help a Philly n00b have grand adventures there!
September 8, 2009 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Tell me your Philadelphia secrets! I have never been to Philadelphia and I know next to nothing about it. My boyfriend just moved there. I'll be going out there on the 16th and staying for a whole week. What should we do?!

The Mütter Museum, the Franklin Institute, and the Art Museum are already on my list. I want to hear about things like awesome parks that want walking around in or really-good-but-affordable restaurants. Where should we go to get a great milkshake? What about hearing live jazz? What tourist attractions should we see and which ones should we skip?

In short, tell me about your favorite things to do in Philly. What shouldn't we miss?
posted by coppermoss to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (36 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
you can't get a decent cheesesteak outside of philly and the places to get them are either billybob's on near university campus (penn) or pat's steaks in south philly. mmm…
posted by violetk at 12:26 PM on September 8, 2009

For an awesome milkshake, try Franklin Fountain on Market between Front and 2nd. It's non-cheap but fancy and old-school and deeeeelicious for all your ice-creamy needs.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:28 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I want to hear about things like awesome parks that want walking around in

Fairmont Park. Absolutely.

Also there is the Wissahickon Gorge, which is the northern end of Fairmont Park technically but is kept reserved for more "outdoorsy" kinds of activities (ie, hiking, boating, mountain bikes...)

(Disclaimer: link goes to a travel article I wrote on Wissahickon.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2009

Go to City Tavern. They recreate dishes that would have been around at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Make sure you have a water ice from Rita's. It's a local chain. The cherry will make your tongue red.

You can visit the US Mint in Philadelphia. Best part is that it's free.

2 blocks from Independence Hall is the National Constitution Center. It's $12 to get in, but you sure do learn a lot.
posted by inturnaround at 12:38 PM on September 8, 2009

I have not been yet myself, but the Grand Lodge of Masons looks pretty impressive. (Tour info)
posted by usonian at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2009

There's a fantastic Belgian beer/food place called "Eulogy" at 2nd and Chestnut.

There are two locations of the Moaz falafel chain, one's on South Street and I've never been to the other. This is not unique to Philadelphia-- most of the locations are in the Netherlands and there's one in New York, but it is excellent felafal.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say Eulogy as well.

I was in Philly a few weekends ago and I was looking for a place to drink some Piraate when I found that bar. The bartenders were awesome to talk to and very knowledgeable about their huge selection of great beer\wine.

Their food, cheese, and chocolate is all awesome too.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2009

Rodin Musuem. Institute of Contemporary Art. Italian Market. Reading Terminal Market.
posted by gnutron at 12:49 PM on September 8, 2009

Well for starters Cortex is going to be here that Friday and we've got a meetup planned!
posted by 8dot3 at 12:50 PM on September 8, 2009

I somewhat recently asked this question about restaurants in Philly and got some fantastic responses. In fact, I was not disappointed by a single recommendation from fellow MeFites. I'm still working through the entire list, but it is a great starting place if you are and your BF are foodies. Also, check out the Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market for some low-cost meals and a guaranteed hours-long experience. As a side note, for cheese steaks, skip Pat's and Geno's and head to Dalessandro's. Feel free to send me an e-mail if you want more details on any of these. My GF and I have been exploring all the off-beat food places in the city and suburbs and have a gold mine of recommendations, all reasonably priced and tons of fun.
posted by galimatias at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2009

Monk's and Belgian Cafe are both >>> Eulogy.

Previous posts of mine:
On restaurants and here and for vegetarians
On record stores (also Beautiful World Syndicate on E. Passyunk Ave)

For parks, the entire Fairmount system is great. I've just moved much closer to Fairmount Park proper and have started exploring the walking trails beyond the standard riverside ones. In Center City, I much prefer Washington Square to Rittenhouse Square; it's much more genteel.

For museums, add to your above ideas: the Rosenbach Library, the Franklin Institute, the ICA, and you must must must go to the Barnes Foundation in Merion.
posted by The Michael The at 1:03 PM on September 8, 2009

I always enjoy me some Franklin Court (also in that Independence Hall area - off Market St b/w 3rd and 4th Sts). You can call various historical figures on old school phones and hear what they have to say about Ben Franklin. (Or at least this was true fairly recently - I keep waiting for this exhibit to be overhauled since I don't think it's changed much since the 80s.) And there is an animatronic reenactment of the Constitutional Convention. And you can see Franklin's privy pit. Fun all around.
posted by yarrow at 1:13 PM on September 8, 2009

Belgian Cafe! Also P.Y.T. in the Piazza at Schmidt's has delicious Adult milkshakes but if you are not 21 the regular milkshakes are good too.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 1:23 PM on September 8, 2009

I visited for the first time last month. Capogiro Gelato is a must visit. If I could take Capogiro home with me, I would. And we have no shortage of gelato places in NYC. I also enjoyed wandering around Rittenhouse Square Park and the surrounding area.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:48 PM on September 8, 2009

Also, go see the Wanamaker Building and the famous organ, on the list of historic of historic places. It's located across from City Hall, on the Southeast side of the circle. A Macy's is located there now. It helps to watch this beforehand, and get all angry at Illustra and that awful BJ Wert . . .
posted by galimatias at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2009

If you eat meat then you need to get a cheese steak, the kind where they slice fresh ribeye thinly and cook it that minute, not just throw some frozen meat on the griddle. Arguments abound about the best places, but even the not so best places in Philly make better cheese steaks than the best places anywhere else.

Philly has a great art museum.
posted by caddis at 2:22 PM on September 8, 2009

I second the suggestions of Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market, and also highly recommend Capogiro if you want some excellent, unique gelato.
posted by LolaGeek at 2:52 PM on September 8, 2009

Eastern State Penitentiary is fascinating and creepy. The audio tour is narrated by Steve Buscemi. If you are especially brave, you may want to consider their upcoming Halloween event (caution: sound).
posted by Morrigan at 3:09 PM on September 8, 2009

Getting Rita's water ice is like going to NYC and getting Ray's pizza. Go to John's on 7th and Catherine for the real deal.
posted by The Straightener at 4:40 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Apparently, this is a huge secret about Philly:

You can buy beer in the Spruce Street Market- a grocery store on Spruce & 16th. Or you can go around the corner to the Latimer Deli and Grocery on 15th.

And all cheesesteaks are the same. It's a cheesesteak, it's not pâté de foie gras, folks.
posted by Zambrano at 5:07 PM on September 8, 2009

Best answer: There's a hot debate about whether Eulogy or Monk's is the better Belgian bar. I say try both -- Eulogy has better frijtes, and Monk's has a better Burger. I had the Eulogy burger a few weeks ago, and it was basically the same texture and flavor as an Italian meatball, on a really crappy bun. Just not what a burger is supposed to be. The time before that, the frijtes were greasy and totally revolting. Neither of these problems had ever happened to me previously, but the owner has at least one other restaurant open now, so maybe he isn't paying as close attention. I must suggest the Eulogy owner's other place Beneluxx. It's a tasting room, and you can taste beer, cheese, wine, and chocolate all by the ounce. It's awesome. One of the best burgers in town is at Good Dog. It's not too expensive, and really a great time.

The Philly Fringe Festival is in town for a few more days, so maybe you might want to go see a show.

For this next trip, you might want to buy some tokens -- the full fare for a public transit ride within the city limits is $2, but tokens bring that cost down to $1.45. Cheap!

One interesting way to spend an afternoon is to bum around West Philly or 'University City'. Rough boundaries are, on the east, 29th Street and the Schuylkill River; on the west, 50th Street; on the north, Spring Garden Street (to 40th Street), Powelton Avenue (to 44th Street), and Market Street; and on the south, Civic Center Boulevard, University Avenue and Woodland Avenue. Penn, Drexel, and the University of the Sciences are all located around here. Hop on the El (Market Frankford "Blue" Line) westbound towards 69th st, and get off at 34th street.

Walk down 34th Street to Walnut, and wander around Penn's campus. At 36th and Walnut, pop into the Institute of Contemporary Art. It's free now, and a new exhibit is opening on the 10th. If you're looking for a cheaper lunch, hit up the food trucks on the Penn or Drexel campus. Always a good time there. The Penn trucks are mostly along Spruce from 36th to 38th, Walnut around 37th, 34th between Spruce and Walnut, and 38th and 40th between Spruce and Walnut. Drexel's are on Ludlow east of 32nd. There's a real variety of stuff there, from burritos to multiple types of chinese to indian to middle eastern to hoagies to vegeterian hippy, to...

Walk through Penn's campus to Locust Walk, and head west down Locust walk to 40th street, and maybe check out a movie at the Bridge Cinemas. Walk around the victorian streets of one of the first Streetcar Suburbs. There are lots of old Victorian houses that are incredibly well preserved. Walk south towards Baltimore Ave, and check out the one of the main thoroughfares of the neighborhood. There are quite a few restaurants here, and many of them are good. For the full experience, hop on the trolley Eastbound to go back to center city.

For an interesting take on 'ethnic', hit up west philly's Kabobeesh. I went there with a buddy the other day for lunch, and everything we had was great. It's in an old stainless steel diner -- very cool. I'm not sure if they'll be open or closed for Ramadan, but it's worth a try. While you're there, grab a beer at some of the local bars. Good bets are Local 44 on Spruce, Dock Street (Brew pub -- tasty pizza!) on Baltimore, La Terrasse (good for happy hour) on Penn's campus.

Also in west philly is the University of Pennsylvania Museum, a good break from the larger museums in town.

Web sites to check:
Philly Fun Guide -- especially their "fun savers", which is a list of discounted or free events around town.

Finally, take the time to explore the surrounding areas. It's good to get out of the city a bit. Visit Valley Forge, if you've got a car. If you haven't, hop on the PATCO train leaving from 15/16th, 12/13th, 9/10th and Locust, or 8th and Market, take in some brunch on a Saturday or Sunday at the Pop Shop or the Tortilla Press in Collingswood (note -- Collingswood is a dry town, maybe BYO wine to drink with brunch at the Tortilla Press!). The Pop Shop is a special take on the diner/soda shop, with delicious breakfast, Grilled Cheeses (they lost a Grilled Cheese throwdown to Bobby Flay!), and ice cream. The highlight of this trip is that the PATCO line goes over the Ben Franklin Bridge on the outside of the bridge. This is one of the best views of the city, especially if you come back while the sun is going down. Get on at 16th and Locust, and ride in the first car next to the driver, and get a fun view out of the front of the train!

PS: Get a cheese steak whereever, then compare it to a roast pork with provolone and broccoli rabe at Tony Luke's, and you tell me which is better.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

I second The Michael The's Rosenbach recommendation. Add to it the Free Library's author events if there's someone you like. Small venue, great writers, and very well run events.

I like Chris' Jazz Cafe more than Warmdaddy's, but I've talked to people who felt the opposite. Maybe comparing their schedules will push you in one direction or another.

In terms of restaurants, part of your visit coincides with Philadelphia's Restaurant Week. Lots of great deals, but I think you might want to make reservations.

If you visit Eastern State Pen (and you should), Jack's Firehouse is practically across the street. If it's a nice night, go there for dinner and they'll have the entire front open.
posted by gladly at 5:24 PM on September 8, 2009

And all cheesesteaks are the same. It's a cheesesteak, it's not pâté de foie gras, folks.

I would tend to agree with this to the extent we are talking about steaks made from freshly cut quality fresh meat as opposed to grey frozen blah available outside of Philly, which is almost always cheap crap not ribeye, and then not even fresh. In Philly they tease you with the meat as the line is long and while you stand there waiting to order you get to watch them slice up those beautiful ribeyes right in front of your hungry eyes. This is not the world's most spectacular food or anything, but it is very good and very unique, and you are only going to get the good variety here in Philly. Eat hearty and don't forget to take some baby aspirin to protect your heart.
posted by caddis at 5:26 PM on September 8, 2009

Best answer: Forgive Zambrano - he knows not of what he steaks. There are good and bad cheesesteaks, my friends, even in Philly, but the major names in Philly will typically steer you right. (I'm a John's Roast Pork kind of guy.)

(psst… The Straightener - don't you mean 7th & Christian?)

Things to do in Philly:
  • Eat a TastyKake. (If you want to kill two birds with one stone, certain establishments will sell you one in liquid form.)
  • Go to a museum. They're all good. (My favorites include the Barnes and the Art Museum.)
  • Visiting The Wissahickon is a great idea.

posted by zamboni at 5:45 PM on September 8, 2009

What tourist attractions should we see and which ones should we skip?

Stay away from those damn duck boats! That is all.
posted by orme at 6:08 PM on September 8, 2009

The Straightener - don't you mean 7th & Christian?

I always get them confused. I was raised on Morrone's water ice and Jim's Steaks but 62nd and Callowhill and the surrounding area is sort of expert level Philly, I wouldn't send tourists there. But, FYI, that's both the best water ice and best cheesesteak in the city.
posted by The Straightener at 6:24 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

People have hit most of the things I'd recommend but one that nobody's mentioned yet is Ortlieb's Jazzhaus. There's several good restaurants in the neighborhood, like the Standard Tap, North Third & the recently renovated Silk City, which was featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.
posted by scalefree at 6:27 PM on September 8, 2009

nthing TastyKakes (buy them in stores)...they are fresh and fantastic...
also there are many really good neighborhood italian hoagie/pizza places, ask friends/neighbors for recommendations...
also, ONLY if you have locals steer you to the right ones, you can try a sidewalk hot dog/soft pretzel vendor
posted by forthright at 7:54 PM on September 8, 2009

My personal steak place is Tony Luke's but I much prefer the Roast Pork Italian as Philly' classic sandwich. Reading Terminal and The Italian Market are, I agree, absolute musts, especially if you are a person who could spend hours wandering around looking at fruits and spices whilst drooling.

This web series has awesome ideas that are neighborhood specific.

The top of the Kimmel Center is a free garden lookout that is amazing. Nthing Eastern State. Also, while slighty expensive the Zoo, especially if you like Big Cats, which is one of the best exhibits in the country. I didn't see the Academy of Natural Sciences on there, but maybe I missed it. It's pretty decent, and feeding the butterflies is totally fun.

I've never had a bad meal at a Jose Garces restaurant, but if you are here during restaurant week it might be a little bit busy.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation has great displays sometimes.

Johnny Brenda's
is the best place to see live rock bands, in my opinion. I also recommend Fiume, though it pains me to do so, as it is the dirty West Philly secret. West Philly also has, aside from our own Capogiro, which yes, you must eat, several awesome Ethiopian restaurants farther west which are delicious. My personal favorite is Dahlak.

I don't recommend any paying tour. As a former tour guide, while I was fantastic of course, they are mostly staffed by college theater majors, and for the minuscule amount of the city it covers they aren't worth the money. For historical touristy stuff stick to Franklin Court and other free or close to free things.
posted by itsonreserve at 8:39 PM on September 8, 2009

Ditto Belgian Cafe for food/beer (they have a great brunch on weekends -- try the bloody mary or the blanche mimosa) and Chris' for jazz. The Royal Tavern is South Philly is another excellent place for eating and drinking. useyourmachinegunarm and I shared a banana chocolate peanut butter milkshake with rum at PYT in the Piazza and it was delicious.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:08 PM on September 8, 2009

Food ideas: Naked Chocolate Cafe. Ants Pants Cafe is an Australian cafe that has Violet Crumble milkshakes. Beau Monde for dessert crepes.

Catch a movie at one of the Ritz theaters.

As far as museums go, of course there are loads of brilliant ones in Philadelphia. I'm sure you've read about many of them. I'm especially interested in what the Philadelphia Museum of Art - Perelman Building is showing. Better yet, spend a Saturday in Doylestown (so easy off the Septa R5 line) to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Michener Art Museum (I think they're timed tickets) (If you go, the museum is really just a few blocks from the train station).

Maybe browse Not For Tourists - Philadelphia for more inspiration.
posted by Mael Oui at 10:13 PM on September 8, 2009

Get a banh mi (Vietnamese hoagie) from Nhu Y at the Italian Market.
posted by 31d1 at 1:43 AM on September 9, 2009

Reading Terminal Market is great - go for breakfast or lunch or to pick up groceries to make your own romantic dinner. The possibilities are endless.

Go to the Art Museum on Friday evening to enjoy Art After 5 - they have live jazz/international music and drinks available in the main hall and the galleries stay open late.

Walk over to the Headhouse Square Farmer's Market on 2nd and South on Sunday between 10-2 to pick up some fresh veggies and get some delicious tacos al pastor.

Take a walk down to the Italian Market (9th Street) on Saturday.

Also recommended: Eastern State Penitentiary, Franklin Fountain, dancing at Silk City, lounging in Rittenhouse Square.
posted by jrichards at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2009

Yes, Rittenhouse Square is a small but quintessentially Philadelphian park right downtown. It's lovely year 'round & great for people watching. And I don't think anybody's mentioned the UPenn Museum of Archeology & Anthropology. Ah, somebody did get it, just named differently. Also (if you can find it) stop by McGillin’s Olde Ale House, operating since 1860.
posted by scalefree at 10:38 AM on September 9, 2009

Mr. Martino's in South Philly is fantastic Italian - and only about $15 an entree - BYOB, only open weekends.

Carman's Country Kitchen or Honey's for brunch. I prefer Carman's, as the setting is tiny, unusually friendly, and almost as eccentric as the food.

You must stop by Philly bar establishment Bob and Barbara's - and order a Philly special - a shot of Jim Beam and a PBR for $3.

Hit George's while your already in the Italian Market for *my* favorite cheesesteak.
posted by GIMG at 7:58 AM on September 10, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, guys! Thanks so much! I'm back from a lovely trip. Unfortunately, I'm still some months away from being able to enjoy all your bar/adult milkshake recommendations, but come July, I really want to check out Eulogy. I walked past it one night and just looking at the chalkboard sign outside made me want to try it.

I had drinking chocolate at Naked Chocolate Cafe, gelato at Capogiro (more than once -- pineapple sage the last night I was there was my favorite), a Tasty Kake, and a Tasty Kake milkshake at Squareburger. That may or may not have been the highlight of my trip.

I went to the Mütter Museum (which was everything I'd hoped for and more) and the Art Museum, and am planning to visit the Free Library and the Penn museums next time I visit.

Thanks to all who alerted me to Restaurant Week -- we went to Xochitl at 6th and Pine and had one of the best meals I've ever eaten.

I went to the Reading Terminal Market and spent a very pleasurable morning deciding what I wanted to cook for dinner that night. It was one of my favorite places.

Spent a good deal of time on the Penn campus, drinking coffee and people-watching. Very, very different from the south side of Chicago.

Also... I had a cheesesteak at Allegro Pizza, at 39th and Spruce. (I was looking for Billybob's, which was supposed to be around there, but either my directions were wrong or it doesn't exist anymore.) I was not a fan -- is the classic Philly cheesesteak more than meat and cheese on bread? 'Cause what I had was just that...

Thanks for the great ideas! I can't wait to use more of them next time I go.
posted by coppermoss at 8:54 PM on September 23, 2009

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