Solo traveler seeks life beyond Philly
March 1, 2013 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I want to take a short trip to a new-to-me city over Memorial Day weekend. Where would you suggest I go, starting from Philadelphia? Interests, travel restrictions, etc, inside.

Just as the question says--Memorial Day may be the only change I get this year to leave my area for something other than family functions. I want to take the opportunity to see somewhere new to me. Assume that I can leave anytime on the Friday before Memorial Day and come back in the morning or early afternoon on the Tuesday after.

-I'm leaving from Philadelphia and would like to keep the travel time to a day or less.
-I have a few hundred dollars in Amtrak credit-if I could use that for this trip it'd be great, though it's not absolutely necessary. Buses are okay at any price point. Flights...costs will probably ridiculous because of the holiday. I'd like to keep it to $400 or less if I flew, maybe even 350, but I recognize that that may be entirely too optimistic.
-The destination should be a city/large town with three days worth of walking/public transit/bike accessible stuff to do. (I will probably be couch-surfing, so feel free to suggest neighborhoods to stay in!)
-I lived in DC for two years previously, and have already done lots of visiting/touristing in Baltimore, New York, and Boston. I'd prefer to get out of the northeast corridor entirely, though I'll take nominations for northeast/mid-Atlantic cities that aren't the big obvious ones. Other places I've been to and liked recently: Charleston, Savannah, Asheville, Chapel Hill.

Things I like to do/see: woodsy city parks with hiking trails, yarn/knitting related stores and events, live folk music, modern art museums, shape-note singing, contra dance, local zines/diy culture, mefi meetups.

In my ideal world I'd be headed to Seattle, but I'm not sure it's worth that much time and travel cost for only three days. Other ideas?
posted by ActionPopulated to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't been to Gettysburg (and like history), I highly recommend it. You can take Amtrak out to Lancaster or Harrisburg and bus it from there. Not sure how couch surfing would work, since it's a fairly small locale. I've only gone on day trips (and lived there for a short time), but I still visit and never feel like I get enough time there. Doing the tour of the national park easily takes a day -- although I've never gone without a car so I'm not sure about accessibility. I think there's a bus that goes up to the info center, and you can hike around the park. The town itself is adorable and quaint, and a good way to feel transported out of reality. They do ghost walks at night, have a couple little museums, and many of the hotels and restaurants are themed.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2013

Probably a little smaller than you were thinking, but I recommend Northampton, MA. You could take an Amtrak to Springfield, MA and then bus to Northampton. (Or just drive. I do the Philly/Northampton drive regularly. It's about 5 hours.)

Northampton is home of Webs (gigantic yarn store) and Northampton Wools. There's loads of live music, the Smith College art museum, good food and shopping, and definite diy culture. You'd need a bike or car to get to some of the nearby parks and hiking, but there are some really wonderful places to do that, and you'd also be pretty close to the Berkshires for more scenic niceness if you had a car. There are no western Mass meetups scheduled right now, but there are tons of local Mefites and I'm sure a Memorial Day weekend meetup can be arranged.
posted by dayintoday at 7:48 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mr. JulThumbscrew and I have visited Rochester, NY a number of times and have fallen deeply, deeply in love with it. Everyone there is ridiculously nice, there are plenty of neat live music venues, and there is even an abandoned subway to explore if you're feeling feisty. Check out the Rochester wiki to see if it appeals to you.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:08 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's about 10 hours on Amtrak from NYC. So factor in the fastest train you can afford from Philly to NYC, plus ten hours, and that's your travel time. It's a beautiful daytime train ride through the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, and right alongside Lake Champlain. When I did this trip, I brought The Dubliners and read the whole thing over the course of the train trip and felt like I was the person I had always wanted to be. (YMMV if "read a classic book by a great author in one day while on a train through beautiful scenery" doesn't make you feel that way.)

Montreal is a great city, very walkable, with lots of interesting things to do. It's also very bikeable if you can get a bike up there (I don't think Amtrak allows them on this route unless they're boxed and checked as luggage).

Based on your interests, I'd suggest:

- Mont Royal Park (huge mountainous urban park full of trails)

- Drawn And Quarterly (the indie comics publisher) has a store.

- It gets cold there, so I'd be shocked if there wasn't great yarn to be had.

- There's got to be a modern art museum, though I didn't visit it when I went. There's also a budding gallery scene.

In general the typical Montreal tourist sights are pretty cool, though I didn't check out the former Expo area which is now a science museum or something like that. I enjoyed the Francophone parts of town a lot more than the Anglophone areas, and if you ever studied French or have even a little French, I'd recommend trying to get by with it as much as possible.

I leave you with

posted by Sara C. at 8:19 AM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

You could fly to a lot of midwestern cities for that price - just vaguely clicking around on Kayak it seems like you could get to Chicago for $350-ish, Milwaukee for $250... Heck, keep going west, it's $318 to San Francisco! That's kind of a long way to go for the weekend though.

Northampton is nice, but if you want a city, it's... not a city. It does have the kind of culture it sounds like you're looking for, though. (If you do want to go, though, you can also take Amtrak to Amherst, which is a bit closer to Northampton, but there are fewer trains to Amherst than there are to Springfield.)
posted by mskyle at 8:24 AM on March 1, 2013

Also here to push Montreal, and I see Memorial Day is May 27 this year, which is just when Montreal is busting out with flowers and trees and people beginning to sit on outdoor terrasses.

Mount Royal park is beautiful. That weekend you could also do worse than branch off and walk through the adjoining Mount Royal cemetery, whose many crabapple trees will be in blossom. Or, if you feel adventurous, grab a bus to Lachine's René-Lévesque park, which is also full of blossoming trees that time of year.

There IS a modern art museum, the Musée d'art contemporain right downtown in the Quartier des spectacles. It's close to the Belgo building, home of a group of private galleries dealing in contemporary artists' work. There are many more galleries all over town, but the Belgo and the MACM are close enough to make an afternoon of it.

By that time Bixi bikes will be available and with a credit card you can rent one for short hops around town.
posted by zadcat at 8:36 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Chicago city is best city.
posted by drlith at 8:55 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Harpers Ferry, WV is not too far afield and train accessible. It has both historic and natural features and pretty decent places to eat.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:04 AM on March 1, 2013

I can second Montreal. It's like a whole other country, not just like Canada! It's a very old city, the French-derived culture is quite different from most of English-speaking North America, and it is indeed very walkable. During the summer they have Bixi bikeshare (invented there), so you don't need to bring your own bike. Also, there's successfully urbanist modern architecture, which feels really dissonant as an American.

Pittsburgh is also worth a visit, and is easily busable/trainable from Philly. The city is beautifully nestled into hills and valleys, so views abound. If you like urban hikes, Schenley and Frick Parks take fine advantage of the topography. If you like trespassing at abandoned blast furnaces, you can also hike to Carrie Furnace from a bus stop, and it's also fun just tromping around the city step-streets making wonky ascents up the hillsides. The Mattress Factory and Andy Warhol Museums on the North Side both have fine collections, in addition to the Carnegie Museum complex in the East End. The city is at the confluence of Midwestern, Appalachian, and East Coast cultures-- a unique mix.
posted by akgerber at 9:28 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

dayintoday beat me to it. In addition to all the wonderful things about NoHo already posted, there is a strong contra dance community in our area.

To be clear, Northampton (aka NoHo) isn't a city like NYC or Philly or Montreal. It's quaint and quiet and has the vibe you describe in your post. Memorial Day is after colleges let out, so there will be less hustle and bustle as compared to the school year. There are some nice (if small) museums between Smith College and Amherst College, and Mass MoCA is in the Berkshires if you're willing to rent a car and take a day trip.

There's plenty of hiking and outdoorsy activities in the area, from bike paths to actual hiking for longer distances. There are also plenty of places to rent kayaks and go swimming. If you consider coming up this way, you should look at the Hilltown Families blog. Although it's geared towards families who live north of NoHo, you still might find some interesting events you'd want to check out (I use it for just this purpose.)

Of course, if you ended up in Montreal, I doubt anybody would blame you.
posted by absquatulate at 10:04 AM on March 1, 2013

Montreal is nice, but if you've never been, Pittsburgh is pretty great.

You can do the Warhol museum, the Heinz History Center/Smithsonian on The Strip (stop in for a Primanti Brothers sandwich). Walk around the Mexican War streets, and just take in all the art glass, and pretty houses in the area.

Here are some neat walking tours.

Kennywood will probably be open, and frankly, I'd do the SHIT outta that mess! Rolly Coasters, and some really neat, old stuff, a charming trolley park and well worth going to!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:09 AM on March 1, 2013

If, by "Memorial Day weekend" you mean "leave Friday afternoon/come back late Monday," don't take Amtrak to Montreal. You're basically going to spend two full days traveling, and while it's mostly a pleasant journey, I don't imagine you'll want to spend the bulk of your getaway on the train. Montreal is a great city, but if I were going for just a few days, I'd fly.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:54 AM on March 4, 2013

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