Help me love (or at least somewhat enjoy) my summer in the City of Brotherly Love.
June 17, 2008 4:37 AM   Subscribe

PhillyFilter: Help me love (or at least somewhat enjoy) my summer in the City of Brotherly Love.

I'm looking for advice on how I can make the most of my time in Philly this summer.

Background: Throughout grad school and law school I have made it the habit to live in different cities in the summer for internships. I've lived in NYC for two summers, Seattle for one summer, and the Netherlands for another.

Now I'm in Philly. And although I have lived in other cities, I have never had as many of the stereotypical city problems as I have had here. Sure, the homeless in Seattle were mean. Yes, traffic in NYC was loud.

But since being in Philly for a little more than two weeks, I've had street racing outside my window and a shooting outside of my apartment. (Both incidents occured around 2 am on a Monday in the same parking lot that my City Center West apartment overlooks for those interested).

As a result of that plus some other minor incidents, I'm not all that fond of Philly, which is why I am turning to the hive mind to suggest some low cost activities that I can do to turn around my impression of the city. So far, Rittenhouse Square and the Schuylkill trail are great, but don't outweigh a dead body outside my window.
posted by mcroft to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
lol my grandmother is 90 and she has only seen one corpse in all her life there. i lived in phily for 21 years and miss it dearly.

philly has a lot of hidden gems.

there isn't a better sports town in the country.

water ice and philly pretzels aren't to be missed.

franklin insititute, natuarl history and the art museum.. mummers on new years day.

independence hall

now i'm homesick :(
posted by andryeevna at 5:37 AM on June 17, 2008

Go to South Street and hit up all the quirky stores; don't miss Condom Kingdom. You can walk the street all the way to Penn's Landing, where there are a couple of night spots. I believe there are a few (war)ships you can take tours of on the river, too, but I can't remember offhand where or what they are.

Definitely go to the art museum. They used to do jazz nights when I was a teenager - there were tables set up and you could order wine and appetizers. Don't run up the stairs like Rocky, whatever you do.

If you're going to be in the city through September, Philly does Restaurant Week. There's some spectacular food in Center City.

If you like the history stuff, Independence Hall is a neat tour, and the Liberty Bell is just outside. Across the street is the Mint, if you want to see how our money gets made.

Cross the Delaware River and go into Camden to see the Aquarium, but I wouldn't venture much further than that. Atlantic City is about an hour's drive if you're into that sort of thing, and there's a train that runs to there from Philly, I think. You could also drive west out into Lancaster County and check out the countryside (and some Amish culture).
posted by backseatpilot at 6:09 AM on June 17, 2008

Quite a bit of "what to do when in Philly" has already been covered in previous questions, check the Philadelphia and Philly tags and poke around a bit.

As far as the city's violence, we're actually down quite a bit in violent crime from last year if that helps any. So far this summer is pretty tame, actually.
posted by The Straightener at 6:15 AM on June 17, 2008

I've lived in Philly for a few years now and I have yet to discover its charm. Finally I've come to accept that I don't like the city any more than it likes me (or other outsiders).

The Art Museum is worth checking out. The statue of Sylvester Stallone in front of it is not.

Rather than look for things to do in Philly, which quite frankly has less to offer compared to the other places you've been, why not use it as a base to explore the surrounding area? D.C., Baltimore, the Poconos, and Lancaster are easy day trips. There are some nice destinations in New Jersey, like Princeton, the Grounds for Sculpture, and Edison for Indian food, and New Hope/Lambertville on the Penn./New Jersey border. Some of those places are accessible by train. The Chinatown bus runs to a lot of places, and cheaply as well.
posted by vincele at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2008

It might help if you can tell us what you like, so we can tell you where to find it.
posted by overhauser at 6:18 AM on June 17, 2008

Sorry to hear you've had a rough start with Philly! I've lived here for 10 years and haven't had anything close to the experience you describe.

Okay, off the top of my head:

* Museums: the art museum is free on Sundays before 1, and has a ton of ongoing activities during the weekdays as well (including after-hours stuff) if you're looking to meet people. Also nearby are the Rodin Museum and the Franklin Institute.
* Fairmount Park: you've taken the Schuylkill trail, but have you explored Fairmount Park? There are lovely historic mansions available for touring, plus the Japanese House and Garden and a ton of other cool things to explore.
* Old City: from the Betsy Ross House to the Liberty Bell to Independence Hall, there are enough things to keep you busy for a few days' worth of touring. Also check out the newly spiffed-up Franklin Square, which has miniature golf and an old-fashioned carousel.
* The Mural Arts Program: Take the mural tours, which run weekly on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Or take a more in-depth tour and even learn how to paint a mural yourself. Or print out their PDF map and tour on your own time.
* First Fridays: Check out Philly's art scene the first Friday of every month as part of Old City's First Friday program.
* Another art thing: Isaiah Zagar's magic gardens on 10th and South.
* Take the train to Chestnut Hill: Take the R7 to Chestnut Hill and explore.
* Walk down to the Italian Market and pick up ingredients for an awesome dinner at the oldest working outdoor marketplace in the US. Or hit Reading Terminal Market (around since 1893) for Amish specialties and other kinds of deliciousness.
* Public Squares: You've found Rittenhouse Square, but what about Washington Square, Franklin Square, Logan Square (which is now a circle), and Penn Square (City Hall)? Maybe try a walking tour of all the squares.
* Aside from all those, there are a ton of great restaurants, bars, performances, and public spaces.

I hope your summer in Philadelphia improves -- I came to Philly prepared to hate it, but I really, really love it, and I can't imagine living anywhere else.
posted by mothershock at 6:27 AM on June 17, 2008

As a (semi)recent transpant to Philly, here are some of the gems I've discovered:

Take a walk through Chinatown. Take in the aromas, culture, and sounds. I frequently head down that way with an adventurous friend and have lunch or dinner in the most random places (many are good, some are terrible, but all are worth the experience).

The museums are all good, plus are either very cheap or free.

Visit some of the local breweries in the area. The tours end with free samples!

Go to Geno's steaks at 2 am on a Saturday night just to see 400 people lined around the block for a 6,000 calorie sandwich. Don't eat one yourself - you'll live longer.

Try the Italian market. I've literally spent days there sampling food and finding some of the best cooking ingredients around. Plus, they sell live seafood, which is a necessity for me since I grew up in Baltimore.

Atlantic City makes a good day trip if you've never been before, but you don't need to stay longer than that.

A little outside of Philly, the Chadd's Ford winery is a neat day trip.

Run the stairs at the Art Museum like Rocky. Smile at the locals who awkwardly stare at you.

That's all I can think of for now. . . e-mail is in the profile if you have other questions or want to talk about "adapting" to the city. I had a rough time when moving here almost 3 years ago, but some good advice on AskMefi and a little bit of time helped tremendously, and I'm always willing to pass on the karma and help someone else adjust. Honestly, I still don't love Philly the way I do my other cities (Baltimore and St. Louis), but Philly has its own special charm and can be a great place to live.
posted by galimatias at 6:29 AM on June 17, 2008

As a result of that plus some other minor incidents, I'm not all that fond of Philly, which is why I am turning to the hive mind to suggest some low cost activities that I can do to turn around my impression of the city. So far, Rittenhouse Square and the Schuylkill trail are great, but don't outweigh a dead body outside my window.

It's been ages since I've seen a dead body in the steet... now you're making me homesick.

Why do you want to change your impression of my home town? It seems perfect!

Well if you do, backseatpilot has some good ideas. A/C is not worth visiting if you're not into gambling. The south Jersey coast (Stone Harbor, Sea Isle City, Cape May) has some very nice beaches.

In PA, follow the Delaware up into Bucks County - Buckingham Vineyards, Washington's Crossing, New Hope are all nice places to spend the day. Tubing down the Delaware is another nice way to spend a summer day.

See the Phillies when the Mets are in town or the Eagles when the Giants or Cowboys are visiting. In Philly, sports are all about who's playing against you.

Buy pretzels from a grimy street vendor.

Go see my brother's band The Buicks.

And drink heavily.
posted by three blind mice at 6:31 AM on June 17, 2008

Good lord, you don't have to traipse all over PA and NJ to find something worthwhile to do. Folks in Philly tend to be a bit opinionated, but not unfriendly.

Philly Weekly and the City Paper are your friends for finding out what's going on. Philebrity and Phawker will also alert you, in particular, to which shows are not-to-be-missed.

Philly's one of the best restaurant towns going. I can't even get started or I'll be typing this message all day.

IgnitePhilly's been doing some very cool stuff. Actually, almost anything at Johnny Brenda's is cool stuff. Drinking Liberally meets at Tangier every Tuesday for happy hour. Have you checked out the events at the art museum? PaFA? The programs at International House? Secret Cinema?

The silly-named but effective PhillyFunSavers will get you discount last-minute tickets to all kinds of events, including stuff you didn't know existed. Sign up for the weekly e-mail. Recitals by Curtis students! Mum Puppettheatre! Kayak tours of the Schuylkill!

And, of course, go see a baseball game.
posted by desuetude at 6:43 AM on June 17, 2008

I'm playing hooky from work tomorrow and going down by myself to Phils/Red Sox, planning to hit up the scalpers for a single ticket & find an unused seat to hijack. Wanna go? MeMail me.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:57 AM on June 17, 2008

sweetie, welcome to philly.

center city west...i love how we're just making up new neighborhoods now to make them sound better. where exactly are you? did you really see a dead body?!?

street racing is pretty tame as far as late-night offences go.

at any rate. i understand where you're coming from; while i loved philly when i first got here, i've since grown to hate it.

check out some movies at the ritz theaters. air conditioning, good popcorn, and a better theater environment than the riverview.

take the R6 up to manayunk for a slightly different vibe, and some better shopping. depending on how old you are, there are bars and clubs where you can meet people and see live bands (not that they don't have that in CC).

pick a gray, cloudy, kinda cool day and head on over to the "historic district" and do the tourist thing. honestly, if you spend a summer here and don't see the liberty bell, you fail philadelphia. the constitution center is also pretty darn cool. (gray and cloudy and cool means you might avoid many of the other tourists.)

honestly, philly people kind of suck. i'm sure you've noticed that, or at least heard the stereotype. but many of us mefites are nice. we had a meetup a couple years back when
galimatias moved to the area and was looking for something non-sucky. i'm sure we (not me, but someone) could do a "see mcroft, it's not so horrible" meetup.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:58 AM on June 17, 2008

I think there’s no better antidote to Philly’s sometime-grossness than exploring Old City, Society Hill, and Washington Square West. Those neighborhoods are all examples of what a truly lovely city Philadelphia is (and can be). Even if you’re not a history buff, try a book with a historical walking tour so that you can soak up what the city really has to offer. I’d encourage you to stay away from the touristy areas as much as possible—there are some truly charming streets to see that are unspoiled by the summer hordes. (I’ve only seen the Pennsylvania Hospital from the outside, but I’d encourage you to check it out!)

If you like food, Philly is also a great eating town. Explore the Italian Market and Reading Terminal Market (the latter is touristy, worth it, I think); great cheap eats in Chinatown (make sure you try some Vietnamese food while you’re there!); the gastropubs of Northern Liberties (also an area that might be worth exploring). Living in NYC now, I greatly miss the Jamaican Jerk Hut (sit out on the patio and prepare for spicy food) and the White Dog Café (a quaint, comfortable place with excellent food made from local ingredients).

And for movies, try the Landmark Theatres, especially the Ritz 5 and the Ritz at the Bourse, for indie/unusual films (both are very pleasant--i.e., small--movie theater experiences, too).
posted by CiaoMela at 7:00 AM on June 17, 2008

Philadelphia is my adopted hometown and I love it. Really, really love it. Part of what is so charming to me is how every neighborhood is made up of small old homes where people really live. You might be missing out on some of that scale by living in a high-rise apartment. Here's some things that always make me grateful for where I live.

- Headhouse Farmers' Market on 2nd Street between Pine and South. Open Sundays from 10-2. You can buy the very best flowers, veggies, meat, cheese, and treats here. There is also a taco stand which is totally worth standing in line for. Walk over this Sunday - it will definitely put you in a better mood.

- Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch. This is the old Reading Railroad Terminal, which has been turned into a HUGE indoor food market. You can buy great fresh groceries here or get any kind of prepared food you could possibly want. There is a large Amish section with delicious butter and baked goods.

- Walk down Pine Street from Broad to Front. This is where I live, so I'm a little biased, but it's a lovely street and there are some great antique, toy, and knick-knack shops.

- Get some olde-timey iced cream at the Franklin Fountain in Old City. It's owned by two brothers who are very committed to keeping everything true to period.

- Definitely go to the Art Museum. Go on a Friday evening and have a glass of wine.

- Try some of our fabulous restaurants. Some of my favorites are Vietnam, La Taqueria Veracruzana, Susanna Foo, Dmitri's, Marra's, and the Standard Tap. Good Dog has the best burgers in the city.

posted by jrichards at 7:04 AM on June 17, 2008

Don't let the corpses throw you off, btw, everybody in philly has a corpse story. Mine is that when we were looking to buy a home in nice suburb, we noticed in the news that a torso had been found in a local dumpster. We brought this up with the realtor, who immediately noted that if you were going to dump a torso, this was definitely the town to do it in, because no one would think of looking for the torso in this town, it's just too homey and friendly, and moreoever, once one person dumps a torso here, what are the odds it's going to happen again?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:08 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I remember going to the Art Museum for fireworks every July 4 when I was in college. It was crowded but it was fun to watch the families with kids running around and stuff. Do they still do that?
posted by cabingirl at 8:24 AM on June 17, 2008

The weirdo in me who is fascinated by the medically bizarre recommends the Mütter Museum.
posted by rinosaur at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2008

Oh, and you could go on a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. Plus the Mutter Museum, if you're into those kinds of things.
posted by cabingirl at 8:27 AM on June 17, 2008

Philadelphia is my hometown, and I love this city more than can ever, ever make sense. I love it through violence and shitty sports teams and street racing and loud drunks and racism and a failing school system, and I can't for the life of me tell you why.

For stuff to do, I'm tempted to just tell you to pick a direction and start walking (er, in broad daylight, neither of us are stupid), and discover all the lovely, odd gems here. Visit Isiah Zagar's sculpture garden on South St, go see Olympia and Becuna at the Seaport Museum (they just fixed Olympia's alarm! I became one of the first living people to hear it on Saturday! It sounds like a dying whale.) Actually, set aside a whole afternoon for the Seaport Museum, and then go have dinner on Moshulu. Walk through South Philly, and get a feel for what it is to really live in a *neighborhood*. Get a coffee in University City and make fun of Penn students in your head. For the love of God, go to a Phillies game! Go to the Rosenbach museum -- too few people know about it, and it's on one of the most beautiful streets in the city.

I hope this wasn't too stream-of-conciousness. Philly is, I think, an odd city if you didn't grow up here, but it's magnificent at heart, I promise.
posted by kalimac at 8:35 AM on June 17, 2008

I alternate between tolerating Philadelphia and hating it. There is something in the water that brainwashes people who grew up here and hipsters into loving many bits about the city that a sane person would hate. Perhaps it gives people selective vision, who knows. Philly can be picturesque, but has some of the ugliest (both physically and mentally) people I've ever experienced in the world. Many people have great attitudes, but I've also come into contact with some of the most closed minded, awfullest, ignorant, careless people. In general, traffic is not that bad compared to other cities, and it's walkable given good shoes and cooperative weather, but the public transit system is filthy and dysfunctional.

The key to staying sane here is to understand that you're stuck here for some period of time, and you need to make the best of it. Right now, it's summer, and as long as you ignore the stench (which admittedly has not been all that awful recently), there's lots of fun stuff to do.

Everyone I know who lives in Philly is constantly looking for excuses to get out (either consciously or subconsciously) - vacations, business trips, whatever. Take that and go with it -- there's plenty of fun stuff in the city, but remember to get out once in a while to remind yourself that not every city smells like a pig's ass once the temperature gets over 65 degrees. I think that's how many people are staying sane in philly.

That, and Center City Sips happy hours on Wednesdays.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:46 AM on June 17, 2008

I alternate between tolerating Philadelphia and hating it. There is something in the water that brainwashes people who grew up here and hipsters into loving many bits about the city that a sane person would hate. Perhaps it gives people selective vision, who knows. Philly can be picturesque, but has some of the ugliest (both physically and mentally) people I've ever experienced in the world.

There's a good chance that those of us who grew up here and love Philly come from one of those poor/working class families that you find so repulsive.
posted by The Straightener at 8:53 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is something in the water that brainwashes people who grew up here and hipsters into loving many bits about the city that a sane person would hate.

Huh, I see the exact opposite. I moved here ten years ago, and get a wee bit weary at all of the people who grew up in the 'burbs, moved into the city to go to Temple, and now whine aimlessly and endlessly about how lame the city is. (But admit that they sit on their ass playing games instead of being sooo uncool as to bother to do...anything.)

mcroft, if you want to just sit around and bitch about how lame Philly is, it is indeed a recognized pastime. A sport, even.

Sounds like we need a meetup soonish, though. Perhaps featuring that substance which is the friend to all in summertime in the city: beer.
posted by desuetude at 9:02 AM on June 17, 2008

Everyone I know who lives in Philly is constantly looking for excuses to get out (either consciously or subconsciously) - vacations, business trips, whatever.

Ha, you just described NYC as well. I have a friend there who loves phillyist but I'd use an RSS feed to avoid the 8million naked american apparel models per page.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:28 AM on June 17, 2008

Thank you to everyone who responded. I love to explore neighborhoods on foot, so this has given me some additional suggestions on where to go. Now it’s just trying to get to those neighborhoods while avoiding the sketchier blocks….
posted by mcroft at 10:25 AM on June 17, 2008

If you enjoy beer, Philly has two of the best Belgian beer bars in the States: Eulogy, and Monk's. Aside from visiting family and friends, these are the top two reasons I can't freakin wait to go to Philly in the lovely month of August.
posted by medeine at 10:25 AM on June 17, 2008

I lived there for two years. I feel your pain. How many times can you go to that great museum and the Rodin nearby? The answer is 4. And I loved running up and down that river bank nearby. But I mean, that's it.

Nice people, two or three really really good restaurants, the 2 museums, the run, work. Everything else about that city was just... over-rated (especially the food). Now add the crime and the crumbling infrastructure...

All I can suggest is to do what I did: I got out every weekend - to NY, Princeton and CT to visit friends. And any long weekend or vacation I was on a plane. Say what you want about Philly, that airport is a pleasure compared to the three in the NYC area. And it's easy to get to by train. I love that airport.
posted by Zambrano at 10:37 AM on June 17, 2008

I would definitely check out the National Constitution Center, and if you have time to go to the suburbs either in Pennsylvania or South Jersey there's a lot of great places to shop if you're into it and a few interesting attractions. For shopping, you should check out the King of Prussia Mall which has over 300 stores. The only mall in the states that rivals King of Prussia is that huge mall in Minnesota. In South Jersey, you should check out the towns Moorestown and Haddonfield. Cape May is a very nice town to shop in too in South Jersey but it takes approximately 2 hours to get there from Center City, and considering the fact you're going to Philadelphia in the summer, the traffic is going to be a lot worse and it will probably take more like 2 1/2 to 3 hours to get there as for you're almost guaranteed to get in a traffic jam going to the Jersey Shore in the summer especially on the major highways. As far as sightseeing goes outside of the city, I recommend the USS Battleship New Jersey in Camden, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvanian, Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, or Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey if you're into thrill rides, and Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey. Finally, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area while 3 hours away from Center City has some very interesting attractions, and unique shopping areas of its own.
posted by realitytvlover at 12:12 PM on June 17, 2008

One nice thing about Philly in the summer is that half the town is down the shore. Yeah, it's hot here, but there are available barstools at your favorite bar even on a Friday night, you can waltz into the hottest restaurants in town with barely a reservation, and there's actually street parking on the weekends. (The downside is that Old City is aswarm with school trips and family vacations.)
posted by desuetude at 12:21 PM on June 17, 2008

Across the Schuylkill is Bartram's Garden. It's the home and arboretum of John and William Bartram, plant explorers of the colonies as far as Florida, provider of exotic plants to England, friends of Benjamin Franklin (they named the Franklinia after him). The land goes down to the river where there's a view of center city. There's a little period garden and tall trees that make you feel like you're in the country. Very peaceful. I think it's a city park. It used to be free but that was ages ago; you might want to check. Go with a friend and spend a few hours. You almost don't believe you're in Philly.

There ought to be something going on on the Penn campus, even in summer. Penn never sleeps, though it rests.
posted by sevenstars at 12:24 PM on June 17, 2008

Another recommendation: If you are into weird architecture and oddities at all, take the R5 all the way up to Doylestown and check out the Mercer Museum (right by the train station), Fonthill, and the Moravian Tile Works. The latter two are in a park about a 10 minute walk from the station. So many people who have lived in the Philly area all their lives have not checked these places out -- they're gems! D-town is a pretty town in and of itself, too.
posted by medeine at 3:58 PM on June 17, 2008

All the good museums have already been mentioned (Mutter Museum, the Rosenbach, and all the big ones up the Parkway), but I do encourage you to get the City Paper every week. They highlight museum exhibits, concerts, readings, club nights, and other events and festivals. It's essential reading if you want to plan your social calendar. There are also great restaurant reviews, and they often highlight shops. It's also got my favorite crossword puzzle anywhere! Unfortunately (unless you already read it), you just missed the Ultimate Summer Fun Guide ('Something awesome to do each and every day of the summer') which suggests different activities for every day from May to September. Here's May and June, July, August, and September.

Philadelphia definitely has a lot going for it, but it's increasingly hard to be enthusiastic about it most days of the week.

Also, I like medeine's Doylestown recommendation! It may not be as exciting as the city, but it's worth a day trip if you're looking to get out of the city. Very accessible (both as a town and from Philadelphia). There are other nice little towns (both along the R5 and other regions), but I can't offer any particular advice as far as accessibility for any of them.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:43 PM on June 17, 2008

Everybody's just talking about touristy stuff (walk South Street, go to museums, etc.). Try getting out of Center City. If you like walking then it is a highly walkable city. If you like neighborhoods then Philly has some of the oldest and they're the same as they always were, except moreso.

What I did was set a goal to visit every public library in the city utilizing public transportation. This has brought me to so many different neighborhoods, and from that I would just walk. I mean, what about Germantown, Chestnut Hill, and all those rich-looking places (sorry, I'm one of those ghetto Philadelphians and I don't know their names, you could always come to North Philly!)?

If you don't want to visit libraries (my own special kink) then what about exploring one of the largest urban park systems in the country, Fairmount Park? That could take you all over the city.

Rent the movie Philadelphia, and watch the opening to get an idea of the variety here. Maybe somewhere will peak your interest and you can find it. Whatever you do get out of Center City (especially if you're a neighborhood person), that's, like, the smallest part of town (and it's not even the center, I live in the center harumph). Have you explored the "Roosevelt Boulevard" side of town? The Northeast, which is the largest geographic region? The sinking houses of Logan? Maybe that'll be depressing, I don't know, but it's interesting.

Here, go to the phillyblog forum and ask the same question there. Or just read a bit about more of Philadelphia than Center City.
posted by Danila at 10:04 PM on June 17, 2008

« Older Needed: cold recipes for a hot day that are good...   |   Help me hack open a proprietary binary image. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.