When I graduated from college, I told my favorite professor (history and law) I was returning to Philadelphia for law school. His response was that Philadelphia was a great city, with more 18th century buildings than any other city in the country. In my mind, Philadelphia is not only my hometown, but also the birthplace of America, full of our country’s history. But there is much more to this city.
For starters, there is a reason Philadelphia was recently on the fattest city list. Philadelphia is famous for some of its food. A local breakfast is either a quick soft pretzel from a vendor, or a sit down eggs, scrapple, and toast. I can’t vouch for scrapple as I’ve never eaten it, but locals love it. A great place to try it would be either the Amish counter or the Diner at the Reading Terminal between 11th and 12th and Filbert and Arch Streets. Lunch, of course, is a Philly steak sandwich. They are offered at nearly every pizzeria and sandwich shop in the city, but my family has always been partial to Jim’s at 4th and South. Across the street you can try a burger (almost any type), fries, and a margarita at Copacabana. For a little snack, stop in at WaWa, and grab a drink and a tastykake. There are some great brunch spots, like Sabrina’s, Honey’s Sit and Eat, and Carmine’s Country Kitchen (call ahead for this one).
Philadelphia really is a great food town. There are so many great choices for dinner. If you are looking for historic atmosphere, try City Tavern on 2nd and Walnut. For divine cuisine, there is Le Bec Fin (French) on 15th and Walnut—restaurant row. Or, for similar food a la carte, head to Brasserie Perrier at 16th and Walnut. On nice nights, locals hang out on Rittenhouse Square at either Rouge or Devon. Amada (3rd? & Chesnut) and Dmitris (3rd and Catherine or 22nd and Pine) are great for tapas. You can never go wrong with Stephen Starr’s restaurants: Continental (tapas), Jones (homey), Morimoto (Japanese), Pod, Alma de Cuba (Cuban), Barclay Prime (steak), Buddakan (Asian), Tangerine (Moroccan), Striped Bass (seafood) and Washington Square.
Craving a juicy steak? How about Ruth’s Chris, the Palm, Capital Grille, Smith & Wollensky, Morton’s, or the Prime Rib? Then again, if you want authentic Italian cuisine, head to South Philly (Ralph’s is the most well known), or some other local center city favorites, such as BYOBs Radicchio (4th and Wood) and Melograno (22nd and Spruce); or for full service, try Café di Roma (2nd and South), Bistro Romano (2nd and Lombard), Osteria, Panorama (Front and Market), Le Castagne, Spasso (Front and Market), Sfizzio, and Prima Donna (15th and Locust). If you are more in the mood for Asian cuisine, head to Chinatown. Pasion (15th and Locust) is top-rated Nuevo Latino food. Django is a great BYOB at 4th and South. You will not go hungry in this town.
Once your belly is full, it is time to see the city. Philadelphia is home to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’s house, Elfreth's Alley, Christ Church, Ben Franklin’s printing press, and so much more. But if you want to see history from a different perspective, try the evening Independence After Hours tour, given Friday and Saturday nights at 5:30. The cost is $76 per person, including a three-course meal at City Tavern. For more information, see www.onceuponanation.org. Or try a ghost tour. Supposedly, Philadelphia is the most haunted city in America. That might explain why Edgar Allen Poe lived and wrote here. (Yes, you can even visit his home.) Ghost tours are $15, and leave at 7:30 p.m. For more information, see www.ghosttour.com.
For some culture, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is hosting an exhibit featuring 70 of Renoir’s landscapes. This is the only U.S. stop for this exhibit. The cost is $14. Philadelphia also has the nation’s oldest zoo, a Rodin museum, the Barnes Foundation museum (I highly recommend this if you have access to a car, but make a reservation—this museum will be moving soon, and after the move, it will not be set up as originally intended. It was a private home collection of famous artists’ works), the Franklin Institute of Science, the University of Pennsylvania Museum (which will still have a special Egypt exhibit even though the King Tut exhibit will no longer be in town), the Mutter Museum (for medical oddities), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (small, but beautiful building), the New Jersey Aquarium, and many other museums in the nearby area. Military fans can tour the USS Olympia, the Battleship New Jersey (in Camden), and the Becuna submarine. On the first Friday of every month, the art galleries in Old City open their doors to everyone.
If you are interested in a show, Defending the Caveman will be playing at the Kimmel Center, as will the Philadelpha Orchestra (Midori Plays Britten), Peter Nero and the Philly Pops (Broadway Showstoppers—Best of the Tony’s), and Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Academy of Music. These tickets can be purchased through www.kimmelcenter.org. There is also Man of La Mancha at the Walnut Street Theatre (the oldest theater in the country), Amadeus at the Wilma Theatre, or Assassins at the Arden Theatre. For a more lively show, invite yourself to Tony ’n Tina’s Wedding on the Spirit of Philadelphia, a boat on the Delaware River.
Of course, don’t forget the shopping. There is no sales tax on most items in Pennsylvania, so shop away. One of the largest stores is a Macy’s across the street from City Hall. (Speaking of which, you can also tour City Hall, and go to the feet of William Penn.) At noon on Mondays–Saturdays, as well as at 5:30 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (Wednesday and Friday at 7), you can hear the organ recital while shopping at Macy’s. If that isn’t enough, just walk up Walnut Street from Broad Street for some familiar shops. The largest shopping mall, outside of Mall of America, is in nearby King of Prussia, but you will need a car for that trip.
If you want to extend your trip, visit the Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster County or check out nearby Atlantic City. The Amish country has plenty to do, especially for children. On the other hand, Atlantic City is a playground for adults, and is nice in October when the crowds thin out and the weather is a bit cooler.
No matter what you do, you'll find a mix of history, 18th-century buildings (for my college professor), modern cuisine, culture, and fun in this friendly city of brotherly love.
Nicole Gerson is a solo practitioner specializing in general civil litigation, including negligence, consumer fraud, contract disputes, and family law, who was born and raised, and currently practices, in metro Philadelphia.