04 July 2014

To Philly, With Love

When I first came to live in Philadelphia for the summer of 2006, I thought it would be just that: one summer. But I fell in love. Truly, madly, deeply in love with this beautiful city. Now, over four years after I moved here in April of 2010, there's no place else I'd rather be.

I'm proud to be considered one of the better Philly tour guides among my friends. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with my sheer enthusiasm about this city of brotherly love (and sisterly affection). So, when I was considering what to post on this Independence Day, I decided to write about where it all happened: my dear city. What follows is my idea of an ideal tourist day in old city. I'm going to stick to the old city area, because this post would be way too unwieldy if I wrote about ALL the places I love in Philly and these are the places that were around that first Independence Day.

This is one of Stephen Starr's many restaurants in the city. Each has a different feel and flavor and I have yet to be disappointed. At Continental Old City (there's another Continental in Midtown) you'll feel like you're sitting in a diner from The Jetson's. It's futuristic, but still comfort food. A great place to start a Philly day with plenty of fuel.
Old City Coffee
If you're not much for a hearty breakfast, but would rather something grab-n-go, this is a great spot. With La Columbe coffee and a variety of pastries, you're sure to find something to get you through to lunch. This cute coffee shop is located in a cool, old alley near Christ Church and it's fun just getting there. You can hang out and munch on your pastry and sip your coffee in one of the shop's comfy chairs or in the 300 year old church garden next door.

Continental. (Totally looks like The Jetsons, right?)
Elfreth's Alley
This is America's oldest, continually residential street. I honestly can't quite put my finger on what gets me so excited about this place, but I always love coming here. I guess part of it is that it feels like taking a step back in time. Trust me, it's worth wandering through.
Betsy Ross House
I've never paid for the tour here, but it's a fun place to stop by and hang out in the courtyard and check out the gift shop.
Engine 8 Ladder 2
This place is worth walking by simply for the pictures of the bust of Ben Franklin made of keys and the other bust of Ben Franklin wearing a fireman's helmet.
Ben Franklin's Grave
Another place worth it just for the pictures. Some will toss coins onto Ben's grave and make a wish (I guess). I just like to read his epitaph: "He tore from the skies the lighting and from tyrants the sceptre."

Ben Franklin's Grave
Independence Mall (not the kind with stores)
There's a lot to do in Independence National Historical Park (that's right, a national park in the heart of Philly) and all of it is worth doing at least once. Here are some of the highlights:
National Constitution Center
If you're not really into history, this place can be a little disappointing. If you are really into history, this place is awesome. They also have some great exhibits. Right now, they have one on slavery in Jefferson's Monticello. When I went last summer, it was on prohibition and suffrage and was really interesting.
Independence Visitor Center
This is not so much a neat place to visit as it is a place to get tickets for Independence Hall (sometimes a long line, but they're free), go to the bathroom and hang out in the air conditioning. And it has a good gift shop.
The Liberty Bell
Definitely worth it if you've never seen it. There's a great photo-op with the bell in the foreground and the clock tower of Independence Hall in the background. There can be a crazy long line sometimes, and since there's a window that you can see the bell through (the same window that you get the photo-op through), I'll usually take visitors there rather than wait for an hour and waste time to see other things.
Independence Hall
The building is beautiful, though surprisingly small on the inside. If you get a good tour guide, the history is really interesting and fun. It's a short tour, but definitely worth it if you haven't been.
Independence Hall
There are so many great places to go for lunch in this area, that I suggest you just wander until you find something you like. But, here's where I would take visitors:
This pseudo-hole in the wall pub is a little hard to describe. Most of the bartenders are Irish (Niall is my fave) and you can almost feel like you've walked into Ireland when you enter the doors. It's cozy, but rarely gets overcrowded. The service is great and the patrons aren't generally too rowdy. The food is awesome and, ladies, the bathroom is an experience unto itself. Trust me.
Franklin Fountain
After lunch, head here for some of the best ice cream on the east coast (yeah, I said it). It's worth the wait, if there is one. And I suggest getting a little adventurous as they often have interesting seasonal flavors. The staff all wear costumes from the turn of the century soda shops. It's quite an experience.
Shane Confectionary
This is Franklin Fountain's sister store and if you bring in your receipt from one store, you get 10% (or is it 15%?) off your purchase from the other store. Again, the staff are in costumes from the early 1900s and it's worth it just for the experience. But I go for the chocolate. This is my favorite chocolatier I've found and I come here any time I want to treat myself or just need something delicious.

American Philosophical Society
I've never been inside here (though I'm sure it's great), I just walk by to see the statue of Ben Franklin in a toga. Ben Franklin. In a toga.
Second Bank of the US
This place seems a little strange, but I find it quite fun. It's a huge, old bank that is now used to house a free portrait gallery. It's mostly people from Philadelphia and America's early history. The architecture is interesting and the portraits are fun and (bonus) it's air conditioned.
The Philadelphia seal, Ben Franklin and John Paul Jones
Race Street Pier
This is a lovely little park that juts out over the Delaware river. It's a great place to hang out for a while in the afternoon.
Franklin Square
This is place is great, especially if you've got kids. There's mini-golf, a merry-go-round and a huge fountain. It's another great place to hang out and there is an amazing sculpture of the infamous key and bolt of lightning.

To end your day, explore beautiful and smelly Chinatown. Go on an adventure in any of the shops that seem intimidating. You'll be amazed what you can find (live sea monsters in one store and an entire store devoted to Hello Kitty next door). Chinatown is fun and vibrant and interesting. Also a great place to get dinner. Again, I recommend just wandering until you find something you like, but I would take my guests to Penang or Pho Xe Lua.

I hope you all enjoy any festivities you have planned or just the day off today! And come Visit Philly sometime!

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