Memorial Day is often a day to spend time BBQ-ing and with family (woohoo for a 3-day weekend!). What better a place to spend this American holiday, than in it's birthplace, Philadelphia.
Angel and I planned our last minute trip to the city over the weekend and found an Airbnb to stay near the South 9th Street Italian Market. Perfectly placed across from the famous 24-hour cheese steak restaurants Pat's and Geno's.
We kicked off the day driving in early from North Jersey and head straight for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Parking in their deck is $12 for 4 hours, but be sure to pay inside or you'll be charged the public parking price of $32! Because it was the Sunday before Memorial Day, our $20 admission granted us entry for Monday too.
My eye was on the huge Calder installation and the current Marcel Duchamp exhibition in the Contemporary Art section, but the museum is huge and has something for everyone. Upon entry, grab a map and be sure to check out the Sculpture Garden on your way out. I took the obligatory "Rocky" championship photo on the steps just before heading out and getting tourist trapped into giving a homeless guy 5 bucks for taking our photo.
We drove down to the Broad St area and found metered parking on 13th and Cyprus. From here you can take the metro (called SEPTA) or walk around a bit toward some of the sites and food.
We were hungry and ready to check out the Reading Terminal Market, but it was closed so from here we walked deeper into Chinatown to grab some truly delicious hand-drawn noodles. Forget the rest of the menu, its ALL about the noodles at Nan Zhou. A meal for two with a shared appetizer was $30 including tip and left us in a serious food coma.
It was cloudy and just beginning to rain, so we walked over to the Race and Vine stop on the BTS line to get back to the car. We drove about 15 min into South Philly to our Airbnb and settled in before heading back out for some dessert at RIM Cafe.
If you're staying in South Philly, especially near the 9th St Italian Market, there is a full list of places to get top-notch cannoli's and dessert. RIM Cafe, offers something a bit unique in that they have gourmet hot chocolate. The place is small and filled with eclectic decor of old espresso machines, some musical instruments, Geno's Steaks memorabilia and all things Frank Sinatra.
I ordered the Godfather II, Tiramisu and a mini-chocolate cannoli which came to $19, but was worth it. This specialty drink was a deconstructed tiramisu with a shot of espresso held inside layers of cream and top with many layers of chocolate, house-made caramel and chocolate syrup, and whipped cream all served up in a martini glass.
Although we really did not need to eat an ounce more, we thought, "If a blogger visits Philly and doesn't try a cheesesteak, did they even visit Philly?"
Without missing a beat, we rolled ourselves over to Pat's for a cheesesteak, and found ourselves a bench to eat. ($11.20 for a single cheesesteak with American cheese and fried onions, or "one american with" as you would say at the order window.)
Pat's and Geno's have held their locations and friendly competition for over 40 years. In 1930, Pat's Olivieri, a local hot dog vendor, decided to grill butcher's meat while at his stand. A cab driver smelled the steak and ordered one for lunch before he knew it, there were plenty of people coming exclusively for the sandwich. What the one point of contention between Pat's and Geno's? Who decided to add the cheese first? Both claim it was their own idea, but in any case these family owned and operated businesses have both made a name for themselves to be added in the Philadelphia history books.
Following our late night binge fest, we walked over to the Stateside bar, which seemed to be the more laid back bar next to their neighbor Garage, which was packed to the brim. The upside to Garage: it's BYO Food, they invite everyone to bring their cheesesteaks to the bar!
We got two Yuengling's at the Stateside for $6 and we closed out the night.
Fun fact: You can visit America's Oldest Brewery (Yuengling) at their original Pottsville, PA location for a FREE tour for all ages. It lasts about an hour and you must wear closed shoes. Bring your ID if you want to sample after the tour.
We drove into the Old City by 8:30am, bright and early to arrive at the Visitor's Center for free tour tickets to Independence Hall. While here, we also grabbed 2 day passes to the PHLASH bus.
(Pro Tip: Keep the newsletter from the visitor's center for discounts for the Eastern State Penitentiary and City Tavern.)
The PHLASH runs across downtown to 22 different stops. A one way ticket is $2, but for $5 you can get an all day pass to see the sites.
Our timed ticket to tour Independence Hall was for 9:45am which was plenty of time for a quick coffee stop and to get through security. The tour and then following visit to the Liberty Bell left me feeling a little more informed and patriotic on a day to be thinking of our service men and women.
I was ready for another coffee and some lunch, so we walked over to Menagerie Coffee on South 3rd Street. Before arriving we passed by Benjamin Franklin's Print Shop and watched a ranger in uniform demonstrate the old way of printing with paper, ink and elbow-grease - a stark contrast to the way printing is done now. At the same site, you can go into the Benjamin Franklin Museum for $5 fee to adults or take some pictures in the tunnel that Franklin would travel through everyday to his shop.
Over at Menagerie, an order of mint tea (in a pot), cappuccino, and Caprese sandwich came to $13.75. This adorable, locally owned shop was just our vibe and would be great for someone who needed a quiet spot to get some work done or regroup like we did.
We walked down South 3rd Street to the Museum of the American Revolution where we say they were offering a free storytime, but we caugh the PHLASH to see Penn's Landing.
Penn's Landing, named after William Penn, is Philadelphia's active waterfront destination with events and things to do or see year round. Even on a cloudy day, there are people walking around the area just looking over at the river or checking out the docked ships. Lucky for us, there were only a few visitors who were out after the rain and we enjoyed the views a bit before taking the PHLASH to Eastern State Penitentiary.
Possibly one of my favorite parts of the trip, was our visit to Eastern State Penitentiary. For $14 per ticket, the self-guided audio tour would take an entire day to actually complete. There is so much to see and so much history that surrounds this place, along with several art exhibitions inside the prison that were exciting to see.
Part of the commentary of the tour includes remarks on our current justice system and the many consequences and questions that should be revisited when thinking about the way America's prison's operate.
Criminals like "Scarface" Al Capone and "Slick Willie" Sutton are just two of the many notorious men and women who served a sentence here. In the audio tour, you're given an mp3 player and some headphones which provides a summary based on your location within the prison.
If nothing else, this place has some beautiful gothic architecture and the crumbling backdrop against the pools of natural light making for some really interesting scenery.
It was nearing the close of our trip, but we made it to a reservation at City Tavern, an old-style restaurant built in 1773, serving colonial era food and libations in what used to be an ale house. Our waitress kindly informed us about some of the history noting people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would often visit and allowed it to serve as a surrogate meeting place for officials and delegates.
Historically accurate, the restaurant decor is particular and appropriate to the farm-to-table food being served today. We ordered the flight of Founding Fathers favorite beers, which includes an exclusively brewed beer produced using a recipe from the Library of Congress by George Washington. Other things we ordered: mushroom toast, turkey pot pie, braised rabbit, and Martha Washington's chocolate mousse cake (yum!). Total meal: $70 before tip.
(Tip: Arrive before 3pm to order from the lunch menu to avoid dinner menu pricing)
The PHLASH was near, so we took the bus to stop 4 and walked to the Magic Gardens. A trip to Philly wouldn't be complete without a visit to this outdoor art space filled with Instagram perfection. I highly recommend buying tickets before hand if you plan to visit as they often sell out.
Artist Isaiah Zagar has made it his personal mission to beautify and revitalize the South Street neighborhood and began working to create this space, previously a vacant lot, in the 90s. After a battle over the lot with the owner, Zagar was able to turn this space into a non-profit that opened in 2008.
Made of found and repurposed objects, the walls, ground and space above are full of colorful mosaics and text representative of the artist's life and references art history.
Once you leave, make a right to see some more of the beautified South Street community properties and visit the shops along the way.
It was just before dark when we left, but we felt like we had only scratched the surface of this city during our stay. With a history of political and visual culture that fills just about every street, it's hard to see absolutely everything, but if you're visiting soon, I hope this helps in your efforts to see America's birthplace.