Trying to thoroughly familiarize myself with Philly one day at a time has been rather futile when considering a 1-week in-depth stay couldn't begin to scratch the surface of major attractions. Here's additional recommendations, heading west-to-east from the downtown area, that have been checked off the must-see list, some more than once.
The Rocky & Bullwinkle Tour
Across from the northwest corner of City Hall is LOVE Park, which has a fountain shooting sky-high jets of water, great for lounging downwind from on a hot summer day. Off the tip of the park, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway leads to Logan Square, which bases the cluster of city museums. The parkway ends at the steps made famous by Sylvester Stallone's triumphant Rocky run to the top outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On one of my first trips to Philly, I was surprised to find that the city celebrates the 4th of July with a week's worth of activities and nightly firework shows leading up to Independence Day. A street festival along Franklin Parkway provided enough of a distraction to make the long walk enjoyable. Public transportation was used during the other time spent in this area.
Clearly marked bus stops line Market Avenue along LOVE Park, including a direct route to the zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo is America's first chartered zoo, though New Yorkers still claim the title thanks to an unorganized menagerie of cages behind The Arsenal in Central Park. The predominant lingering memory is wishing there'd been more within the 42-acre facility, which has been engulfed with no space to grow. Extreme makeovers have allowed the grounds to retain historical significance while doing away with cages in lieu of natural-setting viewings. The zoo opens at 9:30am and was a great place to spend the morning.
The same bus line that passes the zoo loops back around the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which makes for a convenient double feature. Beyond special exhibits, regular collections rival anything found in NY's museums, and admission is cheaper at $10. However, with all that's found inside, don't hesitate to take an in-depth look around the outside, where facades are intricately detailed like how The Parthenon in Athens once appeared in its glory days. The museum is closed on Mondays.
The Gallery Shopping Plaza
East of City Hall, along the northern side of Market Street, The Gallery is a four-level complex of shopping and dining that extends 4 blocks and is linked with the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It's a great place to unwind and end the day while waiting for off-peak trains that can be accessed from the Market East Station on the lower level. Even if you don't have need for trains, the station is worth a quick look thanks to uniform, colored tiles along track walls that materialize scenes like a Monet garden from different vantage points.
Melting Pot Heritages
Part of Philadelphia's small-town charm is how the city has retained some very distinct ethnic communities, with a host of museums and monuments paying tribute to the diversities that contributed to our concepts of liberty and justice for all, regardless of origin.
Chinatown comprises the area between 8th and 12th Streets north of Filbert, behind The Gallery shopping mall. The impressive Friendship Gate, located at 10th and Arch, was the first of its kind, designed and built by Chinese craftsmen in 1984, but the community's roots go back as far as 1845. The Independence Visitor Center has a detailed brochure with listings of neighborhood attractions and businesses, including 42 restaurants serving Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Taiwanese, and Indonesian cuisine.
* Philadelphia's main bus terminal for Greyhound, Peter Pan, and other lines is located on Filbert, just off 10th.
Of all the Ethnic Museums, the African-American vestige is the only one I've visited as a regular stop when bringing students. The collections, which opened as part of the country's 1976 bicentennial, celebrate the journey African-Americans have made through numerous struggles and contributions to American society. In addition to art galleries and rooms containing significant time pieces, photos, and factual displays, live performances showcasing how African-Americans have expressed within the arts and entertainment are regularly scheduled.
The city's rich Jewish Heritage patchworks the downtown landscape, with historic synagogues and cemeteries further extolled with a trio of specialty museums, including the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Other rare ethnic collections are assembled within the American Swedish Historical Museum, the Polish American Cultural Center Museum, and the Philadelphia Doll Museum, which allows patrons to view the people of the world depicted through native dolls.
The area southeast of City Hall is known as the Washington Square District within the borders of Market, Broad, South, and 6th Streets. Once clearing the first couple of blocks lined with thriving commerce, the area eases into a NYC's Greenwich Village ambience with frowzy bars, cafés, and shops. Jewelers Row is on Sansom, between 7th & 9th, and Antique Row runs between 6th & Broad along Pine Street, but the best character feature of this neighborhood is one of the city's highlights which doesn't cost a dime!
The Washington District was obviously one of the city's first affluent neighborhoods, and there's no place better to get a sense of historical Philly than from loosing oneself within the maze of narrow brick streets and back alleys, some mere carriage paths too narrow for cars. Cottage-styled homes with colonial-shuttered windows still fly the original flag of the 13 colonies. Shaded streets trimmed with colorful flower boxes invoke the spirit of America with the anticipation that any of our forefathers might round the corner or appear from a doorway at any moment.
The neighborhood affords an up-close and intimate viewing into how modern-day yuppies have maintained the elite-ness. One can't help but notice the innumerable John Kerry campaign posters still hanging in windows. Beyond, gated courtyards reveal spacious hidden patios overlooked by private balconies. Yet, in the daytime, the area is usually abandoned and makes for a quaint step back in time I've passed through with each visit.
The Waterfront and Beyond
Heading east along Market Street, towards the waterfront, cross the bridge that leads to Penn's Landing on the banks of the Delaware River. Check their website for the list of free concerts, festivals, and firework shows that run through the summer. I've yet to make it to the Independence Seaport Musuem, but have thoroughly enjoyed what waits on the Jersey banks.
The city's Adventure Aquarium is in Camden, New Jersey, and can be reached by ferry service (215/925-LINK) April to October or by other forms of public transportation. From looking at the latest brochure, I barely recognize the place, which already had my vote for the country's best aquarium before the latest round of extensive renovations. Continued expansions include a 4-D-theater scheduled to open in July, 2005, and more interactive, educational displays that are all the rage in family entertainment, with even printed invitations for "brave ones" to take part in supervised swims with sharks!
Camden has jumped on the opportunity for luring Philly tourists and has put great effort into converting their Waterfront into a top-notch family attraction, including a newly opened Children's Garden. However, the ferry ride across the river, with views of the Philly skyline, is worth the trip, even if you've no interest in these attractions.