The Best First-Time in Philly Experiences
- Eat the Sandwich: No matter where you choose to chow down (although, where you do it really matters), you gotta stop, and order yourself a "steak wid" cheese and onions. If not, hold a taste test of your own.
- Run like Rocky: Kids big and small engage in a mad dash up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When they get to the top, they turn around, raise their fists, and, for a moment, Philly feels like all theirs.
- Take a Tour: Those Victorian-looking Philadelphia Trolley Works buses roaming the city aren't just for show. They're actually a great deal -- about $27 per day, with off and on privileges -- offering a quick way to get around town while getting the lay of the land via expert guides.
- See the Hall and the Bell: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell aren't just Philly's two most recognized historic sites. They're also across-the-street neighbors. Be sure to reserve tickets in advance.
- Visit the Barnes Foundation: Barnes did not want his art collection moved out of its cozy Lower Merion housing, and he disliked Philadelphia's museum culture -- hence the controversy of the art's move to Center City -- but once it's here in early 2012, seeing his legendary collection of iconic works by Picasso, Renoir, Cézanne, and Matisse alongside antique hardware and African masks will be easier than ever. Take advantage.
- Do Rittenhouse: Philly's snazziest neighborhood is eminently accessible -- and an amazing place to people-watch. I suggest any park bench in Rittenhouse Square (bring a latte from nearby La Colombe), or a table with a sidewalk view at Parc restaurant.
- Take Another Tour: This is a little outside the playbook, but, to me, one must-do is a Mural Arts Tour (tel. 215/685-0754; www.muralarts.org). You'll visit neighborhoods that don't necessarily appear in guidebooks, see amazing splashes of artwork and learn how beautifying communities, one painting, one child at a time, brings about transformation.
The Best Been-Here-Before Experiences
- Explore Fairmount Park: It would take dozens of outings to discover the 100 miles of trails in this 8,900-acre giant of an urban park -- some of them are virtually unchanged since Revolutionary times. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
- Visit PAFA: No matter how many times I tiptoe past the Colonial-era portraits in the galleries of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, I'll always feel like I'm someplace sublimely special. I suppose that's why Walt Whitman once hung out here, too.
- Walk Through the Italian Market (and Actually Buy Something): It's one thing to take a tour of the nation's oldest outdoor market, and to take in all its sights, smells, and sounds. It's another to take some fruit and cheese back to your room and have an Italian picnic of your own.
- See a Ballgame: And by "ball," I mean "base." Just thinking about a summer night at the Phils' family-friendly home field with Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and the boys sends chills down my spine. The kids will love the Phanatic, and even you'll cheer when the big, light-up Liberty Bell rings in a homer.
- Mum: Grown men dancing in feathers, sequins, face paint, and gold sneakers mark the beloved New Year's Day tradition of the Mummers Parade (www.mummers.com). Get there if you can. If you can't (and you're brave), check out the goofy and kinda messy Mummers Museum.
- Eat Gelato: Seriously. As soon as spring approaches (even before, really), the lines at Capogiro lengthen, and for good reason. Their tiny, precious scoops of hazelnut-chocolate, strawberry-basil, Amish milk, and dozens of others taste like Florence, only slightly cheaper.