Philadelphia with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day
Start the day off at the Reading Terminal Market, a farmer's market located on 12th and Arch streets in the Chinatown area. Enter on the corner of 12th and Filbert, where you will find the Down Home Diner, an old-fashioned country-style sit-down restaurant. The Down Home opens at 7AM, Monday through Saturday, (8AM on Sundays), allowing you to get an early start. If you're curious about scrapple, a regional Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast treat made of pork and cornmeal mush, try the Poached Eggs on Lancaster Country Scrapple. If the scrapple doesn't appeal you, try the Buckwheat Pancakes with Apple Butter, the Red Eye Gravy with Biscuits and Ham or the House-Made Granola with milk or yogurt. All are around $4. Take an after-breakfast stroll around the market and grab a fresh fruit or veggie juice from the Four Seasons Juice Bar (opens at 8AM, Monday through Saturday) to take with you as you make your way to the historic Old City.
Old City. Exit Reading Terminal on the Filbert Street side and take 12th Street one block south to Market Street. Make a left on Market and walk straight over to the 6th Street, where you'll arrive at Independence National Historical Park. You'll see the small glass chamber that houses the Liberty Bell and, on the next block, the Independence Hall. Crowds at the park are usually manageable, allowing most families to see the Liberty Bell up close without long lines, unless you go the week of Independence Day. It's best to avoid Philadelphia altogether around the Independence Day holiday; as perfect as it sounds -- the crowds are extreme.
Admission to all of the park sites, the ranger-guided tours and PDF-guided tours are free. A timed ticket is required to tour Independence Hall, March through December. It's highly recommended that you reserve a ticket in advance online or by calling 877-444-6777. Pick up your tickets at Will Call at the Independence Visitor Center at the 6th and Market Streets.
There is easily an entire day's worth or more of historical sightseeing in Old City, but a vacation day in Philadelphia with tweens shouldn't be too much like a school field trip. Hit the Liberty Bell and do one historic tour, then switch gears. Beyond Independence Hall is Washington Square Park at 6th and Walnut Streets. It is a nice place to take a short break. And do stop by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- its eternal flame is always a source of fascination for tweens. Keep heading south as the next stop will likely be the highlight of the day for your tween.
South Street is a nice walk down 6th Street from Washington Square Park through the historic Society Hill neighborhood. It's an eclectic shopping district filled with cool boutiques, record stores, book shops, restaurants and a perpetual party atmosphere. You can even work in a stop at the video game exchange CeX (424 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147) for bonus "cool" points. The main stretch of South Street is about five blocks long and very close to the Delaware River waterfront, where you'll head after lunch.
Many locals and guidebooks will recommend trekking to South Philly for a real Philadelphia cheese-steak experience. I'm recommending Jim's Steaks at 4th and South (400 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147; 215-928-1911) because it's right on the route and the steaks are, honestly, very good. On a busy summer day, expect to wait in a long but quick-moving line. Have your order ready to keep things moving. Steaks come with fried or raw onions and hot peppers, so if you have a tween who doesn't go for that, be sure to request no onion and pepper. You'll need to pick a cheese: a traditional Philly cheese steak is topped with "melted" cheese sauce (otherwise known as Cheez Whiz); if you can't stomach that, go plain or choose American cheese. Provolone, often believed by out-of-towners to be authentic, is considered a touristy choice and, frankly, doesn't pair well with Philly steak. Jim's also serves a variety of cold hoagies, the Special Italian (with oil, no mayo!) being a local favorite.
After lunch, head east towards Penn's Landing on the Delaware River. From there, take the RiverLink Ferry over to Camden, New Jersey, a 12-minute ride each way that departs hourly every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day (weekends only in May and September). The ferry ride is a blast for tweens and will allow you to enjoy the spectacular view of the city skyline. Round trip fares are $7 for adults and $6 for children 3 to 12. The ferry lets off right by the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, open until 5:00PM. Exhibits like the Jules Verne Gallery of strange and fascinating creatures and Shark Realm have tween appeal, and are worth the price of admission. Entry to the aquarium is $21.95 for adults and $17.95 for children 2 to 12.
After taking the ferry back to Philly, take a cab back to Chinatown for dinner. Vietnam Palace (222 N. 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107; 215-592-9596) offers exotic dishes at affordable prices (entrees run $9-$15). Look at it as an adventure: Try the coconut drink, a refreshing non-alcoholic treat that is much tastier than it looks, and share a big bowl of tomato crabmeat soup (which I'm told looks like boiled brains, but is absolutely delicious), followed by vermicelli with fried spring rolls. Most of the crispy spring rolls are filled with spicy meat, sliced and set on a bed of white rice vermicelli, raw veggies and crushed peanuts, served with a tasty rice-vinegar sauce -- dump it over the whole thing before digging in.
Have tweens who are not so adventurous? Jade Harbor (942 Race St., Philadelphia, PA 19107; 215-928-0451) offers more familiar Chinese dishes, such as egg rolls, won ton soup and sweet and sour chicken, also at affordable prices.
- Overview:Philadelphia Travel Guide