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What To Do In Philadelphia, According To A Non-Expert

Part of why I’m trying to be better about blogging regularly is to be better about answering questions. There’s only so much I can fit into a tiny chat on Instagram direct messages. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is about all things Philly. Why did you move to Philly? What should we do in Philly? What do you like about Philly? Which neighborhoods are the best in Philly? And, hey, I love Philly, so I don’t mind the questions. Having said that, this entire post should come with a disclaimer: I am not a Philadelphia expert. I love the city, the food, and living here (moving here is hands-down the best decision I’ve made in my life), but there are probably thousands of people who know more about the city than I do, especially when it comes to neighborhoods beyond my own.

I am naturally a creature of habit (the pandemic made this habit much worse) and I spend the majority of my time going to places in a 10-block radius from my home. So while I can confidently give you recommendations for things to do in Queen Village (that’s our neighborhood), beyond that… I am just not an expert. There are still thousands of restaurants and museums and neighborhoods I want to explore, and my recommendations are by no means a definitive list. Having said that, here are the things that I always tell people to check out when they come to the city. I’ll do a follow-up post about the other PHL-related questions I get often.

Restaurants

Before the pandemic, Jake and I had a running list of restaurants in Philadelphia that we wanted to try and were checking them off one-by-one. The food here is better than anything I ever tried in New York, and it feels more accessible and less pretentious. I’m constantly impressed with how expansive and varied and interesting the restaurant scene is. There are a million places that we still have on our list (before you ask, we’re still trying to get a reservation at Zahav), but here are the places that we know and love.

  • Vedge // Neither Jake nor I are vegetarian or vegan, but Vedge is an experience that anyone who loves food will appreciate. This was (unknowingly) the last place we went to before the pandemic hit and I thought about that meal many times over the course of the next year. Get the pretzel fondue situation. Thank me later.
  • Little Fish // When we’re in the mood for fresh seafood, this is our go-to neighborhood spot. They regularly have delicious oysters, and a scallop toast that has blown my mind repeatedly. The menu changes a lot, but if you love seafood, you’ll love Little Fish. Note: It’s BYOB.
  • Middlechild // I think I crave a sandwich from Middlechild (specifically, the Baller Classic and the seasonal BLT they do) at least once a week? Maybe more? Grab some takeout from here and eat them in Washington Square Park if you want a perfect afternoon.
  • Royal Izakaya // If you combine a comfortable, very dark (but fun) dive bar and really good sushi, you get Royal Izakaya (there is also a special sushi table in the back that is reservation only… hoping to experience that soon). The chashu buns are a favorite item of ours, too.
  • Musi // I only had the opportunity to go to Musi twice before the pandemic, but I’m still thinking about it. The food is inventive and creative, but entirely delicious. I also ordered their famous Frizwitz cheesesteak recently (they deliver) and can confirm it is very epic. If you’re in the mood for an ooey, gooey, so good it hurts cheesesteak… get this one, and skip the other touristy stuff. Note: It’s BYOB.
  • Talula’s Garden // Talula’s is one of the first places Jake and I ever went in Philly, and we’ve loved it ever since. If you’re looking for food that’s delicious, but not necessarily daring, this is a good option. In other words, this the place you can bring your parents, picky eaters, and foodies alike, and everyone will be perfectly happy. If the weather is nice, it’s worth eating outside in the garden — the lights and greenery are gorgeous.
  • Fiore Fine Foods // I’ve been to Fiore for brunch and dinner many times before, and both are delicious (plus, the atmosphere and bar are really lovely), but I’m mainly here to talk about their fried chicken sandwich. This thing is amazing, and usually available for brunch on the weekends. You must try it. Trust me.
  • Kalaya // Every time I’ve been to Kalaya, the experience has been slightly different, but always delicious. Love spicy food? Like a lot? Go here. Note: It’s BYOB.
  • South Philly Barbacoa // It took me way, WAY too long to go here. Located in the Italian Market, this place is vibrant and incredible. The food is so good that it will literally make you go back for seconds (three tacos is never enough). Bring cash.
  • The Bagel Place // If you’re looking for a delicious, straightforward bagel sandwich that’s not fancy but delicious, may I suggest my local bagel place, which is literally named The Bagel Place? Order a turkey sandwich on an everything bagel (toasted, duh) and add avocado (the avocado BLT is also really good). Pair with a Diet Coke for the world’s most glorious lunch.

This list is a little all over the place and I know I’m forgetting stuff, but it’s a good start and mix of options for all budgets. There are many, many more restaurants that I’m forgetting, but this should give you a great place to begin when it comes to planning your culinary journey.

Bars

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had the pleasure of sitting and passing time at a Philly bar (one of my favorite things to do, really), but I think that will change soon. I’ll do my duty and keep drinking and updating this list as time goes on.

  • Southwark // This is our go-to neighborhood bar, the place where we regularly grabbed a drink or four (oops) at 4:30 p.m on a Friday, because let’s face it no one is working at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, either. It’s also recently undergone a renovation, so keep in mind that I’m speaking to my memory of it more than anything else. In my experience, though, I’ve never had a bad drink or evening there. If you want to grab a pre-dinner drink at a place that feels special without being stuffy or pretentious, this is a great option. Their dinner menu is also really, really good.
  • Hop Sing Laundromat // This place is a speakeasy of sorts, and it’s really difficult to explain unless you go there yourself, but that’s part of the fun. It, too, hasn’t quite opened yet after the pandemic, but it’s one of the places I look forward to going back to most. It’s also a very fun place to bring visitors. Cash only.
  • Bloomsday // I’m not really sure if Bloomsday is a restaurant, wine store, coffee shop, or some glorious combination of all of the above, but it works. It’s also situated on a really, really adorable section of Headhouse Square that looks more like Stars Hollow than Philadelphia somehow.
  • Ranstead Room // Admittedly, I’ve only been here once, but it was fun. If you’re looking for somewhere moodier that still as a cozy, intimate feel, go here. It will probably take you a few times to find the door, but that’s kind of the point.

Coffee

I am, very openly, not a coffee snob. I don’t use a French press. I enjoy Starbucks and Dunkin’ occasionally (sometimes more than occasionally). I very often enjoy coffee shops for the aesthetic as much for the coffee itself. Having said all of that, I love coffee deeply. And coffee shops. And working in coffee shops. And I love the below places. These are all in my neighborhood, and I know there are a million more in other parts of the city, but like I said, I’m a creature of habit and in any case, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with any of them.

  • Three Graces Coffee // This is the place I go to the most often, though I am admittedly trying to cut back on my very expensive iced coffee and latte habit. The coffee is delicious, and the decor is perfection. There is also a magenta-colored espresso machine. Need I really say more?
  • Shot Tower Coffee // If you’re looking for somewhere to post up for a few hours, work, and people watch (and drink coffee), this is always my first suggestion.
  • Ox Coffee // As someone who knows very little about coffee, even I can tell that if you are a true coffee snob, you should probably go here (it was opened by two “coffee industry veterans,” according to an Eater article). It’s a small location, but serves delicious, straight forward coffee.

Shopping

I haven’t done quite as much Philadelphia shopping as I’d want to, but the below options are some of my favorite places for popping in and finding something special (and/or following on Instagram).

  • The Merrygold Shop // Merrygold is a little slice of heaven. If you’re looking for notebooks, jewelry, art, greeting cards, or just about anything else, this is your best bet. Plus, Sammi (the owner) creates the most glorious window displays that are worth checking out.
  • Moon + Arrow // Moon + Arrow sells a little bit of everything. From thoughtful baby gifts to natural beauty (I recently tried a new face oil from them and am LOVING it), Moon + Arrow has basically everything. It’s also a fairly large store, so it’s the perfect place to browse with an iced coffee in hand.
  • Yowie // I haven’t been in Yowie as much as I’d like to thanks to the pandemic (it’s a a very small storefront, though very thoughtfully designed), but the brand is worth following on Instagram even if you’re not coming to Philly anytime soon. The products are perfectly curated and entirely unique. Pro tip: Yowie, Moon + Arrow, and The Merrygold Shop are all along the same street, so if you’re looking to pop into each one, it’s worth the trip to 4th Street.
  • Cutalossa // I mostly have experienced Cutalossa via Instagram, thanks to the pandemic, but trust me, this store is so, so cool. Combining vintage pieces with new textiles, there’s something for everyone here (got some awesome vintage candlestick holders there last year).
  • Jinxed // Another Philly store I love following on Instagram, Jinxed has some of the best, most interesting antique and thrifted furniture around. Again, worth following even if you’re not on Instagram.

Museums, Historical Sights, Etc.

This is the point in the post where I admit that I am not the best with doing the things you “have” to do when you come to Philadelphia, even though I’ve lived here for almost 2.5 years. Below is a combination of the things I’ve seen/done, things I want to do, and the things that people say you can’t miss.

  • Independence Hall // Listen, let’s all be honest here. Most of us are interested in Philadelphia because of National Treasure. If you’re into that movie or history in general, Independence Hall and the area surrounding it is a pretty cool place to visit. I’ve never done an official tour, but I’m sure there are options available. Conveniently, pretty much every restaurant and bar on this list is within walking distance of Independence Hall.
  • Museum of the American Revolution // I’ve been to this museum, and it’s interesting if you’re into history. Will it change your life? Probably not, but it’s worth the visit if you’re looking for a way to cool off during the summer and see some old stuff. Also, are you on a trip with your dad? Go here. Dads love this stuff.
  • Ghost Tour // There are a variety of different Philadelphia ghost tours you can book if this idea appeals to you. Having said that, a ghost tour is exactly what it sounds like. It’s about 10 percent spooky stuff, 20 percent history, and the other 70 percent is just total ridiculousness. But that’s part of the fun. Pack a flask and bring some friends and you’ll have fun, trust me.
  • Italian Market // The Italian Market is a fun place to check out if you happen to be nearby (I wouldn’t suggest planning an entire afternoon around it or anything). It’s a bustling, vibrant area of tons of vendors, shops, and restaurants. It’s also featured a lot in Rocky (again, dads really appreciate these kinds of facts). My suggestion is to walk around, grab some tacos at South Philly Barbacoa, grab a drink at Di Bruno Brothers outside market, and end with a a slice of tomato pie from Nannie Francos. Basically, just eat until you physically can’t anymore. Great.
  • Barnes Foundation // This museum has been on the top of my list for a long time now, and I’ve heard great things, but I admittedly haven’t visited yet (soon!). Listing it here because I know from talking to enough people that it’s worth visiting.
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art // I’m truly ashamed of myself that I haven’t visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art yet, even though I have driven past it approximately 100 times. It’s supposed to be amazing, and this is also where the Rocky statue and steps are located, if that’s your thing.
  • Mutter Museum // This is the museum that I am *most* surprised I haven’t visited yet. The Mutter Museum is a museum that, according to its website, “contains a collection of anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment.” Basically, it’s very creepy and weird, but I have heard it’s pretty cool, too.

Parks/Hiking

One of the things I love most about living in Philly is that there are accessible trails and parks and wide open spaces nearby. We go to both of the all of the below locations to walk, hike, or just hang out once or twice a month, and it’s always a treat.

  • Wissahickon // This is the easiest option for walking and hiking (though there’s nothing particularly challenging about the park, if you’re looking to scale a mountain or something). There’s a 10-mile paved loop along the river that is great for dog walking. It’s peaceful, quiet, and has ample parking if you leave early enough.
  • Valley Forge // If you want something even more wide open, Valley Forge Historical Park is a relatively close drive and has some easy hiking/walking paths, wide open spaces (great for picnics), and some historical details around, too. It can get busy toward the afternoon, so I suggest grabbing some coffee and bagels and getting there first thing in the morning for some peace and quiet.
  • Washington Square Park // If you’re staying in the city, this is the prettiest park around, in my opinion. Grab a sandwich from Middlechild or some provisions from Talula’s Daily (great to-go sandwiches and salad) for a picnic here if you need sustenance.

Phew. That was a lot. And I’ve somehow not even scraped the surface, I think. Philly is the best. I still have a whole lot to experience and a lot to learn about the city, and I can’t wait for all of it.

If you happen to go to any of the above locations and enjoy yourself, let me know! I love to hear that other people love it here, too.

  1. Kimberly

    July 1st, 2021 at 3:05 am

    I’m a fan of Elixr’s coffee shops although because of stupid Covid I haven’t been there since March 2020. SOOOON.

    The Mutter is creepy and yet a huge hit with anyone who comes to visit us and wants to do something “not patriotic” in Philly.

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