Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Break in Philadelphia, part three

Combining sightseeing with good food is very important to us, and in a city like Philly a great meal (or cocktails, or gelato) is never too far away.

You could easily spend an entire day around Independence Park so be sure to plan ahead for a lunch break. It's a good idea to leave the crowds behind (the visitors center seems to be the center of the tour bus universe) and head a block away on Chestnut to Jones for lunch. Across the street is La Scala's if your crew is looking for pastas or pizzas. We've never eaten at La Scala's (the siren song of the Jones cocktail menu lures us in every time) but it would be a good alternative to Jones, as they only offer the brunch menu on weekends.

On a visit a few years ago we saw the Liberty Bell and toured Independence Hall, and the boys were too young to be impressed. There were long lines at both sights (free timed tickets are needed for Independence Hall, available at the Visitors Center) and very little interaction for kids. If you really want to get them excited about the Liberty Bell, take them to Franklin Square park nearby where they can play a round of mini golf which ends right under the bell.

A better sightseeing activity would be the new National Constitution Center at the far end of the park. We did this last April and the little C&Gs really enjoyed the 360º multimedia presentation "Freedom Rising". It's a short (less than 20 minutes) history lesson about the Constitution narrated by a live actor. It definitely grabbed their attention and got them excited about the rest of the exhibits. The finalé of the Constitution Center is a room filled with bronze life-sized models of all 42 of the founding fathers. Big C&G got a kick out of sitting on Ben Franklin's lap, but Little C&G and I were a little weirded out so we headed for the gift shop. Everything in the Center was very well put together and I think it all made a big impression on the little C&Gs. Much more so than the other various museums and exhibits that surround Independence National Park.

When you've had enough of the history lessons, nearby Franklin Square is the place to go to get out some energy. Home to one of the city's best playgrounds (so says Philadelphia Magazine), there's something for kids of all ages to run, jump, swing, or climb on. I love that the ground is springy and free of annoying wood chips. Nobody needs those in their shoes when they're out sightseeing. The mini golf course gives you 18 holes of Philly landmarks to tour around ($9/adults, $7 kids), and the carousel ($2.50/person) has Philly themed icons to ride on (bald eagle instead of a horse if you so choose). The Philly famous Starr Restaurant Group operates the Square Burger shack in the park, and they're known for great burgers and delicious shakes. The lines might be long but they move quickly and there are tables, benches, and plenty of green space nearby to spread out and wait for your order to be ready.

At the other end of town is Rittenhouse Square and an ideal place to escape for dinner. This beautiful park is surrounded by great restaurants, chic shopping, and a giant Barnes & Noble perfect for browsing in after dinner. Bronze sculptures throughout the park offer plenty of activity for the kids to climb on, along with some great trees with low strong branches for the more adventurous. On warm nights the park comes alive with music, dancing, and young families just hanging out. One night we found a tango lesson going on and nearby kids were drawing with sidewalk chalk in an empty fountain.

The restaurant Parc brings Parisienne style to the beautiful outdoor square. If you're lucky to grab an outdoor table (or grab an indoor one next to the open doors) then the entire family could be entertained for hours just watching the parade of people go by. The French bistro has a classic menu, but you could finagle a few things to work for the kids. The burger was really good, as were the pastas which I'm sure they'd be happy to cook up plain. Little C&G is a fan of omelettes (which happen to be on the dinner menu, bien sur!) so add in some frites and he's a contented little diner. Parc also has an amazing breakfast and brunch menu, and the sidewalk tables are just as lovely in the morning with a bowl of café au lait as they are with cocktails at night.

Just one block off the square is the quaint British pub, The Dandelion. The little C&Gs loved the kitchy English decor, it's tiny rooms are filled to the brim with odds and ends straight from a car boot sale (aka flea market). They have all the traditional favorites (bangers & mash, fish & chips, shepherds pie) plus a mac & cheese that they were happy to de-Brit for Little C&G. Both boys were obsessed with examining every little thing on the wall so we were free to sit back with our cocktails and enjoy the evening. As expected The Dandelion has an excellent beer selection, but they also make a pretty darned good Pimm's Cup.

A five minute walk from both these restaurants is our favorite Philly spot for gelato, Capogiro Gelato Artisans. They are the home of my absolute all time favorite flavor, which I've only seen there once. Sea salt. Just plain sea salt gelato. Amazing. Other creative flavors include avocado, cucumber sorbetto, and star fruit. They are happy to give you a taste, but they do have a limit on how many different flavors they'll put in your cup. Which just means you'll have to keep visiting their various locations around Philadelphia.


  1. So sad to miss part three while we were in Philly with our three kids on spring break, however parts one and two were uber helpful! Laura, I wish I had taken your advice and had a flight of bloodies at Jones before dealing with the crowds at the Liberty Bell!

    1. Thanks KGD! Glad you guys had a great time! It was a race to get the info up before you guys left. Now you know to start with the bloodies at Jones and skip over to the mini golf version of the Liberty Bell. Definitely less crowded : )