by Sara Ahern
Massachusetts Native, Philly Raised, Pats Fan
We love road trips! While exploring New England tops our list, it is always fun to explore someplace new.
What is funny about this trip is that Philadelphia is a familiar place to me, having been raised in the Philly suburbs from second grade through high school, but I had an opportunity to visit it with Jay and a new lens as a tourist.
Philadelphia often gets bad-mouthed among the Northeast cities and, I think, there is something of an inferiority complex. It’s the “City of Brotherly Love”, but plays little brother to the big behemoth to the North, New York City. It’s super historic but its civics lessons and American culture are often overshadowed by Boston and Washington, D.C. In recent years, Philadelphia has been investing a lot into revamping its cultural sites and they have done a fantastic job within the city’s historic district.
We stayed in the “Old City” section of town in the historic Penn’s View hotel. The room was comfortable and charming, with lovely hardwood floors, an exposed brick wall, and an inviting Jacuzzi tub. The hotel is well known for its restaurant, Panorama, which has over 120 wines on tap and over 150 wines offered, making it the Guinness Book of World Records holder for being the world’s largest “wine preservation and dispensing system “ (I think that means bar). It is located right near Penn’s landing, a cool outdoor attraction that is ideal to visit in the summer. Renowned restaurants of all types of cuisine are just a few short blocks up Market Street and nearby side streets. The tourist attractions lie just beyond the fun and festive area, about five blocks away.
We sauntered up Market Street Saturday morning to meet my family at the Constitution Center. Along the way, we passed by the historic buildings and porticos where Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin, lived and conducted business.
Brother Dave reserved tickets for the Constitution Center’s program, which cost $29 for adults and provided joint admission to the center and the Museum of the American Revolution. The program at the Constitution Center is an excellent foundation for understanding and celebrating the founding of our country. What I appreciated most is that they do a superb job at recognizing and reminding us that the United States is a work in progress: that the original founding still left many groups disenfranchised, but that Civil Rights causes and legislation over the years has broadened and expanded those foundational rights. The program is just the right length (a three and four year old sat through it just fine). When you exit the program, there is an exhibit hall to peruse and to learn more.
A little later, we walked across Independence Mall, stopping in at the Visitor’s Center, bumping into the esteemed Mr. Franklin along the way. We walked towards Independence Hall, which is a free 30 minute exhibit running at :15 and :45 past the hour, and you normally need a ticket (available at the Visitor’s Center). January and February are the exception, being slow and you do not need one. The lines at both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were long and we were traveling with 5 kids under the age of 10, so we skipped them, and continued toward the Museum of the American Revolution.
The Museum of the American Revolution begins with a short 15 minute video that provides essential and helpful background and context about the American Revolution, if you, like me, have forgotten a bit of your high school history class. After the video, we toured a winding exhibit that walked you through the major events of the Revolution. Helpfully, the museum’s literature offers a “Cliff Notes” guide, pointing out the most important aspects that you should not miss if you are short on time (or are traveling with 5 children under the age of 10). Currently, the museum also has a special exhibit by a Revolutionary-era watercolor artist, which they paired with a hands-on encampment exhibit for the kids, who could dress up like soldiers and play for a little while while their parents took in the more cerebral paintings.
We had a blast in Philadelphia and only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. We will be back to explore additional attractions and have our sights set on the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the National Museum of Jewish American History, among others.
It is particularly noteworthy that we recently traveled beyond our New England comfort zone right when the Patriots are preparing to take on the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Although I brought my Pats fan shirt, I wore it proudly, but only within the safety of my parents’ New Jersey home.
Although I have a new found appreciation for the town in which I grew up, I still remain a loyal Pats fan. Go Pats!
Sonny's Cheesesteaks: www.sonnyscheesesteaks.com
Philadelphia Cheesesteak Guide: visitphilly.com/articles/philadelphia/top-10-spots-for-authentic-philly-cheesesteaks/
Philadelphia Magazine: www.phillymag.com/
Old City: www.oldcitydistrict.org/
Penn's Landing: www.visitphilly.com.outdoor-activities/philadelphia/penns-landing/
Penn's View Hotel and Panorama: pennsviewhotel.com/
Independence Visitor Center: www.phlvisitorcenter.com/
Every year Nantucket bursts into life on the last weekend in April. The annual Daffodil Festival celebrates the arrival of Spring and awakening of an island largely dormant for the prior six months. With a wide array of activities, the biggest challenge is probably deciding what to do.
A fast ferry rounds the daffodil-wreathed Brant Point Lighthouse at Nantucket’s harbor entrance.
We’ve now been several times: with and without kids, and as day trips and a weekend-long stay, and all have been great experiences. Ferry tickets can book up, so we’ve made a point of reserving early. We also find the fast ferry to be a great option, especially for the return trip, since it isn’t very expensive and reduces the trip to less than half the time of the slow ferry. The one mandate is to wear yellow!
Saturday is the focal point of the festival, with a parade of antique cars decked out with daffodils and some people picking their own unique theme. The procession is lined up in the cobblestone downtown beforehand, where onlookers can inspect cars up close, chat with the parade participants, and capture some entertaining photographs. But that parade is by no means the only event of note.
Other theme-oriented processions and events center around dogs, hats, and storefront windows, all of which are decked out appropriately. All can be fun to join or just to check out. But these events are just scratching the surface of this weekend-long celebration that starts on Friday.
A variety of tours are available to choose from, including historical walks around the downtown area, to van tours of the island for island newbies and photographers, to ghost walks. Options also include nature areas, lighthouses, and spectacular sunsets. Some of the walks can be brisk, and others require reservations, so some planning is important.
There are also other types of events: flower and photography classes; historical society special events around whaling, founding families, and the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s interesting mix of exhibits and artifacts. For families with younger children, the family beach picnic is a great choice after the parade. Wine tastings can
be fun for grown-ups. Artistic movies, live music, and other events can also be fun to check out.
Many of the restaurants open at least briefly, as a way to dust off the cobwebs before May begins to see the uptick in tourists in advance of Memorial Weekend. Many stores also reopen, offering sales and a great mix of merchandise to browse. Cisco Brewers, on the far side of the island, also offers a familyfriendly atmosphere along with its beers, wine, and spirits, and live music in a great location; the shuttle running from downtown makes this easy and inexpensive to get to.
We found that staying over for the weekend allowed an opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the experience. One day can be a blast, and also exhausting by the time we’re on the return ferry. Staying near downtown provided easier access to many events, and allowed us to briefly return to our room when desired. While Nantucket can be expensive, we found reasonably priced rooms to choose from. Choosing one with a small kitchen further defrayed our costs while giving us more food options.
Aside of the official events, we also enjoyed simply strolling around downtown in the early morning fog, going for a run, sitting at a small park with an afternoon coffee as we watched a unicyclist successfully navigate the cobblestone street, and meandering through historic sites such as a cemetery where many of the island’s founding fathers are buried.
The whole island is celebratory, and after a winter of seclusion, fate seems to typically want to reward it with surprisingly good weather. However, it’s not as busy as it becomes a month later, so this is often a
good time to visit without having to fight the masses to get a table for dinner. We’ve not needed a car, which can be a real challenge anyways, opting for taxis for the limited times they’re needed.
Nantucket’s rich history, easily navigated island, and mix of events have given us some of our favorite memories each of the last few years. Its online event listing is updated up until right before the event, which also helps us map out the key activities we want to enjoy. This, along with the great vibe, make Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival a must-do springtime event to check out!