Having been frequently to Philly in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I was back for the first time in several years in 2011, then again in July 2013, July 2017 and July 2018 . I am so impressed with the transformation of this major East Coast city. In 2015 it was named the first UNESCO World Heritage City in the US.
What to Do
Seeing the tourist destinations around Independence Hall: There is a great Independence Visitor Center, a new National Constitution Center Museum and the Liberty Bell Center which has housed the famous bell since 2003. I remember seeing it as a child on display in Independence Hall. But the new contemporary building is very attractive and is illuminated at night. By the way there is great parking at the Visitor Center which is open 24 hours. I was advised to park and then walk and take taxis rather than drive all day in traffic. It was great advice and I recommend that you do the same.
Enjoying the architecture: Independence hall was built as the meeting house for the Pennsylvania colonial legislature in 1732 and is one of the finest Georgian buildings in the US. There are also many other examples of good colonial and Georgian architecture in that same area of town. Then you have City Hall which was finished in 1901 and has a large tower topped by a statue of William Penn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its famous steps featured in the movie Rocky was built in 1928. There are some great new buildings including Comcast Center, Cira Centre completed in 2005, Society Hill Towers (three residential towers) completed in 1963 and designed by I.M. Pei, and the reworked Perelman Building as the expansion space for the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Walking through Rittenhouse Square: This was always one of my favorite neighborhoods and squares in the city. I used to stay at the Barclay Hotel on the north side of the square but it has since been converted to high-end condominiums. The square is surrounded by other nice hotels and cafes and restaurants including many with outside seating. On Tuesdays and Saturdays during the summer, there is a fun farmers’ market with great local fruits and vegetables. For those that like the store Anthropologie, there is a great store at the northwest corner; they are based in Philadelphia. The area between Rittenhouse Square and Independence Hall has some great new contemporary architecture as well as old architecture
Museum of the American Revolution: Getting good reviews is the recently opened Museum of the American Revolution located at 101 S. Third St. It has several thousand objects, works of art, manuscripts, and printed works from the period of the American Revolution.
It was not until my most recent trip, that I realized how many theaters there are in downtown Philly. The Walnut Street Theatre, founded in 1809, is America’s Oldest Theatre. It is also the Official State Theatre of Pennsylvania, and a National Historic Landmark. Its season includes a number of musicals, plays and children’s events. The Wilma Theater is a modern theater that has staged original theater productions since 1973. The Prince Theater is now the Philadephia Film Society is a major venue for educational programing and film events. The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is a major performance venue for The Philly Pops, The Philadelphia Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Opera Philadelphia and musicals as part of Broadway Philadelphia. Opera lovers will enjoy the Opera Philadelphia festival, held annually in September in several venues.
Eating in Center City
Oyster House: At 1516 Sansom St., this is a restaurant that has been in the same family for almost 40 years It was recently upgraded to a contemporary decor that is perfect. They were just featured as having one of the best lobster rolls in the US. I opted for the Lobster Benny for Saturday brunch, which was an amazing eggs benedict served with fresh lobster meat. A great choice!! The owner could not have been more accommodating and friendly, sharing many other suggestions of what to do in town.
Reading Terminal Market, 15 N. 12th St.: This is a large market featuring fruits and vegetables, bakery good and food stands offering almost every type of food and ethnic food available. This is great place for a quick lunch.
Buddakan at 325 Chestnut: This is a very sleek Asian restaurant featuring a huge Buddha in the main dining room. I tried it for dinner and the food was really great and featured many Asian specialties but with a contemporary twist. This and Continental are part of Starr Restaurants which also has other good restaurants in Philadelphia.
Vedge: After reading great reviews including one in the NY Times, I made sure I tried this vegetarian restaurant at 1221 Locust, a short walk from my hotel. It is located in a restored town house and was packed even at an early hour. I loved the items from the Vedge Bar including the stuffed avocado with romesco, pickled cauliflower and fried rice and the pea leaves, flash seared with smoked onion dashi and beet sashimi.
Their other restaurant is V Street featuring vegan street food in a warm, casual spot at 126 S. 19th St. It has received great reviews in the NY Times, Washington Post and Eater Philadelphia where it was named the Restaurant of the Year 2015.
Vernick Food & Drink: Vernick is a must when you are in Philadelphia. Located at 2031 Walnut, just west of Rittenhouse Square, it is an upscale restaurant serving both large and small plates. I was lucky to be able to get a reservation and then to sit at the chef’s table downstairs and watch the creative staff at work. Bon Appetit named it one of the Best New Restaurants in America in 2013 and Chef Greg Vernick received the James Beard Award in 2017 for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. The halibut was amazing as was my dessert.
Zahav: Known for its modern Israeli cuisine, Zahav continues to receive awards and great reviews since opening its doors in 2008. Chef Michael Solomonov was the 2011 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic and their award in 2017 for Outstanding Chef. 237 St. James Place.
The same team also owns Federal Donuts. At 1632 Sansom Street in Center City, this is a popular spot for donuts, coffee and Korean-style fried chicken. They have five Philly locations and one Miami, Fl location. They also have Abe Fisher at 1623 Sansom St. which features Jewish inspired food.
Parc Brasserie: Parc Brasserie is a traditional French Bistro located on the east side of Rittenhouse Square. It is great for people watching as you enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch.
Just south of Parc, in the same restaurant group, is Barclay Prime. This is a high-end steakhouse and lounge from chef Stephen Starr in a contemporary library setting. I enjoyed an old fashioned in the bar following my dinner. It is located in the former Barclay Hotel, where I used to stay in the 1980s, which is now a residential building. 237 S. 18th St.
Nearby at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, located at 251 S.18th near Rittenhouse Square, is their charming cafe Le Cheri. It is a perfect spot for a lunch, dinner, coffee or dessert. They also have a lovely garden in the back for outdoor dining. I stopped in for ice cream and coffee as I explored the Art Alliance exhibitions.
The Prime Rib is now the 1701 Locust Restaurant. It is a classic steakhouse, with the feel of an elegant supper club, that features steaks as well as seafood entrees. It is located in The Warwick Hotel Rittenhouse Square. They have locations in Washington D.C. and Baltimore as well.
Harp & Crown, 1525 Sansom St.: In a beautifully renovated space with old-world charm, this is a popular restaurant with a seasonal menu and a wonderful weekend brunch buffet. Downstairs, they have a bar and a two lane bowling alley which is open for reservations. This is the perfect late-night spot when you are in town.
Green Eggs Cafe: Rather than eat at my hotel for breakfast, I loved this fun, local’s spot at 1301 Locust St. which had great energy and a large menu. The entrance is around the corner on 13th St.
Tea at Rittenhouse Hotel: A great place for an elegant high tea, is the Mary Cassatt Tea Room at the Rittenhouse Hotel. Tea is served daily from 2pm to 5pm daily. 210 West Rittenhouse Square.
The Dandelion, 124 S. 18th St.: This is a pub offering craft beers and British cuisine. Friends from Dallas were just there and loved it. They also loved Talula’s Garden at 210 W. Washington Sq. which features seasonal American food and FARMiCiA, with a farm-to-table menu, cocktails and a weekend brunch. 15 S. Third St.
Luke’s Lobster: This is a small, casual seafood restaurant serving Maine-style lobster rolls with toasted buns, plus clam chowder and microbrews. They’re located in many cities in the East as well as in Chicago, Las Vegas and more. 130 S. 17th St.
a.kitchen + bar at 135 S. 18th St. has received great reviews including from Bon Appetit and Food & Wine Magazine.
Blue Duck on Broad, at 200 S. Broad, near many theaters, gets good reviews. Bud and Marilyn’s at 1234 Locust St. which is reminiscent of a Wisconsin Supper Club is also popular.
P.S.& Co.: This is a casual Rittenhouse Square cafe that features soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts, cocktails and cold press coffee. They feature mostly healthy options. 1706 Locust St.
Located in the Warwick Hotel at 220 S. 17th St. is the recently opened Spice Finch. Chefs Jennifer Carroll, from Top Chef fame, and Billy Riddle have partnered to open a modern Mediterranean restaurant and bar a bright and airy art deco-inspired design. Chef Carroll spent nine years at Le Bernardin in NYC and 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge in Philly under Chef Eric Ripert with the skills learned working with Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Red Rooster in Harlem. Spice Finch showcases a creative approach to Mediterranean fare with a menu inspired by herbs and spices of the nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. I was glad to have gone on the fourth night it was opened. I had a great octopus dish and a roasted cauliflower side. I highly recommend it.