Philadelphia is often overlooked as a creditable destination due to its close proximity to both Manhattan and Washington, D.C. As described in the list below of new and old attractions, Philly offers much more than cheesesteaks and the Rocky Stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — which are both on the standard itinerary in the “City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”
Here is a list of six Philadelphia locations that don’t necessarily fit normal vacation itineraries for visitors.
1. East Passyunk Avenue
The name Passyunk is pronounced “Pash-unk,” meaning “a place of sleep,” “a level place,” or “a place below the hills” in the Indigenous language of the Lenape. The avenue sits diagonally across the grid designed by Thomas Holme, the original city planner.
Passyunk Avenue serves as the main artery of the East Passyunk Neighborhood of South Philadelphia, where Frank Sinatra got his nickname “Ole Blue Eyes.” It only officially starts at the 9th Street Market (Italian Market). The avenue offers visitors a wide array of restaurants, shops, and bars.
Stop by for lunch at Cantina Los Cablitos. I recommend a margarita, elote (Mexican corn), and a wet burrito. Afterward, explore some of the area, including the remaining wall of the Moyamensing Prison (ACME Supermarket parking lot), where America’s first serial killer was executed and even Edgar Allen Poe spent time. Make a visit to Nice Things Hand Made for a small gift for yourself or family and friends back home.
Have a late afternoon drink at Stateside. The Bees Knees cocktail consists of Bluecoat dry gin, lemon, and honey. Then, round off your visit at Bing Bing Dim Sum. The caterpillar bread and scarlet dumplings are worth the trip. End the evening at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar if you want to mingle and listen to some local comedians and music, or if it is your birthday, have yourself serenaded.
2. South 3rd Street
In the prominent Society Hill neighborhood are four homes and two plaques that tell a lot about the history of the area. The Bouvier Mansions form a connection to the fabled Camelot. The Powel House served as the home of the final colonial mayor of Philadelphia who once entertained George Washington. Right next door is the former home of a Spanish arms dealer and financier to the American Revolution. Finally, Thomas Paine Place intersects with South 3rd and was once owned by the publisher who printed the first copies of his greatest work, Common Sense.
Stop at Thomas Paine Place to learn about publisher Robert Bell and how Common Sense helped rally support for American independence. At the next stop, see the plaque in front of the former home of Juan de Miralles who served as ambassador to the Spanish Crown. Take a tour of the Powel House and walk the rooms that hosted the political elite during the early days of the American Revolution. Also, learn about how Elizabeth Powel is credited for convincing George Washington to accept a second term as Commander in Chief.
Finally, continue your walk up 3rd to see the exteriors of mansions of cabinetmaker Michel Bouvier, the great, great, great grandfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Born in 1792 in Pont-Saint-Esprit in southern France, he migrated to Philadelphia after fighting in the Napoleonic Wars until 1815.
3. Mütter Museum
Founded by Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter in 1858, the museum started with a collection of specimens, odd medical instruments, morbid anatomy, and human curiosities. But it evolved into a medical history and science institution.
Not for those with a weak stomach or who frighten easily, this rotating collection of about 35,000 objects invites repeat visitors. Permanent exhibits include “The Soap Lady” who passed in the early 19th century and is encased in a fatty substance called adipocere; the Hyrtl Skull Collection, which began as an attempt to refute phrenology; and the Exhibit of Harry and Carol, who had a rare disease that caused them to grow additional bones from their backbones.
4. Wissahickon Valley Park
Formerly known as Wissahickon Gorge, this area is for adventurous travelers who like to get out of the city and partake in physical activities, such as biking and hiking. According to legends, a secret cult used to meet in the area. Wissahickon offers a slice of nature that reinforces why Philadelphia is also known as “The Green Country Towne.”
Start at the Wissahickon Waterfall — yes Philly has waterfalls — then veer onto the Ridge Avenue Trail. Follow the river past Daisy Field to see the Kelpius (Hermit) Cave, the site where Transylvanian Johannes Kelpius’s doomsday cult, the Chapter of Perfection, waited for the world to end in 1694. Then, stop at the old mill town of Rittenhouse or continue west to see old homes and a covered bridge.
5. Philadelphia’s Jazz Legacy Landmarks
During the early 20th century, Philadelphia was a jazz mecca that not only brought in talent but was called home to various luminaries such as Coltrane, Morgan, and Holiday. It was a major northern destination during the “Great Migration” that brought in numerous Black Americans to states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York. Various jazz halls lined this stretch of South Street. Although they are no longer here, murals and plaques mark their places.
Start at the plaque of the Standard Theater on 1124 South Street. Continue West to 1524 South Street to see the mural that marks the spot of the Royal Theater. Head over to the site of the former Douglass Hotel on Lombard Street, where “Lady Day” Billie Holiday stayed while in Philly. Finish by walking to singer Marian Anderson’s former home on Martin Street.
Pro Tip: Philly has a number of jazz venues. Visit Chris’ Jazz Cafe for its speakeasy vibe or, if you love soul food, head farther north to the SOUTH Restaurant & Jazz Club. Try the cornbread; it is worth it.
6. Brewerytown Food Hall
The newest edition to Philly’s food scene is the Brewerytown Food Hall. Fast-tracked to become the new anchor of the up-and-coming neighborhood, draft beers, mocktails, pub foods, and a Philly attitude have already defined this venue.
Only open from 4 p.m.–11 p.m., this serves as the ideal stop after a long day of touring. Try some wonchos, which are wontons with cheese sauce, shishito peppers, and sriracha ranch drizzle, or sea fries, which are seafood boil seasoned waffle fries. Fans of bacon will love the Brewerytown burger.
Looking for something to wash it all down? Try the B-Town Smash, which is vodka, mint syrup, and lemon juice with strawberries, blackberries, and bubbles. Mocktail #2 is ideal to help cool you down with peach, lemon, verbena syrup, and fresh lime juice topped with ginger beer.
Pro Tip: Visit my previous article to view the self-guided brewery route that starts in the area.