For excitement and local color, Philadelphia's a nice place to visit

BEYOND THE BEACH

November 01, 1992|By Marc Schogol and Elizabeth Duff | Marc Schogol and Elizabeth Duff,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- So you're looking for a place to take a weekend journey with the family.

What you want, of course, is somewhere you can easily reach bcar; a place that has lots of charm and lots of interesting things to see and do; an area with pleasant places to dine and convenient, not ruinously expensive, places to stay.

Somewhere with lots of history you can immerse yourself in, lots of culture you can soak up. Somewhere that won't bore children but that isn't too patently kiddie for adults.

Excitement, local color, special seasonal activities -- they're a must. And perhaps most important of all, it shouldn't be too far away. Because as soon as you pull out of the driveway, the children will begin asking how soon you're going to get there. And because, no matter how enjoyable such a weekend is, when it's over, everybody's going to be tired and want to get home just as quickly as possible.

Well, have we got a place for you!

Ever considered visiting Philadelphia?

When we first decided to make a weekend of it in Philadelphia, we figured to do it as two consecutive day trips -- drive into the city on Saturday, spend the day, return to our Delaware County, Pa., home Saturday night, drive back again on Sunday, spend another day in the city and then return home.

Spending a night at a downtown hotel was something we'd always talked about doing one of these years, when we could arrange to do it without the children. You know, one of those romantic, getaway weekends -- breakfast in bed, a little shopping and sightseeing, a languorous afternoon nap, a candlelit dinner and a show, then back to the hotel room for a long goodnight that lasts till dawn. . . .

. . . Where were we? Ah, yes, spending a weekend in Philadelphia with the children. Well, we decided to stay at a hotel anyway, rather than commute, in order to get the full on-the-town experience.

There's a whole range of options, from bed and breakfasts (yes, they have them in the city) to luxury hotels. We wound up choosing the Wyndham Franklin Plaza ([800] 822-4200), on 16th Street, right off the Vine Expressway, because it was conveniently situated and because for a very modest $84 (plus taxes, no charge for parking), we had a room for the night with two double beds and a rollaway that was just perfect for our needs.

So on a recent overcast Saturday morning, we loaded up the station wagon and pointed it toward the Philadelphia skyline.

After we pulled up to the hotel, our car was soon whisked away, and we and our luggage, after the fastest of check-ins, were whisked up to a 26th-floor room with a view.

That view up the scenic parkway, toward the art museum, included a dead-on look at the Franklin Institute ([215] 448-1200), which was to be our first stop.

In the few years since we'd last been there, the museum haseen the future and built it a center -- the Mandell Futures Center, that is, with its computerized, interactive look into the 21st century and with its Tuttleman Omniverse Theater, whose 60-by-80-foot, wraparound, sense-around, virtual-reality, stereo-to-the-max screen truly puts you into the picture.

We were treated to a showing of "Antarctica," a breathtaking look at that stark, frozen wasteland. Awesome is the only word to describe the experience.

We could have made a whole day of museum-hopping (the art museum; the Academy of Natural Sciences, with its dinosaurs; the Please Touch Museum, with its hands-on exhibits, etc.) along the parkway.

But there was somewhere old -- Oscar's Tavern, in the 1500 block of Sansom St., where we'd had our first date lo those many years ago -- and somewhere new -- Liberty Place -- that we wanted to see. So downtown we went.

Everybody who has spent any time in Philadelphia has a place whose cheese steaks -- the sine qua non of local cuisine -- they swear by. For many, it's Pat's Steaks or Geno's on the same

bustling corner of Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. For us, it's always been Oscar's, and thus it was with a real sense of passing the torch to a new generation that we introduced the children to Oscar's cheese steak hoagie. Perhaps because we're a bit older, Oscar's didn't seem quite as romantic as we remembered it. But except for the price, the cheese steaks hadn't changed a bit.

With full stomachs, we walked the few blocks over to Liberty Place, the new apex of the Philadelphia skyline, which again is something that has been built and opened since our last real tour of the city. Since next to eating, our family tends to like shopping most of all, suffice it to say that during our visit to the Shops at Liberty Place, we did our bit for the local economy.

Being history buffs, too, we zipped over to the nearby Civil War Library and Museum ([215] 735-8196) at 18th and Pine streets. It houses a very impressive collection; son Jeff, 13, was particularly fascinated by the stuffed and mounted head of Baldy, Gen. George Meade's horse. On catching sight of it, Jeff began humming the music from "The Godfather."

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