Philadelphia With A Preschooler? Sure!
I was carrying a very tired four-year old who wasn’t ready to leave Philadelphia’s Please Touch museum even after a full rainy day there. She clutched my neck, leaned up and whispered urgently in my ear, “Mommy! Can we come back to Philadelphia again one day?”
The City of Brotherly Love and its beautiful, fabulous children’s museum have a magical hold on Tiny Traveler. We first visited when she was nearly 3 and she’d been asking to go back ever since. So over winter break we made a 36-hour jaunt there.
Here are out best recommendations:
What To Do
Please Touch and Franklin Institute are excellent bad-weather options. The former for the under-8 set and latter for school-aged kids. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a wealth of kids programs and tours for families with babies, preschoolers and school-age children, some led by teenagers.
For run-around time, try Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse in gigantic, if somewhat inconvenient Fairmount Park. For something more central, Franklin Square offers a carousel, playground and mini-golf in the warm weather. TT spent nearly an hour running around on Independence Mall. On a warm winter afternoon she had plenty of company.
South Street is the city’s “funky” shopping street, but aside from a good used book store and a magic shop —both of which have closed— I’ve never found it compelling. Parts of it are gentrifying so it has a handful of restaurants that look interesting but casual enough to bring kids.
if you need to perambulate with a stroller and sleeping baby, try the Rittenhouse Square area instead; it’s more picturesque and there is a small farmer’s market on weekends.
American History is the prime reason to visit Philadelphia and you can hit all the high points in less than a day without wearing the kids outs. Kids old enough to have learned some U.S. history in school are the ideal tourists (those 5 and up can pick up an activity book at the visitor’s center on the mall), but we tried a few things to see how they would go over.
TT liked Betsy Ross’s house (high points included the chamber pots and a clever cat fountain in the yard), which can be thoroughly explored in under half an hour ($7 for the two of us). The Liberty 360 movie that plays in a storefront near Independence Hall was underwhelming and hokey but it’s only 20 minutes long. ($13 for the two of us).
You can only see Independence Hall via a free guided tour and late in the afternoon with swimming on the brain TT wasn’t having it. We also skipped the Liberty Bell and the Constitution Center, even though it’s interactive exhibits are squarely aimed at families.
The Philadelphia CityPass included kid-friendly activities like the Franklin, Institute, zoo, aquarium and trolley works. These passes can offer good value if you make the most of them.
Where to Eat
Everyone can find something they’ll like to eat at Reading Terminal Market. We had crisp, well-seasoned fried shrimp and oysters and iced tea for under $20 at Pearl’s. Down Home Diner offers American fare like scrapple, pancakes and meatloaf. Molly Malloy’s gastropub is the only place I saw where you could get a beer. You can buy hoagies, cheesesteaks and many other things from smaller stalls and sit at tables in the center. After lunch, check out the Amish stalls for pickles, jams, produce, breads, whoopie pies, and the donuts we had for breakfast.
Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionary (right) are old-fashioned ice cream and candy shops, respectively, on Market Street near Penn’s Landing. The goodies will please both adults and kids and are a sweet way to end a day of site-seeing.
If you’re exploring the U.Penn area, head to University Square for everything from Bucks County Coffee and Chinese bubble tea to affordable and good sit-down restaurants.
Geno’s and Pat’s are the legendary warring cheesesteak stands tucked away in South Philly. They sit next to an old but serviceable playground (where we ate ours) on the edge of a small Little Italy. If you have a car and want to combine eating with shopping for authentic sausage, salumi, cheeses and pastas then it might be worth a detour. But any neighborhood you’re visiting will offer up a decent version of the city’s favorite sandwich.
Where to Stay
The Franklin at Independence Park has an indoor pool and a great location. When it was an Omni it had a helpful staff with a friendly, relaxed attitude toward kids. Hopefully Marriott has kept that up. The Sheraton Society Hill nearby also has a pool and a lot of families; we enjoyed our stay there and found it convenient to a lot of good dining. There’s a boutique-y Best Western Plus down the block from the Franklin. It offers a great location and free breakfast, but no pool. The Hilton at Penn’s Landing on the river has a good size pool; it’s near everything but not right next to anything.