Read Time | 6 min
There’s something about waiting at the MegaBus stop that makes you want to start a fight. And I was faced with no lack of inspiration when I heard the girl next to me exhale and lament to her friend, “It really is a shame. I thought Philly would have been more interesting.” It is truly a blessing that I was able to keep myself from audibly gasping at that moment. But I had a Broadway show to catch and was not about to jeopardize my seat on this bus by setting the record straight with my misguided peer.
Lord knows what these girls must have been doing all day to have been so bored in the (*clears throat*) birthplace of The United States, but this eavesdropping session ignited a fire in me to make sure that my pretty little city is never disrespected in such a way ever again.
I grew up in New Jersey, right across the bridge from Philadelphia. Both of my parents worked in the city and I took a lot of trips here as a kid. Something you may not have known about New Jersey is that it is, in fact, two different states: North Jersey and South Jersey. The fool-proof test to determine which part someone is from? If you say you’re going to “the city” and they think you mean New York, they’re from North. If they think Philly, they’re a real one from South. But, I digress.
I spent lots of time here when I lived at home, and after returning from two years of living in California, I knew I wanted to find an exciting place to once again establish independence. Maybe this time, just a liiiiittle bit closer to my family. Philadelphia naturally caught my attention, and once I landed a job here, the move only made sense. I would also like to take a moment to praise the rent gods for smiling down upon this city. $600/month gets me my favorite apartment I’ve ever lived in, on a happening street with a killer view of the skyline. It’s a real challenge not to vomit in my mouth when New Yorkers tell me how much they have to pay to exist up there (of course I respect anyone’s decision, but I really love cheap rent).
Now, when visiting the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection (yes, the sisterly affection part is important), it is so easy to get distracted by the typical landmarks. We all love Rocky and cheesesteaks and freedom from Britain (in the historical context), but my favorite things about this city cannot be found in any guidebooks. They are tucked away on street corners and between buildings, where you could easily miss them if you’re too busy staring at your phone – it happens to the best of us.
Without further ado, it is my distinct pleasure to share with you my favorite little-known sights to see in Philadelphia.
If you ever need to remind your friends how damn cool you are, take them here. Wedged between two luxury high-rise buildings next to the Schuylkill River (comment below how you think that is pronounced), this park is newly built on top of a parking garage. It is completely free and can be accessed by taking the parking garage elevator to the 11th floor!
I promise it’s not as sketchy as it sounds.
The green grasses and rolling hills up there are a beautiful, serene escape perfect for reading, quiet reflection, or even a picnic with friends. When I have visitors, I love taking them to the Trader Joe’s at 21st and Market to pick out some goodies, then up to Cira Green for some gossip.
Likely my favorite visual representation of Philadelphian art and culture, the Magic Gardens located on South Street is a trippy museum showcasing the work of mosaic mural artist Isaiah Zagar. Bursting with color, expression, and shiny objects, you can literally spend hours here exploring every last corner of Zagar’s mind.
Tickets are $8 for students ($10 regular) and often sell out before closing, so you’re going to want to arrive around noon to snag a spot. And the Gardens are closed every Tuesday, so consider yourself warned!
Not far from the Magic Gardens is a perfect little thrift/vintage/consignment crawl for a baller on a budget such as myself. Within the parameters of a few blocks in this neighborhood called Queen Village is a gold mine of cheap fashion.
Some names to look out for are Raxx Vintage, Philly AIDS Thrift, Greene Street Consignment, and Retrospect. A considerable amount of my wardrobe comes from these fine shops, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that shopping secondhand is great for the environment and your wallet.
You’re just going to want to wash your new find before wearing, trust me.
Growing up, I remember a series of TV commercials in which famous celebrities would be paid to say the famous lines “You’re going to love the arts in Philadelphia.” While I gladly accept any and all forms of payment, I would shout that line from the rooftops for free, simply because this city is so full of art, and I don’t want anyone to miss out.
My favorite art scene in Philadelphia would definitely be theatre. While we do host national touring productions at the Kimmel Center, Academy of Music, and Forrest Theater, there are so many regional companies doing incredible, original work.
Perhaps the most well-known is the Walnut Street Theatre, which is about to celebrate its 210th season. Yes, that’s no typo- this playhouse has been kickin’ it since 1809, making it the oldest theater in America. Some other great venues for local theatre in Philadelphia are the Wilma, the Arden, and Azuka. If you happen to be around during the month of September, our yearly Fringe Festival showcases new works all around the city. And volunteers get to see the shows for free 😉
This park is so humble and discreet that you could easily walk past it 10 times before noticing that it even exists. Named after its designer, John F. Collins, it is the perfect little escape from the madness of downtown. My mom worked a few blocks away when I first moved here, so this used to be our spot to grab lunch together every week.
There is a picturesque waterfall sculpture in the middle of the park and plenty of trees that light up at night. During the summer, there is even a pop-up wine garden on Wednesday thru Friday! When you meet the next love of your life on Tinder during your Philadelphia trip, this is where you’re going to want to meet them.
And if things go well, this park is in the center of it all, so your options are endless to keep the night going!
If you find yourself in the mood to hit the club but you’re tired of how sweaty and loud downtown can get, we have some old-fashioned alternatives in store. There is a swing dance organization based here in Philly called Jazz Attack that hosts events almost every night of the week. My two personal favorites take place on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
Every Thursday, you can pay less than $10 for 3 hours of swing dancing. Beginners come early for lessons taught by local pros, then the floor is open for all levels to get down! And on Sunday afternoon, the center of Rittenhouse Square becomes a dance floor during what’s called the “Rittenhop.” And the best part- this one is fo’ freeee! I discovered Rittenhop one Sunday when I was sitting in the park and thought a flash mob was happening, but it was simply a bunch of joyful pals swing dancing together.
Even if you’re not the most outgoing person you know, it’s still enjoyable and refreshing to stop by and watch for a few songs. Women dance with women, men dance with men. It’s all about the fun of it and is so delightfully wholesome to experience.
Although the rumors of Beyoncé moving here turned out to be false, there are still plenty of reasons to get lost in this charming city. As for getting around, Philadelphia is super walkable, my good friend SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) has got you covered. $2.50 will get you anywhere you need to go via bus, subway, or trolley. The trolleys are really cute, y’all!
Hopefully, should you find yourself in Philly without a clue of what to do, this list should prevent you from arriving at the Megabus stop with a doubtful attitude.
What did I miss? Please comment your favorite off-the-beaten-path Philadelphia attractions below!