I spent four years living and five years going to school in Scranton. I’m still mildly obsessed with my experience at The University of Scranton and will leave you with that disclaimer before continuing with the rest of this post.
I remember once during my tenure at Scranton, a bunch of us were out and my friend admitted that as a child her father made them vacation in Scranton. This got big laughs. I thought Scranton? Who the hell would care about Scranton (the Office had just started gaining popularity at this point)? Looking back, I could see why I thought this way.
Scranton has the reputation as a third class city at best, and in all honesty The Office, while drawing national attention, does little to help this perception. Furthermore, I grew up a half hour north of Scranton. It’s nothing new to me. Why someone would want to go to Scranton confused me in the same way people who vacationed in the Poconos confused me. Being all of five years older and wiser, I can without hesitation say that Scranton would make an awesome weekend getaway, and not just as a day trip from your rental at Lake Wallenpaupack, but rather as the final destination.
While there are many daytrip opportunities if you’re staying in Scranton, I’m going to stick with things to do within the city limits. I’ll run a post of NEPA daytrips in the future.
Where to Stay
There are a lot of cheaper hotels situated just outside Scranton, in Dunmore and Moosic, but for the true Scranton experience I’d stay in one of three places: The Hilton, The Radisson, or The Clarion. Scranton, like most of Northeast Pa loves its alcohol bar hopping is the best way to blend in with the locals. The Hilton and Radisson are right downtown while the Clarion is very walkable. You can walk to the bars and not worry about getting home. Cab service in Scranton isn’t terrible, but you usually have to wait, and anything outside the city limits might really amp up that wait time.
Unless it’s a holiday or major weekend (Alumni events or graduation at The University or Marywood) both the Hilton and Radisson will be reasonably priced. They will be more expensive say than a Holiday Inn, but both are nice and super convenient. Northeast PA in general is super cheap so just chalk up the extra money spent on nicer accommodations to all the money you’ll save drinking and dining.
The Hilton’s Scranton’s newest hotel still feels that way. I’ve stayed there on New Year’s Eve before and had a great time. The rooms are big, the pool and hottub are exceptionally clean, and the gym (no idea why I was in there on NYE) was nicer than most standard hotel gyms. I’m also a big fan of the Hilton Bar and technically speaking it’s closest to all the downtown bars and attractions.
While the Hilton’s technically closer to downtown, the Scranton Radisson is only a few blocks away and the first thing you’ll see looming above the city. The Radisson is an old train station and is a very impressive building. It definitely feels older than the Hilton but it’s cheaper and has more character. Don Draper would stay at the Radisson. It also has free parking and Traxx, the bar at the Radisson is much livelier than the Hilton’s. The Radisson is connected to the University of Scranton via a very sketchy old train bridge if you have someone scouting colleges with you.
The Clarion is not situated downtown but is a short 3-4 dollar cab ride or ten minute walk if it’s nice. It’s right off the highway. We ended up staying at the Clarion last New Year’s Eve as the other two were all booked. I was very impressed with what we got for the price (and from judging the exterior for years…it could use some work). Granted the hotel’s older, but it’s clean, spacious, and has a very large hotel fridge. They also have a more laid back attitude. We asked if we could use the hot tub after last call New Year’s Day and the guy at the desk replied, “sure, this isn’t the Hilton.”
Where to Eat:
Scranton is by no means a contender if you’re a super foodie, but for the rest of us it has some really good diners, bar food, and pizza places. As I’ve said before, you won’t break your wallet dining here. Don’t listen if anyone tells you to “go to Dickson City” for food. Dickson City has a ton of restaurants, but it’s all franchised out. You can eat at the Olive Gar den anytime. Here are my suggestions:
Alfredo’s- (1040 S. Washington St.) Alfredo’s is a nice little Italian joint a few blocks from downtown in Scranton’s “Southside.” Don’t let the fact that it’s in a strip mall fool you. The food’s really good and if it’s nice weather they have an outdoor seating area. Great pizza. Great garlic bread.
Chick’s- (1032 Moosic Avenue) Chick’s Diner is right down the block from the Clarion and is a tiny old school, 24 hour diner. Chick’s is super cheap, open 24 hours, and you can order breakfast, lunch, or dinner at anytime of the day. I’m a big fan of the breakfast sandwhiches and Turkey Clubs. As an added bonus they have mini jukeboxes at each table. Some people may suggest the Glider Diner, but I’m a Chick’s guy through and through
Pietro’s– (1225 Mulberry St.)Pietro’s is a very unassuming pizza place located on Mulberry Street near the University of Scranton student bars. I lived a block from Pietro’s in college and ate there at least four times a week. It never got old. They have awesome Stromboli and the chicken bacon ranch pizza is borderline life changing.
Goodfellas- (1212 Mulberry St.)Goodfellas is a sports bar across the street from Pietro’s. I’m including it under food as it’s really too far away from all the other bars to warrant a visit and gets a semi guido crowd. Foodwise, it’s good with reasonable prices and big portions. The wings have a sort of sweet taste which isn’t really my cup of tea, but people like them.
Kildares – (119 Jefferson Ave.) Kildares is more known as a bar, but has good food and outdoor seating. Awesome pulled pork sandwiches.
Coney Island- (100 Cedar Avenue) Coney Island is a hotdog and burger place. It’s located in the basement of a building and looks super seedy which is what drew me in initially. The food is cardiac inducing but worth it.
Pizza By Pappa’s– (506 Linden St.) This is cool little pizza place located right off courthouse square. They serve individual pies and are conveniently across the street from Whiskey Dick’s.
What to Do:
Montage Mountain- Montage Mountain is technically in Moosic, but is only 5 minutes outside Scranton and houses a concert venue and a ski resort better known as Sno Mountain. I grew up with it being called Montage Mountain (and the Concert Venue is still known as Toyota Pavillion at Montage Mountain) and refuse to call it Sno Mountain. I don’t ski so can’t really comment on the conditions, but for a concert venue it gets decent acts in the summer (a lot of country). Montage is an easy ride from Scranton and if your planning on indulging in adult beverages at the concert, cabs will come get you.
Coal Mine Tour & Museum- When I worked at a daycamp in college we took a yearly trip to the Coal Mine Museum and tour, so I’ve seen it probably 6 times, but it hasn’t gotten old yet. Northeast PA essentially owes both it’s existence and downfall to the anthracite coal industry. The tour lowers you down into the mine in the same fashion real coalminers enter today. The guides are knowledgeable and if you like history you’ll enjoy it (if you see any dead canaries, get the heck out of Dodge..that’s how miner’s used to tell if there were poisonous fumes). Dress warm though it’s cold down there.
Steamtown & Trolley Museum- Behind the Steamtown mall is Steamtown National Historic site and the Electric Trolley Museum. The railroad industry hit a lot of milestones in PA (the first electric locomotive ran in Honesdale and Carbondale boasts the first gravity railroad). Steamtown documents the history of the railroads in Pennsylvania and there are a lot of old trains to explore and the newer Trolley Museum documents the rise of the electric trolley which gave Scranton its “Electric City” moniker. I was dragged along to the Trolley Museum during college by a friend who had to complete an assignment and was much more impressed than I thought I would be. It’s especially interesting when you put into perspective how easily we could get anywhere by car these days.
Nay Aug Park- Nay Aug Park is a city park that you’ll undoubtedly see as you drive into Scranton. Nay Aug gorge, it’s principal feature is pretty impressive. The gorge has a series of waterfalls and streams with a walking path and viewing paths located in “treehouses” hanging over the side. I’ve never done it myself, but climbing over the fences and climbing the falls is a pretty popular though illegal endeavor. Just beware that people do die doing this not infrequently. The gorge is the only redeeming factor of the park. It has a zoo that it advertises, but by all means do not go. It’s disgusting and if it hasn’t been shut down soon it should be.
Scranton Sign- Fans of The Office will no doubt want to visit the “Welcome to Scranton” sign visible in the opening credits. It’s located right off the Central Scranton Expressway and is easy enough to stop and take pictures with.
Scranton Parade Day- Scranton holds the third (debatably) largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the country and it’s my favorite day of the year. It will be giving its own post soon.
Where to Booze:
Downtown Scranton is set up perfectly to do a nice little bar crawl especially if you’re staying at the Hilton or Radisson. Unless your idea of a good time is “clubbing” with desperate middle aged women and other undesirables, avoid the Colisseum at all costs. Its right next to the Hilton and it’s the soul crushing. Also avoid the Motel Sun if anyone happens to mention it; it’s the only bar I’ve ever left immediately after ordering my drink because I was scared. Here is where to go:
Trax- Trax is located in the Radisson. It’s a bit on the pricey side for Scranton, but gets a solid crowd. They usually have a DJ, and have a really good happy hour and outside sitting area when it’s nice out.
Kildares – Kildares is the same chain as the Manayunk and West Chester versions for those from the Philly area: it’s a faux Irish pub. It’s not my favorite bar, but I don’t hate it. It just gets very crowded sometimes and is not set up well for a lot of people. They get decent bands and have a fun rooftop deck in the summer. They also have good food and happy hour deals.
Rocky’s- Rocky’s is the one dive you have to go to just to go to a dive. It’s bizarre and will be the first thing you see after The Radisson. It sort of feels like the 70’s never left Rocky’s and it’s a good laugh. One time a guy tried to remove my watch from my wrist while I was wearing it, so keep this in mind.
Backyard Alehouse- This is downtown Scranton’s newest downtown bar. It’s very laid back and has 150 different beers for those of you that impresses. The crowd’s a little older than the just turned 21 set and true to it’s name it has a backyard that’s open both in the summer and winter (with heat lamps). I’m a big fan.
Hardware Bar- I’m only mentioning Hardware Bar because it’s the “cool” place to go in Scranton and located right next door to Backyard Alehouse. They couldn’t be more different. Hardware is people getting as drunk as humanly possible and grinding. On the plus side, they often have great deals and they do get good cover bands.
Whiskey Dicks – Whiskey Dicks is a dive bar done right. It’s right around the corner from Hardware and Backyard and resembles a stereotypical dive bar from the outside. It’s really small inside, but in a cozy and not claustrophobic way. Whiskey Dick’s has great deals ($2.00 PBR’s & Tequila shots all the time) and filled with a good mix of college kids and post grads who just want to have fun and sing along to bad 80’s music. Plus, who doesn’t want a “Whiskey Dick’s” tee shirt?
Banshee- The Banshee is real Irish Pub. They often have live Irish Music acts, have a impressive selection of across the pond brews and whiskeys and the jukebox is Irish Music. Go here in the early evening as it’s apt to close after midnight.
Merts- Merts is a corner bar for middle aged people who still enjoy going out and getting down (I mean this as a compliment). Every time I’ve been there, I’ve been the youngest one there and always stayed several more drinks than I’d anticipated.