Underrated Weekend Places and Things

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You know what’s a great word to describe our wonderful Keystone State? Underrated.  You never see Pennsylvania topping any “best of” or “must see” lists, but it’s never at the bottom either. We have great regional food, great food scenes, amazing beer, phenomenal hiking, a great central locale, and two of the most livable (ie: affordable) major cities in the form of Philly and Pittsburgh, and yet Pennsylvania is still something of an underdog in the travel world. That’s a good thing, though, because it means when people do come here, they’re pleasantly surprised, because we haven’t been flouted to the point that their first introduction leaves them underwhelmed (here’s look at you Breaking Bad), there’s still a lot left to be explored, and we have yet to reach what Brits or Australians call “Tall Poppy” territory, where one becomes so popular and mainstream that people start to resent, and mock it (here’s looking at you pumpkin spice, fall, and apple picking).

Underrated to me is a high, high compliment, so without further ado, here’s some of my favorite underrated things that I think people would really benefit by getting into:

PA as a Craft Beer Destination– This might be a bit redundant, but it bears repeating. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, as I just dedicated an entire post to this a couple of weeks ago. While it doesn’t get the same amount of press as places like Colorado, Oregon, or Vermont, PA has a phenomenal beer scene that’s easy to visit, and as far as I know doesn’t have any breweries that have developed the kind of cult following that makes a trip to them potentially annoying, because you know what is overrated? Driving 6 hours to Vermont to stand in line for 4 hours for maybe a case of beer, only to have it completely sold out.

Some of Lancaster's finest brews.
Some of Lancaster’s finest brews.

NEPA– NEPA is the colloquial abbreviation for North East Pennsylvania, the land in which I grew up, and the land in which I now reside, encompassing Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, the Poconos, and what’s now being marketing as the Endless Mountains.  Is Northeast PA the greatest place you’ll ever go? Absolutely not. It does however have plenty of unique aspects I’ve already highlighted herehere, here, and here, and is far from the mess that was most famously portrayed on The Office (actually, that’s a lie, there are absolutely aspects of it that are a hot mess, but that’s just part of the charm).

Come on, that's so pretty it looks fake, and it's right in my frontyard!
Come on, that’s so pretty it looks fake, and it’s right in my frontyard!

Canada– If you’re laughing right now you need to stop. Full stop, the fact the more people don’t visit Canada blows my mind. A) It’s the closest and easiest foreign country to visit from the northeast US (the Canadian/US border is the largest unguarded border in the world..well, for now) B) It’s the 2nd largest country in the world, meaning that if you can’t find anything there that would interest you, maybe it’s you, not Canada who is the issue.  Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America (behind NYC, LA, and Mexico City),  is known for how multi-cultural and cosmopolitan it is,  the CN Tower, which is the largest free standing structure in the Western Hemisphere (one you can dangle from the side of), and Drake. I’ve been eyeing up this Toronto beer tour for a while. Canada also boasts Vancouver, one of the greenest cities in world, and if you’ve never done a google image search of either Banff or the Canadian Rockies, do yourself a favor.  Aside from Toronto, we also have Niagara Falls, the 1000 Islands, the Laurentian Mountains, Montreal, and Quebec within driving distance of Pennsylvania. I’m not the most worldly traveler out there, but I can assure you that being in Montreal felt like being in a foreign country  then either Ireland, or Iceland.  Also, Quebec City has one of the only ice hotels in the world. I could probably do a post completely on things to do in Canada if I wanted.  Plus, we get a favorable exchange rate, even if it means using what is basically Monopoly money.

Upstate NY- I’ve basically outlined all the reasons it’s a shame upstate NY gets steamrolled by NYC here.

Minnewaska State Park in the Hudson Valley.
Minnewaska State Park in the Hudson Valley.

Lancaster- Once again, somewhere I’ve written about excessively. Too often people think Lancaster is Amish Country. It is, but it’s also a very young, vibrant city, and probably one of the best places to eat and drink in the state.

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New Jersey- Listen, I like making fun of New Jersey as much as the next guy, but at this point. it’s almost too easy, and while there are parts of New Jersey that are indeed a suburban hell, and the industrial areas just outside of Hoboken and Jersey City make the setting of any post-apocalyptic novel look like a beach, one of the perennial highlights of my summer is the annual Sea Isle City pilgrimage.  I always thought Atlantic City was overrated until I got the local’s eye tour of the place. Hoboken and Jersey City are both super cheap alternatives to staying in New York, and I recently had one of the best meals I’ve had in a while in the almost Pleasantville-esque town of Ridgewood.  Jersey’s actually got some decent hiking and XC skiing.  Plus, can somewhere that gave us the national treasure that is Bruce Springsteen be bad? No, not at all.

This gorgeous view is brought to you courtesy of New Jersey's Mt. Tammany.
This gorgeous view is brought to you courtesy of New Jersey’s Mt. Tammany.

Wawa– If you’re from the Philly area, you might be thinking Wawa is significantly overrated, but since I live in a Wawa-free zone, I cordially disagree. They make it not-embarrassing to eat what’s essentially a gas station hoagie. A twelve inch buffalo chicken on a wheat roll (hold the cheese!) can cure any hangover and make even the most skeptical foodie’s heart grow in Grinch-like spurts.

No caption needed.
No caption needed.

New England Hiking– I love the Adirondacks. They are one of my favorite places to visit, and one of the main reasons I find upstate NY to be such a compelling travel destination, and it’s great to hear about more and more people checking them out. That doesn’t mean that Vermont’s Green Mountains, and New Hampshire’s White’s shouldn’t also receive some love.

New Hampshire's White Mountains: not too shabby.
New Hampshire’s White Mountains: not too shabby.

Winter– I’m tired about hearing about how much winter sucks. At this point, there’s a good chance that you picked to live in Pennsylvania. Embrace the snow and the cold, or cordially migrate south. Winter gives us  downhill skiing, XC skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, dog sledding, actual sledding, snowmobiling, snowman making, being in hot tubs during a snowfall, the great collegiate tradition known as snow kegs, school delays, work delays, winter beers, Christmas, New Year’s Day, fresh snowfall, hockey games, that amazing feeling you get when you know work is not an option the night before a storm, not being too hot for heavy foods, fondue, not feeling bad about getting out of bed all day, and eating foods that aren’t good for you with the security that your fat will be covered by two shirts, a sweater, and a down jacket, Sure, being cold isn’t ideal, and shoveling sucks, but so does weedwhacking and sweating through your shirt just walking from your house to your car.

You can't do this in summer.
You can’t do this in summer.

XC Skiing- XC Skiing is so much more than just skiing on flat ground. Here’s 10 reasons this is the winter’s most underrated adventure.

This particular ski ended with a trip to a brewery. #winning
This particular ski ended with a trip to a brewery. #winning

Dark Beer– I look down on breweries that only offer 6 different IPA’s. I also look down on people that say they hate Guinness because it’s “so heavy.” Granted, it’s a little heavier then downing Michelob Ultra, but pint of Guinness has 125 calories and is 4.2% ABV.  Budlight has 115 calories and is a 4.3% ABV, so stop using that as an excuse to not enjoy the dark stuff. Other reasons it’s great? It’s a perfect winter beer, it makes you feel like it’s St. Pat’s all year round, it’s one of the easiest beers to cook with. I’m still talking about Guinness by the way. Dark beer doesn’t mean just stout. It also includes porters, Dunkel’s, black IPA’s, brown ale’s, and Schwarzbiers all come dark in color, and vary in both ABV’s and caloric intake, so come on over to the dark side. Some of my favorite include Guinness (natch, a classic), Springhouse Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, Lancaster Brewing Company Shoo Fly Pie Porter, Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale, Left Hand Milk Stout, and imported from our favorite underrated country, Canada’s own Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque, and Boreale’s Noire.

Perfect.
Perfect.

 

Cheese Curds– I realize we’re moving away from places, but this is PA Weekend Fun, and drinking and eating are very much weekend activities, as are Netflix binges, which we’ll be touching on momentarily. Mozzarella sticks are an appetizer staple, and frankly in my opinion, overrated. When was the last time you had a really good mozz stick?  I couldn’t answer that. I can tell you the last few times I had really good cheese curds. Bud & Marilyn’s in Philly.  The best ones I’ve ever had were when I was introduced to these little nuggets of deliciousness at Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery.  Cheese curds are mozzarella’s cheddar cousin, whose breading seems to be spiced and crunchier then it’s mozz counterparts, and served with the superior ranch dressing. Wisconsin knows what’s up. Fun fact: Philly apparently has a cheese curd truck that has been on my stomach’s wishlist forever.

Cheese curds with burnt scallion ranch at Bud & Marilyn's.
Cheese curds with burnt scallion ranch at Bud & Marilyn’s.

Bean Bags– Bean bags and corn hole are not the same game, even though both involve throwing bean bags into a small hole. Cornhole boards are flatter, and you could points just by landing on them. Babies can play corn hole (or rather, small toddlers).  In bean bags, the boards are closer to a 45 degree angle, and you only get points if you get into the hole. You also get to steal points if you’re the last one in.  It’s a outdoor drinking game for adults.

Giant version.
Giant version.

McDonald’s as a Breakfast Destination– Whenever McDonald’s is the only breakfast option, and everyone is kind of let down, I’m secretly rejoicing, because in my opinion they make one of the best sausage, egg, and cheese bagel sandwiches in the business. The faux/maybe hollandaise sauce only elevates it.

Shuffleboard- I don’t know if shuffleboard is underrated, as much as it’s really hard to find, which is confusing to me, because in the grand scheme of things it does’t require that much more room then a pool table, is infinitely more fun, and doesn’t require clearing out whole swaths of the bar to get a good shot.

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Parks and Recreation– I don’t know if it was ahead of it’s time, or just too damn optimistic for it’s own good, but the residents of Pawnee were always this close to not returning for another season. I feel like I don’t even need to convince you being that almost the entire cast has become uber successful since the ending of the show, and in my ever so humble opinion, I will never not find Amy Poehler to be hilarious-I’ll go out on a limb and say she’s consistently funnier then her pal Tina Fey.  But in case you do need more convincing, this show has given us gems such as a “fart attack” (when one is simultaneously passing gas and farting), given a new meaning to the name “Tammy,” and a special tiny pony named “Lil’ Sebastien.” It’s also given us two of the best fictional characters to call Indiana home: Ron Swanson and April Ludgate. Ron hates interacting with people, eating vegetation, and invasive technology. He loves breakfast meats, lunch, meats, dinner meats, whiskey, and whole milk. He’s an American hero. You can see why April is the greatest here. Word of warning, the first season feels like almost a completely different series, but it’s worth trucking through. So take a day soon, vege out, and watch a couple of seasons in one day. You deserve it. Treat. Yo. Self.

Friday Night Lights– You don’t have to like or even understand football, to like and understand this show, which in the grand scheme of things, is not actually about football at all. It’s about something we can all relate to: life. It’s soundtrack is amazing, it made me ugly cry with both sadness and happiness multiple times, Tami Taylor is the hottest TV wife to ever grace our television screens, I want Coach Taylor to be my life coach, and Crucivictorious is the greatest fictional band name ever.  Even though I’ve never been there in real life, I will always be #Texasforever.

VeepVeep is not only hilarious, but as Julia Louie Dreyfus, who just won her fifth consecutive Emmy for portraying the titular VP Selina Meyer recently pointed out, becoming a sobering documentary. If those five consecutive Emmies didn’t impress you, maybe these lists of the best insults on Veep can persuade you.  This is still on and more relevant then ever, so would more of you please jump on board? The other day at work I had to talk with someone named Jonah Splett and no one else was able to share in my joy.

Fall, Pumpkin Spice, and Apple Picking-  And the circle becomes complete. These three core American values have become so overrated, that liking them is now underrated again, and why not? Fall’s awesome. Pumpkin desserts, beer, and ravioli are the best (those of you who decided to make like,  Pumpkin English muffins and Cliff Bars took it a bit too far and ruined it for those of us using it were it belonged), and apple picking isn’t the most exciting, but there is something unabashedly American about eating apples you picked yourself. Being basic isn’t something to be ashamed of.

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Hanson: Snowed In– I mean, we’ve been all over the bored these last few picks, so why not make the final item on this list a real left-field pick. Yes, I’m talking about Hanson, of the beloved classic “MMMBop,” and the less loved, less classic, “Where’s the Love.” Snowed In is their Christmas album, and without overselling it, it’s glorious. It has 11 tracks, and only three of those are “originals” (let’s face it, there hasn’t been a good Christmas original since Mariah Carey back in the 90’s), and I know 7 Christmas songs doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when they are as highly infectious, and high energy  as these, you don’t need too much more. Plus, I don’t know about you, but when I’m having a Christmas party, I don’t want it to be all Christmas music, you know? I want like every five songs to be a Christmas tune, which is why these offerings are kind of perfect for a 2016 Christmas party playlist. I include these on the playlist for the Christmas Sweater barcrawl we have every year, and every year someone has asked me who is singing. 1997 me would never have thought I’d be able to answer “Hanson” smugly.

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