Occasionally I forget that this is a Pennsylvania-centric blog. I usually catch myself when something like 8 posts in a row aren’t celebrating the Keystone State in any way. Now, in my own defense, when I created this very Pennsylvania-centric blog, I purported to not only feature my home state, but easy trips to take from Pennsylvania, so my current obsession with upstate NY, the Catskills area in particular, is somewhat excusable. That being said, there’s still so many places in Pennsylvania I’ve never been, eaten, experienced, or written about, so one of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to try and keep it a little more locally based.
To make good on this promise, I’m going to a do a little series of posts outlining some day-trip ideas from Pennsylvania’s larger cities. My definition of a good day trip is anyplace under 3 hours, however I realize that I don’t mind spending quality time in the car more than most people. I’ve actually thought nothing in the past of driving to places like Pittsburgh or Vermont for less then 24 hours, and have entertained going up to do a Adirondack hike just for the day. For most of you though, a good day trip is one where you don’t spend a majority of it in the car. All the trips I’ll be writing about will be within an hour and a half of the chosen anchor destination.
There’s a couple other caveats for inclusion in my day trips list. One is that it has to be somewhere you could spend a good portion of the day, not a one hit wonder for an hour. Day trips also aren’t road trips. Sometimes the fun of a destination is all the places you can stop on the way. This isn’t one of those times. We’re not stopping in multiple locales, and trying to actually limit your time traveling. You don’t want to spend all your time in the car, and in the case of this first installation, which is Philadelphia day trips, for some of these you don’t even have to bother with the hassle of a car. You can trade in that vehicle for a bigger headache: Septa (actually, some of these are accessible by Amtrak, which is a joy to ride).
When picking out these day trips, I tried to keep both locals and visitors in mind. Maybe you’re in Philly for a week, but want a change of scenery for a day or afternoon. At the same time, maybe you live in Philly, but are looking to escape and see something new for a Saturday, so in that case I’m going to try and not suggest something painfully obvious, that you would have visited 1000 times (although what would that be? I feel like Philadelphians don’t leave Philadelphia often). Hope you enjoy my forays back in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh and Harrisburg will come next, and perhaps Lancaster, Scranton, and Erie if I’m feeling ambitious.
I feel like for a lot of Philly residents, Conshohocken is mainly known as the place you move to after you become too old for Manayunk, or as a stopover between your engagement and moving to the legit suburbs after marriage. I’m familiar with it personally because one of my best college pals did indeed purchase a home there after he outgrew the luxurious surroundings of the Ridge Carleton in Manyunk (coincidentally he recently got engaged!). To those of us who simply visit Philly from time to time, Conshohocken is where we get off the Turnpike and onto the Schuylkill, so it might have some negative connotations. This was a roundabout way to say it’s an easy place to overlook, when in fact, it’s a cool little town to spend an enjoyable afternoon in.
Consh, as the locals say, is only 20 minutes of so from Philly if you’re dealing with a normal traffic day. It’s also about a 40 minutes Septa ride via train, and super easy to navigate without a vehicle, which is the way I’d do it if I were you. Riverbend Cycles rents bicycles for $40 a day (side-note: I’m pretty sure they also pro-rate b/c I rented from there before and remember paying only $20 bucks or so). The Schuykill River Trail runs through Conshohocken, so you can take a scenic river ride down to the bars in Manayunk you’re too old for, or just use it to explore the town. The Conshohocken Brewing Company (their Life Coach Session IPA is particularly delicious, and well suited for a day of biking), which is well worth the stop, has a deck that sits right on said trail. You can also head north in Norristown and check out the newly opened Five Saints Distillery. Fayette Street is the main culinary drag, and a great place to visit on a nice day because of all the outdoor seating. My personal recommendations are El Limon, a Mexican join with complimentary margaritas (I once had three and they offered me a fourth, so like, go to town), and Lucky Dog Saloon, specifically for their honey and fried chicken sandwich, which, not to overhype it, but I found life-affirming in ways I didn’t know I needed.
I probably do try and oversell Lancaster, but it’s only because it’s amazingly underrated, and so much more than kitschy Amish shops and tours. I implore everyone out there to do an extended weekend here if possible, but it also makes a great day-trip from Philly, and I think if you come here once, it’ll become a repeat day trip you look forward to taking again in the future.
Lancaster is just over an hour and a half drive via the Turnpike, but could also be reached via Route 30, which is sort of an incredibly picturesque ride in itself. I’d probably caution against doing this on your first visit, just because there’s way too many distractions along the way, and you’d undoubtedly end up turning this into a road trip, but you’re a grownup (I’m assuming), and ultimately this is your decision. My recommendation would be to take the Amtrak out of 30th St. Station. The ride’s just over an hour and the Lancaster train station itself is pretty cool in a throwback type way. From there, it’s a short walk,and even shorter Uber/cab to downtown, where you should spend the bulk of your time on a first trip. Saturday’s are your best bet, as Lancaster’s Central Market is open Saturday mornings. I should add that you’ll probably want to bring a cooler bag with you (if you’re doing the train) to keep any purchases fresh. Unlike say, Reading Terminal Market, Lancaster’s isn’t simply catering tourists. It’s a working farmer’s market plenty of people do their actual shopping in. I say this as someone who used to shop there weekly. While farm fresh produce is always nice, I don’t necessarily get excited about it. What I do get excited about? The German Deli, Rooster St. Butchers, Maplehofe Dairy, and bevy of home-baked goods. You could spend a good 2-3 hours in here tasting and shopping. From Central Market you’re in walking distance of Lancaster Brewing Company, Wacker Brewing Company, Spring House Brewing Company, and Thistle Finch Distillery. The Press Room, Tellus 360, and Annie Baileys all have great decks/roofs/patios to enjoy some beverages on. Barbaret is a world class french bakery, while Pour, and Souvlaki Boys both have excellent food. The American Bar and Grill has excellent bar food, and is a great place to end your trip and wait for your departing train to arrive.
Am I included Chads Ford on this list because it’s home to the only Wawa that currently sells alcohol? Absolutely. Being able to sit and have a Wawa buffalo chicken hoagies while enjoying an ice cold beer is the American Dream, and you’re not going to convince me otherwise. This particular Wawa, located at 721 Naaaman’s Creek Road, Chaddsford PA, has a beer cave, and allows you to consume just one beverage onsite while having a delicious Wawa meal. I am for this.
And while I certainly would drive a half hour to consume one beverage at a Wawa, I don’t expect you to, so combine this with a trip to the Chadd’s Ford Winery, which I’ve never been to, but have heard great things about. The winery does your traditional tastings, but what makes it day-trip worthy is that it hosts weekend events from Adult Easter Egg Hunts, to an annual Baconfest. I’ve officially added it to my bucketlist as of this post.
Kennett Square, is known as the mushroom capital of the world and in fact holds an annual mushroom festival if fungi is your thing. I’ll be honest, it’s not mine. Mushrooms weird me out. What I would check out, despite my great fear of heights is the Chester County Balloon Festival, which is held annually a couple miles away. Hot air balloons kind of weird me out as well, mainly because of the aforementioned fear of heights, however I’m not going to deny that they’re cool to look at. I guess they’re big in that area, because I remember many times driving from Lancaster to Philly, looking out over the county from the Turnpike and seeing numerous hot air balloons floating over the farmland, and it really was quite a sight. It also looks like they have plenty of beer garden, music, and food truck fun to indulge in.
The famous Longwood Gardens are only a couple miles from Kennett Square, and what I’m super interested in after doing some research for this post is the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, where you could learn more about the area’s contributions to the Underground Railroad, and which holds monthly public bus tours during the summer and fall months. I always forget the southern Pennsylvania was very active in the Underground Railroad, so it’s cool that there’s an organization that highlights this.
Additionally, Victory Brewing Company has a Kennett Square Location, the town is home to it’s own Kennett Brewing Company, and Dew Point Brewing Company is just over the Delaware border to the south. As of recently, I can 100% confirm that Kennett Brewing Company has excellent, excellent beer, and makes a mean burger.
Spring Mountain is a tiny ski resort in Montgomery County. They offer skiing, snowboarding, and snowtubing in the winter, but I’m thinking that this is going to be a spring/summer/fall day trip. During those times Spring Mountain offers mountain biking, as well as extensive ziplining and rope courses, and this falls under a day trip because the bigger of their tours, the Full Monty and Heart of Darkness (which includes hiking up the mountain and then ziplining down in the night) both clock in at around 3 hours.
My brother, sister, and I did the Full Monty Tour a couple of years ago (actually at this point, like 5 or 6 years ago. Sidenote: DAMN), and while I struggled throughout to not have a complete panic attack, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’ve done a few zipline courses before, but what sets this one apart is that instead of walking from platform to platform, here you have a rope course connecting them, so you have to do things like climb a giant cargo net, hang from a rope upside down and shimmy across, or walk over a rope bridge with no sides. Scary, but fun.
I know when I lived in Lancaster, often times on super hot days, I just wanted to get out of the city, and be by water. Now, I realize Philly has two rivers running through it, and plenty of people kayak, or paddleboard, or hang out near the, but there really is no substitute for a nice lake on a hot day, which is probably the best time to head to Downington.
I’ve written about Marsh Creek State Park multiple times before, as it was a favorite destination of mine to head to when I resided in southern PA. The beach they have is ok, I’m not going to pretend it’s great place to sit at, but what makes them fun is their selection of paddleboards, kayaks, sailboats, windsurfers, and paddleboats to chose from. They do hourly rentals, but I know a few hot days where I spent a couple good hours alternately paddleboarding and just floating in the water. They’ve also recently added an 8 person paddleboard, which I’m cautiously excited about.
You know what else is located in Downington? The Victory Brewing Company’s original location, which you can easily lose a few hours in (especially after an afternoon on the lake). I’ve asked one of my good friends who lives in Downington the great places to eat and she recommended the Station Taproom (which she said always has good beer), The Green Street Grill, (she suggested their andouille sausage gravy), The Olive Tree, and hasn’t personally been to Amani’s or Pomodoro, but has only heard good things. There’s also the Movie Tavern, somewhere you can go to get drinks with your film.
The two main reasons Phoenixville makes this list are one of my favorite Pennsylvania based breweries, Sly Fox, and Valley Forge National Historic Park.
Valley Forge is obviously famous because of the whole Washington crosses the Delaware thing, and the park does have a history slant if you want to drive around and read its placards. It’s well done, and I have done that before on occasion, but it’s also just a very pretty spot of land, maintained really well, and would be the perfect place to get out of the city for the day and either hike, run, bike, or even XC ski or snowshoe in the winter.
Sly Fox’s original pub and taproom has been serving their beer in Phonexivlle since 1995. They have the requisite flights, but also alot of their beer available in cans and bottles to take out, which is nice, and as the cherry on top have pierogies on their menu. Stable 12 is another local brewery, and I’ve heard the Apothecary Pub has out of this world food. On the Random Side, Fitzwater Station is a neighborhood bar with some historic merit, which will also allow you to rent a canoe, kayak or tube for a paddle down the canal it sits beside, or a quick 2.5 mile float down the Schuylkill River (the nice part, before it becomes nasty in Philly!).
Parkesburg for Brunch-
This daytrip is a little bit more specific, and centers around Sunday brunch at The Whip Tavern, a British pub smack in the middle of Chester County horse country, that was one of my favorite places to daytrip when I lived in Lancaster. It’s just an hour drive from Philly, and located about 15 minutes south from the very impressive Parkesburg location of the Victory Brewing Company. I know Victory has played a big part in this list, but you can’t argue with their impact on the PA craft beer world, and the fact that they have such great retail locations.
You might as well fatten yourselves up after that, so before heading back to the city, drive up to Honey Brook Pa for stops at September Farm cheese and sandwich shop or Wyebrook Farm for their Chester County products.
I just discovered and wrote about Rodeo Town in a separate post, but am including it because it would make an excellent day trip out of Philadelphia (and conveniently spares me from writing another entry just as I get to the end of this list and start getting tired!).
This is of course just a smattering of the available day trips you could take from Philly. Ardmore, New Hope, and West Chester are just a few of the places I didn’t mention I could think of off the top of my head, as well as plenty of other New Jersey locations I didn’t touch on, not to mention nearby jaunts to Delaware or Maryland. I’ll be doing Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Lancaster next, and maybe will loop right back to Philly for more daytrip ideas in the future.