Oh the city of brotherly love. Often overlooked, Philly has gradually become one of my favorite east coast cities. I remember going on field trips there as a kid (hello, Liberty Bell), visiting my brother there in college every year (hello, West Philadelphia), and I recently came back for a weekend of exploring, simply to be blown away even further. Not only is it perfectly walkable, but the food scene is out of control, there are exceptional museums, and there is truly local character. Read on for my Philadelphia travel guide!
Where to Stay
Over the years, I’ve stayed at a wide variety of locations across Philly, from the Inn at Penn to the Sofitel in Center City. My highest recommendation goes to Air BnB though. On my most recent trip, we stayed at a charming apartment off of Rittenhouse Square that was centrally located for walking adventures, and close to a bevy of perfect early morning coffee spots (got to get that fix).
What to Eat
PS & Co – It’s not often that I seek out or recommend a vegan all-day cafe, but this place is truly excellent. Not only is the ambiance lovely, but their almond butter and wild blueberry cream cookie sandwich is up there with my favorite cookies of all time. Grab a cold brew with coconut water too, and go relax in their outdoor garden.
Zahav – Ah the infamous Zahav. I had been wanting to dine here for years, and while the food was excellent, I would characterize this as a high maintenance spot. Without a reservation, you need to queue up by 4:30 for bar seats. Also, skip the tasting – it’s way too much food – and opt to order a la carte to keep costs more reasonable. My favorite dishes were the hummus and pita, charred eggplant, and fried cauliflower.
Federal Donuts – My general feelings on donuts are that I am often disappointed, and do not often finish an entire donut. However, Federal Donuts was a pleasant surprise. These cakey donuts had an incredible texture, and were less sweet and more flavorful than anticipated. Get the s’mores donut.
Res Ipsa – This fantastic all-day cafe off of Rittenhouse is light, bright, and perfect for a breakfast that kick starts your day. I loved the breakfast bowl with broccoli rabe, beans, and a fried egg, but the breakfast sandwich with salsa verde potatoes was also a winner.
South Philly Barbacoa – Some of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten. Period. They make two options per day, both with meat, and there are off-menu veggie tacos and their version of quesadillas available. Bring cash.
PHS Pop-Up Garden – If you’re heading to Philly during warm weather, make sure that you stop off at this pop-up outdoor garden for a cold one. They have a watermelon ginger vodka cocktail on tap that’s just delicious, and proceeds benefit the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Hungry Pigeon – Go. For any meal. One glance at the brunch or dinner menu will have you drooling, and the food is even better in person. If you go for brunch, don’t miss the hashbrowns and breakfast salad. There’s a mean pastry selection too.
Menagerie Coffee – My favorite Philly coffee shop, right in the heart of Old Town. Stop here while shopping around the are for a cold brew or excellent espresso drink.
Little Fish BYOB – Perhaps my favorite meal in Philly from my recent trip. This tiny little BYOB spot has a tiny chalkboard menu that’s all seafood (plus one dessert, get it). Make a reservation, show up with a good bottle of vino, and order the octopus and halibut if they have it. Trust me.
Writers Block Rehab – This reading-themed spot is on a little side street, and specializes in inventive mixology. There are two levels, so choose a cozy table upstairs, or sit in the window downstairs when it’s nice out.
Ultimo Coffee – This tiny coffee shop right off of Rittenhouse Square was my morning go-to. Enjoy your coffee in their window seat, or grab it to go while strolling through the nearby square.
What to Do
Explore Rittenhouse Square – This man Philly area is hustling and bustling, and is a great place to start your day. Grab a coffee at Ultimo, a donut at Federal, and perhaps even a breakfast sandwich at Res Ipsa, then head to the Rittenhouse Square farmers market on a Saturday.
Explore Old Town – Some of my favorite, most interesting shops in Philly are located in this area, which is famed for the Liberty Bell and Elfreth’s Alley. Grab a coffee at Menagerie, then visit Rennes for Parisian influenced textiles, Art in the Ages for a home mixologist’s tinctures, and Meadowsweet Mercantile for all the best home goods.
Italian Market – En route to South Philly (for a taco at Barbacoa, perhaps) you’ll stroll through blocks and blocks of outdoor markets, with everything ranging from fresh produce to seafood to baked goods. Don’t forget to stop at Function Coffee Lab for an iced green mint tea as well.
Philly Magic Gardens – One of the absolute coolest examples of folk art on display in this country, the Magic Gardens are a zany, colorful, and playful maze of found objects, discarded bottles, well-chosen mosaics, and a little bit of magic. Book tickets well in advance online, and they will give you a time slot in which to enter.