Take the family to Philly for a daytrip

PhillyfamilyWBy Karen Stysley

It was the history that drew the Wethington's of Columbia on a family trip to Philadelphia. And if it's history you want, history you can get in Philly, along with plenty of parks, museums and, of course, breaks for cheesesteaks.

For 4-year-old twins Max and Annie Wethington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson have been a hot topic ever since their family's trip to Philadelphia last July. Sure, the twins and their 8-year-old brother, Jack, also rode a carousel, took a boat tour, and had a picnic in Franklin Square, but their dad, Lang Wethington, says that some of their favorite memories are from their time learning about the way people lived hundreds of years ago.

"The kids had fun, they're still talking about it. Even the 4-year-olds have really clear recollections of the historic attractions," he says.

From the Annapolis area, it's possible to get a taste of all the great attractions Philly has to offer in just a day trip. Read on to find out how to plot out your day in Philadelphia.

PhillyFamily2WStepping into Philadelphia history for the morning

Leave Annapolis by 8 a.m. and you'll arrive in Philadelphia shortly after 10. The family will probably be antsy to walk around a bit so the best place to start is the historic area where there are a number of sites within walking distance of each other.

There is no better place to begin your day than Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed and the country itself began. Guided tours should give the history lesson much more spark than the description in textbooks.

It's "fun to be put back into a different time and era," Wethington says.

Right next door is the Liberty Bell. Viewing the bell is free, along with video presentations and exhibits about the national symbol. But expect crowds. Wethington said that during their summer trip there were so many hoping to catch a glimpse of the cracked icon that they didn't even attempt it.

Instead, the Wethingtons went to the Betsy Ross House a few blocks away. There the past comes to life as visitors meet Betsy Ross herself — or at least a re-enactor who portrays the first woman to sew the Stars and Stripes. She "just would not go off character. She was Betsy Ross," says Wethington, and that was an impression that stuck with his kids.

Philly lunch break

After those sights, most families will be ready for lunch. Philadelphia has many restaurants and cafes — and many versions of its famous cheesesteaks. Cara Schneider, spokesperson for Visit Philadelphia, says one good option for families is the Reading Terminal Market. It's a 20-minute walk to the market (or a 4-minute drive), and you'll be rewarded with a wide variety of merchants selling everything from local cheese and baked goods to seafood. Schneider said to bear in mind that it is a little tight for strollers.

Another nearby possibility is Chinatown several blocks away, where there are family-friendly sit-down restaurants.

Afternoon fun in Philadelphia's Centennial District

After lunch, head to the city's Centennial District where there are two great options for kids. It's an 11-minute drive northwest of the historic part of the city. Starting in May, the Centennial District can be accessed with the PHLASH trolley at $2 per ride for those 5 and older. But until then, plenty of parking is available at the attractions for a fee.

One of the best sites for kids is the Please Touch Museum. It provides two floors of interactive exhibits where kids can explore Wonderland, row a flying machine, or play in a supermarket or a garage.

"For kids, the Please Touch Museum is fabulous," says Schneider, but "adults find it really cool too," partially thanks to another tie-in to history. The museum is located in the building that was once the exhibition hall for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 — the first World's Fair in the U.S. — and a model of the fairgrounds is on display.

If you prefer to do something outside, the Philadelphia Zoo is another nearby stop on the PHLASH trolley and also accessible by car (11 minutes from the historic area). Giraffes, lions and hippopotamuses are always exciting for the younger set, but thanks to the elevated animal trails visitors may also be able to see monkeys or apes traveling overhead.

It's hip to be in Franklin Square

If you have any energy left, go back to the historic district to visit Franklin Square before you head home. A favorite spot of the Wethingtons on their trip, Franklin Square offers just about everything a child could desire, from a carousel and mini golf to a playground and a cheeseburger restaurant open April to December.

Wethington says he is glad his family made the trek to try out what a different city has to offer. "We live in this big amazing country," he says.

Family Philadelphia trip Itinerary

PhillyLiberty Bell CenterW1. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
520 Chestnut St.
Tour the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution and view the Liberty Bell.
Admission: Free tickets are required from March 1-Dec. 31, and do sometimes sell out. Walk up first thing in the morning to make sure you get yours, or buy tickets for $1.50 ahead of time. The Liberty Bell is free but seeing it is on a first-come first-served basis.
To get there: Park at Independence Hall Visitor Center at 6th and Market streets (or find other lots at historicphiladelphia.org).

2. Betsy Ross House
239 Arch St.
Tour Betsy Ross's 18th-century home, the birthplace of the American flag, and learn about the life of the woman who first sewed it.
Don't miss exhibit: Meet Betsy Ross in her upholstery shop and learn about the tools of the trade.
Admission: Self-guided tours $5 for adults, $4 for children. Audio tours (with admission) $7 for adults, $6 for children.
Kids' amenities: Concessions are sold in the courtyard daily in the summer and Thursday-Sunday in March and April.
To get there: Walk from Independence Hall parking.

3. Reading Terminal Market
12th & Arch streets
Merchants selling cheese, meat, seafood, ethnic food and more.
To get there: Walk or check the website for parking lots where validation is possible with purchase from the market.

4. PHLASH trolley
Accessible from various stops
A purple trolley that transports tourists on weekends during May, September, October and daily during summer months.
Admission: $2 per person each ride, or all-day passes for $12. Children 4 and under ride free.

5. Please Touch Museum
4231 Avenue of the Republic
Let the kids take the lead as they explore eight exhibits to play in as well as art, theatre, and music opportunities.
Adults and children 1 and up: $17
Don't miss exhibit: Ride the 100-year-old refurbished carousel.
To get there: Take the PHLASH trolley or park in the museum lot for $8.
Kids' amenities: The Please Touch café offers grilled or baked meals and a quiet space for kids who need a sensory break (and other accommodations for those with special needs).

6. Philadelphia Zoo
3400 W. Girard Ave.
"America's first zoo" offers a wide variety of animal exhibits.
Don't miss exhibit: KidZooU, a children's zoo with interactive activities designed with the needs of autistic children in mind.
Admission: March-October, adults $20, children ages 2-11 $18
To get there: Take the PHLASH trolley or park in the zoo lot for $15.
Kids' amenities: Food is available for sale at multiple locations plus picnic spots, Nursing Mothers Station, quiet area in KidZooU for those who need a sensory break, and family restrooms.

7. Franklin Square
200 North 6th St.
One of Phildelphia's original five squares, Franklin Square offers a shaded playground, fountain, carousel and mini golf course.
Admission: Free but carousel rides are $2.50 for everyone 2 and older. Mini golf is $9 for adults, $7 for children ages 2-11.
Kids' Amenities: In addition to the attractions, the restaurant SquareBurger offers burgers as well as milkshakes.

Four other Philly options

1. Phildelphia's Magic Gardens
1020 South St.
A multitude of art is on display in the form of elaborate mosaics, a labyrinth sculpture garden and more. $3 for ages 6-12, $7 for adults

2. Ride the Ducks Philadelphia
Boarding at 6th and Chestnut streets
Take a tour of the city in amphibious vehicles that travel both on the street and in the water.
$3 for kids 0-3, $17 for kids 4-12, $27 for ages 13 and up

3. Franklin Institute
222 North 20th St.
See a wide variety of science exhibits, including one devoted to kids. Through the end of April, see the Pompeii exhibit with artifacts from the city destroyed by a volcano in 79 AD.
$14 for ages 3-11, $16.50 for 12 and up, with Pompeii exhibit $21.50-27.50

4. Phildelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
Many works of art are on display, including the exhibit Treasures from Korea, which begins March 2. $14 for ages13-18, $20 for adults.

Photos Top: The Wethington family visits Philadelphia. Courstesy of the Wethington family.

Second: Annie and Jack Wethington at the Betsy Ross House.

Bottom: Kids enjoy a close up view of the Liberty Bell, an international icon for freedom, which hangs in its own pavilion within eyesight of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™