Stepping 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.