Last summer we took a Philadelphia Vacation – to visit family in the area, tour the city, and for my husband to attend a conference.
Philadelphia Vacation Sight Seeing
University of Pennsylvania
Our first day in the area we went to the University of Pennsylvania where my husband had gone to graduate school. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has exhibits from multiple ancient cultures. The Egyptian, Japanese, and Evolution, exhibits were my daughter’s favorites. A highlight of our visit was chatting with a conservation specialist. The museum is better for older kids who will appreciate the artifacts since there are limited hands-on opportunities. The University of Pennsylvania Museum is located at 3260 South Street. It is open 10a-5p Tuesdays through Sundays. General Admission is $15/adults, $10/children ages 6-17. After our museum visit, we also walked through campus and visited the bookstore.
On our second day in the Philadelphia area, we went to the Franklin Institute with my brother’s family. We had a great visit to the Franklin Institute. Last summer their special exhibit was The Art of the Brick. This summer’s special exhibit is The Science Behind Pixar. Get more details on the Franklin Institute in the review I shared last summer.
Academy of Natural Sciences
The Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University is located near the Franklin Institute and was located near our hotel. It was perfect for the day that we transitioned from my brother’s house and the hotel. Even better, a friend from home was also in Philadelphia and met us at the museum. The Academy of Natural Sciences has a paleontology exhibit, butterflies, and other natural history exhibits. We used our reciprocal membership benefit from our Hands-On Museum to get free admission. General Admission is $17.95/adults and $13.95 for children ages 3-12.
Obviously when touring Philadelphia, American History is a big part of your visit. We made sure to visit the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are both free to visit. However, you do need a timed ticket to visit Independence Hall. Tickets sell out very quickly in the summer particularly on weekends and near the Fourth of July. To ensure you get tickets, you can reserve timed tickets online in advance for a tour with a handling fee of $1.50/ticket.
We also visited the Independence Seaport Museum and toured their sub and ship. My daughter enjoyed exploring two ships (Cruiser Olympia from the Spanish-American War and the Submarine Becuna), learning about historical rescues and disasters on the Delaware River, and more. Tickets are $16/adults and $12/children (ages 3-12).
U.S. Mint & Federal Reserve
Philadelphia has both a U.S. Mint and the Federal Reserve Board location which are located across Independence Mall from each other. We visited both the Money in Motion exhibit at the Federal Reserve and took a tour of the U.S. Mint. The highlight of the Money in Motion exhibit was getting to take home $100 – in shredded $1 bills that have been taken out of service. The tour of the U.S. Mint was much more interesting than the Federal Reserve. We got to see coins being made and learned about the volume of coins that are available. No pictures were allowed at either exhibit so I don’t have any to share.
Dining on our Philadelphia Vacation
If you’ve met my daughter, you know she loves to dine out. We ate at so many great restaurants when we were in Philadelphia that I want to share a few recommendations with you that are conveniently located to the places we visited on our trip.
Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar is a great place for a meal, dessert, or just drinks. My sister-in-law suggested this the day we visited the Franklin Institute & we had a great meal. The highlight was definitely the chocolate fondue for dessert.
Buddakan is an upscale Thai restaurant located at 325 Chestnut Street, just 2 blocks from Independence Hall. My husband had dined there a couple years ago when in Philadelphia to give a talk at Penn. He raved about the place, so we made sure to carve out space in our schedule. We had lunch there after our tour of Independence Hall. We each ordered a Bento Box to include a dessert sampler. While their dinner menu can be pricey, the lunch was reasonably priced for the location and quantity of food that we had – $15 for a 3 course Bento Box or $20 with dessert. My daughter still raves about Buddakan nearly a year later. We were so full, we just had a light dinner that night.
Thai Singha is another Thai restaurant that is located near University of Pennsylvania’s campus. It was a favorite of my husband’s while he was a graduate student. Fifteen years later we were able to find them (they moved to a new location), and enjoy there delicious coconut ice cream served in the half-shell after our meal.
Snacks and Quick Meals
Italian Ice is a Philadelphia tradition, and Rita’s Italian Ice is my favorite place to get it. There was a cart between our hotel and the Franklin Institute so we stopped there a few times.
City Tavern is a replica of the tavern where the Founding Fathers gathered during the First Continental Congress and was even headquarters of the Continental Army for a few days. While you can certainly eat a full meal at City Tavern, we ate in the bar area with my daughter ordering from the children’s menu. My husband and I were still full from lunch at Buddakan earlier that day and simply shared a cheese plate and a crab cake appetizer.
Reading Terminal Market is a combination food court and farmers market. It is also a great place to go for lunch. We visited twice for lunch and of course we had to have Cheesesteaks. After years of resisting, my daughter finally ate one and loved it on our first trip.
Philadelphia Vacation Hotel
We stayed at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown (201 N. 17th St) because my husband’s conference was there. The room was fine, breakfast was available for purchase in the lobby, the location was great, and there was even an indoor swimming pool. We did have two issues during our stay. The room keys are extremely sensitive and can be reprogrammed if they come into contact with electronic devices – don’t set it against your phone, tablet, or laptop. With the conference rate, the hotel was also reasonably priced especially since the conference rate included internet and the standard rate does not. Unfortunately, the WI-FI was woefully inadequate. In the mornings or the middle of the afternoon, we were able to connect. While slow, you could load standard websites or retrieve your mail. However, in the evenings the bandwidth was so low that it was impossible to load the form to connect to the internet. I ended up having to write posts on my phone instead of the laptop I had brought with us. As a family who relies on the internet for our work, this definitely would impact my decision to stay there in the future.
Getting Around Philadelphia
We drove from Ann Arbor on our Philadelphia vacation since we were stopping to see family both on the way in and out of town. Philadelphia is roughly a 9 hour drive from Ann Arbor based on stops and traffic.
Once we reached Philadelphia, we used a combination of transportation methods especially since our stay was split between my brother’s house in the suburbs and the conference hotel downtown. From my brother’s house we drove to University of Pennsylvania the first day and took SEPTA trains the second day to visit the Franklin Institute. After that, we drove to our downtown hotel and left the car in the lot until it was time to leave the city.
My daughter and I did a hop-on/off double decker tour of the city one day which was great for getting to various parts of the city. Other days we mostly walked around town. We also used a cab once or twice. It was nice that my daughter is tall enough not to need a booster seat in the car anymore which makes catching a cab easier on the spur of the moment.