Most people planning a trip to Philadelphia have similar itineraries. There are a number of treasures for which Philadelphia is known, including (but not limited to) Independence Hall/ the Liberty Bell / Betsy Ross’ house; the Rocky steps and statue; and either Pat’s King of Steaks or Geno’s. If they are feeling feisty, they might check out the Mutter Museum or the Eastern State Penitentiary. Beyond these obvious attractions, however, is an unexplored Philadelphia that invites, fascinates, and marvels. These hidden gems of Philadelphia offer an experience to either intrepid travelers or even locals wanting to indulge in a “staycation.”
I’m kicking off the list with an attraction that is not necessarily unknown, per se, but is often overlooked. Whether you chase dragons, spill the wine and drink that girl, or see Lucy in the sky with diamonds, you are the type to appreciate the Magic Gardens’ eclectic fusion of the whimsical, psychedelic, and just plain odd. Created by artist Isaiah Zagar and situated in Bella Vista, the Gardens are a walk-through tour full of elaborate mosaics, fractured shards of mirrors arranged in bizarre patterns, and artwork that is probably best appreciated by someone who’s partaken of Alice’s wonderland mushrooms. Since I would never condone such a thing, grab a coffee instead and snap some pics at one of Philly’s most Instagram-worthy attractions.
Philly’s German-American club is worth a visit at other times of the year than just Oktoberfest – even though that celebration is definitely as hype as you’ve heard. Located in the suburb of Torresdale, the club holds an atmospheric beer garden every year in the warm months between May and October. Live music is on the schedule every Friday night, along with authentic Bavarian pretzels crusted with salt and juicy, hot brats. During the off season, check out a slew of craft fairs, bingo nights, and karaoke events in this family-friendly hotspot.
Embedded in the hillside at Wissahickon Valley Park is a small hermit’s cave which was the apocryphal meditation nook of seventeenth-century Transylvanian mystic Johannes Kelpius, a self-proclaimed prophet who famously declared that the world was going to end in 1690. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. Fun fact about our guy Kelpius: he was the head of the “The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness,” which took its moniker from the nameless woman in Revelation 12:6 who fled to the wilderness to prepare for the rapture. While hanging out waiting for the world to end, the ladies studied the stars, wrote cryptic messages, and performed music for their neighbors. Take a peek into his erstwhile hangout, and see if any prophesies of your own come to life.
My fellow bibliophiles should run, not walk to this extremely groovy independent bookstore, where literal stacks of books line the shelves, sit in piles on tables, and even overflow to small mountain ranges on the floor. Located in Port Richmond (quelle surprise, right?), this bustling little business is set inside a building that once housed a silent-movie theater. Someone on reddit described it thusly:
“It’s a used bookstore inside a renovated silent movie theater from the 1900s,” they wrote. “It’s a maze of over 200,000 used books include rare first editions, pulp fiction, art books, vintage cult and sci-fi, medical textbooks in numerous languages, plus antique sheet music, 60s counterculture pamphlets and other weird goodness. Some say it’s haunted. A truly underappreciated gem.”
Piles of books? Check. Weird political memorabilia? Check. FREAKING GHOSTS ON THE PREMISES? HELL YEAH.
Sure, you’ve heard all about the Rail Park in Philly. Not to knock it, but it’s not the only elevated park in town. Cira Green is reachable only by driving into a parking garage by 30th and Chestnut streets in University City, a short walk away from 30th St. Station, and taking an elevator up. Along with stunning views of the urban landscape, Cira Green can also boast that it was the first project in Philadelphia to utilize “blue roof” and “green roof” technologies in an innovative fashion for enhanced storm water performance, which in turn cuts down drastically the development’s impact on the environment and surrounding public sewer systems. It’s the perfect spot to practice yoga, read in the shade, study, or simply enjoy a break from the nonstop pace of the big city.