Let’s talk real here: hipsters dig Philadelphia. We’ve got the perfect combination of history, inclusiveness, pluck, and attitude to welcome anyone who fancies themselves a trendsetter, influencer, or whatever else the cool kids are labeling themselves these days. Future residents of the City of Brotherly Love all have different priorities. There are those who want family-friendly digs with great schools, students looking for their peers, and young professionals who desire upscale condos in the sky. But for the young and fresh, the unattached, the free and easy, there is a pervasive longing to be where the “scene” is, to live a life filled with outdoor fairs, craft beer, hip places to eat, and the proximity of others like them. It is to these “fabulous roman candle” types of which Hunter S. Thompson wrote, and to which I dedicate this post on the coolest neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
Call it Northern Liberties, call it No Libs, but call your friends, because the party’s on in the hipster capital of Philadelphia. A former sea of industrial bleh, some positive gentrification and plenty of amazing street art have taken the abundance of pre-Civil War abodes and shined them up like the treasures that they are. The local gathering spot is Schmidt’s Commons, a sixth public square in Center City where residents gather on lunch breaks, weekends, and holidays to gather and enjoy themselves. Food and drink are abundant here, with something for every palette, found at every price point. Places to skate, dance, bowl, and even curl (yes, that inscrutable Olympic sport that nobody understands) abound, and the atmosphere is high-energy and optimistic. Love it.
As the name suggests, this nabe is home to both Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. With the oodles of students comes an irrepressible, youthful vibe that floats in the air like star matter. Accordingly, performance venues, cultural spaces, and art galleries are sprinkled liberally throughout the area, making it the perfect home for creative types and creative appreciators alike. A pleasant surprise to many is the generous amount of green space in University City. Within its confines fall Bartram’s Garden, the oldest botanical garden in the United States. This picturesque, enticing 45-acre National Landmark is situated at the southern edge of the hood and makes the perfect spot for cozy picnics or romantic strolls. If you want to hang out with the students, Drexel Park is the place where you’ll catch people with textbooks and laptops soaking up the sun and studying.
Yes, housing prices here are ridiculous and there is an ineffable, slight air of the snobby to the lush beauty of the neighborhood. But hey, it’s Ritt Square. It’s all part of what makes it cool, in a certain “you can’t sit with us” way. Of course, nobody actually thinks that way, and the best-heeled section of Center City is extremely welcoming. It’s a bit historic, very community-oriented, and invigoratingly lively. If you love annual events that bring neighbors together, this should be your new focus for your next home base. Just as an example, the Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival and weekly farmers’ markets draw crowds. One of the most walkable/bikable of an overall very walkable/bikable city, this is a great place to be if you want to experiment with the trendy car-free life. As one of the original five public squares designed by William Penn, there is also lots of fresh, green space with walking trails and reflection pools.
Perhaps the most diverse quarter of a city that thrives on diversity, WSW is home to Philly’s Gayborhood. Here, rainbow-striped crosswalks and LGBTQ-owned businesses abound, and the most raucous and unforgettable Pride celebration on the East Coast takes place each June. In many ways, Wash Square West is a rainbow itself, with residents hailing from all income levels and walks of life. It’s a giant melting pot of awesomeness. Some of the city’s best food can be found here (and in adjacent Midtown Village, just a walk away), and the actual square is Philly’s premier venue for people-watching. Nothing is too weird or wonderful for WSW, so you will surely and quickly find your tribe in this nabe.