Just in time for summer family travel, we’ve got the skinny from our friends in Philadelphia on every, single, thing there is do with kids in the City of Brotherly Love. Whether you want a dose of history in Center City, an interactive cultural immersion in the Museum District, or wide open spaces of Fairmount Park (not to mention THE most delicious spots for cheese steaks, ice cream, pizza, and other kid pleasing treats) there’s a fit for every family who wants to spend some time in Philly this summer, or really anytime of year.
Read on for all the details:
Center City East (including the Delaware River Waterfront)
National Constitution Center – At America’s first and only museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution, highlights include interactive exhibits; the powerful, multimedia Freedom Rising performance; Signers’ Hall, filled with life-sized statues of the signers of the U.S. Constitution; and house-curated exhibitions. Special family-friendly programs take place throughout the year on civic holidays, including Constitution Day, Presidents Day, Veterans’ Day, Tax Day, Earth Day and more. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6600.
The African American Museum in Philadelphia – Now in its 41st year, this groundbreaking museum tells stories of notable early African-Americans through the video exhibit, Audacious Freedom. Children’s Corner, an interactive installment for ages 3 through 8, lets kids explore the daily lives of youth in Philadelphia from 1776 to 1876. Other exhibits examine contemporary issues through art and historic artifacts. Weekend family workshops and special events take place throughout the year. 701 Arch Street, (215) 574-0380.
Betsy Ross House – America’s most famous flag maker greets guests in her interactive 18th-century upholstery shop. Visitors learn about Betsy’s life, work and legend from the upholsterer herself. An audio tour caters to four- to-eight-year-olds, offering lessons in Colonial life and the opportunity to solve “history mysteries.” 239 Arch Street, (215) 629-4026.
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia – Everyone handles money, but how does it arrive in people’s wallets? The Federal Reserve’s hands-on Money in Motion exhibit explains it all. Plus, games invite visitors to “Match Wits with Ben,” and an impressive collection of old and rare currency is on display. 6th & Arch Streets, (866) 574-3727, (215) 574-6000.
Fireman’s Hall Museum – Future emergency responders get a head start at this restored 1902 firehouse, home to some of the nation’s earliest firefighting equipment, including hand, steam and motor fire engines and an interactive kiosk that teaches kids about 9-1-1 services. Visitors can try on fire coats and boots and learn about fire prevention. 147 N. 2nd Street, (215) 923-1438.
Franklin Square – One of William Penn’s five original squares is a modern, fun park, with a Philly-themed miniature golf course, restored marble fountain, large playground and a carousel. When hunger strikes, seasonal SquareBurger delivers with burgers, fries and Cake Shakes. 6th & Race Streets.
Independence National Historical Park – The Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the Bishop White House are just some of the attractions that make up America’s most historic square mile. Memorial Day through Labor Day, the park offers ranger-led walking tours, which have in recent years included Dr. Franklin’s Philadelphia, History Beneath Our Feet and Underground Railroad. (215) 965-2305.
Independence Seaport Museum – On the edge of the Delaware River, little landlubbers can explore the Spanish-American War Cruiser Olympia and World War II Submarine Becuna docked outside. Indoors, kids climb through a full-size reconstruction of the 1707 schooner Diligence. Families can also rent kayaks or museum-built rowboats to explore the calm waters of the basin. Every Saturday is Seafarin’ Saturday, featuring activities designed especially for children. 211 S. Columbus Boulevard at Walnut Street, (215) 413-8655.
Museum of the American Revolution – Offering free admission to children under age five and discounts to older kids, the Historic District’s newest attraction delves into the citizens’ conflict that created the United States of America. All ages can join the Sons of Liberty, board the deck of a privateer ship, play soldier throughout and visit interactive Revolution Place, a discovery center made especially for ages 5 to 12 that recreates 18th-century Old City via a military encampment, a tavern, a home and a meetinghouse. 123 Chestnut Street, (215) 254-6731.
National Museum of American Jewish History – Independence Mall’s modern, four-floor tribute to Jewish-American history and traditions showcases the lives of history makers (Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Jonas Salk) and industry giants (Estée Lauder, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg), with each floor featuring interactive exhibits—a covered wagon, Purim masks, an antique assembly line—aimed at young visitors. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811.
Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches – Spread throughout the Historic District, 13 benches beckon with free, five-minute tales of Philadelphia’s history and even some forgotten secrets, told by professional storytellers. Children who collect star stamps at all of the benches earn a free carousel ride at Franklin Square. (215) 629-4026.
Spruce Street Harbor Park and Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest/Winterfest – Spring through fall, the Delaware River Waterfront welcomes back pop-ups that are more than popular. Spruce Street Harbor Park has tree-slung hammocks, cargo container arcades and concessions and planted barges (with bars for mom and dad). Summerfest and Winterfest feature an outdoor rink for roller or ice skating, adding festival-inspired amusements, games and a crab shack in warm weather, and fire pits, indoor games, cozy couches and hot drinks in winter. Spruce Street Harbor Park, Columbus Boulevard & Spruce Street; Winterfest and Summerfest, Columbus Boulevard & Market Street, (215) 922-2FUN.
Just Across the Delaware River
Adventure Aquarium – Two million gallons of water and 8,500 animals can’t help but impress. The aquarium has a Shark Bridge to cross; hippos and penguins to meet (and smell), stingrays to feed and horseshoe crabs, starfish and sharks to touch. The big wow exhibit: a 760,000-gallon tank of sea turtles, stingrays, schooling fish and sharks, including the only Great Hammerhead on exhibit in the country. 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, NJ, (844) 474-FISH.
Battleship New Jersey – Nautically and militarily inclined kids visit the nation’s most decorated battleship for tours, rides in the 4-D flight simulator, a look inside the onboard helicopter and sleepovers in the sailors’ bunks as part of its award-winning Overnight Encampment program. 62 Battleship Place, Camden, NJ, (856) 966-1652.
Nearby Restaurants & Snack Stops
Campo’s – This Philly sandwich shop in Old City makes great hoagies, cheesesteaks and homemade meatball and roast pork sandwiches. It’s also just a few blocks away from the city’s most famous historic attractions. 214 Market Street, (215) 923-1000, camposdeli.com
Capofitto – Run by the young family that gave Philly award-winning gelato (Capogiro), this pizzeria serves its now-famous hazelnut, pistachio or fresh berry scoops, along with wood-fired Neapolitan pies and Italian brunch. 223 Chestnut Street, (215) 897-9999, capofittoforno.com
City Tavern – History becomes edible at this colonial tavern first established in 1773, featuring a clever children’s menu with turkey potpie and chicken with buttered noodles, plus high chairs and booster seats, as well as costumed servers. 138 S. 2nd Street, (215) 413-1443, citytavern.com
The Franklin Fountain & Ice Cream Bar – The Historic District’s Victorian ice cream saloon and nearby Art Deco-inspired, walk-up bar combine forces on menus based on handmade ice cream, with splits, shakes, sundaes, fountain sodas and seasonally minded baked goods at the fountain, and customized bars, sundaes, shakes and scoops at the bar. Fountain: 116 Market Street, (215) 627-1899, franklinfountain.com; Bar: 112 Market Street, (215) 967-1184, franklinicecream.com
High Street on Market – The all-day, casual, next-door sibling to eminent bistro Fork Restaurant serves creative, seasonal breakfasts through dinners, with a specialty in breads and pastries. Reservations recommended for dinner. 308 Market Street, (215) 625-0988, highstreetonmarket.com
Jones – With a stylish setting right out of The Brady Bunch, this crowd-pleasing corner restaurant serves up classic comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese and meatloaf. 700 Chestnut Street, (215) 223-5663, jones-restaurant.com
Pizzeria Stella – Pizza and kids are always a winning combination, which is exactly why families can’t go wrong at this just-off-South-Street restaurant. On the menu: gourmet pizzas, pastas and salads, house-made gelato made from a secret family recipe—and simple selections perfect for the youngest members of the group. 2nd & Lombard Streets, (215) 320-8000, pizzeriastella.net
Reading Terminal Market – A wondrous mix of fresh produce, meats, fish, cheeses, spices and prepared foods ranging from cheesesteaks to cannoli make every aisle an adventure in history’s answer to a food court. Annual indoor-outdoor events and festivals are fun for food lovers of all ages. 12th & Arch Streets, (215) 922-2317.
Center City West (including Museum District)
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University – The Americas’ oldest natural history museum keeps it fresh with Dinosaur Hall, complete with a fossil preparation lab and dig site; live butterflies; a children’s interactive nature center with live animals; historic dioramas and visiting exhibits. 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 299-1000.
Barnes Foundation – Family programming—stroller tours, toddler times, free first Sundays—give kids’ access to this most spectacular collection of 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses and 46 Picassos, works by Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Seurat and Modigliani, French metalwork, regional decorative arts, African sculpture and Native American textiles, jewelry, ceramics and more. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7200.
Dilworth Park – City Hall’s fantastic front yard has tree-lined fountains (splashing encouraged) in warm weather and an ice skating rink in winter. Year-round movies, festivals, a cozy cafe and great access to public transit have revived the very center of Center City. 15th & Market Streets, (215) 440-5500.
The Franklin Institute – The region’s most popular science museum has a full city block of kid-friendly exhibitions, such as the walk-through Giant Heart, Space Command, SportsZone, Sir Isaac’s Loft, Amazing Machine, Electricity, Train Factory, The Franklin Air Show, Changing Earth and the outdoor, rooftop Joel N. Bloom Observatory. The museum’s 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion features 8,500-square-foot exhibit Your Brain, along with rotating special exhibitions. The Franklin Institute also houses the Tuttleman IMAX® Theater and the Fels Planetarium. 222 N. 20th Street, (215) 448-1200.
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts – The showpiece of the Avenue of the Arts (also known as Broad Street), home base for the Philadelphia Orchestra, regularly hosts family performances, including free opportunities for kids to get up close to musicians and instruments, including the venue’s incredible organ. 300 S. Broad Street, (215) 893-1999.
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Sunday is fun day for children at the crown jewel of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, when tours, drawing and crafts cater to kids. The museum offers themed guides for kids, family programming throughout the year, pay-what-you-wish admission on the first Sunday of every month and every Wednesday after 5 p.m. In summer, a program called Art Splash activates a main exhibit for younger audiences. Admission is always free for kids 12 and under. 26th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100.
Rittenhouse Square – Red maple, Japanese pagoda and linden trees surround and fill the popular, block-size park that gave the name to the upscale neighborhood around it. With plenty of benches, paths, grass, a sculpture to climb on and a fountain (no splashing), it’s the go-to for families with toddlers. 18th & Walnut Streets.
Sister Cities Park – Water babies and their fams visit this warm-day paradise for its pebble-bottom wading pool sheltered by a landscaped hill, along with spouting fountains. There are a lifeguard, cafe and a kiosk selling plastic boats, swim diapers, sunscreen and other essentials. 18th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 440-5500.
Restaurants & Snack Stops
Buena Onda – This Baja Peninsula-inspired taqueria is known for mahi mahi tacos and tofu chorizo quesadillas served on house-made tortillas. Fifty cents of every order of guacamole goes to the Garces Foundation, a nonprofit helping Philadelphia’s immigrant community access health and educational services. 1901 Callowhill Street, (215) 302-3530, buenaondatacos.com
Marathon – Three casual restaurants conveniently located throughout Center City prove perfect for early-riser breakfasts, lunches and dinners, thanks to menus filled with sandwiches, salads, full entrees and healthy choices. 121 S. 16th Street, (215) 569-3278; 1818 Market Street, (215) 561-1818; 1839 Spruce Street, (215) 731-0800, eatmarathon.com
Sabrina’s Café & Spencer’s Too – This popular diner offers large portions and straightforward comfort fare, breakfast through dinner. Owners of impatient children be warned: Weekend brunch can attract a lengthy line out the door. 1804 Callowhill Street, (215) 636-9061, sabrinascafe.com
Fairmount Park & West Philadelphia
Fairmount Park – Endless trails, an enormous public pool, historic houses and a Japanese garden are among the pleasant surprises that await explorers of one of the nation’s largest urban parks, stretching from Boathouse Row to West Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion, Chestnut Hill and Northeast Philadelphia.
Penn Museum – If real mummies and treasures from 4,500-year-old royal tombs aren’t enough to get kids through the heavy doors of this venerable institution, the World Culture Days ought to do it. Several Saturdays a year, families stream into the galleries, halls and auditorium for performances, craft projects and personal interactions to celebrate ancient and modern traditions of China, Africa, Mexico and beyond. 3260 South Street, (215) 898-4000.
Philadelphia Zoo – America’s first zoo and a foremost conservation organization is home to nearly 1,300 animals, many rare and endangered. The zoo has a first-in-the-world animal travel and exploration train system, Zoo360, enabling primates and big cats to move above and across the main visitor pathway. Exhibits include Big Cat Falls, the McNeil Avian Center, the PECO Primate Reserve and KidZooU, an interactive wildlife academy of dynamic displays, rare breeds and indoor-outdoor learning. 3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100.
Please Touch Museum® – Housed in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall, this major kids’ attraction includes two full floors of interactive exhibit zones, plus a fully restored century-old carousel. Kids can play and pretend amid Alice’s Wonderland, River Adventures and other hands-on fun. On First Wednesdays, the museum charges just $2 admission from 4 to 7 p.m. 4231 Avenue of the Republic, (215) 581-3181.
Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse – One of the oldest playgrounds in America is best known for the circa 1899 Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide and offers children (ages 10 and under) a free, safe place to play, jump, swing, climb and learn about nature. For children five and under, Tot Lot features more than 20 pieces of age-appropriate play equipment, and at the 16,000-square-foot Playhouse, kids run the show. 3500 Reservoir Drive (near 33rd & Oxford Streets), (215) 765-4325.
Treetop Quest – New to West Fairmount Park in summer 2018, this 20-zip-line obstacle attraction is designed for ages four and up. Open May through November, the self-guided, two-and-a-half-hour course includes 70 obstacles—swings, jumps, tightropes—of varying degrees of difficulty. The “chick’pea” course caters to ages 4 to 6. 51 Chamounix Drive, (267) 901-4145.
Restaurants & Snack Stops
EAT Café – This full-service, sit-down, health-conscious, non-profit, pay-what-you-wish dinner spot—whose name stands for “Everyone at the Table” isn’t just an affordable option for supper (open Wednesday through Saturday); it also benefits less fortunate Philadelphians. 3820 Lancaster Avenue, (267) 292-2768, eatcafe.org
Pod – Adults love the specialty maki at this futuristic Japanese destination. Kids love the conveyor belt that delivers it—and the visible private dining “pods” with changing lights. 3636 Sansom Street, (215) 387-1803, podrestaurant.com
SpOt Gourmet Burger – Born of a food truck, this casual spot builds its burgers from beef, chicken, pork, potatoes (and other veggies) and even serves its sirloin in three-ounce sizes. Fries too. 2821 W. Girard Avenue, (267) 930-7370, spotburgers.com
White Dog Café – University City’s answer to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse is known for farm-fresh fare served in three cozy, stylish, attached brownstones. The kid-friendly menu has cheddar burgers, hummus and yummy mocktails. 3420 Sansom Street, (215) 386-9224, whitedog.com
Photo credits: Visit PHILADELPHIA