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Philadelphia locals know where to go for a magical mosaic sculpture, great burgers, a giant wooden slide, Amish farm stands, pop-up parks, a Japanese garden, and more. Tourists know about some of the Philadelphia favorites. But other spots are only known to locals and require the inside scoop from a local guide. Philadelphia TravelingMom Sarah Ricks lets you in on 12 local Philadelphia favorite places to visit, play, and eat.
Philadelphia locals love some spots that are on the tourist radar, like Reading Terminal. But many of my favorite places to play and eat in Philadelphia are only known to locals.
Reading Terminal Market
Since 1892, Philadelphians have bought food from farmers, bakers, cheese makers, and restaurants at Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch). The small shops are all under one roof. There are no national chains. My family and I go here for Pennsylvania Dutch farmers’ markets, Italian and Amish bakeries, Middle Eastern pastries, and more. We’ve enjoyed Indian curries, Mexican enchiladas, Southern barbecue, and Thai food. Don’t miss Beiler’s bakers squirting cream inside the fresh donuts, or pretzel makers stretching the dough. Come hungry. Fair warning: Philadelphia locals know Amish and Mennonite shops are closed Sundays.
Japanese House in West Philadelphia
Walking into the traditional Shofuso Japanese House feels like stepping back in time and into another country. The house has white screens for walls and stark black perpendicular lines. Woven mats on the floor mean no shoes are allowed inside. The sliding doors open to a beautiful Japanese garden and pond, stocked with orange koi. Philadelphia locals especially like visiting in spring, to catch the cherry blossoms, or in autumn, to see the trees adorned in fall colors. The Japanese House in Philadelphia has programs and books for kids.
Only Philadelphia locals know about Smith Playground. This 1899 mansion was designed built as a playhouse for kids. Each of its 3 floors is a giant open space where kids can ride tricycles, climb into play trains, and put on puppet shows.
A huge outdoor playground surrounds the house. The playground is a Philadelphia favorite for its giant slide, 13 feet wide. The slide is polished wood, like a bowling alley. Five kids across can slide down at once, like bowling balls. Philadelphia locals love it, both kids and adults. The playground is free. Our kids especially loved Smith Playground in Philadelphia until age 10. For other free things to do in Philadelphia, click here.
Center City Philadelphia Parks that Kids Love
I love seeing toddlers enjoying the splash fountain at Sister Cities Park, a tiny space at 18th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Philadelphia locals bring little kids and their toy boats to float in the “creek” that flows into shallow wading pond. This pocket park has a café and Visitor Center with information about Philadelphia sites. Free picture books are available to read at the park. This is a good rest spot for the Natural History Museum or Franklin Institute, both located nearby. Kids also splash in the fountain jets at Dilworth Park, located at the foot of City Hall.
Franklin Square, one of the squares originally laid out by William Penn when he planned the city, has a fountain, a playground, mini golf featuring iconic Philly buildings, and a carousel (between 6th and 7th on Race). Franklin Square park is free. The food, mini-golf, and the carousel charge.
My favorite Philadelphia pop-up park is Spruce Street Harbor Park. This quirky park is a converted dock on the Delaware River (Columbus Blvd and Spruce). Philadelphia locals know the park pops up only from spring to September. This urban beach on the riverbank has colorful hammocks and lights hanging from trees. During the day it feels like an outdoor party for all ages. The dock has café seating and a net we’ve sat on that extends over the water. The park is free. Arcade games, food, and drinks are not.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens
The unique zaniness called Philadelphia Magic Gardens (near 10th and South) is an urban dreamscape. An eccentric artist transformed a building and adjacent lot into a brightly colored mosaic of broken tiles and mirrors. The artist, Isaiah Zagar, used bicycle wheels, bottles, and teacups, to build tunnels and sculptures into the space. Philadelphia locals might miss the days when it slid under the tourist radar. Open to the public, for a fee.
Free Skateboard Park
Skateboarders practicing their tricks in Paine’s Park are fun and free to watch. This outdoor skateboard park is adjacent to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to the Schuylkill River. For other free things to do in Philadelphia, click here.
Great Burger in Philadelphia
Philadelphia locals know we live in a burger town and it’s hard to pick a favorite. My family loves the design-your-own-burgers at Sketch Burger, with toppings like avocado, truffle butter, and grilled onions. Sketch Burger, in a Philadelphia neighborhood called Fishtown, covers its walls with drawings diners create. Check out more great places to eat in Philadelphia.
Visit Russia – Inside a Philadelphia Spa
My daughter and I felt like we had stepped into Russia when we visited Southhampton Spa. Philadelphia locals know that at this day spa, $35 buys unlimited time to alternate between wet saunas, dry heat, hot tubs, and cold plunges. Signs are in Russian and people speak Russian. One Russian taught us how to use the wet leafy branches to slap our backs in the sauna. Friends and whole families spend hours alternating spa treatments with eating and chatting by the pool in bathing suits and robes. Philadelphia has many immigrants and places where it is fun to feel like I am in a foreign country.
The Franklin Institute
Philadelphia locals and tourists appreciate The Franklin Institute, a terrific science museum. Our kids remember walking through the Giant Heart, as if they were blood cells. In the Sports Zone, my son liked testing his pitching, surfing, and running skills. The Franklin Institute regularly shows movies on its IMAX theater screen.