I’ve grown up spending a lot of time in Philadelphia. My parents were born and raised in Philly. We used to travel by plane, train and automobile to get there growing up, and I’ve explored it from head to toe. Now my dad and sister both live there, and our visits are often and generally entail being with our loved ones. When I realized recently I would have both kids home for a week, I decided to head to Philly for a bit of family, as well as sight-seeing. Once again, I teamed up with the folks at Visit Philly to give my kids a real taste of what the city has to offer.
The city of brotherly love
Growing up with solid Philadelphian roots, I’ve always referred to the city as Philly. Philadelphia is the combination of two Greek words: Phileo, which means love and adelphos, which means brother. This is how Philly became known as the City of Brotherly Love. Aside from what it really means, I love the city. It’s full of history and culture and now that my children are older, I was eager to show them more of the sites. Since we visit often, we do a few sites at a time, and this time I was so pleased that my daughter had sites in mind that she wanted to visit.
She wanted to visit the Betsy Ross House, so we made that our first stop. The house was built in 1740 in the Georgian style and consists of 2-1/2 stories and 9 rooms. Ross lived there with her husband, John, and the couple ran their upholstery business from the house. She created the first American flag, strewn with 13 stars and stripes.We wandered through the cellar kitchen, the period parlor, bedrooms, and viewed models of areas where the Ross’s likely worked on their upholstery projects. There was also a Ross impersonator in the upholstery shop who explained her work and the life and times, which got my kids’ attention.
Then we wandered off to the U.S. Mint, just a few blocks away, passing the grave of Benjamin Franklin on the way and having a brief discussion about what he did. My son is kind of obsessed with money, so it was a natural place to visit on his behalf. It’s the nation’s first mint and it’s very impressive. The mint makes circulating coins of all denominations, commemorative coins as authorized by Congress, and produces the dies for stamping coins and medals. The tour is completely free and is self-guided.
The next day we visited the Barnes Collection and Rodin Museum, two museums located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway right next door to one another. The Barnes Foundation maintains and displays of the world’s leading collections of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and our visit was really a unique experience. Both my kids had an audio tour created for children that led them around the museum, in addition to a very cool scavenger hunt that subtly taught them about the art they were experiencing. I tried to convey the significance of what we were seeing to my kids and learning about Barnes’ sense of light, space and color definitely resonated with my art-loving daughter. The Rodin Museum was equally impressive. It houses the largest collection of sculptor Auguste Rodin’s works outside Paris. It’s a uniquely shaped edifice surrounded by beautiful gardens. Apparently, it was a gift to the city from movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum, who was introduced to Rodin’s work during a 1923 trip to Paris. The inside galleries were rearranged to emphasize the way many figures in “The Gates of Hell” inspired his later iconic sculptures from “The Kiss” to “The Thinker.” I got a great photo of my kids trying to think as hard as The Thinker, of course.
The other thing that we did of interest was take a horse & buggy ride around the historical area of Philly. $35 for 20 minutes gets you a brief tour and history lesson. My kids have always asked for that particular experience and it was well worth it.
We chose two hotels known for their family-friendly accommodations, the first being the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel, on Chestnut Street. We’ve stayed at a few Kimpton Hotels around the country, most recently San Francisco, and I’ve always been impressed by the chain, which offers a unique experience for adults and kids of all ages. It’s a boutique hotel, yet it’s knee deep in history and culture, and as a bonus, it caters to families, and this Philadelphia hotel is no exception.
Located right in the heart of Center City next to Independence National Historic Park and Philadelphia’s historic district, you really can’t beat the Monaco’s location. That’s what is kind of special about this hotel – it’s in the main part of town for sight-seeing but it’s extremely eclectic and unusual in its decor and exceptionally comfortable. It’s Greek Revival style with a colorful, vibrant interior including a fireplace in the cozy lobby. The hotel offers so many special touches – from giraffe print bathrobes to walls papered with images of clocks and peacocks to a whimsical color scheme. The beds are big and cozy with Frette sheets, standing in front of a 40 inch flats screen TV housed inside a funky armoire.
The 11-story, 268-room Monaco overlooks the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It’s super convenient and just a mere walk from the Bourse, Jewish American History Museum, the Betsy Ross House and more. Parking isn’t easy or cheap, but you have to expect it in the area. Perks offered by the hotel include wine from 5-6pm in the lobby daily, free Wifi for guests who sign up for the Kimpton loyalty rewards program, a computer business center with a universal phone charger, a rooftop lounge and very hospitable, genuine service.
Our second hotel was the luxurious Four Seasons Philadelphia. Another centrally located hotel, but this time in a very different part of town, right near the Barnes and Rodin Museums, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve always been a fan of this popular chain, ever since my days as a traveling publishing exec. Children are indulged as soon as they enter the establishment with candy (or raisins – unfortunately, I don’t have kids who make that choice). They also get an afternoon and bedtime snack. The rooms were made with comfort in mind and extremely spacious for families traveling with children (or pets, which they allow and offer fresh-baked dog biscuits and bottled water served in a silver bowl).
We had a suite with a sofa bed, comfy chairs, an end table and a flat-screen television. It was the perfect space to hang out in after a long day out hopping around the city. The room is simple but classy, with soft linens & two beds with a headboard. There is even a vanity to either get ready for a big evening out or to use as a work space (which is what I did). The bathroom is also spacious, complete with two toilets and a nice-sized bathtub.
Our room had a gorgeous view of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in all its spring glory, reminding me that warmer weather was on its way after a tough winter. Rooms on the hotel’s north side offer the best views of the Greek Revival public library and family court, Logan Circle, and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The hotel also offers many options for families with double beds (non-suite) that face the Parkway or other suites that have couch pullouts or accommodate rollaway beds for children. They also offe on-site laundry service and free limo service around Center City.
There’s a beautiful, spacious pool and spa on the lower level of the hotel. We swam twice and made use of the Jacuzzi. Both were full of young families and there was still plenty of room to swim and get exercise. We all felt so refreshed after the experience and it really made our visit incredibly special.
Back downstairs in the hotel lobby, there are two dining options for guests: the Swann Lounge and the Fountain Restaurant. Known for its lavish desserts and an extensive afternoon tea menu, The Lounge also has a great dinner menu, which we were lucky enough to experience. For starters, we shared a baby kale salad and side of hummus with raw vegetables. The entrees were out of this world, with choices ranging from salmon to lamb chops. The food is fresh, tasty and filling. Our server was truly amazing, as nice as they come, just like the rest of the staff at the hotel. The Fountain Restaurant is more upscale and we could have had breakfast there the next morning but my kids opted for room service. The menu has a nice variety offering everything from eggs to potatoes to turkey sausage to cereals to fruit and yogurt. I always love seeing my children experience breakfast in bed. They get such a kick out of it, and so do I.
Everything about our visit to Philly this Spring Break was just about perfect and I highly recommend a weekend visit to this great city in the near future.
Disclosure: I was provided with free tickets to certain attractions by my friends at Visit Philly and I also received free accommodations from both the Four Seasons and Hotel Monaco. However, all opinions are my own, as always.