Ameropean Vacation – Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a great place to relax and check out the green space. Parks abound throughout the city. I had a chance to visit recently and here are a few that I’d recommend:

Benjamin Franklin Parkway – is a ribbon like boulevard connecting City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum. It reminds me a bit of the Champs Elysee, but instead of stores along the way you will find museums. The mile long Parkway is home to the Franklin Institute, Rodin Museum, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Academy of Natural Sciences. It also has lots of green lawn and flowering trees under which you may stop and rest your weary feet.

Rittenhouse Square – full of nannies and children at play, it’s also surrounded by sidewalk cafes, hotels and luxury apartments. The park is a green, leafy haven in the center of the city. Here you’ll find the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, and the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum. Rittenhouse Square is a great place for a walk after dinner. There are many fine neighborhood restaurants nearby on 20th Street.

Washington Square – another leafy park this one holds the tomb of the unknown Revolutionary Soldier. It is a nice spot to drop down on a bench and watch the world go by. Nearby is Antiques Row where you’ll find blocks of small boutiques and antique shops and a great martini bar at the end called Mixto.

Love Park – officially known as JFK Plaza, it is home of the famous Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. It is always full of locals having lunch, tourists posing in front of the LOVE sculpture and kids enjoying putting their hands in the fountain. The city changes the color of the fountain on occasion. When I was there it was neon green. It looked like a giant Slurpie shooting water into the sky.

Spring and Fall are the best times to take advantage of the parks and enjoy being out in nature. The weather it mild, the colors are out and the people are big fans of sidewalk dining.

Ameropean Vacation – Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a foodie heaven. While there I had a chance to sample a broad spectrum of their cuisine. Here are some of my favorite discoveries:

La Colombe Torrefaction – the coffee shop just off Rittenhouse Square does a brisk morning business. Most people take out, but the free internet and beautiful Italian china does attract a number of people to dine in. It’s a great place to relax, read a paper and get your morning java kick.

Jones – like a Jetson’s diner it’s near Independence Park and a great place to stop for lunch. It has the hip decor of a lounge and a down home Philly menu full of pierogies, matzo ball soup and make your own salad. You actually order your salad by checking off ingredients on a checklist, mesculun? check! The staff is friendly and the service is fast. Expect to wait if you arrive a noon, its a favorite lunch spot of the local business crowd as well.

Rouge – is a thriving hotspot overlooking Rittenhouse Square. That means it’s loud and it’s packed. Famous for their insanely huge (and delicious!) 1/2 lb. burgers and truffled french fries, it’s a great place to have lunch. Dripping Gruyere cheese, it’s the only burger you’ll ever eat with a fork. Try to score a sidewalk table if the weather is good. Great for people watching.

Twenty Manning – we were greeted by the chef himself when we arrived. It was the perfect beginning to a wonderful meal. We started with cocktails, I just had to have at the Geishatini, (basically a cosmo with plum wine, yum!) and then moved on to appetizers. My chive and pork potstickers were delicious, but the TravelGuy’s heirloom tomato soup with coconut gelato was divine. You’d never think to pair the tastes, but believe me it really works. Our entree was venison meatloaf made with foie gras, so rich! We finished the meal with the banana cake. We can’t wait to go back and experience this restaurant again. It was truly that good.

FriSatSun – on everyone’s list of must tries. It’s not got a lot of atmosphere, but the food was excellent. We had the special wild mushroom ravioli which arrived in a sauce so savory I almost licked the plate. Our entree was Cornish game hen stuffed with Italian sausage, pears, walnuts and tarragon. It was like Thanksgiving dinner done one better. All wines on their menu are priced just $10 over cost, so you are encouraged to imbibe and enjoy!

There are so many other neighborhoods and dining experiences to try. My list is limited by the fact that I was on foot. However, the neighborhood I was in was like a little slice of SoHo. Charming and packed with al fresco dining. I’m sure I’ll have to go back and try more things now that I know it’s such a great food town.

Ameropean Vacation – Philadelphia

One of the best things about being on vacation is having the time to go shopping. I love to explore a city’s neighborhoods and check out the local stores. Globalization has made it harder to find independent, local stores, but with a bit of planning it can be done. Some great finds in Philadelphia:

Boyds (1818 Chestnut St.) – Gracious old world service paired with high end designer brands (Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Gucci). They even have their own magazine. It reads like a guide to the good life.

South Moon Under (1731 Chestnut St.) – For the cool, casual person in all of us. It has a beachy vibe, amazing swimsuit selection and cool club clothes for reasonable prices. Check out Free People brand.

Eyesite (124 S. 19th Street) – right next to the coolest coffee shop in town (La Colombe), it’s definitely worth stopping in. Gene Kogan is a gracious, patient salesman with access to loads of cool glasses. Their Orgreen brand is really unique. If he can’t get you what you need, he won’t hesitate to refer you to someone who can.

Hello World (257 20th St.) – A very cute boutique with all kinds of colorful handbags, books, household goods and baby accoutrements. I found a hilarious book on how to be charming. I wanted to buy everything and take it all home with me!

I did most of my shopping in and around Rittenhouse Square. It’s compact, walkable and boutique heaven.

Ameropean Vacation – Philadelphia

Spend the day getting in touch with your inner patriot at Independence Park. The National Park Service maintains several blocks of buildings near the Delaware River that house the Liberty Bell, copies of both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the site of the first Congress. Sound a little dry? Not at all. Our park guide Eric was funny, engaging and passionate about the history he was sharing with us. The tour of Independence Hall, where the Constitution was signed, is worth seeing. You’ll recognize the hall as the building that Nicholas Cage dangles from in the film National Treasure. Everyone comments on it.

Park entry is free, but you do need a ticket for the Independence Hall tour. You can reserve them online and pick it up at will call. All other tours, just queue up and go. Most are every 20 minutes. There are also buildings open to the public like the Carpenters Hall and a functioning tavern. Most have a park guide on site to answer your questions. To see the Liberty Bell you won’t need tickets, but you will need patience, the line is long. Get there by 9 a.m. if you can, and expect to be searched. This is a national treasure, so security is tight.

Ameropean Vacation – Philadelphia

I’ve blogged in the past on the idea of taking an Ameropean vacation. Trying to find the kind of world class museums and architecture you’d usually look for in London, Paris or Rome. I figure it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and try it myself.

I chose Philadelphia for it’s concentration of historical sites, great art collections and fine dining. I’ve not been disappointed so far. My first day in town I hit the Philadelphia Museum. Yeah, the one where Rocky ran the steps, I even saw his statue (donated by Sylvester Stallone himself). More interesting though, I discovered an annex to the museum across the street in the Perelman Building. You see the Frida Kahlo exhibit is on at the Philadelphia Museum and the crowds were overwhelming, so I though why not check out the Perelman?

The Perelman Building
(above) is a beautiful art deco building. The collections are modern and focus on design, textiles, sculpture and photography. There is an Ansel Adams exhibit, an Italian design collection and a room filled with paintings that are actually etched paper. Very hard to describe, but fascinating to look at. Be sure to stop into the cafe for some lunch. It’s very affordable, has an outdoor terrace and their roast beef sandwich is delicious and filling.

Winter in the Wine Country (Day 5)

Last day. Today you should sleep late and enjoy your room until check out. Stop by The General’s Daughter for a late breakfast/early lunch on the way out of town. The setting is a beautifully restored Victorian house with a wrap around porch and roses out front. The food takes advantage of seasonal ingredients and brings a bit of Southern hospitality to the wine country.

As you prepare to leave Sonoma, consider a stop on the Plaza at The Sonoma Wine Shop. They have access to all the local vintages and are a great shortcut if there are any vineyards you’ve missed on your tasting excursions.

The drive to San Francisco airport will take you past vines, cattle, over water and finally the famous Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re like me you’ll spend your time planning to return again.

Winter in the Wine Country (Day 3)

Time to get down to business and taste some wine. The best way to experience Northern California’s wine country is to just get in your rental car and drive. I’d recommend going South on Hwy. 12 in search of Ravenswood. They make some great zinfandels, and with a motto like, “No wimpy wines” you know they’re a cheeky bunch. Feeling adventurous? Head over to the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley and hit Clos du Val and Chimney Rock. Both are fine purveyors of cabernet sauvignon. Not up for a long, meandering drive? Hit Gloria Ferrer for sparkling wine (we can’t say champagne here…). You can sit out on the balcony overlooking the vineyard and sample the bubbly wares. The perfect spot on a sunny day.

If you’re coming back from Napa, consider staying for dinner at Domaine Chandon. If you’re staying on the Sonoma side, try Saffron. They serve an eclectic California cuisine based menu using local and organically grown ingredients.

Winter in the Wine Country (Day 2)

No need for an early start today. Since wine tasting is the most popular activity in Sonoma, it’s a great place to sleep in. Indulge yourself with a late breakfast at your hotel. When you’re ready to head out and explore, take your rental car into the quaint town of Glen Ellen.

California wine country has been making inroads on the olive oil market for a few years now. Channel your inner gourmet at Figone’s California Olive Oil Market. Their Persian lime, blood orange or Meyer lemon oils will inspire you to create delicious meals once you’re back home.

Next stop by the deli counter of the Glen Ellen Village Market where you can pick up lunch to go. Take your meal with you to the Glen Ellen winery, and enjoy it outside in their picnic area. Stick around to taste some of their Benziger stock. It’s the family label. They make a delicious dessert wine called Muscat Cannelli.

Spend the late afternoon enjoying your suite and the inevitable glass of wine all inns serve around 4 p.m. For dinner tonight, I suggest the El Dorado Kitchen in the El Dorado Hotel on Sonoma Plaza. If the weather is warm, take a walk around the square after dinner. It’s a great place for people watching.

Winter in the Wine Country (Day 1)

Winter is the best time to visit the Wine Country in Northern California. Crowds are gone, and the room rates are the best you will see all year. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a relaxing getaway?

Fly into San Francisco International airport and pick up a rental car. Wine country is an hours drive North with the best routes taking you over the Golden Gate Bridge. On a clear day stop off on the Marin side and take some photos of San Francisco’s famous skyline.

Check into the beautiful Gaige House in Glen Ellen. Their zen suites (seen above) have fireplaces and large stone tubs. Perfect for a romantic holiday.

For dinner tonight I recommend The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma. A short drive away it is a cozy, friendly restaurant that serves Provencal cuisine. You can have a 3 course “Plat de Jour” meal for only $32. And don’t miss their cocktails. They make a fabulous huckleberry lemonade!