2021 Guide Western Pennsylvania State Parks

Night sky at Cherry Springs

This year, in an effort to stay local, we ventured to western Pennsylvania for spring break to do some socially distanced hiking. The main draw for us was Cherry Springs State Park, which is an internationally rated dark sky park. On a clear night, you can get amazing views of the Milky Way. There are a lot of other state parks in Potter and Tioga counties, so we took the time to do some hiking and explore these underrated state parks.

Cherry Springs State Park: Stargazing

This park is one of the east coast’s only dark parks. The real highlight is at night – there’s a public star gazing area, which – on a clear night – gives you an amazing view of the stars. Dark parks are in remote areas with minimal lights pollution. 

star gazing at Cherry Springs
stars in the night sky at Cherry Springs State Park

If you go, make sure to wrap any light you have in red cellophane. Flashlights – including cell phone flashlights are super disruptive and even one can make it harder to see the stars. 

There are only 60-85 clear nights per year, so make sure you check the forecast before you go. We lucked out and got two clear nights during the shoulder season in very early April. 

The park itself is small, but it does have one small loop trail that you can do that’s a fairly easy/flat trail with some nice views.

For more information on Cherry Springs State Park, click here.

Trees at Cherry Springs State Park
Fence on a field with a little house to the left
Bridge with snow in the forest
tiny plants in the forest a Cherry Springs State Park
Pine trees a Cherry Springs State Park

Things to Do Near Lyman Run State Park

This park is close to Cherry Springs State Park. There’s a lake, where you can fish during trout season (April) or swim from late May to early September. There’s also some hiking trails and a great tire swing – that was the highlight for my 8-year-old son. 

We checked out the Beehive Trail – it was a steep uphill climb in the beginning, followed by a more mellow walk through the woods. 

For more on hiking and other activities at Lyman Run State Park, click here.  

Lake at Lyman Run State Park
Stream with Mountains in the background at Lyman Run State Park
Dam at Lyman Run State Park
Lyman Run State Park Lake and  Dam
Tree on the ground next to dead leaves with holes in the bark
Forest along the Beehive Trail at Lyman Run State Park
Long moss growing on a tree stump
Forest along the Beehive Trail at Lyman Run State Park
Meadow with path leading to one tree without leaves
Brown Leaves on the Forest Floor

Things to do Near Potter County PA: Ole Bull State Park

This park was one of the highlights of our trip. We did the Beaver Dam Nature Trail – which takes you along a stream and around a marsh. We saw salamanders, heron, crayfish and frogs. We didn’t see any beavers, but we did see what looked like a beaver dam. 

As a bonus, there was a great playground that we stopped at when we arrived and before we left, which made the experience a lot more fun for my 8-year-old. 

For more on Ole Bull State Park, click here. 

Beaver Marsh at Ole Bull State Park
Empty Meadow at Ole Bull State Park

Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon Hiking: Colton Point State Park

We came to Colton Point State Park to get a view of PA’s Grand Canyon – although you can also stop at Leonard Harrison State Park on the other side of the canyon for an alternate view. Since we were traveling with a wide age range, we opted for the Rim Trail. We got some great views of the canyon, although if you do the full loop version, there are some parts of the trail that are a little narrow with some steep drops.  

For more on Colton Point State Park, click here. 

PA Grand Canyon from Colton Point State Park

Best Place to See Elk in PA: Sinnemahoning State Park

This was the last stop on our trip, and we actually ended up coming here twice. The first time, we came and walked a portion of the Lowlands Trail from the Wildlife Viewing Area on the north end to the Wildlife Center. This was a great little gem with an interactive exhibit. When we went, it was empty except for us, so we were able to explore it and it was COVID safe. 

We came back the next morning at dawn to try to see some elk – which you’re most likely to see in the first hour after sunrise. On the recommendation of the rangers, we went to the overlook at the George B. Stevenson Dam area – which is south of the Wildlife Center. We were able to see some elk on the way down, just before we arrived at the park – and we saw some deer in the distance at the dam. If you go, check with the rangers for where the elk herds have been sighted recently – there’s never any guarantee that you’ll see wildlife, but dusk and dawn are generally the best times.

For more on Sinnemahoning State Park, click here. 

Field with evergreen trees at Sinnemahoning State Park
Marshland at Sinnemahoning State Park
Elk in a field in western PA
George B. Stevenson Dam Overlook at Sinnemahoning State Park

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Guide to Winter Hiking with Kids in the Finger Lakes in 2021

Taughanock Falls State Park in the Winter

The Finger Lakes area of New York is pretty large region that encompasses a lot of great hiking. We traveled up there in December and stayed in Keuka Park, New York, close to Keuka Lake. 

A few things I learned about traveling to the Finger Lakes region of New York during the off-season:

  • MANY restaurants are closed in the off-season (and likely even more than usual due to the pandemic)
  • The different lake towns are further apart than I realized – many of the hikes we did were about an hour away from our Airbnb. 
  • Some of the popular trails are closed during the winter. We skipped Watkins Glen State Park altogether because only the overlook spots were open. 

That being said, it was amazing to experience the beauty of the Finger Lakes with a winter landscape. It made for unique pictures and interesting experiences. My son is a huge cold weather kid, so he loved all of the ice and snow. 

Here are some of the hikes that we did up in the Finger Lakes area of Western New York:

Best Hikes in the Finger Lakes: Taughannock Falls

Located in Taughanock Falls State Park, this is located close to Ithaca and Cayuga Lake. The only trail open in the winter to the falls is the Gorge Trail. The trail itself is very easy – it’s basically just a flat path – but it leads to a gorgeous view of the waterfall. 

Seeing the falls in winter was extraordinary. The mist from the waterfall created an icy covering over the plants nearby. This was my son’s favorite. 

In the main season, there are rim trails available that look more challenging. For updated information, check the State Park website here

Taughanock Falls State Park in the Winter
Frozen Landscape at Taughanock Falls
Frozen River Bed at Taughahock Falls
Taughanock Falls State Park Scenic View
Frozen River Bed

Winter Hikes in the Finger Lakes: Onanda Park

This park is located near Canandaigua Lake, which is to the left of Keuka Lake. We were able to get a (freezing cold) view of the lake as well as explore some trails in the park. The trail itself is about 1.4 miles and has a few overlooks. We stopped to explore near the creek as well. 

For more on Onanda Park, click here.

Snow Covered frozen creek at Onanda Park
Animal Prints in the snow on a log
Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes
Frozen Leaves and Branches at Canandaigua Lake

Winter Hikes: Finger Lakes National Forest

One of my goals in our trip was to do one hike through Finger Lakes National Forest. We hiked the Burnt Hill Trail Loop, which is about 3.8 miles roundtrip. 

This hike was beautiful and very quiet – we saw only one other group. It was relatively flat terrain with not too much incline. It was very icy, though, so we had to walk very carefully.  

For more on the Finger Lakes National Forest, hikes and current conditions, click here. 

Snowy field and tree in Finger Lakes National Forest
trail at Finger Lakes National Forest
Racoon prints in the snow

Best Winter Hikes in Western New York: Chimney Bluffs State Park

Chimney Bluffs State Park is technically located on one of the Great Lakes (specifically Lake Ontario), but it’s only about an hour from the area of the Finger Lakes we were staying. It was freezing and super snowy, which made for a really beautiful landscape. 

We opted for the loop trail down to the beach. This gave great views of the bluffs from above and below. It’s super windy on the coast, so be sure to bundle up and make sure you have the appropriate gear if you’re planning to do the hike! 

For more on Chimney Bluffs State Park, click here.

Snowy Hike through the Forest
Chimney Bluffs State Park overlooking Lake Ontario
Caution sign covered in grafitti at Chimney Bluffs State Park
Chimney Bluffs State Park in the Winter
Warning Sign at Chimney Bluffs State Park
Steps leading up at Chimney Bluffs
Snow covered beach on Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario Beach in the Snow
Snowy Scene at Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario Beach in the Winter
Wintery Lake Ontario Beach
Fallen tree at lake ontario beach

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Best National and State Parks Near Philadelphia

Pennsylvania State Park Guide

I’ve been doing a lot more local adventuring in Pennsylvania due to COVID-19. Throughout the summer, I cancelled pretty much all of my travel plans that required air travel and focused on drivable destinations (like Acadia National Park). We’ve spent some time exploring some of the local state and national parks in and around Philly.

It’s important to note that it’s best to avoid these areas on busy days, such as the weekends. Depending on the popularity of the park, I try to get up as early as possible to beat the crowds. We bring masks out of respect to other hikers and for our own protection, but the earlier we get there, the less people we see so the less we have to use them.

Here are some of my favorite spots in northeastern Pennsylvania. All of these spots are accessible from Philly – either for a day trip or overnight/weekend trip. Make sure to check the park’s website before going for current conditions and COVID closures.

Valley Forge National Historic Park

Valley Forge National Historic Park is located about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia ( but probably closer to 45 with traffic). In addition to their historical exhibits (which are currently closed due to COVID), they have a TON of trails that you can explore, including a paved loop trail that’s great for bike riding.

For more on Valley Forge trails and current conditions, closures and available services, visit the National Park Service website.

Field at Valley Forge National Historic Park

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

This beautiful spot is on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. You can catch some beautiful views of the mountains and Delaware River. The only downside to this beautiful spot is it gets a bit crowded, so plan ahead and get there early!

For more, see the Delaware Water Gap website.

Delaware Water Gap View
Acorn close up in fall

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve written about John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in detail on past posts about hiking in and around Philadelphia. This is our go-to during our usual summer, however, if you’re traveling during COVID, make sure you go early and on the week day. It tends to get pretty crowded during the weekends, making it hard to social distance. The main trail at John Heinz takes you across a boardwalk – which is AMAZING – but a little tricky if you’re social distancing with kids.

Check the John Heinz website for current closures and services available. At this writing, the visitor center and parking lots are closed, but the trails are open.

marsh at john heinz national wildlife refuge

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (Delaware)

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is located about an hour outside of Philadelphia in Delaware. It’s a bit of a drive, but worth it. The refuge has a number of trails along the marsh and is very spread out. You can drive through the roads of the park to various different trailheads to hike. The Refuge has a map that you can access here.

Currently, the visitor center is closed due to COVID. Before you go, check the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge website to see exactly what services are available when you visit.

Marsh at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Ridley Creek State Park

This park is about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia, but it feels like you’re in a whole other world. During the week, the crowds aren’t too crowded. We’ve checked out the Hocking Hill trail loop as well as the Orange Trail and the White Trail. There are lots of trails to try. We usually go with a plan, but if for some reason the lot is full or it looks crowded, we switch it up and try something new.

For more on Ridley Creek State Park, visit the State Park website.

Trails at Ridley Creek State Park
Creek at Ridley Creek State Park

Hickory Run State Park

We did our first camping trip at Hickory Run State Park in the fall. There are lots of great trails, but the coolest part about the park is Boulder Field. It is literally a MASSIVE field of Boulders. I had seen pictures, but it was definitely MUCH cooler to see in person.

There’s a full trail you can do to access Boulder Field. You can also access it from very easily from the parking lot and do some exploring from there (which is what we did).

For more trails and information on the park, see Hickory Run State Park’s website.

Boulder Field Hickory Run State Park
Fall Foliage Red Leaves
Tree Growing in Boulder Field

Other Pennsylvania State Parks to check out:

These two cool spots are on my travel wish list:

  • Rickett’s Glen State Park: This spot is known for it’s beautiful waterfalls! See more here.
  • Cherry Springs State Park: This is Pennsylvania’s very own DARK PARK. It’s the only one on the east coast as well. From here, you can get an amazing view of the stars. This trip requires some planning, as the weather conditions have to be right and ideally you go around the new moon. It’s about four hours away from Philadelphia, so it’s probably ideal to stay there overnight. See more here.

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Things to Do Around Philly with Kids: Best Day Trips for 2020

john heinz wildlife refuge

There are lots of really fun things to do outside of Philadelphia city limits. If you’re visiting Philly with kids, it can be nice to get out of the city limits and see some of the cool things Pennsylvania has to offer. Here are some of my favorites:

Philly Day Trips for Kids: Tyler Arboretum (Media, PA)

Tyler Arboretum is located within Ridley Creek State Park. There’s admission to get into Tyler Arboretum, but it’s well worth it, especially if you’re visiting with kids.

Tyler has a lot of cool ways for kids to interact with nature. One of the things I really enjoyed about Tyler Arboretum was their network of tree houses throughout the arboretum. Looking for the tree house helped make walking the paths around the arboretum feel more exciting for my son, especially when he was younger!

There are a lot of interesting tree houses/play spaces, including a music-themed one, an area to put on a play with props and many others. Depending on the season, they have a butterfly house and an edible garden.

One thing to note, there are no restaurants within the arboretum, so plan accordingly.

For more on Tyler Arboretum, including hours, admission and to see what’s in bloom right now, see the website.

Treehouse at Tyler Arboretum
goats grazing at tyler arboretum
Goats Grazing at Tyler
Child Playing on Giant Caterpillar at Tyler Arboretum
Giant Caterpillar
Yellow Aster Flowers
Fall Trees at Tyler Arboretum

Day Trips in PA for Families: Longwood Gardens

Longwood is a BEAUTIFUL and MASSIVE garden. They have everything from tree houses, to meadows to manicured gardens. It’s fun to walk the grounds and enjoy the scenery, but there are also specific areas geared toward kids.

Kids can play in and around the tree houses. There is also an indoor and outdoor children’s garden that you can pick and choose depending on the weather.

For more on Longwood admission, hours and current events, see their website.

Topiary Garden at Longwood
heuchera at longwood gardens
Solenostemon 'Watermelon Coleus Watermelon
Fountains at Longwood Gardens
Tulip Leaf at Longwood
Purple and Green Plants at Longwood
yellow marigold
garden quote at longwood

Day Trips from Philadelphia with Kids: Valley Forge National Historic Park

There’s a lot of different ways to experience Valley Forge National Historic Park. If you have school-age kids who have started learning about US history in school, this can be an educational event. However, even if your kids aren’t old enough to take in the history, they can still enjoy many of the trails and the beautiful landscape.

In terms of trails, there is a paved loop trail that’s great for bikes or scooters as well as many trails through the forest.

For more on Valley Forge National Historic Park, see the website.

Field at Valley Forge National Historic Park

Things to Do Around Philly: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

I wrote about this in my post on my favorite hikes in Philly, because TECHNICALLY it is in Philadelphia city limits. However, I’m including this in because it’s a bit out-of-the-way if you’re staying in downtown Philadelphia, so it would work well as a day trip.

John Heinz has an interactive visitor center where you can learn about the ecosystem of the wetlands that the refuge protects. There’s a short trail to the marsh, that you can cross via a boardwalk trail. From the boardwalk, you can spot all kinds of birds and little turtles in the water.

For more on John Heinz and visitor center hours, see the website.

marsh at john heinz national wildlife refuge
Symphyotrichum ericoides White Aster Flower
marsh at john heinz
duckweed in the marsh
heuchera growing in john heinz

Fun Things for Kids: Delaware Children’s Museum in Wilmington

Even though it’s technically in a different state, Wilmington, Delaware is actually only about 45 minutes from Philly. The Delaware Children’s Museum has a similar vibe as the Please Touch Museum (which I discuss more in this post), with completely different exhibits.

Some highlights include the Stratosphere, which is a giant indoor climbing structure, a banking exhibit, where kids can design their own money and The Power of Me, which test physical fitness and shoes kids how their bodies work.

It’s smaller than Philly’s Please Touch Museum, but it’s also a little cheaper and generally less crowded. There’s free parking in the lot and restaurants nearby (none on site). It’s also CLOSED on Mondays, so plan accordingly!

For more, see the Delaware Children’s Museum website.

Day Trips from Philly for Families: Adventure Aquarium (Camden, NJ)

Adventure Aquarium is just across the river from Philadelphia. It’s a short 20-30 minute drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge, depending on wherever you’re staying (Note: There’s a $5 return toll, cash only, if you don’t have EZ-Pass).

There’s a lot of cool things to see at Adventure Aquarium. They have a Kid Zone with some more interactive exhibits for kids. There are also touch tanks, a shark bridge and a penguin exhibit, to name a few.

For more on Adventure Aquarium hours and rates, see their website.

Jellyfish Adventure Aquarium
Penguins at Adventure Aquarium

Fun Day Trips for Kids: Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens

Jenkins Arboretum is located about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia in Devon, Pennsylvania. It’s a small garden and a little quieter than Longwood Gardens. It’s small and manageable for smaller kids and a nice place to take a walk and see some beautiful flowers!

As a bonus, on their website, they have detailed pictures of many of the plants in bloom organized by the season. It’s really helpful if you or your kids are interested in learning more about flowers and plants.

For more on Jenkins Arboretum, see their website.

wood fern
Magenta Azalea Rhododendron dauricum
White and Pink Azalea Rhododendron x White Swan
azaleas in jenkins arboretum
Kalmia latifolia 'Carol'

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9 Outer Banks Activities for Kids in 2020

Outer Banks Activitise for Kids

The Outer Banks is a fairly popular summer destination. I’m from the Jersey shore (near Ocean City, NJ), so I’m no stranger to east coast shore towns. My perception of the Outer Banks before we visited was that it was similar to what I’d experienced in New Jersey and not worth the drive down. However, I was totally wrong and I completely fell in love with the Outer Banks when we did finally visit.

sand and rocks on beach in kitty hawk North Carolina

Outer Banks for Kids: When to Go

The summer months are the obvious choice, especially if you have kids in school. However, if you have a more flexible schedule, I’d recommend going down in the shoulder season.

We went twice in September and it was gorgeous. It’s always a gamble with hurricane season, but we lucked out with decent weather both trips. The prices on home rentals are significantly cheaper and the crowds are minimal, but it’s still busy enough that the majority of smaller stores and restaurants are still open.

kid walking and footprints in the sand at kill devil hills beach

Where to Stay in the Outer Banks with Kids

There are a lot of places to stay along the islands of the Outer Banks. We stayed in Kitty Hawk on our first trip and Kill Devil Hills on the second. This put us close to lots of stores and restaurants, which was great.

If we went back, I’d probably try staying in Nags Head, which is south of Kill Devil Hills. It would put us closer to the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

sand dune and blue sky in outer banks

Things to do in OBX: Outer Banks Activities for Kids

There’s so much to do in the Outer Banks besides the beach. Here are my favorite things:

Things to do in OBX: Cape Hatteras National Seashore

My favorite thing to do, in general, is to go to the beach. We ventured down past the beaches of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head to the protected areas that fall under the umbrella at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s WORTH the drive for sure.

The beaches are more secluded, so you’ll to bring a picnic if you’re planning to stay all day. But to be honest, that’s what I loved about it. There were fewer people on the beach with us, so we really got to enjoy the peace and beauty of the ocean.

We went to Coquina Beach, but I imagine there are lots of great beaches to explore along Cape Hatteras National Seashore!

For more on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, click here.

child walking on grassy beach path
sand dunes on cape hatteras national seashore
shells and pebbles from outer banks beach on a towel.
outer banks for kids cape hatteras national seashore
Cape Hatteras beach
ghost crab on the sand in the outer banks
sand piper on the beach

Outer Banks Activities: Wright Brothers Memorial

The famous Wright Brothers took their first flight in Kitty Hawk. We visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial on our first trip to the Outer Banks. It was definitely cool to see – they have a memorial at the top of the hill and markers that show the actual distance of some of the first test flights.

There was a model of the first plane and some interesting exhibits. However, I’d recommend saving this activity for a rainy or cloudy day, as there’s NO tree cover outside so it was super hot when we did the walk around.

It’s definitely worth a visit though, if you have some extra time, your kids are studying history at school or you’re just a major flight enthusiast!

For more on hours and admission, see the national park service’s website.

wright brothers first flight monument
Wright Brothers First Flight distance demonstration
wright brothers glider

Outer Banks Activities for Kids: Nags Head Woods Preserve

This forest preserve is part of the Nature Conservancy. We found it while we were looking for something to do on a cloudy day it was awesome.

There’s trails through the forest and a boardwalk trail through the marsh. You can spot some cool birds and frogs in the marsh!

For more, see the Nature Conservancy website.

tree bark in nags head woods
nags head nature reserve
tree landscape in nags head woods
trees in nags head woods
nags head woods

Outer Banks for Kids: Jockeys Ridge State Park

Jockey Ridge State Park has the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. It’s a really cool place to explore – and it’s free of charge! They have an interactive visitor center, where you can learn about how sand dunes are formed as well as some of the history of the islands.

After the visitor center, you can walk along the boardwalk trail to the sand dunes. You can hike up the dunes and get some really beautiful views from there. It’s a great place for kids to explore.

For more on Jockeys Ridge State Park, see their website.

sand dunes at jockeys ridge
jockeys ridge state park
trees growing in the sand dunes at jockeys ridge state park
jockeys ridge state park
sand dunes at jockeys ridge
sand patterns at jockeys ridge state park

OBX Activities: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

This is technically the visitor center for the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, but they have lots of information about the other refuges in the area. This is located on Roanoke Island, and it’s worth a trip to visit, even if you don’t visit the any refuges! It’s free, and they have a TON of interactive exhibits about the wildlife of North Carolina.

child playing with a replica single engine plane at alligator river national wildlife refuge visitor center
wolf exhibit at alligator river national wildlife refuge visitor center

Things to do in OBX with Kids: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was a bit of a hike. We went to try to see black bears. There’s a small paved trail and a drive you can do through the refuge. Sometimes, you can see black bears walking around. We were not so lucky, but it might be worth checking out if you’re interested in black bears!

It’s inland, so you have to drive from the Outer Banks to Roanoke Island and from there, drive across another bridge to the mainland of North Carolina. In hindsight, I’m not sure if it was worth the drive, but it was definitely an adventure!

For more, see the Alligator River website.

alligator river national wildlife refuge

Outer Banks for Kids: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Outer Banks and it’s about 30 minutes south of Kitty Hawk. They have cool beach trails and an interactive visitor center.

For more, see the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge website.

Outer Banks Activities for Kids: Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island

This beautiful garden is located within the borders of Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island in Manteo, North Carolina. It’s reasonably priced and makes for a beautiful walk!

It’s not geared toward kids, but it’s definitely kid-friendly. It’s a fun thing to do if you need a break from the beach or the weather isn’t great.

For more, see the Elizabethan Gardens website.

elizabethan gardens
elizabethan gardens on Manteo island
child looking at the ocean from a gate at elizabethan gardens
coast at elizabethan gardens
elizabethan gardens

Outer Banks for Kids: Visit Duck Donuts

This Donut shop originated in Duck, North Carolina (part of the Outer Banks), but it’s now a chain with many locations. It still makes for a unique and fun breakfast experience.

The donuts are made to order – you can pick your glazes and toppings and they make it right in front of you. (Note: These are not vegan)

For more on locations and hours, see the Duck Donuts website.

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outer banks sunset at nags head beach

Best Vegan Restaurants in Philly to Try in 2020

Even though it’s known for cheesesteaks and pizza, Philadelphia is actually a really vegan-friendly city with a lot of great vegan restaurants. Here are my favorite go-to spots for vegan food and desserts in Philadelphia:

Vegan Pizza in Philadelphia: Earth Bread and Brewery (Mt. Airy)

Technically, Earth sells flatbreads, not pizza. But it’s probably the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had. They don’t have vegan cheeses – but they have great ingredients and combinations. And if you ask them, they can make pretty much any flat bread on the menu vegan. My favorites are The Seed and The Continental made vegan. As a bonus, they sell local craft brews and their very own kombucha.

They’re conveniently located to some of my favorite hikes in Philly also! Note: During the week they open at 4:30pm for dinner, but there are lunch hours on Saturday and Sunday.

For more information on hours, location and menu, see their website.

Vegan Popsicles in Philadelphia: Lil’ Pop Shop

From June through August, I’m obsessed with popsicles. Usually, we make a field trip at least a few times during the summer to Lil’ Pop Shop. This is also one of my favorite spots to bring out-of-town guests. Ice cream shops are fairly common… but popsicle shops?! Not so much.

Lil’ Pop Shop has a great selection of seasonal vegan flavors – Coconut Hibiscus was my favorite this past summer! But you can’t go wrong with any of them. There’s two locations – one in Rittenhouse Square and one in West Philly. If you visit the West Philly shop with kids, there’s a magnetic wall with alphabet magnets AND a super cute play popsicle stand with toy popsicles, which is STILL a hit with my son.

For current flavors and location, see their website.

Vegan Brunch in Philadelphia: Front Street Cafe (Fishtown)

This restaurant is not totally vegan – they serve dairy and meat. But what’s really cool about the menu is that everything is vegan unless stated otherwise. Which is essentially the opposite of all other menus. This makes ordering really easy.

I tried the French Onion Soup (made vegan), the Buffalo Cauliflower and the Tostada Grain Bowl. Everything was delicious.

For more information, see the Front Street Cafe website.

Best Gourmet Vegan: VStreet in Philadelphia

VStreet is owned by the same group that owns Vedge. My sister and I ate here and it was delicious. The only downside is the prices are high and the portions are small – so if you’re on a budget, I’d skip it.

But if you’re looking for an amazing dining experience and don’t mind splurging, definitely add it to your itinerary. We got two plates from each “course” and shared them, which was a good amount. Everything is AMAZING. The menu is constantly changing, so check before you go to make sure there’s something you’ll like!

For more on the menu, hours and location, see the VStreet website.

Vegan Takeout in Philadelphia: Moms Organic Market in Center City

I know, this is a grocery store. But they also serve DELICIOUS ORGANIC meals. My favorite is the loaded sweet potato, but the whole menu has a lot of great options. You can also purchase kombucha on tap. It’s good in a pinch, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

For location, hours and menu, click here to see MOMS’ website.

Vegan Restaurant in South Philly: Grindcore House:

This is a vegan coffee house and cafe in South Philadelphia. They have their own menu – with a pretty solid avocado toast – and they also sell pastries and doughnuts from local vendors. Whenever I go, I always end up spending extra money on the baked goods… because it’s SO rare to find a vegan doughnut! 

For more, see the GrindCore House website.

Vegan Soft Pretzels in Philadelphia: Center City Pretzels

Soft pretzels are a Philadelphia staple and they are also vegan, by default. This spot on Washington Ave in South Philly opens at 4am to start selling pretzels – and their website states they are an egg and dairy-free facility. It’s near the Italian Market and not too far from South Street, so it makes for a great add-on to your Philly sightseeing!

For more, see the Center City Pretzel website.

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Philadelphia with Kids in the Winter: 7 Fun Things to Do

philadelphia with kids winter things to do

I’ve lived in and around Philly for the last 15 years, so I’ve had many opportunities to explore the city over the years, with and without kids! There’s a lot to do in Philadelphia for kids in the winter, both indoors and outdoors. Here are my favorites:

Fun Things to do in Philadelphia: Go Hiking in Wissahickon Valley Park

Philadelphia actually has a ton of trails, and they’re great to explore on a winter day (bundled up, of course). You can escape to the woods at the Wissahickon Valley Park, visit the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge or climb like a squirrel at Morris Arboretum. I wrote up a full post on my favorite places to hike in the winter in Philly – you can see it here.

red covered bridge in wissahickon valley park
trail in wissahickon valley park
stone bridge in wissahickon valley park

Fun Things to do in Philadelphia with Kids: Visit the Philadelphia Zoo

Honestly, I love the zoo in the winter. It’s practically empty. And even if it’s cold, there are enough indoor exhibits to warm up before you get some fresh air on your walk to the next exhibit.

The only downside is that you won’t get to see some animals, like the giraffes, who are usually inside during the colder months. But there are plenty of other things to see, such as the Aviary House (birds), the Reptile house, the Small Mammal House, the penguin exhibit, the monkeys and more.

For more on the Philadelphia Zoo, visit their website.

jungle gym at Philadelphia zoo
penguins at the philadelphia zoo
flamingos at the philadelphia zoo
giant ant at kid zoo u at the Philly zoo
petting goats at philadelphia zoo

Philadelphia with Kids in the Winter: Go Ice Skating

We did our first open skate this year and it was a lot of fun. We actually went to a local skating club, but there are a couple of places downtown that have more flexible hours.

Dilworth Park, which is located next to City Hall smack dab in the middle of Center City Philadelphia, has an ice skating rink that’s open from November to February. You have a beautiful view of City Hall while you skate and you’re close to a lot of the great restaurants in Center City. You can learn more about rates and hours here.

You can also ice skate down at Penns Landing at the ice skating rink at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. You can attend Winterfest for free (which includes vendors and more), but there’s a cost to skate. You can learn more about ice skating at Winterfest here.

Fun Things to do in Philly: The Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute is a really cool museum for kids (and adults). Highlights for us include the:

  • Brain Exhibit, which has some really interesting displays that demonstrates how your brain works and processes information, and the
  • the Giant Heart, which is literally a giant heart that you can walk through.

For more, visit the Franklin Institute’s website.

Note: I’d recommend this for older kids, say 5 and up. My son didn’t start enjoying it really until he was five. But every kid is different!

Franklin Institute Philly
giant heart in the Franklin institute

Philadelphia with Kids: Visit Philly’s Dinosaur Museum AKA The Academy of Natural Sciences

The Academy of Natural Sciences is really close to the Franklin Institute. One of the things I like about this museum over the Franklin Institute is that it gets much less crowded, so you can take more time to look at the various displays without feeling overwhelmed (disclosure: I don’t like crowds).

This is also a great museum for kids who are interested in dinosaurs. There are model dinosaur bones on display and a mock dig site, where kids can dig for dinosaur bones. There are lots of other really cool exhibits, that you can learn about here.

We first tried this museum when my son was four, and it was a huge hit, just from seeing the dinosaur bones alone.

dinosaur bones at the academy of natural sciences
dinosaur bones at the academy of natural sciences

As a bonus, this is SUPER close to the beautiful Logan Square and its iconic fountain. It’s a nice place to stop before you leave and snap a picture!

Logan square fountain in the winter

Visit Philadelphia’s Children’s Museum: The Please Touch Museum

I’d recommend this for younger kids. We went to the Please Touch Museum at least once a month (sometimes more!) when my son was ages one to four. If you can arrange your visit during the week, I’d recommend that because weekends get crazy. However, it’s still worth braving the crowds!

Some of our favorite exhibits include:

  • a life-size SEPTA bus (SEPTA is Philly’s public transit)
  • giant blue building blocks
  • an Alice in Wonderland section with the option to paint the roses
  • a grocery store, complete with carts and check out lines
  • a gigantic water play area, with plenty of boats and rubber ducks

There are a few designated areas for younger kids up to age three.

For more, see the Please Touch Museum’s website.

magnetic wall at the please touch museum

Philly with Kids: Smith Memorial Playhouse and Playground

Smith Playground is a HUGE playground and playhouse that is in an old mansion. Right now, the play house is closed for renovations (through August 2020 according to the website at this writing), but the playground is open all winter, weather permitting.

There’s a giant wooden slide that kids (and their parents) can slide down on burlap sacks, which is crazy fun.

The park is closed on Mondays and has limited hours in the winter. There’s a small donation for entrance, which supports the park. Check the website for more information.

smith playhouse and playground in Philly

Want more winter travel ideas?

See my posts on:

4 Best Winter Hikes in Philadelphia

hiking trails in philadelphia wissahickon valley park

I love hiking in the winter. First of all, it’s usually not crowded (unless it’s an unseasonably warm winter day). Second, there are no mosquitos. And third, it always feels so good to breathe some fresh air after spending so much more time indoors during the colder months of the year.

Philadelphia has pretty accessibly hiking trails, depending on where you are located in the city. Here are some of my favorites, that I’ve visited time and time again. They make for great winter hikes!

Hiking in Philadelphia: Walk the Wissahickon

Wissahickon Valley Park is by far my favorite section of trails in the city. The main trail is forbidden drive, which runs along Wissahickon Creek. There are many different trails with many different entrances that run through the surrounding forest and feed into Forbidden Drive.

Our favorite entrances are at Ten Box (quick access to forbidden drive), Bells Mills Road, Valley Green Inn (you can feed the geese and eat at the nearby restaurant) and the Mount Airy Trail entrance.

You can see a map of the park and the various entrances at the Friends of the Wissahickon website.

stone bridge over the wissahickon creek
mushrooms growing on a tree in wissahickon valley park
wissahickon creek in winter
pond frozen in the winter
dried flowers in the winter at wissahickon valley park
wissahickon creek
stones on the shore of the creek and a piece of broken pottery
graffiti under a bridge in the wissahickon
tree with snow around the roots in front of a creek
reflection of trees in a puddle
red covered bridge in wissahickon valley park

Nature Near Philadelphia: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

This wildlife refuge is on the south side of the city, very close to the airport. It’s considered America’s first urban wildlife refuge.

There’s a visitor center with some great exhibits for kids. We usually spend a little bit of time in there before heading out to the trail. Bonus: there are also bathrooms here.

Our favorite trail at the refuge is the boardwalk trail. A pretty short walk will lead you to a boardwalk that stretches across a freshwater tidal marsh. It’s beautiful during all seasons – and depending on when you’re there, you’ll see various birds and mammals.

For more on the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, click here.

Hiking in Philadelphia: Carpenter’s Woods

Carpenter’s Woods is like a little oasis of forest in the midst of the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. It’s considered America’s first bird sanctuary and is part of the old growth forest network.

There’s ample street parking and plenty of entrances to the park. It’s a great place to take younger kids who might not have the stamina to walk long distances. You feel like you’re deep in the forest after a few minutes of walking.

Click here for maps and more information on Carpenter’s Woods.

trees along a hiking trail
snow drop flowers (Galanthus nivalis)
winter forest landscape

Nature Near Philadelphia: Morris Arboretum

Morris Arboretum is in northwest Philadelphia. Morris is an arboretum (which is a collection of trees) and a public garden, so you can expect to see some really interested and well-maintained plant life on your walk. There’s a paved loop that goes through the arboretum. There’s admission to get in, but there are also gardens to enjoy and an indoor fernery – which is a super warm building filled with all kinds of ferns.

For kids, there’s a really cool tree top area with a life-size nest complete with giant robin’s eggs and an area where they can climb like squirrels.

For admission and hours, you can visit the Morris Arboretum website.

winter sedums
winter sedums
yellow witch hazel ( Hamamelis mollis)
witch hazel variety ( Hamamelis vernalis 'Quasimodo')
red flower bud winter bloom
red berries and leaves

What are your favorite hiking trails in and around Philadelphia? Comment below 🙂