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day trip dog friendly neighborhoods outdoors parks

The Navy Yard

The Navy Yard is my favorite getaway destination in Philadelphia when I’m feeling cooped up, like we all are now. There’s a sense of solitude and expanse as you stroll along the Delaware River waterfront. If you’re lucky, there’ll be cormorants hanging out on the piers. Amazing that it was a historic active military base not that long ago. The architecture is a mix : historic abandoned buildings, others that have been refurbished, and minimalist modern compounds of industry.

Getting There

There’s abundant free street parking and some free parking lots. It is a 2+mile hike or bike ride from the NRG stop on the Broad Street line. If you do drive, the front Broad Street gate may be closed on the weekend. To be safe, you can drive in from the Columbus Boulevard approach. You will get to a desolate industrial section and quarry. Don’t panic, just keep driving through until you see brick buildings ahead. We found few restrooms or places to eat that were open on the weekends. Plan accordingly. Or, pack a picnic and a blanket.

Dog-Friendly

There are huge expanses of grass for your dog to romp.  The Marine Corps Parade Grounds grass field was heaven for our shiba. Do keep your dogs leashed since it is popular for dog walks. There are few trash cans around the Park. We found some around URBN and 1 other spot only.

URBN Outfitters

The URBN Outfitters campus of buildings is a great starting place for exploring the Navy Yard. The cafe looks out on a naturally landscaped dry dock. The steps leading up to the watery dock are a favorite scampering place for children and dogs. There’s free parking nearby and Indego bike stations if you feel like a doing a full tour of the Navy Yard. The cafe has never been open when we’ve visited on weekends. It’s on our bucket list to come back and sample the menu this summer.

Central Green Park

Nicely landscaped free park and exercise area in the Navy Yard near Glaxo Smith Kline and Courtyard by Marriott. There’s a .2 mile paved walking/running track, a bocce court, ping pong tables, with a nearby basketball court, restrooms and free parking. It’s so dog-friendly with lush grass that our shiba didn’t want to leave. If you just want to hang out, there’s plenty of seating, between the lawn chairs, hammocks, and park benches. There’s also a tiered concrete seating area for outdoor gatherings and performances, whenever COVID-19 rules allow them. Check out the undulating, optical illusion office building across the street.

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dog friendly holiday neighborhoods outdoors special events

The Miracle on South 13th Street

miracle on south 13th streetThis year, our shiba Apollo joined us on a family walk from South Philly to enjoy the spectacle that is the Miracle on South 13th Street. It’s a free holiday lights extravaganza on the 1600 block of 13th Street between Morris and Taskers Streets near Passyunk. It’s a tribute to Philly that all the 50+ homes on the block are united in creating one of the biggest and best holiday lights displays anywhere, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

Say Hi to Santa

We were impressed with how residents go all out to welcome the nightly throngs of visitors. It’s kitschy, over-the-top, friendly and an “only in Philly” experience.  There were neighbors dressed as Santa, giving out candy canes and posing for endless photo ops. Others braved the cold in reindeer or snowman finery, waving at strollers and those in cars doing video drive-bys. Cars are allowed to drive down the street and traffic was manageable even on a weekend evening.

Movie Tributes 

One of the most elaborate house displays this year was a salute to A Christmas Story: complete with a lighted-display of 2 boys with tongues stuck to a pole.
Across the street was the Grinch and Olaf from Frozen too.

Dog Friendly

miracle on south 13th streetWe were impressed with how much our dog got into the Christmas spirit. He posed for photos, though was dubious of the inflatable Snoopy doghouse display. You can definitely bring your leashed pet to this party. There were a few small dogs that owners were carrying, but most were loving the festive vibe.

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annual events art creativity fall events holiday outdoors parks special events

Jack’s Pumpkin Glow Philadelphia

pumpkin glowThis was our second annual family outing to experience Jack’s Pumpkin Glow Philadelphia.

pumpkin glow5,000 Carved Pumpkins/Fumpkins

This 3rd annual Halloween spectacle in Fairmount Park (near the Mann Center) features 5,000 carved, lighted pumpkins. We were blown away last year by the dazzling pumpkin displays and prefer family-friendly Halloween celebrations. We’ve done our share of creepy haunted houses, ghost tours, and insane asylums.

Thanks to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, we discovered that most of the pumpkins are actually fumpkins: made of synthetic material, colored and molded to resemble organic pumpkins. We were not overly upset by this revelation (unlike those crying Scam! on Google reviews). When you see the intricate designs they create, and calculate that the display is up for weeks in all-weather, it’s the only viable approach.

Amazing Artistry

The carved pumpkin displays grew progressively more elaborate and mind-blowing as we strolled the trail. The entrance featured a field of jack o lanterns, glowing in shades of purple, green or gold. Each was unique. We admire a snow scene shimmering with white-lit pumpkins. Next was a haunted ship with pumpkin clusters intricately carved into sea creatures. As we rounded the bend, we were surrounded by trees encircled with hundreds of shimmering carved pumpkin globes.

pumpkin glowEven more impressive were the huge dinosaur sculptures. they presented famous works of art by Dali and Frida Kahlo recreated in a 3-D canvas of hundreds of carved, joined pumpkin shapes.
For the special Philadelphia version of The Glow, there were carved pumpkins celebrating local PA icons like Rocky, Ben Franklin and Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton.)

Phillycentric Displays

pumpkin glowThe finale was a tribute to Philly Sports teams, featuring Gritty and the Fly Eagles Fly soundtrack for the Eagles. There was also a fitting resting place for the New England Patriots: a graveyard with tombstones for Tom Brady and Gronk.

Tips and Event Details

The Glow runs evenings until Sunday November 3, 2019. It is located in Fairmount Park near the Mann Center. You have to purchase timed tickets in advance on their website. Search online for 20-30% discount coupon codes. Allow at least an hour to stroll the 1-mile paved trail. You can purchase a limited selection of pricey food and beverages on site. For 2019, they have added a $5 parking fee. Park instead in the NW Shopping Center a few blocks away and walk over.  Parents beware: every child who was leaving had scored a lighted globe or necklace from the gift shop.

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day trip flower show outdoors summer events

Ambler Arboretum

ambler arboretumTemple University’s Ambler Arboretum offers free public access year-round to 20 historic gardens plus tree-lined walking paths to explore. Temple- Ambler’s 187-acre campus houses their award-winning Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. As regular visitors to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, we’ve been impressed that Temple’s exhibits win major environmental design awards consistently from PHS Gold Medals to Best in Show.

History of Ambler Campus

We discovered that this institution began its ground-breaking history  as the PA School of Horticulture for Women. It was one of the first in the nation to educate women for agriculture and horticulture careers. It was also influential in creating the Gardening Club of America. In 1958, it merged and became part of Temple University. The 100- year old Woman’s National Farm and Garden Visitor Center is open by appointment.

Arboretum Highlights

Start your visit at the sculpture pool in the Louise Stein Fisher Garden. Next, stroll through the shady woodland and ground cover gardens.  Next, walk a few minutes north to the Healing Garden. It features medicinal herbs and a meditation spiral walk. At the Research Complex building were dozens of exotic-looking coleus varieties thriving outdoors. Our favorite spot was the Sustainable Wetlands garden. We appreciated the juxtaposition of  Philly Magic Gardens-style  mosaic pillars with the wood frame structure. Plus, tiny frogs greeted us as they sunbathed on the tiles. When we visited in late summer, the formal gardens were a lush field of purple, gold and white perennials. The Northeast corner of the Arboretum is dedicated to oak, maple and pine arboretums, plus the students’ Welcome Garden.

Directions and Tips

It’s a 30-minute drive from Center City Philadelphia to 580 Meetinghouse Road, Ambler, PA. You can park for free in Visitor’s Lot 2 but you’ll need to register your vehicle, especially if you visit on weekdays during the school year.  The lot is a 5-minute walk to the gardens. Dogs are permitted, if kept on leash and out of the garden beds. When we visited on a summer weekend, we found no open public restrooms or water fountains and the grounds are carry in/carry out. We recommend packing and bringing snacks or a picnic lunch: we didn’t find any eating spots open to the public. Click to download the gardens map to plan your visit.

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art dog friendly outdoors parks

Pavillion in the Trees

pavillion in the treesPavillion in the Trees, an official Hidden Gem of Fairmount Park, is an immersive outdoor art installation created by Martin Puryear in 1993. It was commissioned by the Association for Public Art, and was inspired by the artist’s longing for a secluded treehouse. The latticed wood pavillion rises 24 feet above the woodland floor and is reached by walking up a 60′ sloping ramp.

How to Find It

Part of the artwork’s allure is how challenging it is to find. Its address–Landsdowne Drive and Horticultural Drive–seems straightforward, but we learned otherwise. We were hosting out-of-town relatives and first-time Philly visitors. They decided Fairmount Park was the one attraction they wanted to explore here with their young children. Armed with both paper map and a map app, we headed out from the Shofuso Japanese House confidently, turned right, then wandered around 2 deadend paths. Scanning the horizon, we saw closed metal gates, deer fencing and caution tape.

We were about to abandon our search, when we spotted a brown wooden structure in the distance, beyond the barricades. “We’ll just go around then”, we agreed. We headed up the road by the Please Touch Museum, but the area was totally fenced in. On a hunch, I yanked at a yellow panel in the fence and it lifted up (see photo). We hefted the children over, avoiding the barbed wire, and we were in! We trooped into the woods following a partially cleared footpath and past a snake. Five minutes later, we found concrete steps and a legitimate path leading to the artwork’s plaque and ramp. Afterwards, we discovered that there are videos online to guide seekers, starting from behind the Horticulture Center.

pavillion in the trees

Repair and Restoration

The Pavillion experience was as solitary, serene and uplifting as promised. Google reviews had forewarned that the “In the trees” aspect was more a memory than a reality in 2019. A marker onsite explains that hundreds of invasive trees in Fairmount Park had to be cut down. The trees and deer were killing the longterm vitality of the forest. The obstacles we encountered were, in part, the protective deer fencing they installed in 2018.

The Pavillion in the Trees, like its owner (the City of Philadelphia), has faced hardship and decline, but is resilient. In 2017, a massive tree fell on the Pavillion. The tree shattered portions of the walkway and the installation had to be closed to visitors. The Association for Public Art rallied a repair crew and the Pavillion reopened in fall 2018.   

We enjoyed our outing and hope to return once the forest has time to reclaim its space.

Pavillion in the Trees

Categories
day trip outdoors parks summer events

Corson’s Inlet

 Free State Park in Ocean City

Corson’s Inlet is a free state park at the south end of Ocean City NJ. There’s an easy 1-mile nature trail on a sandy footpath through shady trees and shrubs. The hike ends at a beach with an expansive view of the ocean on the west side of the island. There are no lifeguards and technically no swimming,  but it’s perfect as a quiet spot for dipping your toes. The OC Boardwalk beach crowds are more than 2 miles up the shore.

We were stunned to see teens blithely walk across the water,  and then dive into the surf. They had found a hidden stretch of sandbar. Shell collectors will love the Inlet’s west side beach. We stuffed our pockets full of shell treasures by digging through the piles of beached shells. Also spotted 2 horseshoe crab skeletons (one was sporting sunglasses).

Wildlife Trail

On our morning stroll, Corson’s Inlet was teeming with wildlife. It’s a protected area for nesting and migratory birds. We’re not birders, but we spotted a variety of shorebirds from sandpipers to plovers and gulls. In the photos below, you’ll see a flock of white birds. They all flew off when we strolled by.  The east side is reserved for boats and small watercrafts. We were surprised when a friendly local resident pointed out colonies of hermit crabs slowly making their way through the seagrass. The jet skis didn’t bother the busy crabs at all!

Directions and Tips

To reach the park, drive down West Avenue, turn on W 55th Street and follow signs for the Russ Chattin Fishing Bridge. You will spot a small parking lot with 2 portapotties on the left right before the bridge. No dogs allowed. Bring water, bug spray and sunscreen and allow 1-2 hours for your visit. If your time is limited,  you can re-trace your steps through the nature trail. It will cut about a mile from your return walk. 

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art holiday outdoors parks special events spring events

Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival

This year will mark our family’s third annual visit to the spectacular Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square Park.

This spring event features 29 towering illuminated lantern sculptures. There are animated and color-changing lantern designs ranging from whimsical to jaw-dropping in their intricacy. The sculptures are constructed onsite by 100+ amazingly skilled artisans from China. The specific designs and themes change each year. Many offer audience interaction (such as walking inside giant shimmering blue whale). Each year, they feature new takes on perennial favorites such as the red welcome gate and frolicking pandas.

Evening Cultural Performances

Time your visit so you can catch the cultural artists’ performances at 7:30 or 9:30 pm. There are acrobats, a lightning fast mask-changer, dancers with spinning plates and more. Our family also enjoyed watching artists create spun sugar Chinese zodiac symbols on a stick or paint designs on grains of rice.

Event Details

For 2019, the event runs from May 1-June 30, with free park admission up to 6pm.  Entry from 6pm-10pm is by paid ticket, when the lanterns are lit up. There is a beer garden plus multiple global and American food choices with fountain-side seating. If your children get antsy, treat them to onsite Philly mini golf or the classic carousel. On good weather weekends, it is advisable to book your tickets online in advance, or face a wait.

 

 

Categories
holiday outdoors parks special events winter events

Franklin Square Holiday Lights

franklin square holiday lightsIf you love Christmas lights, one of our family’s top 10 suggestions is to visit the Franklin Square Holiday Lights show. The park’s free annual Electrical Spectacular boasts 75,000 twinkling lights. Twice every hour, at the Kite Fountain centerpiece, the park comes alive with a high-energy music show. Colorful LED lights pulse in rhythm to a soundtrack of classical and popular holiday favorites. You can drop by to enjoy the light show anytime from 4-8 pm daily and until 9 pm on weekends. Between shows, we recommend warming up with hot chocolate and  fresh baked donuts at Ben’s Sweets and Treats.

Family Funfranklin square holiday lights

It was great to see so many 3-generation families there, enjoying a night out. There were happy, excited kids wherever you looked. For a small fee,  you can play Historic Philadelphia mini golf, ride the Parx Carousel or the Holiday Express train (which circles the park).

Santa Paws

Franklin Square offers a real treat for pet parents and animal lovers –the annual Santa Paws event. You can bring your four-legged friend and get a franklin square holiday lightsphoto with Santa. Plus, students from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts  will do a free sketch of you and your pet (holiday attire optional- trust me, your pet will thank you!).

franklin square holiday lights

Visit the Franklin Square website for the full schedule of special holiday events through December 31.

Happy Holidays!