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.


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.

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.

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. 

day trip dog friendly neighborhoods outdoors parks

Washington Avenue Pier

Washington Avenue PierWes, our shiba inu Apollo and I celebrated our first nice weekend in April with a hike along  Washington Avenue Pier.
The park is located off 1301 S. Columbus Boulevard where it intersects with Washington Avenue. Although I’d driven by it in South Philadelphia for years, I’d never ventured over.  I thought there was not much to it–just a waterfront lookout. When it made the 2018 list of 25 best Philadelphia parks, I decided it was time to explore. Plus, our pup needed a good run.  Locals park in the Ruby Buffet shopping center by the Steelworker’s building, and look for the wooden pole signage for the trailhead.

Delaware River Trail

We trotted to keep up with our lunging pup. We headed first down a soft cinder path, detouring to a sandy Washington Avenue Piernook, for Apollo’s introduction to the beach (he was not a fan). Next, we climbed a 16′ spiral staircase lookout, part of a 65′ sculpture by Jody Pinto. Be prepared to sway a bit as you perch on the top step. Spiro offers excellent river views  from the Ben Franklin Bridge far left to the Walt Whitman down right. We were about to head back to the car, when Apollo bolted toward a bed of wildflowers.Washington Avenue Pier

Wildlife Sights


Apollo’s hunting instincts were spot on. He led us on a hidden gem of a hike along a paved Delaware River Waterfront Authority trail for about 1.5 miles. We passed a few bicyclists, hikers and a rogue pier fishing family. However, we had the trail mostly to ourselves, and saw more wildlife than on our National Parks vacation! There were seagulls, hedgehogs,cormorants, ravens and geese. The trail was lined with budding trees, abandoned piers and spectacular river views. It leads to the new Philly public fishing Pier 68.

Washington Avenue PierOur non-sporting class dog sniffed from a distance at several feral cats. The strays looked well-fed and stared at us calmly from the other side of a chain link fence. We soon discovered why the feral cats looked fit. We met 2 volunteer cat lovers who were out bringing food and fresh litter for the cats. Their homestead also adjoins the Walmart shopping center  lot. Washington Avenue Pier

On our way back, we stopped to watch a tiny tug boat towing a large barge down the river. We’re looking forward to doing a return visit this summer, when all the trees are in bloom. Let’s hope the Pier keeps its low-key, off the beaten trail status going forward.


day trip food neighborhoods

Heritage Walk and Fells Point

For a unique outdoorsy day trip or weekend getaway, how about a drive to Baltimore to explore the Heritage Walk and Fells Point? It’s an easy, two hour ride from Philadelphia to the Inner Harbor. First, fortify yourself with iconic local cuisine. We headed to Phillips Seafood on the waterfront for lobster rolls, crab cakes and fries doused with seafood seasoning. A little pricey, but worth it.

Around Inner Harbor

Heritage Walk and Fells Point Next, stop in to the Baltimore Visitor Center and pick up a Heritage Walk guide. It’s $5: a cheap alternative to paid walking tours, and you can meander. We strolled by docked historic ships to the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse. Hard to believe that a grown man could squeeze into its tiny lookout. As we headed east, we happened upon the somber National Katyn Memorial. The majestic sculpture is a tribute to victims of the 1940 Polish massacre by the Soviets. Nearby is a preserved Underground Railroad stop and a smallish Little Italy neighborhood.

Fells Point

Heritage Walk and Fells PointWe did a collective double-take when we approached Fells Point. This historic, hip neighborhood bore a striking resemblance to our hometown. There were cobblestone streets, renovated brick buildings, trendy eateries and scarce parking.
Heritage Walk and Fells PointTo clinch the comparison, there was a street festival celebrating pirates, and the arts, of course.
While cruising Thames Street, you should stop at The Horse You Came In On Saloon. It’s famous as the last watering hole Edgar Allan Poe visited before he died.

Heritage Walk and Fells PointShot Tower and a Museum First

To complete the heritage walk loop, head a few blocks north and west to the Phoenix Shot Tower.  For over a century, workers dropped molten lead from the top to form a half million bags of shot a year.  Our last stop was to pay homage to the Peale Museum built in 1814. It was the first building in North America specifically designed to be a museum.

This post covers only a few of the free highlights of a Baltimore walking tour. We’ve held on to our guide for a repeat visit.


day trip special events spring events

Light City

As soon as I saw the dazzling TV ad for Light City, I headed online to make plans for a family road trip to experience Baltimore’s free festival of light, music and innovation.  This is the Light City Festival’s second year. It features a week long celebration in early April of outdoor art and performances around the city and beyond. The festival attracted 400,00 visitors in 2016 and undoubtedly more this year.

Light Art Walk

We picked a hotel a few blocks from the Inner Harbor, tourist central.  For the festival, the waterfront was transformed into a 1.5 mile Light Art Walk, glowing with more than 50 illuminated art installations. To avoid the surging crowds, we did the Disneyland trick and walked the trail in reverse order. It worked, mostly.

Interactive Art Experience

We were able to get up close, touch and interact with the art. It was so much fun! For this sculpture, people would line up to dance and sing: their actions made the  colors change and lights flash.
In The Pool (shown above), luminous reflective discs throbbed a rainbow of colors as visitors hopped, shimmied and slid across the big circle.

People Watching

It was equally entertaining to see how others plunged into this multi sensory adventure. One of my favorites was watching how others reacted to Ovo. You enter this giant egg frame and are pelted with lights, sounds, and mist (gentle or soaking). I observed from a dry distance.

The Festival definitely had a party atmosphere, since it stayed open until midnight. We were too busy exploring to sit and listen to the live music, but it made a great soundtrack for the evening. I think we’ll be back for Light City 2018!

day trip dog friendly outdoors parks

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Wes and I celebrated the gift of a cloudless 74 degree day in February with a hike around the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. This sanctuary is free and only a ten minute drive from Center City. It is a remarkable urban oasis.

Oasis in Tinicum

Hiking the 3 mile loop trail around the Tinicum Marsh can be a serene, immersive experience with nature. That is, until you reach a clearing where the I-95 overpass looms up, or you hear the rumble of a regional railcar. Then moments later, you’re back peering through cat tails, spying on a family of egrets.

It’s not your classic nature hike, but I relish the shifts in perspective along the way.  And I am grateful that Heinz protected this special refuge which could have become an airport parking lot, or worse.

Bald Eagle Sighting

Our February 19 hike was special not only for the record-breaking weather, but also because we saw our first bald eagle in action. We had just read a shiny new sign announcing the refuge’s first resident eagle. We weren’t scanning the sky because the sign said eagles migrate. As we hiked a little further, we saw the telltale signs of a wildlife sighting: couples scanning the sky with binoculars and guys setting SLR cameras on tripods. There was a huge nest across the lake in the highest tree. As we watched, we saw the eagle swoop into the nest, hurl down to the water and zoom back up. As the group debated whether the ducks were toast, I realized I knew little about eagles. Here are some basics and eagle lore.

Impoundment Wildlife

Thanks to Wes’s sharp eyes along the hike, we also spotted a small black turtle sunning itself on a wooden raft. The best panoramic view of the many bird species is from the boardwalk, which spans the width of the pond called an “Impoundment”. There were no herons or egrets in February, but there were lots of duck pairs, one male and one female. Each pair had staked out its section of the pond, and a lone duck family got a secluded pond section to themselves. We’re looking forward to visiting in the summer, hopefully to see the new eagle family.