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.

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.

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.



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!

art creativity holiday outdoors special events summer events

Last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

last bastille day at eastern state penitentiaryOn July 14, 2018, I ambled behind hundreds of sweaty revelers down Fairmount to celebrate the last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary. For the past 24 years, the historic prison has co-hosted a Bastille Day show and after-party with their neighbor, the London Grill.  It began as a lively intimate restaurant party each July 14. But the event soon exploded in size and pageantry into an elaborate music and drag cabaret extravaganza. The 2018 publicity claimed it is Philadelphia’s largest free theatrical performance.

The Guillotine and Edith Piaf last bastille day at eastern state penitentiary

The pre-show featured multiple beheadings of juicy watermelons, based on thumbs down votes from the crowd. The annual executioner this and every year was  Sean Kelley Senior VP and ESP’s first employee. The main attraction, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, made a dramatic entrance on the main tower parapet.  John Jarboe was a winged Edith Piaf in gold lame, crooning and rappelling down the stone fortress. When he reached the entry door, he unfurled a huge banner proclaiming RESISTEZ!

Joan of Arc, Ben and Cautionary Tales

What followed was a rapping and dancing procession of famous heroes who fought for freedom and justice. Joan of Arc made a live phone call to Senator Pat Toomey’s office, encouraging the crowd to shout out their protest messages.  The Handmaids appeared as a harbinger of worse disasters to come, and Marc Zuckerberg sang You Belong to Me (courtesy of the Police.)

Marie Antoinette and Tastykakes

last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

The eagerly-awaited annual climax was the appearance of Marie Antoinette. She was enacted with gusto and a frightful pink wig by Terry McNally, co-owner of The London Grill. She swigged Chardonnay and mocked the complaining masses below. Finally, she uttered her famous line, for the last time: Let them eat Tastykakes!
The crowd below was pelted with a rush of  Tastykake butterscotch krimpets –2,000 packages were flung down from the balcony. The lucky bourgeoisie in the receiving area checked their wrappers to see if they were a lucky winner of a large Tastykake stash. I took that as my cue to head out as Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me boomed down.


holiday neighborhoods special events

Chinese New Year

This was our first year joining the Chinese New Year celebration in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Happy Year of the Rooster and  Gung Hay Fat Choy.

Philadelphia Suns parade

We headed to Chinatown to see the Philadelphia Suns‘ annual Lion Dance celebration. We arrived 10:30am on Sunday to an almost deserted street. As we took a walk around the block, the crowd magically appeared. We squeezed in and waited with the other clueless tourists. We all assumed the parade would march beneath the famous Friendship Gate on 10th and Arch. Wrong! We bolted en masse as we watched the procession in the distance, slowly heading down Race Street.

Lion Dance

The parade covers two square blocks but took over two hours to complete. That’s because the three lions (two dancers per lion) visit and perform for virtually every business on both sides of the street. The merchant provides the firecrackers and bestows a red paper envelope(money gift) to the lions. The lion dancers reward him by ceremonially chomping down the dangling lettuce and setting off the explosives. The more firecrackers provided, the longer and louder the dance. And presumably the more good luck for the coming year.

The lions were accompanied by musicians banging drums and gongs to synchronize the lions’ movements. The Philly Suns all wore kerchiefs and headphones as protection against the smoke and loud blasts. Every few stops, the lion dancers would switch off. Some parents covered their tots’ ears during the worst, but the children seemed captivated by the spectacle.  Afterwards, we enjoyed a traditional dim sum brunch near home.

holiday winter events

Mummers Parade

This was my second year celebrating New Years Day with the full Mummers Parade experience (minus the morning alcohol). For the best views, head up Broad Street before 11 and stake out a spot on the left side near City Hall.

All in the Family

The parade features lots of marching Mummer families, with kids in matching costumes and babies in decked-out strollers. Mayor Kenney hosted voluntary Mummer sensitivity workshops, which seemed to pay off. We saw only a few obscene or politically incorrect signs. It was a welcome change from the defiant Wenches/Frogs/Chickens Lives Matter signs last year.

Wench Division & Fancy Brigade

The Wench division means guys in skirts, bonnets and umbrellas. Plus gold sprayed sneakers for footwear. It was heartening to see Mummers shake hands with cops along the parade route. Mummers were carrying an open can or flask in their other hand, but all was genial. There’s also a Comic Division, which featured tributes to Pokemon Go , Newsies? and more.

The Fancy Brigade teams (the glitzy feather/sequin types) don’t march on Broad until after they compete at a PA Convention Center in a paid admission show. It’s a multimedia, four hour dance spectacle. The sets were more elaborate than what you’d see on Broadway. For those who are patient, you can watch the Fancy Brigade show highlights for free on Channel 17 TV at 8pm on New Year’s day.

South Philly Party

By mid-afternoon, I’d had my fill of feathers and polyester, and was ready to head home. Broad Street was impassable. The big crowd pleasers, the String Band Division teams, do  their competition in the afternoon. The Mummers parade winds up at the Mummers Museum on 2nd street. It was still going strong into the wee hours. Yet, the city was cleaned and back to business for those heading out on January 2.

holiday winter events

New Year’s Eve Fireworks

Everyone should experience the free New Year’s Eve Fireworks extravaganza at Penns Landing at least once. The 15 minute show was one of the most spectacular displays we’ve seen.

Family Friendly Fireworks

We opted for the 6 pm, family friendly performance. There’s also the midnight ringing in fireworks. By 5:30, a good-sized crowd had staked out the best views, facing the fireworks barges on the Delaware River front. Accustomed to the aggressively jostling mobs in NY and NJ, we were pleasantly surprised by the friendly ambience. Discovered too that Philly decks out the Ben Franklin Bridge in multicolored lights for the holidays.

River Rink Action

The biggest crowd was queued up to hang out or skate at River Rink , which was ablaze with blue and gold lights. Their fire pits were tempting on that blustery night. Street vendors were doing a brisk business selling glowing light sabers and noisemakers. Two young boys near us blew a one-note version of Jingle Bells on New Year’s horns nonstop until the patriotic fanfare drowned them out.

The fireworks colors and arrays were beautifully synchronized to the music. Instead of trying to describe the show, click to see my short YouTube video with 2015 highlights.  I’ve included a few photos from the 2016 show below.