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.

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.

art creativity neighborhoods outdoors shopping

Cherry Street Pier

cherry street pierOn a blustery October weekend, we trekked from the 2 street station to explore  Cherry Street Pier.  This latest Delaware River waterfront renovation  is next to Race Street Pier and Fringe Arts. The Pier offers close-up, wraparound views of Ben Franklin Bridge.  The $5 million transformation of the 55,000 sq. foot Pier has much to offer. There are walk-in artist studios, sustainable plantings, shopping and food trucks for quick bites and drinks. We saw flyers about music and live entertainment as coming attractions.


cherry street pierA 3-weekend-long free Festival for the People hosted by Philadelphia Contemporary launched the Pier. This eclectic celebration of visual arts (tattoos to technology) encouraged visitor engagement.  We spun fluorescent sculptures and watched others pecking out verse on old-school manual typewriters. However, we gave a pass to riding industrial tubing seesaws and joining drop-in yoga.


What we enjoyed most was chatting with the artists and exploring their work. We learned that there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” for the artist tenants here. For example, an artist confided she had only 3 days notice to get her space ready! That explains why many studio spaces were still in progress and closed to visitors. It’s described as a gallery shopping experience. So, cherry street pierit would be helpful to see prices for the artworks.


Also, we are curious to discover what the huge wood structures (shown in the yoga photo) are for. They looked like they’re for sitting and eating. But the chairs were too short and tables too massive for us to move. After strolling the Pier, we recommend heading to nearby United by Blue for instagram-worthy french toast and salads.




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.


dog friendly neighborhoods outdoors spring events

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ParkWe spent a fun, frenzied afternoon racing around Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park  at our first official Adult Easter Egg Hunt. The Park, known to locals as The Lakes, deserves its reputation as a hidden gem in South Philadelphia. It’s accessible by car (with free parking ) or a short walk from the AT&T Septa station. The grounds are open 24/7.

Free Recreation and RelaxationFranklin Delano Roosevelt Park

The park offers free sports fields, tennis courts, fishing, hiking trails as well as a major skatepark. You can rent paddleboats, bikes and even fringed jitneys, all by the hour at the Boathouse. It astonished us to see an 18-hole public golf course (est. 1940) tucked into the park’s landscape. The Lakes is also home to the American Swedish Historical Museum, a hidden gem in its own right.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park

Adult Egg Hunt Surprises

What is a holiday weekend in Philly without a festival? The Park’s FDR Fest was going strong when we arrived for the Adult Easter Egg Hunt. The organizers scrambled to relocate their unofficial hunt because of the festivities. Forty confused, cranky adults wandered around lost. Of course, we were easy to spot, toting colorful empty baskets. Word filtered back, so we collectively hustled to the far side of the Park.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt ParkThe hunt was full of shenanigans and prizes, as promised. Everybody found eggs filled with candy, coins or slips to be redeemed for bigger prizes.

Finally, Cimone and friends challenged the group to a Treasure Hunt. To win, you had to act out some goofy stunts, persuade strangers to be your accomplice, and trot the length of the park for clues. Our family lost enthusiasm for the chase along the way. However, we did help the winning trio track down their final clue. The Olmstead Overlook was built in 1914 (not 1920 per Google).

art museum neighborhoods

Magic Gardens

For a joyous way to celebrate a sunny day, I recommend a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. The gallery is located at 1020 South Street. The “gardens” are an urban wonderland of everyday recycled stuff like bottles, plates or bicycle wheels.

Found Objects

These objects are embedded into organic floor-to-sky walls of mosaics. Imagine walking into a courtyard where every square inch is vibrating with color and energy. As you wander, you’ll discover poetry, quotes and even people’s names integrated into the murals.  Barcelona may have Gaudi, but Philadelphia has Isaiah Zagar! 

Neighborhood Saves Artist’s Vision

The Magic Gardens grew out of local artist Zagar’s vision. He and other activists worked hard to transform blighted vacant lots on South Street in the 1990’s. Over the years, the creations expanded to fill several city lots. In 2004, Isaiah’s visionary project was rescued from demolition. Local residents and organizations rallied to raise funds to purchase the property.

Hundreds of Murals

Isaiah has created more than 200 mosaic murals and the project is still going strong. Take a stroll around the Bella Vista neighborhood. You will discover dozens of smaller-scale mosaics peeking beneath a flower box or transforming an apartment wall.

The Magic Gardens are open year-round to visitors for a small fee. Admission includes rooms of changing indoor art exhibits plus the grounds. Finally, make sure your smartphone or camera is fully charged. I took more than 200 pictures on my first visit.

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.