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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.

Categories
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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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. 

Categories
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!

Categories
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.

 

Categories
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.