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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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.



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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!

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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.


art creativity special events

Fireflies Experience

On a balmy Saturday evening in early October, Wes and I headed to Philadelphia’s Sister Cities Park  in Center City see Cai Cuo-Quong’s Fireflies Experience. Cai is an internationally renowned artist who was commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA) to create an engaging public work to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Ben Franklin Parkway (Parkway 100). The Parkway is our city’s premiere hub for culture, history and major events –a tourist mecca that rivals Old City with Independence Hall.

Unique, Illuminated Lantern Artwork

The artist created a luminous, multisensory group experience that is a spectacular kickoff to the centennial celebration. Cai’s work features 27 pedicabs, each illuminated with colorful paper lanterns. The 2-seat cabs are pedalled by a driver who gives a one-way ride along the Parkway between Sister Cities Park and Iroquois Park (by the Art Museum).

Every cab was aglow with a unique constellation of fanciful shapes. Some cabs had a theme (stars, animals, outer space). Some were more of a hodge-podge. We enjoyed the parade of 1, 2 or  3 pedi-cabs all in motion  down the Parkway promenade.

Free Pedicab Rides

Fireflies experienceAmazingly, the rides are free and given with a smile by enthusiastic aPA volunteers. We found out too late, that ride reservations were required. The site promised that some walk-in spaces would be available. When we tried our luck however, we were warned to expect a 1 1/2 hour -2 hour wait. And there was no guarantee of a ride. The photo is the long line, an hour before the show closing.

The Fireflies Experience was blessed with dry, warm weather throughout the September 15-October 8 installation. In these days of stress and strife, it was a much needed lift to be surrounded by exuberant  riders and strollers. Even the folks on the long lines were in great spirits.Thank you aPA and Cai!

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!

dog friendly outdoors special events spring events

Sakura Sunday

 Fairmount Park’s Cherry Blossom festival on Sakura Sunday has become our annual rite of spring. It was gloriously warm for mid-April with 1,000 cherry trees lush with blooms. The event price is reasonable: it includes live music and dance, Japan House admission, fashion shows, hands-on culture demonstrations and rampant cosplay.

Prettiest in Pink

We headed straight to one of our favorite events, the 
Prettiest Pet in Pink contest. There were 20 dogs, from a chubby corgi to a huskie, showing off their canine talents in pink finery. Loved the kimonoed shiba inu and the derbied cockapoo. The winner is picked by popular vote. I’m rooting for the woman with the tiny dog who has entered for each of the last five years!

Japanese Traditions

The Horticulture Center was transformed into hands-on demonstration areas to explore Japanese culture. You could learn to play Shogi, brushstroke your name in kana calligraphy, learn the proper way to wear a kimono and more. The biggest line was for free shiatsu massages in the back.


Anime Cosplay

For me, the main attraction is to people watch! There are hundreds of fans who arrive in full coordinated costumes to celebrate their anime favorites. The Little Akiba stage in back hosted a student designer as well as a fan anime fashion show. They were fun, but the audience was more impressively bedecked than the runway models.

You can check out more  photos on my instagram account barbhmphilly.