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.

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

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.


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).

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.


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.