At the end of July, we spent a long weekend exploring Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today I will be covering our visit to the The Franklin Institute, Old City, and Independence National Historic Park along with a recipe for the Philly Cheesesteak. Here are my previous posts covering our stay at The Logan Hotel; our visit to Reading Terminal Market, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and Rittenhouse Square; and Please Touch Museum, Chinatown, Franklin Square.
On our way to The Franklin Institute, we walked through Sister Cities Park and Logan Circle. Sister Cities Park is located on the east side of Logan Square in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. It is the perfect stop for young children. Here you will find the AMOR statue, Children’s Discovery Garden (with a boat pond in the summer/imagination playground in the winter and library in the park book cart), Sister Cities Fountain, and Logan Square Cafe.
As a note, the LOVE statue in LOVE Park was under renovation during our visit and is scheduled to reopen to the public in late November 2017.
Logan Square (first known as Northwest Square) is another one of the five original squares planned by William Penn (along with Rittenhouse Square and Franklin Square). It holds Logan Circle, a traffic circle on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with the Swann Memorial Fountain in the center. Claire’s current favorite animal is the turtle and she was smitten with the fountain’s turtle sculpture. From here, you can see all the way down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Franklin Institute is located on the west side of Logan Square on North 20th Street. It was founded in 1824 by Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating and is one of the oldest science education centers in the United States. The current museum and building opened to the public on January 1st, 1934 as a “Wonderland of Science.” It has continued to grow over the years to the 400,000 sq feet of exhibits, two auditoriums, and the Tuttleman IMAX Theater found today.
The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm (closed on Thanksgiving, 3 pm on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Years Day). Find current admission prices here. Check the daily schedule for special events and programs. There is a parking garage onsite (height limit 6’1″) and the museum is accessible via SEPTA and the Philly PHLASH.
Inside the museum, you will find the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in the rotunda. This 20 ft high and 30 ton marble statue was created by James Earle Fraser between 1906 and 1911. The rotunda is 82 ft in height, length, and width. It was designed by architect John T. Windrim and opened in 1938.
The Memorial was designated as the official national memorial to Benjamin Franklin in 1972 and admission is free.
Our first stop was Space Command (we entered through the first floor entrance to the right of the staircase since we had the stroller with us). Evan and Claire enjoyed building rovers, playing with the interactive games, and learning about all things space.
The Train Factory includes a large 350-ton Baldwin steam locomotive that has been at the institute since September 22, 1933. A variety of displays are set up to show the science and technology that helps the trains run.
The Franklin Air Show focuses on the principles of aeronautics and stories from the earliest aviation pioneers. Evan particularly enjoyed the activities in this exhibit and being able to examine the interior workings of the planes.
In Your Brain, discover how the brain works at the cellular level and explore a multi-sensory street scene. The highlight for the kids was the two-story tall neural network climbing structure. As you walk through this area, foot steps trigger the lights and sound effects.
Evan’s favorite part of the museum was Amazing Machine. He was especially fascinated by the gears table. This is definitely the place for anyone interested in gears, linkages, cams, pulleys, and other parts that work together to power and control devices.
In The Giant Heart exhibit, we explored the inside of a heart (many many times) large enough for a 220 ft tall person. Other interactive activities in this area focus on the impact of exercise and a healthy lifestyle on the human body.
Other current exhibits include Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, 3D Printing the Future, Virtual Reality at the Museum, Electricity, SportsZone, Changing Earth, Sir Isaac’s Loft, and the Observatory.
We all enjoyed The Franklin Institute, but it is especially great for school-aged children. Some exhibits caught Claire’s attention, but Evan was particularly enthralled with the activities. Allow for at least 2 hours, but we could have easily spent all day here.
After The Franklin Institute, we walked up Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We walked by the Rodin Museum (photo above, the largest collection of sculptor Auguste Rodin’s works outside of Paris) along the way.
We didn’t have time to visit the inside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but Chad and the kids were able to run up the steps. Well Chad ran up once, then Evan wanted to join in which made Claire also want to go. So Chad got to run up a second time with Evan while holding Claire.
Everything was within walking distance for most of the weekend, but we did take the Philly PHLASH once to go from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Old City. It has service from 10 am to 6 pm daily during the summer and on weekends during the spring and fall.
Our first stop in Old City was Sonny’s Famous Steaks for lunch. The line was out the door, but it moves semi-fast. Chad and I each got a cheesesteak, one with provolone and one with cheese whiz. We both preferred the cheese whiz over the provolone. It added more flavor and moisture to the sandwich. The grilled cheese was a huge hit with the kids. They loved the stretchy quality of the cheese. Seating can be tight with a handful of high top tables, longer tables towards the back of the restaurant, and a couple outside.
After lunch, we walked up North 2nd Street to Elfreth’s Alley.
Elfreth’s Alley is known as the United States’ oldest residential street and was designated a National Historic Landmark on October 15th, 1966. It is named after Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th-century blacksmith and property owner, and currently has 32 houses that were built between 1720 and 1830. The museum is located at #124/126 and is open to the public.
After fighting a nap, Claire finally succumbed to sleep during the long and bumpy stroller ride through Old City.
Independence Hall, located on Chestnut Street, houses the rooms where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. Construction on the building first began in 1732 (at the time it was known as the Pennsylvania State House) and it held all three branches of Pennsylvania’s colonial government before the state capital was moved to Lancaster in 1799 and then Harrisburg in 1812. The Assembly Room began being used by the Second Continental Congress beginning in 1775, followed by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During the peak travel period from March to December, tours are only available through timed tickets until 5 pm. A limited quantity of same-day tickets can be picked up from the Independence Visitor Center at 8:30 am the morning of (arrival by 8:45 recommended), but we weren’t going to be in the area that early so I bought tickets ahead of time online. Admission is free, but advance purchase online comes with a $1.50 handling fee per ticket. The Visitor Center was also a great spot for us to take a break to let Claire finish her nap while Evan have some quiet time to color. The center has a gift shop, bathrooms and water fountains (bathrooms are not available at the Liberty Bell Center or past security in Independence Hall), theaters with free films, an ATM, and a cafe.
After going through security (arriving 30 minutes prior to ticket time is recommended), we waited in the courtyard behind the hall until it was time for our tour.
The tour was led by a ranger who showed us the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (top photo above) and The Assembly Room (bottom photo above) on the first floor. It lasted about 30 minutes and is accessible to those with mobility impairments or strollers.
Our original plan was to see the Liberty Bell after picking up the Independence Hall tickets, but before our tour. It was around 3:30 pm and the line was wrapping around the block. We decided to wait until after Independence Hall and are glad we did. At 5 pm, the line was much shorter (hours were extended during the summer to 7 pm, see year-round hours here).
The Liberty Bell (first known as the State House Bell) was originally hung in the wooden tower of the Pennsylvania State House in 1753. It cracked on its first ring and was melted down into a new bell. After 90 years of use, a narrow split formed in the 1840s. The crack was widened in 1846 to help stop the spread using a technique called “stop drilling,” yet it cracked further on Washington’s birthday which rendered the bell unusable. Learn more about the Bell’s history here.
No tickets are required and admission is free. Along with the Liberty Bell, there are exhibits, a video presentation, and more covering the bell’s history including its role with abolitionists.
We had such a wonderful first visit to Philadelphia and can’t wait to see the city again someday.
One of the most iconic foods in Philadelphia is the Philadelphia Cheesesteak, a hotly debated sandwich filled with thinly sliced beef and cheese. Developed in the 1930s, brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri were operating a food cart and Pat combined thinly-sliced fried beef and onions in an effort to make something other than hot dogs. A taxi driver customer told them it should be made into a regular item and by 1940 the brothers were running Pat’s King of Steaks.
We tried the cheesesteaks from Sonny’s Famous Steaks with provolone and cheese whiz and both preferred the cheese whiz. While recreating at home, I topped the cheesesteaks with sliced white American, but use whichever you prefer.
The cheesesteaks are served on long rolls that are firm enough to hold up the the cheesesteak filling, but not too hard on the outside. I was not able to find the right kind of bread at the store, so I made some at home using this recipe from Rock Recipes. I kept the length of the sandwiches longer by divided the dough into 3 larger sandwiches instead of 6 small ones.
I cheated and picked up some thinly-sliced beef made for bulgogi from the nearby Korean market for the filling. If you slice your own ribeye, place the meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes to make it easier to slice against the grain as thinly as possible.
Claire was actually not happy with this recipe. The whole day when I told her we were making cheesesteaks, she was apparently hearing me say CheeseCakes. In her two year old style, she was quite distraught when I brought her half of a meat and cheese-filled sandwich instead of a creamy cheesecake. She missed out on one good sandwich.
Philly Cheesesteak Recipe
Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds thinly sliced ribeye steak
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
12 slices White American cheese, Provolone, or Cheese Whiz
4 large sub rolls (Amoroso’s if possible)
Place a large skillet over medium high heat. Drizzle with vegetable oil.
Once hot, add half the thinly sliced onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and golden, about 5 minutes.
Add half of the thinly sliced beef in a single layer. Cook for about 2 minutes before seasoning with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Continue to flip and cook until browned on all sides, using a spatula to cut the slices of meat into pieces.
Separate the meat and onion mixture into two separate sides about the length of the roll being used. Cover each with slices of the cheese. Cover the pan just long enough to melt the cheese, about 30 seconds.
Slide a spatula under the meat and transfer to the inside of an open roll. Fill a second roll.
Repeat with remaining onions and beef. Serve immediately.