University of Pennsylvania President Amy Guttman's insider's travelogue of Philadelphia is an engaging excursion that places the city squarely in the perspective of a womantraveler and illuminates how Philly continues to buff up and spice up its urban chic and appeal. With so much history to preserve (aka The Declaration of Independence and Ben Franklin), yet a carefully restrained yearn for the contemporary, Philly has always had the challenge of not turning legacy into parody a la Disneyland. Twenty years ago, professionals and the hip of all ages were escaping Center City for the 'burbs for want of anything cultural to solidly keep them downtown. Fortunately, Philly keeps building on its historic past -- and it's all to the benefit of women travelers and their pals.
Guttman first published her faves for her colleagues in the Chronicle of Higher Education -- and what a great idea. High on her list are Stephen Starr's exotically themed restaurants (such as Buddakan) across the Center City and West Philly, where Penn is located, and First Friday gallery openings in Old City. An innovative music town, Philly is a jazz mecca for those in the know, and Zanzibar Blue -- which began happening about 20 years ago -- still holds its own off Broad Street (recently renamed Avenue of the Arts). That renaming honors the performing arts venues in the quarter (mixed in withe the mega-franchise retail stores that now occupy elegant 19th century bank buildings). We also wrote about Reading Terminal Market, the nation's oldest continuous operating farmer's market, where the aromas, sounds and energy of a huge in-town working market make it a destination in itself.
Keep jazz alive is part of the Philly culture -- and public radio WXPN has created an exciting performance venue at 31st and Walnut Streets near 30th Street Station . WXPN is nationally known for its jazz show World Cafe, and World Cafe Live features local and national artists on Fridays at noon or most evenings. Moving along toward the Penn campus, the electic American bistro White Dog Cafe is an easy and tasty stop.
A delightful weekend getaway can be spent in Rittenhouse Square, a lively and charming area that still preens of its smugly refined history through the latest round of expensive condo renovations. The Penn president points to downtown shopping, such as Anthropologie in a magnificent Beaux-Arts mansion, and sidewalk dining as found at the Parisian style restaurant hit Rouge. In this area rise luxury hotels, such as the Westin (which began incidentally as a Ritz-Carlton) providing a hint of bustling mid-town Manhattan, but I always find the scale of 18th-19th century Society Hill and Independence Square more appealing for accommodations, such as the Omni on Independence Square. There before the tourists amass, mornings offer lovely strolls along the cobblestone streets and serpentine brick walls of well-tended gardens.
She also gives some tips on Philadelphia by Bike with trails along the winding Schuylkill River. (Photos courtesy of GPTMC)