Visiting Philadelphia With a Small Dog
As with all big city reviews, I am daunted by the task of sharing enough information to do justice to what we experienced in Philadelphia without being too long winded or bogged down with details. I am feeling even more trepidation because, unlike other big cities such as Paris and Rome which have shining posts and books singing their praises, Philadelphia suffers from anonymity. Not nearly enough people talk about how beautiful and awesome Philadelphia is. Because, Dear Reader, it really, honestly is.
Philly is super pet friendly. Most stores had no problem with me entering and dog bowls were often found on the sidewalk. Even the bank had dog bowls near the cash dispensing machines. The dog-friendliness also included access to different restaurant patios for meals, without even blinking an eye. As you know, that is a big plus for us.
The city is historic and architecturally stunning, home to many museums and the source of some great food. It also has a quality I find sorely lacking in many North American cities: Philly is very walkable. So, let me take you on my very own walking tour of the four districts I discovered over a three-day period. Follow me!
1. Rittenhouse Square District
Our discovery of Philadelphia started in Rittenhouse Square, where our hosts live. What an amazing location. What a treat!
If you are going to visit Rittenhouse Square District, you start with a walk through the park that takes up the central square in question. Rittenhouse Square is one of the five original open-space parks planned by William Penn during the late 17th century. Originally called Southwest Square, Rittenhouse Square was renamed in 1825 after David Rittenhouse, a descendant of the first paper-maker in Philadelphia. David Rittenhouse was a clockmaker and friend of the American Revolution, as well as a noted astronomer. There’s even a lunar crater named after him!
In the early nineteenth century, as the city grew steadily from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, it became obvious that Rittenhouse Square would become a highly desirable address. Today, the tree-filled park is surrounded by high rise residences, luxury apartments, an office tower, a few popular restaurants, some stores, and two hotels. Its green grasses and dozens of benches are popular lunch-time destinations for residents and workers. Its lion and goat statues are popular gathering spots for small children and their parents. I liked the dog statue better to be honest! The park is a popular dog walking space for area residents.
The beauty of the Park is due largely to the efforts of Friends of Rittenhouse Square, a public-private partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Landscaping, lighting, restoration of fountains and fencing—even the installation and stocking of doggie-poop-bag dispensers—are all under their purview. For those who might be worried about safety, don’t. New security cameras installed in 2013 have cut down on vandalism and “park rangers” have helped calm behavior in the Square. Damaged balustrades and stonework have been extensively restored with some of the restoration still ongoing. All we saw were buskers and people having a good time. Oh, and a farmers’ market on Saturdays!
We enjoyed meals at two restaurants in this district, both with pet friendly patios. The first was MARATHON. We enjoyed the food here so much we went twice! We had our first ever Philly Cheese steak sandwich here. The service is hugely pet friendly. There were always lots of dogs. Some really big ones too. No one seemed bothered. The restaurant also supports an urban farming initiative – using vacant land in the city to grow food for the city. It’s a brilliant project.
The second restaurant we visited was Parc Brasserie. It was like being in Paris. They serve traditional bistro fair including classics such as onion soup, escargots, steak and frites, and towering plateaus of “fruits de mer.” The baguette is made in house! Mom enjoyed a Kir Royal and a stunning – not to mention delicious – dessert simply called LA FRAISE: a strawberry cake, vanilla mousseline, with strawberry compote, and pistachio ice cream … topped with gold flecks!
2. Parkway Museums District
The Parkway Museums District (also known as the Art Museum District or simply the “The Parkway”) is, as the name suggests, the area that is home to all the major museums. This includs the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute, and the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Barnes Foundation relocated to the Parkway in May 2012.
But you know what? It wasn’t the museums we wanted to see, even though I am sure they are fascinating (if not pet friendly). We went to this district to visit three beautiful squares that are not only pet friendly, but also very beautiful.
Logan Circle, and the Swann Memorial Fountain (in honor of Dr. Wilson Swann founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society). Adapting the tradition of “river god” sculptures often found in Europe, the fountains have large Native American figures to symbolize the area’s major streams. The young girl leaning on her side against an agitated, water-spouting swan represents the Wissahickon Creek; the mature woman holding the neck of a swan stands for the Schuylkill River; and the male figure, reaching above his head to grasp his bow as a large pike sprays water over him, symbolizes the Delaware River. Sculpted frogs and turtles spout water toward the 15 meter (50-foot) geyser in the center, though typically the geyser only spouts 8 meters (25 ft). And yes, the use of swans is an intentional pun on Dr. Swann’s name.
Sister Cities Plaza nestled between Logan Circle and the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. The Plaza has a nice café that has a real espresso machine. (This is an important detail for Dad.) While I caught my breath from all our walking, I watched the young children in their bathing suits play in the Children’s Discovery Garden, which features winding pathways, scalable rocks, and a meandering stream. Although Children’s Discovery Garden and inside the Café are off limits to canines, the remainder is a treat. And the terrace is pet friendly. Here, Mom tried a Philly specialty, “Water Ice” – basically crushed ice with lots of highly sweetened and artificially colored syrup. Could it be the Slush Puppies predecessor? Mom had the chocolate with the hope it contained less food coloring. I am sure she is glad she tried it at least once. Perhaps Mom will try a more fancy Water Ice next time.
The Love Park. Built in 1965, the park is across from beautiful city hall. It’s a pretty plaza, with curved granite steps and a single spout fountain. The park was dedicated in 1967 as John F. Kennedy Plaza after President John F. Kennedy, but the park’s name comes from a “Love” sculpture designed by Robert Indiana, first placed in the plaza in 1976 as part of the United States’ Bicentennial celebration. The sculpture was removed in 1978, but the sculpture was so missed by locals and tourists alike that the chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, F. Eugene Dixon, Jr., bought the sculpture and permanently placed it in the plaza. And that is how the JFK Plaza became better known as the Love Park. And yes, we had our photo taken!
3. Historic/Waterfront District
I ended up on the far end of this District one warm and sunny evening because I was attending my first ever Travel Massive. (More on that in another post, Dear Reader.) When we decided to leave the event, we realized it was a beautiful night and so – without hesitation we decided to walk home through the district rather than cab it. That’s a long walk covering about 17 blocks, but off we went!
After a quick stop in a pet store we stumbled across (where I got myself a Philly Flyers hoodie as a souvenir), we got some cash from a TD bank. I am amazed at how a Canadian bank – the Toronto Dominion: it doesn’t get more Canadian than that – is SO present in the US! The bank stop meant some water for me because, yup, TD is one of the banks that offers water dishes for canines inside the air-conditioned entryway. (Classy, TD. Very classy.) Then we walked as the sun slowly set over some of the United States’ most important historical spots.
The Betsy Ross House was my first landmark that evening. It is the house where Betsy Ross supposedly lived when, as legend has it, she made the first American Flag. The claim that Ross once lived there and that she even designed and sewed the first American flag is considered apocryphal, but the house is still one of the most visited tourist sites in Philadelphia. And you know what, Dear Reader? I joined in! I still asked to have my picture taken right there!
We continued our evening stroll and ended up at the Liberty Bell. What a story this bell has! Let me attempt to give you a synopsis. (Skip ahead if you know the story.)
The original bell hung from a tree behind the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) and was said to have been brought to the city by its founder, William Penn. In 1751, with a bell tower being built in the Pennsylvania State House, civic authorities sought to replace the original bell with a bell of better quality that could be heard at a greater distance in the rapidly expanding city.
The new bell arrived in Philadelphia from England in August 1752. It was cast with the lettering (from Leviciticus) “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The bell was mounted on a stand to test the sound, and at the first strike of the clapper, the bell’s rim cracked. The bell was recast twice!
Initially, the Liberty Bell was used to summon lawmakers to legislative sessions and to alert citizens to public meetings and proclamations. Despite the legends that have grown up about the Liberty Bell, it did not ring on July 4, 1776 (at least not for any reason connected with independence), as no public announcement was made of the Declaration of Independence.
The bell became famous when an article appeared in 1835 in the New York Anti-Slavery Society’s journal, Anti-Slavery Record. Entitled “The Liberty Bell,” the article told off Philadelphians for not doing more for the abolitionist cause. Two years later, another publication of that society, the journal Liberty, featured an image of the bell as its frontispiece with the words “Proclaim Liberty.” In 1839, Boston’s Friends of Liberty, another abolitionist group, joined in the call and titled their journal The Liberty Bell. The same year, William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery publication, The Liberator, reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem entitled “The Liberty Bell.” The poem lamented that despite its inscription, the bell did not proclaim liberty to all the inhabitants of the land.
That’s quite a reputation to live down. But enough about the bell! Let’s cross the street!
Independence National Historic Park is a spot that preserves several sites associated with the American Revolution and the nation’s founding history. The centerpiece of the park is Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted in the late 18th century. The park contains other historic buildings, such as the First Bank of the United States, the first bank chartered by the United States Congress. Carpenters’ Hall, the site of the First Continental Congress is located on Park property as well; however, the building is privately owned and operated. The park also contains Franklin Court, the site of a museum dedicated to Benjamin Franklin and the United States Postal Service Museum. The three blocks directly north of Independence Hall, collectively known as Independence Mall, contain the Liberty Bell Center, the National Constitution Center, Independence Visitor Center, and the former site of the President’s House.
Although I was not allowed inside to visit (and it was way too late in the day anyway), I enjoyed walking around all these buildings where so many important decisions were made. I just imagined dogs of those days and wondered if maybe they were allowed inside then.
Oh, and before I forget, you will also find “Once Upon a Time” Storytelling benches in this area. There are 10 in total where you can hear free stories from American and Philadelphian history!
4. Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Kelly Drive
On our third and final day in Philadelphia, we decided to walk up to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Rittenhouse Square. Our plan was to walk all the way up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and perhaps a little beyond. It’s a long hike but a lovely one on a sunny summer day.
We first stopped at the park and the Eakins Oval. Just inside the northwest edge of Eakins Oval, in front of the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, stands the Washington Monument fountain. It was commissioned and designed by sculptor Rudolf Siemering. The bronze and granite sculpture features a uniformed George Washington mounted on a horse. Washington and his horse are poised on top of the fountain, facing southeast down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards Philadelphia City Hall and William Penn’s statue on top. The face of the sculpture was made from an impression taken of the former president while he was still alive. The lowest level of the monument features Native Americans and animals which are native to the United States. I was particularly fond of the moose head and took a break there.
The Philly Museum of Art is not pet friendly inside, but you can walk around it. More importantly, you can visit the Rocky statue and run up the famed stairs. For those of you in the know about these movies, you will remember the scene where Rocky is totally down on his luck, but dusts himself off to prepare for the match. Rocky runs up the stairs to the song “Eye of the Tiger” and at the top, shouts out his hope – which he realizes in the end. It’s a pretty powerful moment. Well, Dear Reader, I DID IT! Yep. I put on my own hoodie and ran up the steps! Whoot! Whoot!
After that was done and I had a long drink from my water canister, we walked towards the Schuylkill River and discovered a most beautiful park, complete with wrought iron bridges, cliffs, and more. Known as the Water Works, the fountains were a welcome place to cool off feet and paws. We passed artists dotting the landscape as we continued our way under the cover of big mature trees. There were tons of statues and flowerbeds to sniff and explore. But after all that walking and running up stairs, we were HUNGRY!
The Waterworks restaurant wasn’t open yet (perhaps it only opens for the evening), which was a shame because the location will take your breath away. In any event, I am not sure if the Waterworks was dog friendly in any event.
Luckily, we kept walking towards Boathouse Row. We went to see the boathouses even though you can’t go inside. It’s still fun. We also learned that you can’t really see the front of the boathouses unless you are on the #76 interstate across the river. Poo. We had hoped to walk along the river but had to be satisfied with the sidewalk street-side. No matter, our walk landed us at a little sandwich shop called Cosmic Cafe for lunch. We ate outside at shaded tables. At first the bipeds were worried that the food would be subpar and more junk than food, but it turns out the food was excellent! Homemade, fresh, and healthy with even some vegetarian options. Pretty snazzy for a sandwich shop. Well done!
You can also rent Segways and bikes at that location and take a guided tour. We toyed with the idea, but we liked our pace and had an idea of what we wanted to do next, so kept moving on our own and started our long journey on foot back to Rittenhouse Square.
The Rodin Museum we came upon was a revelation. The last time I had heard of Rodin was when I had been in Paris! It was a real surprise to see an entire museum I Philadelphia dedicated to the famous artist. I had to go in and investigate how and why this had come to be.
It turns out the museum was a gift from movie-theater magnate Jules Mastbaum (1872–1926) to the city of Philadelphia. Mastbaum began collecting works by Rodin in 1923 with the intent of founding a museum to enrich the lives of his fellow citizens. Within just three years, he had assembled the largest collection of Rodin’s works outside Paris, including bronze castings, plaster studies, drawings, prints, letters, and books. In 1926, Mastbaum commissioned French architects Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber to design the museum building and gardens. Unfortunately, the collector did not live to see his dream realized, but his widow honored his commitment to the city, and the Museum was inaugurated on November 29, 1929.
The best known of Rodin’s works, The Thinker (1880–1882), sits outside the museum in the entry courtyard. Visitors once entered the museum through a cast of The Gates of Hell, located at the no longer used main entrance to the museum. This massive 5.5-m-tall bronze doorway was originally created for the Museum of Decorative Arts (which was to have been located in Paris but never came into existence). Rodin sculpted more than 100 figures for these doors from 1880 until his death in 1917. This casting is one of the three originals; several others have been made since. Several of his most famous works, including The Thinker, are actually studies for these doors, which were later expanded into separate works.
I was not allowed inside but I did get to enjoy a beautiful garden that has many works you can enjoy for free. That included a lovely reflection pool.
Pheeeewwww… I don’t know about you but all this “walking” has my paws burning. I think I will stop here for now, Dear Reader. This post is already longer than I like and I fear I may bore you. But I hope you have a clear idea now of how beautiful Philadelphia is.
In review: Arguably, the most important name in the city is that of William Penn ‘cause he founded the place in 1682. But Philadelphia’s fame comes from the American Revolution, when Philadelphia played an instrumental role as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. Philadelphia was one of the nation’s capitals during the Revolutionary War, and the city served as the temporary U.S. capital while Washington, D.C., was under construction. During the 19th century, Philadelphia became a major industrial center and railroad hub that grew from an influx of European immigrants. It became a prime destination for African Americans during the Great Migration and surpassed two million occupants by 1950.
With bucket loads of history, money, important men and more in its past, Philly is a lovely city to walk through with much to see architecturally and to hear historically. You will find museums, fountains, and art, and pet friendly patios abound. If you haven’t yet, put Philadelphia on your “go to” list.