My name is Yael, and I am a currently a rising college sophomore. I completed my first year of college in the most non-traditional way imaginable: the entire world fell into a pandemic. As the Coronavirus swept across the globe, my university followed suit of many institutions and sent its students home for the remainder of the spring semester. The following months were incredibly trying and very sad to be quite honest. I understood the necessity both logistics- and safety-wise behind the decision to transition to remote learning, but I felt as though I was robbed of nearly half of my first year of university and was having a very difficult time grappling with this realization.
Luckily for me, I had plenty of beautiful memories to look back at whenever I felt myself slipping into that sad place.
My college is based just outside of Philadelphia. The very first semester of my first year of college was a lot for me; it was my first time moving away from home, and it was quite a big transition in general, so I did not leave campus much during that first semester — despite Philadelphia being only a short SEPTA ride away from my school. I made it my mission to change this upon returning from winter break. I had decided that I wanted to explore the vibrant City of Philadelphia and all that it has to offer during my spring semester… I wanted to know the City like a local, if you will.
I returned to school on January 20, and I began to take trips into the City of Philadelphia every weekend. I had a blast playing a Philadelphia transplant on my weekly adventures! My friends and I would catch the SEPTA at the regional rail station by our school, go into the City for a few hours, and explore for the day.
I fell in love with the City of Philadelphia over the past few months, and my heart is aching for the day that I can return. I wanted to collect and chronicle all of these second semester shenanigans in one space to look back on one day, so here are the adventures of a Philadelphia transplant trying to find her way through the City:
WEEKEND Adventure 1: JANUARY 24
This was my first Friday night out in the City with my friends! Earlier in the week, I had been looking online for ideas of things to do in the City and stumbled upon information about “Friday Night” events at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. PMA’s Friday Night events essentially meant that the museum was open later in the evening, and there was live music or some performance to accompany the event! A plus for students: the event was free for those 18 and under. Admission was otherwise discounted for students over 18 as well! I had been wanting to go to PMA since the beginning of the school year, so I rounded up a group of a few friends to join me for a visit on our first Friday night back at school. We took the SEPTA Regional Rail from our school to 30th St. Station to take in a few University City sights before walking across the bridge into Center City. It was a long walk from 30th St. to PMA, but it was fun to wander through the City with my friends… we even stumble upon a Shake Shack for dinner along the way!
About 1.5 hours later, we finally found ourselves at the bottom of Rocky Steps — the stairwell leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, so dubbed because Sylvester Stallone trains on these steps in the “Rocky” film. My friends and I raced up the steps, out of breath from our excitement, and entered the museum. We were quickly drawn to the “Designs for Different Futures” exhibit and spent most of our time in that area of the museum, although we viewed some classical paintings on our way over to that exhibit! “Designs for Different Futures” was a featured exhibit that was open at the museum through March. It was such a fun event; we enjoyed spending time in the museum after dark, taking in the art, and listening to the live band.
On our way out, some other college students who attended the event took our photo together, and then I found this neat street art in Logan Square, near the Free Library of Philadelphia! Don’t forget to check the Health / Activity app on your phone once you’re home… mine recorded that we walked 11.42 miles on this adventures!
This was the perfect kick-off to the semester’s Center City adventures, and I was awaiting the following weekend!
WEEKEND 2: JANUARY 31-FEBRUARY 1
Two of my friends and I found ourselves back at the Philadelphia Museum of Art the following weekend! Courtesy of Campus Philly, I received a pair of tickets to attend PMA’s “Friday Night Remix” event. The “Friday Night Remix” event differed from the typical “Friday Night” event we attended the week prior, as there was a featured [futuristic] theme and more activities going on throughout the museum. This Friday Night featured a dance troupe, a live band, a makeup artist (hence the pink clip-ins in our hair!), and a few other activities.
My friend Kalyn and I planned to attend together, but our friend Shiraz decided to tag along just before we left for the City! It was nice to have her be part of our experience as well. We arrived at the North Entrance, around the side of the museum, opposite the Rocky Steps. While there, we listened to the music, talked to other Philadelphians, adorned our hair with bright pink streaks, and visited numerous galleries. The main atrium of PMA was the hub of the evening’s events, so we spent a lot of time on the balcony overlooking the main floor to take in the performances and join in activities! I loved all of the specific lighting and decorations for the future-themed evening… it was so cool to envision how artists view our society’s future appearance and sounds.
At the event’s conclusion around 10 pm, my friends and I decided we did not yet want to return to campus, so we again took a spontaneous walk through Center City! We walked along Benjamin Franklin Parkway — the end of which is where the PMA looks out over the City — all the way to Walnut Street, through Rittenhouse Square, and across South Street bridge into University City! I had visited Penn two years before during my college search process and vaguely remembered the campus layout, but my friends had not yet been to campus. They trusted me to give a quick tour, so we perused the main area of campus before returning to 30th St. Station to catch the last SEPTA home for the night.
My roommate and another hall mate celebrated their birthdays this past week, and they elected to take a trip into Chinatown for their birthday dinner! Along with a few other dorm friends, we rode the SEPTA into Jefferson Station, just near Chinatown then walked from the station to the restaurant they chose. I do not recall the name of the restaurant we went to, but it was a really yummy noodle place! My friends and I dined together, sang happy birthday to the girls, and then proceeded to explore Chinatown. None of us had visited before, so we were truly experiencing the area for the first time! We stopped into a market, walked by the iconic Chinatown Friendship Gate, and got some bubble tea at Tea Dó to top off the evening.
Soon, Chinatown turned into the Fashion District, and then we found ourselves walking along Broad Street back towards City Hall. We called it an early night as midterms were fast-approaching the following week, but it was an exciting celebration nonetheless. Despite the cold air that I wouldn’t mind forgetting, I will never forget the nights spent with my friends, wandering aimlessly through the City of Philadelphia. Those laughs and moments are thing that I will cherish forever.
WEEKEND 3: FEBRUARY 8
My best friend from high school, Leo, had been asking to visit me at school for a long time! He went to school a few hours away and had never been to Philadelphia, so we planned a day that he could come visit. Leo and I separately planned surprise activities for one another, and his was up first.
I had never been to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and neither had Leo, but he gave me an address and asked me to take us there. We took the trusty SEPTA once again from my school station to Jefferson Station, and I navigated our way to the Magic Gardens.
The Magic Gardens are a large (mostly outdoor) gallery space designed by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. Zagar originally started his work in one abandoned city lot and expanded over three lots, plus additional locations throughout the city. The Magic Gardens are located on South Street and are easily his most well-known work. Below are a few photos that I took of different mosaics that caught my eye, along with a self-portrait of me + Leo and the famous stairs inside of the Gardens.
My surprise for Leo was a trip to One Liberty Observation Deck, yet another place that neither of us had been. Along our walk from South Street to Walnut Street in Center City, I pointed out a few well-known Philly attractions. We stopped for lunch at Reading Terminal Market, took some pictures on Broad Street in front of City Hall, popped by Love Park, and finally made it to our destination.
Atop City Hall sits a statue of William Penn. Local lore had it that no building should rise above the brim of William Penn’s hat, but One Liberty Observation Deck was the first building in the City to do so. An architectural feat at 61 stories tall with a 47-foot spire, One Liberty Observation Deck pierces the sky above the City. However, the luck of the City’s sports teams turned to the worst after the Observation Deck’s completion, as all four major sports team in the City lost their championships. The “Curse of Billy Penn” is supposedly responsible for this losing streak but was finally remedied in 2007 when the construction of the Comcast Center was completed. A superstitious construction worker placed a small statue of William Penn atop the Comcast Center to break the spell, and the Phillies won the World Series the following year! I really appreciated reading the local stories that are told throughout the Observation Deck, but the view was what really stole my heart. The last photo in this gallery shows the view of the City from the top floor of the Deck. You can see from City Hall down to South Street and beyond to the Camden River — leading into New Jersey!
It was so cool to be able to show my friend around the City that I’d slowly fallen in love with over just the past few weeks while still experiencing something new. That’s what I love about Philadelphia — there’s so much opportunity to grow, learn, and explore new things… you can never run out of things to do. It’s a city of possibility!
WEEKEND 4: FEBRUARY 15
My friend Kalyn and I returned to Philadelphia for another “Center City Saturday” to celebrate Galentine’s weekend and the end of midterms. The only plan for this trip was the intention to visit Saxby’s Coffee in Rittenhouse Square, but the remainder of the day was otherwise unknown. We learned over the past few weeks that some of the best moments are those which are spontaneous, so we didn’t mind not having a plan. It was kind of thrilling to walk around and see what we’d discover along the way.
… and so, that’s what we did! We arrived at Suburban Station in the afternoon and walked to Rittenhouse from there. The route we took was a little different than usual, so we stayed on John F. Kennedy Boulevard, adjacent to Walnut Street, then turned onto Walnut later. It was fun to explore a new different side of the street, see the Comcast Center, and some other complexes in the area. I love watching the sun reflect off of the glass of the skyscrapers.
We soon found ourselves on Walnut Street, walked into Rittenhouse Square, and made our way to Saxby’s! There is a farmer’s market in Ardmore, a town on the Main Line near our school, that has a small Saxby’s cafe inside of it. Kalyn and I visited the market a few weeks prior, tasted Saxby’s there, and decided it was our favorite coffee ever, so we were stoked to be at an “actual” Saxby’s location in the City. It was pretty cold outside (see my red nose in the last photo, haha), so we warmed up with our coffees in Saxby’s for about an hour before setting off again! I went for a vanilla latte — easily my favorite vanilla latte I’ve had — and Kalyn went for the classic Americano, which she would also 10/10 recommend.
We meandered through shops on Walnut Street from H&M to Urban Outfitters and Lush Cosmetics for a little while before finding ourselves at yet ANOTHER coffee shop-slash-bookstore: Shakespeare & Co. Kalyn is a big book lover, so I knew she’d enjoy this local gem. I had visited Shakespeare & Co. back in September for an author visit; one of my favorite poets, Atticus, did a reading and meet + greet. We drifted through the stacks of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for a little while, then we headed back out to endure the cold.
Kalyn and I decided to take the iconic shot of City Hall from Broad Street, so we circled back around the other side of the Hall. We found a group of college students with the same idea in mind. We ran across the street onto the median in the middle of Broad Street together, then I took a picture of their group, and one of the girls took a photo of the two of us afterwards. We chatted for a bit then parted ways, and Kalyn and I walked back to Dilworth Park. We stopped for a snack at the cafe in Dilworth Park (the pastries here are really good!) and warmed up for a little longer before deciding to call it a day, as we wanted to get back to campus in time for dinner! Although this day was a little shorter and more simplistic than our usual adventures, it was great to experience the City in a more relaxed way. Just walking around, taking in sights, and seeing what we came upon was exhilarating in its own right.
Weekend 5: February 22
The morning of February 22nd was simultaneously exciting but terrifying for me. My friends Cara and Shiraz had planned to go to Infinite Body Piercing on South Street to get their ears pierced. I agreed to tag along, as I was planning to go into the City anyway, but was up-in-the-air about whether or not I too should get another ear piercing. I decided that my spontaneity could hold off for a little while, as that was a decision that I wanted to have thought about for a little while before following through, but I hung out with the girls in the shop for moral support while they were waiting to get their ears pierced. Shiraz went, then Cara, and before I knew it, we were out! All of us were fairly unfamiliar with this part of South Street, near Old City, so we took in the history for a little while before proceeding into Center City. I love the colonial style and old architecture of the buildings in Society Hill. Everything was so lovely. I watched an artist set up a canvas and begin to paint a row of houses as we were walking through the area, and I thought it was such a beautiful moment to see him capturing the beauty of the area surrounding us.
Soon, we ended back up on… you guessed it… Walnut Street, as we always do! More shopping ensued, followed by a late lunch at Chipotle before hopping back on the SEPTA home. Today was another relatively short adventure, but we packed a lot in. Even when I go to the City for just a few hours, I average around 6 or 7 miles a day! I love how walkable the City of Philadelphia is, as well as how easy it is to navigate. Thank you, SEPTA, for also facilitating easy travel into and out of the City. Love you, forever ❤
Thus concludes my spring semester adventures in Philadelphia! I loved being a Philadelphia transplant over those weekends. I’m always itching for a change of scene and something to do — I’m one of the antsiest people ever because I love being on the move all the time — so being able to get to know this vast, amazing City around me was an incredible opportunity. Although my experiences are nowhere near comprehensive of everything that the City has to offer, I know that the next few years will turn me into even more of a Philly Fanatic, and I can’t wait to see what I will discover.
Lots of love,