Philadelphia's Center City West is the downtown area west of City Hall. It contains downtown's upscale shopping district, the financial district, and the museum district along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, culminating in the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Park. To the east is Broad Street, Philadelphia's arts corridor, and the east side of Center City; to the south is the quieter end of South Street and South Philly; and to the west, beyond the Schuylkill River, is West Philly and University City.
When Philadelphia was first settled, the core of the city was to the east on the Delaware River, in what is now Old City. City founder William Penn plotted out the entire grid street structure of Center City from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers so that the city would develop in an organized fashion, and over time the city did extend development westward and beyond.
Since Old City was originally where the business and market areas were concentrated, much of the western half of Center City became the residential neighborhood. A lot of the housing stock dates from the 1800s, when wealthy businessmen built their homes alongside communities of working-class neighborhoods. In the 1950s, Philadelphia began to expand the business district westward as well, and with the University of Pennsylvania located just across the Schuylkill River, the area has retained its desirability for many residents. In particular, Rittenhouse Square is surrounded by high-rise apartment towers housing the moneyed elite, and the neighboring blocks have long been one of the most desirable residential locations in Philadelphia. Fortunately, the park itself has retained a unique ability to exclude no one, no small feat considering Philadelphia's history of tension between different racial and social classes. On any given day, especially weekends and in the summer, the park will be populated and used by just about anyone and everyone.
Commercial businesses came westward with the planning of Penn Center, a rather unwelcoming business district west of City Hall just north of Market Street. However, this enabled other commercial development to occur in the area, and in 1985 One Liberty Place became the first building to break the unofficial height limit in Philadelphia, which was top of Penn's hat on City Hall. With a ground floor mall at the base of the building, this development helped spur retail development, which in turn contributed to the reversal of urban blight and flight in the early 1990s. Today, the three blocks north of Rittenhouse Square (Walnut, Sansom and Chestnut Streets) and eastward to Broad Street is Center City's upscale shopping district, where fashionable clothing brands have established a presence. In addition, many restaurants, bars and nightlife destinations are located in this particular area as well.
North the business district is the spectacular Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand boulevard that begins at the famous LOVE Park near City Hall and continues northwest, through Logan Circle, and ends at the Philadelphia Art Museum and Fairmount Park. Designed in 1917, the Parkway is one of the city's earliest urban renewal projects and takes many of its cues from similar boulevards in France. Today, the parkway is the spine on which most of the city's museums are located.
Center City is served by SEPTA trains, both the subway and regional rail. All regional rail lines stop in Center City West, at Suburban Station (16th St and JFK Blvd). If you are coming in from the airport, or Trenton, trains will stop here. Note that Suburban Station only serves SEPTA trains, so if you are coming into Philadelphia on Amtrak, you will disembark at 30th Street Station, just across the Schuylkill River.
SEPTA has only two subway lines, both of which run through Center City. The Market-Frankford Line (or the El, because it used to be elevated) is a east-west line running underneath Market Street, connecting West Philly to Northeast Philadelphia. Unfortunately, because the subway was constructed at a time when nothing much existed between the Schuylkill River and City Hall, it does not stop in the middle of Center City West. The Broad Street Line is the second subway line, running north-south. However, as Center City is best explored on foot, just get off at City Hall and walk; no need to make a transfer on the subway line unless Center City is not actually your final destination.
A third train line, operated by NJ Transit (in New Jersey) is called PATCO and comes in from Camden across the Delaware River. The train terminates in Center City West at 15th and Locust.
SEPTA runs trolleys from West Philly and University City into Center City West, which stops at 22nd, 19th and 15th Streets before terminating at City Hall. If you are coming in from the west, trolleys are slower but can be more convenient depending on your final destination. In Center City, trolleys run underground.
Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, ☎ +1 215 299-1000, . M-F 10AM-4:30PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM. Not just a natural history museum, this institution also has an active research arm and library. Highlights of the museum include a 2-story dinosaur exhibit, a butterfly walk-through area, and a children's nature center with live animals. It is the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the Americas.$10 adults, $8 children/seniors/military/students, AAA discount $1.
The Franklin Institute Science Museum, 222 N 20th St, ☎ +1 215 448-1200, . 9:30AM-5PM daily, closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Day, and New Year's Day. This museum attracts some of the top scientific exhibits in the world, including the Titanic Artifacts exhibit, an upcoming exhibit of the Egyptian Treasures found in King Tut's tomb, and the 300th birthday celebration of Ben Franklin himself, which was in 2006. Be sure to walk through the giant-sized human heart, a favorite with kids. Also features planetarium and the immense Tuttleman IMAX Theater and its four-story, domed screen with fifty-six speakers. This museum is incredibly popular with as a field trip destination for local schools, so be advised that mornings and early afternoons on weekdays may be crowded with schoolchildren.Base admission $13.75 for adults, $11 for children 4-11 years old and senior citizens.
The Mütter Museum, 19 S 22nd St, ☎ +1 215 563-3737, . 10AM-5PM daily, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Originally open only to medical students, this collection of medical oddities is quickly becoming one of the city's most popular attractions. Not for the faint of heart, this museum includes lots of items in formaldehyde, lots of skeletons, and one of the only women to ever decompose into soap.$14 adults, $8 children/seniors/students.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th St and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, ☎ +1 215 763-8100, . Tu-Th, Su 10AM-5PM, F 10AM-8:45PM. Famous on the outside for the steps seen in the film "Rocky" and famous on the inside for one of the world's largest collections of art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to many rotating collections as well as a standard selection of pieces always on display. The permanent collection is especially strong in Asian and medieval art, impressionist paintings, and furniture. The museum was founded in 1876 in conjunction with the Centennial Exposition of the same year and is now among the largest and most important art museums in the United States. It sits on a hill overlooking the Schuylkill River at the end of The Ben Franklin Parkway, which was modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris. There's an impressive view back toward City Hall from the top of the "Rocky" steps. In addition, the PMA is opening a new exhibition space in the Perelman Building on Pennsylvania Ave which will display sculpture, costumes, textiles, prints, photographs, and design.$14 adults, $12 seniors, $10 students, AAA discount $1. First Sunday of the month pay what you wish.
Rodin Museum, 22nd St and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, ☎ +1 215 568-6026, . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. Displays the largest collection of Rodin's work outside of Paris.$5 suggested donation.
Rosenbach Museum and Library, 2008 DeLancey St, ☎ +1 215 732-1600, . Tu noon-5PM, W-Th noon-8PM, F noon-5PM, Sa-Su noon-6PM. Hourly tours (Tu-F, 11AM-4PM) take visitors through this fine old townhouse owned by a pair of rare-book dealers, which has grown into a museum and archive. The Maurice Sendak room, full of his sketches and pages, also contains Herman Melville's own bookcase, which holds the copy of Moby-Dick he inscribed to Hawthorne. A handsome double library on another floor holds Joyce's manuscript for Ulysses. On the top floor, poet Marianne Moore's Greenwich Village living room has been installed, to go along with the Rosenbach's trove of Moore papers.$10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 children/students, free for children under 5.
The Comcast Center, 1701 John F Kennedy Blvd. Opened in 2008, at 975 feet tall, the Comcast Center is Philadelphia's tallest skyscraper and the headquareters of the cable provider. The building features a public plaza with a gorgeous fountain display, a dramatic eight-story “Winter Garden” and an energy-saving “glass curtain” that wraps around the Comcast Center, allowing for a 360° view of Philadelphia’s urban landscape. The building has also unveiled a Sony Style Comcast Labs Store, which includes an “Interactive Technology Lab” that is open to the public. The lobby has garnered attention as a tourist attraction. At first glance, the north wall of its lobby appears to be a wood veneer wall, but actually, it's a massive 2,000 square feet high-definition LED screen that's just displaying a picture of a wood veneer wall. Wait a minute, and a dancing figure might appear on the wall, or the entire wall might fade out and be replaced with a photograph or a video show. The computer-generated images are so realistic, you’ll think they’re jumping out of the wall. With a resolution 500% greater than that of an HD television, the Comcast Experience is a remarkable technological and artistic achievement. The video wall, a giant HD video screen that is actually the largest four-millimeter LED screen in the world, is located right in the building’s publicly accessible main lobby, so everyone can enjoy it. Visit during the holidays for special seasonal displays.
Fairmount Park consists of 63 regional and neighborhood parks, spanning both Center City and part of western North Philly. When you want to get away from the city's hustle and bustle, there is always somewhere green to go.
Fitler Square neighborhood has some good restaurants and pretty tree-lined streets. The charming 2400 block of Panama, supposedly, has been re-created on a Hollywood lot for the show "Cold Case." Fitler Square  itself doesn't show up on MapQuest, but it's at 23rd and Pine. A Saturday morning farmers' market runs spring-fall.
Rittenhouse Square is as close to a central park as one can get in Philadelphia. Only 4 blocks west of Broad St and the main business areas, it is an oasis in the heart of the city. It is surrounded by tall buildings, and there are many nice restaurants in the area. Summer concert schedules are listed in the park.
Schuylkill River Park. The newest of the city's parks, but already becoming one of the most popular. For a century, Philadelphia's waterfronts were cut off from its residents by industry and an extensive system of railroads. Now gone for decades, the waterfront is a kaleidoscope of residential development, recreation, and good living. Center City's ongoing Renaissance is being charged by new amenities such as this urban river-side park , which carves its way deep into the city, culminating in South Philly.
The Shops at Liberty Place, on 16th and Chestnut, is an elegant shopping center with stores like Nine West, J.Crew, and Express. Many professionals stop by to get a bite to eat at its large food court and some quick shopping during the lunch hour.
The Shops at the Bellevue Located in the historic Bellevue at Broad and Walnut Sts., the Shops at the Bellevue offer upscale shopping and a gourmet food court. Shops include Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., Williams-Sonoma, Origins, and Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland (Oprah loves the champagne truffles...). Aside from the gourmet foodcourt and upscale shopping, the Bellevue is also home to such upscale eateries as The Palm, Bliss, XIX and J.L. Sullivan's Speakeasy, as well as the Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue.
Walnut Street starts near Rittenhouse Square (at 18th St) and extends eastward to Broad St. It is known as an upscale shopping district featuring a variety of world class shopping and dining destinations.
Village Whiskey, 118 S 20th St (at Sansom), ☎ +1 215 665-1088, . Su-M 11:30AM-11PM, Tu-Th 11:30AM-midnight, F-Sa 11:30AM-1AM. A beautifully decorated Victorian-era bar and restaurant by local restaurateur Jose Garces, which serves some of the best and juiciest burgers in Philadelphia. It's not the cheapest, and fries cost extra, but it's definitely worth it.$10-$30. (39.951612,-75.173864)
XIX (Nineteen), 200 S Broad St (Nineteenth floor of the Bellevue building at the corner of Broad and Walnut), ☎ +1 215 790-1919, . Actually a hotel bar and restaurant named for the floor it's on in a historic 1904 Beaux Arts building, it just might be the highest dining spot in the city with a giant outdoor balcony with a view of downtown.$30-$50.
Parc Restaurant, 227 S 18th St (at Rittenhouse Square), ☎ +1 215 545-2262, . M-Th 7:30AM-11PM, F 7:30AM-midnight, Sa 10AM-midnight, Su 10AM-10PM. One of Stephen Starr's many Philadelphia restaurants, located across from Rittenhouse Square and mimics the Parisian cafe scene in food, decor, and ample sidewalk seating. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is always busy, even on weekdays—don't any of these people have to work? Ah, just like Paris.$10-$30.
Continental Mid-town, 1801 Chestnut St (at 18th St), ☎ +1 215 567-1800, . Another Stephen Starr restaurant, located north of Rittenhouse Square. Fusion food in a brightly decorated, almost-but-not-quite retro diner. $8-$20.
Erawan, 123 S 23rd St (at Sansom), ☎ +1 215 567-2542, . M-F 11:30AM-10PM, Sa 12:30PM-10PM, Su 4:30PM-10PM. Some of the best Thai food in Center City. They'll also deliver.$8-$16.
Alma de Cuba, 1623 Walnut St (between 16th and 17th Sts), ☎ +1 215 988-1799, . M-Th 5PM-11PM, F-Sa 5PM-12AM, Su 5PM-10PM; happy hour M-F 5PM-7PM. $50 (entrees at $25).
Friday Saturday Sunday (FriSatSun), 261 S 21st St (at Rittenhouse Sq), ☎ +1 215 546-4232, . M-Sa 5:30PM-10:30PM, Su 5PM-10PM. A good neighborhood restaurant with regularly updated menu and good, reasonably priced wine list. The decor is dreamily intimate, with strings of twinkly white lights framing the room and, oddly enough, a huge aquarium that backs the bar upstairs and lights up the faces of the bar patrons with a faint glow. A great place for a romantic adventure or a date with an old friend. FriSatSun was a a key contributor to Philly's 'restaurant renaissance' in the 70's, and is still going strong. Reservations recommended.Entrees $20-$29.
Le Castagne Ristorante, 1920 Chestnut St (between 19th and 20th Sts), . A sophisticated Northern Italian Restaurant owned by the Sena Family.
Los Catrines & Tequilas Restaurant, 1602 Locust St (at 16th St), ☎ +1 215 546-0181, . Featuring over 100 tequilas.Entrees $20-$26.
Mama Palma's Gourmet Pizza, 2229 Spruce St (at 23rd St), ☎ +1 215 735-7357. M 4PM-10PM; Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 2PM-10PM. A cozy neighborhood gourmet pizzeria. This casual restaurant serves delicious pizza concoctions from the wood-fired brick oven.
Matyson, 37 S 19th St (between Ludlow and Chestnut), . Entrees $18-$26, tasting menu $45.
Barclay Prime, 237 S 18th St (between Locust and Rittenhouse), . Luxury boutique steakhouse.
Le Bec Fin, 1523 Walnut St (between 15th and 16th Sts), ☎ +1 215 751-9913, . 5-star French restaurant. A fine dining experience to rival anything New York has to offer.
Capogiro, 13th and Spruce; 20th and Sansom, . Artisanal gelato that reflects seasonal and local ingredients. Sample flavors: La Colombe cappuccino, Campari and grapefruit, muscat grape, hot pepper.
Scoop DeVille, at the corner of 18th and Chestnut. a wonderful ice cream and sweets shop.
Center City West has an active nightlife scene around the Rittenhouse Square area. As it's also one of the wealthiest neighborhoods, crowds here can be young, hip, and beautiful—or at least pretending to be—which leads some other people to gripe about how it's all turning too "tacky" and "Manhattan-esque." Depending on how you look at it, this is either changing Philadelphia for the worse, or this is the kind of scene Philadelphia needs to keep people from leaving for the actual Manhattan. Either way, this clash of cultures results in a larger range of options this side of Broad, from the dark, blue-collar dives to the super-ritzy cocktail lounges.
If you're in Center City during the summer months, be sure to take advantage of Center City Sips, a downtown-wide Happy Hour every Wednesday from 5PM-7PM where many bars and restaurants all participate in drink specials: $2 beers, $3 wines and $4 cocktails, and usually some selection of food specials. As it's right after the hump of the office work week, you'll see a lot of young professionals in business casual, and some places will get really crowded, but the prices are definitely right.
Denim Lounge, 1712 Walnut St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☎ +1 215 735-6700. One of Center City's most popular lounges with great DJs and a hip, young and fashionable crowd. However, recent reviews of service and drink prices in particular have placed this venue on the decline over the past several years.
Monk's, 264 S 16th St (between Latimer and Spruce), ☎ +1 215 545-7005, . One of two of the best places to drink beer in Center City (the other one is Eulogy Tavern in Old City). Monk's has one of the largest beer varieties in the area, especially Belgian beer, with the right food to go with it (the burgers and mussels are standouts). Check their website to see the newest featured beer.
McGlinchy's, 259 S 15th St (between Latimer and Manning), ☎ +1 215 735-1259. One of the few true dive bars in Center City. It's dirtier then you can imagine, and since the lighting is dim enough to be almost completely turned off, it's also dirtier then you can see. Right away, the staff genuinely doesn't like you. You will be a smoker as soon as you walk in, whether you smoke or not; McGlinchy's is one of the few bars that is exempt from the smoking ban and it's obvious from the door. The bathrooms are tiny and completely foul. You're better off not washing your hands, just to avoid touching as few things in there as possible. Fights are not uncommon, but the staff is always quick to pounce and drag it outside; McGlinchy's does not suffer fools. But the beer is ridiculously cheap, and the staff will warm up to you if you aren't an idiot, don't waste their time thinking about what you want to drink, and tip well. The crowd is often a mix of old barflys, blue collar after-workers and plenty of cute art school students. This is hands-down one of the best bars in Philly if you leave pretentiousness at the door and roll with the vibe.
Raven Lounge, 1718 Sansom St (between 17th and 18th Sts), ☎ +1 215 840-3577, . A small bar just around the corner from Rittenhouse Square that's a lot of fun. Board games on the tables, affordable drinks, and a DJ mixing it up—once the night gets going, girls get on the bar itself because that's the only place left to dance! Other nights there will be live music or a live comedy show as well.
Nook Bakery & Coffee Bar, 15 S 20th St (between Chestnut and Market), ☎ +1 215 496-9033, . M-F 7AM-6PM, Sa 8AM-5PM, Su 8AM-4PM. Coffeehouse and bakery operated by the owners of the former Walnut Bridge Coffee House.
Walnut Bridge Coffee House, 2319 Walnut Street, ☎ +1 215 496-9003, . M-F 7AM-6PM, Sa 8:30AM-5PM; Su 8:30AM-1PM. Besides the cashier's station and the small deli counter this small cafe is more like someone's tiny living room. Grab a cup of joe first thing in the morning or take a break on the couch during the day, but there's no wifi so catch up on e-mail somewhere else.
The Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 West Rittenhouse Square, . A luxury 5-Diamond rated hotel in the heart of Philadelphia in Rittenhouse Square.
Crowne Plaza - Center City, 1800 Market St, 215 561-7500, . In the heart of the Philadelphia downtown business district - within minutes of shopping and entertainment, and just seven miles from Philadelphia Airport.
Rittenhouse 1715 - A Boutique Hotel, 1715 Rittenhouse Square, (Center City), 877-791-6500, fax: 215 546-8787, . Newly renovated boutique hotel. Seasonal and Couples Specials are available.
Radisson Plaza-Warwick Hotel Philadelphia, 1701 Locust St # 411, tel. (215) 735-6000
Hotel Palomar Philadelphia, 117 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, ☎ +1 215-563-5006, . A luxury Kimpton hotel in Philadelphia's Center City, near Rittenhouse Square, featuring complimentary wifi and hosted evening wine reception. A LEED registered building following eco-friendly, energy-efficient standards.
Art Museum Area
Sheraton Philadelphia City Center, 17th & Race Streets, . Just four blocks from the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
If there's something Philadelphia's plethora of students need, it's a local cafe with free wifi Internet access, and there are a handful of them scattered throughout Center City West. Of course, they can be of use for the traveler as well; most places will provide the password after you've purchased your coffee. However, unlike Starbucks, which are never in short supply, most of these locally-owned cafes encourage faster turnover and less "mobile office" syndrome by not providing electrical outlets.
Good Karma Cafe, 331 S. 22nd St. (at Pine St.), .
Free Library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia City Institute Branch), 1905 Locust Street (at Rittenhouse Square), . You'll need a library or a guest account.
Free Library of Philadelphia (Central Library), 1901 Vine Street (at Logan Circle), . You'll need a library or a guest account.
Tuscany Cafe, 222 West Rittenhouse Square. No password, but also incredibly slow.
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