If you’re an intern, recent grad, or student moving to a new city it can be an overwhelming experience. It’s hard to find things to do, a place to live, and ways to have fun on a low budget and it can be tough adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings. In an attempt to help, I’m introducing a new series focused on resources and information for interns in different cities including places to eat, things to do, traveling and housing resources, and general tips. There are more in the works and I’d love to hear from anyone interested in creating a resource list for their city, but today we’re kicking things off with Philadelphia because the city has a great music scene and plenty of local colleges with great music programs. It also happens to be where I went to college.
Places to Eat
Sabrina’s is a cozy little restaurant in the Italian Market that features home-style cooking and some of the best food in the city. It offers big portions for relatively low prices and it’s hard to leave unimpressed. The menu is full of creative options like stuffed challah french toast and vegetarian cheesesteaks and it includes options for various dietary restrictions. The specials menu has a new theme each week including The Big Bang Theory and The Never Ending Story. The Italian Market location is always busy, but there are two other locations – at Drexel University and by The Art Museum – to visit if you’re not willing to brave the wait.
If you’re going to be a Philadelphia transplant you should probably watch at least a few episodes of the cult-hit It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For obvious reasons, the show has an especially dedicated following in the City of Brotherly Love and two of the show’s stars actually opened their own bar, Mac’s Tavern. It has good food and, if you’re 21+, an extensive drink menu, as well as the chance to hope you might run in to the owners. Even if you don’t like the show, it’s worth going for Mac’s Mac, the fries, and plenty of great local dishes. Plus, it is located in the heart of the Old City restaurant and bar scene and it is a great starting point for wandering around and finding new places to add to your list of must-do’s.
Restaurant Week might be the best event of the year if you’re on a tight budget but still love fine dining. Essentially, it allows you to enjoy a multi-course meal at some of the city’s best, and usually most expensive, restaurants at a seriously reduced rate. The only bad thing about it is that there isn’t enough time to fit in a visit to all of its participants.
Food trucks are a Philadelphia essential, especially in the area around University City. There are hubs of food trucks near the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and 30th Street Station, as well as other locations around Center City that offer everything from a quick bite to eat to upscale dining and even cupcakes. They also tend to be pretty inexpensive. They may seem a bit intimidating at first, so if you’re feeling hesitant start by reading reviews online or asking friends for recommendations.
After compiling an initial dining list, I realized a good portion of it was dedicated to dessert (and why shouldn’t it be: what student doesn’t need sweets to help combat exam stress). Rather than list them all individually, it seemed necessary to just give them their own subheading, so here it goes: Insomnia Cookies offers brownies and cookies until late in the night via food trucks, stores, and delivery; Artisserie Chocolate Cafe is as wonderful as it sounds with everything from pieces of chocolate to frozen hot chocolate; Franklin Fountain can only be described as legendary because the homemade ice cream and old-fashioned shop probably make it one of the best dessert places in the city; Capogiro Gelato Artisans was quite literally named the #1 place in the world to get ice cream according to National Geographic; and last but absolutely not least is Scoop DeVille, a cute and trendy little shop that makes custom soft-serve with countless creative ingredients right when you order it (there’s a special machine involved, but I’m pretty sure it’s just magic).
Things to Do
Doesn’t this belong in the food category, you ask? A cheesesteak in Philly isn’t just something to eat, it’s an experience; you have to try a sandwich from more than one place. Preferably you should go to the famous Pat’s and Geno’s on the same trip so you can properly compare and contrast – and you’d better be prepared to order “correctly” while you’re at it. Plus, there’s Jim’s on South (which is actually named Jim’s Steaks and is on South St.) and the classic post-Phillies victory steak at Tony Luke’s, which offers a larger variety of sandwiches and even has curly fries.
You may know Quizzo as trivia, but you haven’t really tried it until you’ve played in Philly. I heard Quizzo was invented in Philly, but the only source I can find is Wikipedia (so you know it must be true). Whether or not that’s the case, it certainly has a huge following and some dedicated competitors in the city. Quizzo is a fun way to spend a night with friends while enjoying food and drink specials, but it can also be full of intense rivalries and hilarious team names. You can find a Quizzo game happening almost every night at at least one local bar.
4th of July Events
What better way to celebrate Independence Day than by spending it in the place where the Declaration of Independence was actually signed? Accordingly, Philadelphia has a big celebration filled with free movie screenings; ice cream and food tastings; a free public concert that has starred the likes of The Goo Goo Dolls, Sara Bareilles, The Roots, and plenty more; and multiple fireworks shows.
WXPN Free at Noon
I could say this is Philly’s best kept secret, but then again the events are often sold out. Still, it certainly seems like not enough people know about or take advantage of the free concerts WXPN offers every Friday at, you guessed it, noon. The concerts take place at World Cafe Live’s larger downstairs room and can be a big name, an up-and-coming local act, or anything in between. Adele performed “Rolling in the Deep” and her other soon-to-be major hits here before the album was even released. And yes, it was free. If that’s not enough reason to check it out, I don’t know what would be.
Art Museum Donation Day
You can’t go to Philly without visiting the famous Art Museum at least once, even if it is only to run up the steps like Rocky. So, why not enjoy some art after all that work you did to get to the top of the steps? The museum frequently has “pay what you wish” admission days where the main exhibits are available for a nominal donation. It’s a great way to enjoy the art while still sticking to your budget.
Philly isn’t necessarily a place that contains a ton of greenery, but there are two unique gardens worth visiting, even if they aren’t filled with flowers. The rooftop garden at The Kimmel Center is a little urban oasis on top of the city, and on days when it is open to the public it is free. It’s a nice place to just sit and relax, but if you’re lucky you may get to hear the orchestra rehearsing down below you. There is also the Magic Garden on South Street which is essentially a huge walk-through mosaic and an enchanting way to spend a few hours if you enjoy modern art.
If you’re looking for stuff to do there are some websites that can help. Both Campus Philly and Uwishunu provide a lot of great information on upcoming events, cultural activities, and new places to go. Additionally, FYI Philly is a local show that features a look at what is going on in the city. It airs on the local ABC affiliate, but you can also watch it online.
Housing & Travel Resources
You won’t necessarily need a car in Philly because most of the city is easily accessible via walking, biking, or taking public transportation. Public transportation is built on SEPTA’s subways, buses, trolleys, and regional rails, but there are some other options like PATCO and New Jersey Transit that can help you get to New Jersey and even New York. One of the best lines to know in Philly is the Market St. subway line because it travels down one of the main roads of the city and can take you from West Philadelphia to Old City and almost anywhere in between. SEPTA uses tokens or cash and tokens are only available in packs of two or more, but the tokens will save you $.45 per trip.
If you are in the city as a summer intern, housing is available through Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania, both are in the fantastic University City district where you’ll be surrounded by students and locals alike. The area is filled with tons of locally-owned restaurants, chic stores, and essentials like a grocery store and movie theater. Plus, you’ll be in West Philadelphia which definitely gives you the right to sing the Fresh Prince theme song whenever you feel like it. There’s also the suburban Villanova University if that’s more your style. There are year-round options available at International House, also in University City.
Need to Know
The biggest thing you need to know if you’re moving to Philly for work, school, or an internship, is that Philadelphians sort of have their own dialect which is full of words like: jawn (any noun), hoagie (a type of sandwich), and Wawa (a convenience store that is pretty much heaven). They also drink wood-er (water), go “down the shore” (to beach towns like Atlantic City), and put jimmies (sprinkles) on their ice cream. They enjoy something called wood-er ice (aka water ice). Contrary to popular belief outside of Philadelphia, this is not the same at Italian ice, even if it seems like it is. You will not win that argument with a Philly native, so don’t bother. There are even interesting names when it comes to geography including Manayunk (man-e-onk) and the Schuylkill (skoo-kull) River. You can get used to this eventually as long as you never make the mistake of cheering for another sports team in front of Phillies or Eagles fans. That’s far more difficult to recover from.