Summer in the city: For many, just the thought of walking amid frenzied crowds, choking smog, and jarring, honking horns as sweat trickles down the back of your neck is the stuff of nightmares. But, for a native Philly girl like me, the hustle and bustle of the city—the chatter of people rushing from one store to the next, the laughter of children playing outside, the hum of overworked air-conditioners, the click-clack of sandals hitting the sidewalk, and that familiar yet indescribable heady “summer smell” that floats on the warm air and seems to seep out of every concrete crevice—makes me feel alive.
Sure, you can get a quick city fix in a half-hour or so by hopping on the Metro-North to Grand Central. But, grand though it certainly is, Manhattan isn’t the only bustling metropolis within our reach.
Philadelphia—the first capital of the United States and the second largest city on the East Coast—is about 120 miles from White Plains. And though it’s an easy day trip (I do it often), to really experience some of what the City of Brotherly Love has to offer, you need to stay for at least a weekend. We wanted a comfortable, classy, centrally located, amenity-loaded, full-service hotel, and there was no place that met all those criteria better than The Rittenhouse.
But before you make the trek, let’s dispense with the myths and the misgivings: Philadelphia is not a smaller New York. It’s not Baltimore with better food. It’s not Brooklyn with a South Jersey accent. Trust me—I grew up there. Philly has a character and a dialect all its own (nobody there says “fuhgettabout it” or “youse guys,” as some film characters might lead you to believe, but “handbag” is “pocketbook” and “living room” is “parlor”). Philadelphia is an ethnically diverse, culturally rich mecca for food, art, music, sports, architecture, shopping, sightseeing, and, of course, history. In fact, the city’s culture and history are richer than the “Sunday gravy” whose aroma permeates the streets of South Philly on Sunday afternoons, which, in many Italian neighborhoods there, is still “macaroni day.”
Like any city, it’s seen its share of urban ills—poverty, crime, drugs—and it does have some seriously rowdy sports fans (understatement, I know). But it’s also been a playground (and breeding ground) for blue-bloods throughout its history—can you get any bluer than Princess Grace?—and, if you hit the right places, you can still find remnants of the upper-crust “Philadelphia society” of centuries past. This smallish big city is the birthplace of American opera as well as the country’s first public zoo, university, piano, computer, magazine, and daily newspaper. And speaking of birthplaces—it’s the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, indeed, the United States. Boom!
But back to The Rittenhouse. Like the native New Yorker who’s never been to the top of the Empire State Building or the lifelong Bostonian who cuts through Quincy Market on his way to work but has never had a bowl of clam chowder there, I’ve passed by and through historic Rittenhouse Square hundreds of times, but I never had occasion to breathe the rarefied air there for any length of time. So staying at this AAA Five-Diamond Award-winning, luxurious yet unpretentious, family-friendly—and pet-friendly!—hotel, located on the Square, was a real treat. The area is the hub of the city’s hip yet haute Center City (west) area, which offers tons of shopping and dining and is bustling with young families, Ladies who Lunch, and more than a smattering of hipsters—it’s sort of like Philadelphia’s version of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and serves as a bookend to the equally upscale but more traditional Society Hill/Old City vicinity—just 12 to 14 blocks (short Philly blocks) east.
From your finely feathered nest at the recently renovated (to the tune of $10 million) Rittenhouse—where luxe suites range from 650 to 2,000 feet (park suites offer the most stunning views) and where even standard rooms are generously proportioned (450 to 600 square feet) and feature plush bedding and linens, marble showers, and luxurious décor and furnishings—you can plan your day. Better yet—just wing it! There’s much to do and see within walking distance (or a short drive), and, since the city is built on an easily navigable grid, you simply can’t get lost.
In the afternoon, you may want to stop back at the hotel for tea in the newly revamped Mary Cassatt Tea Room before hitting the stores or museums, both of which abound nearby. There are upscale and indie shops near the Square, plus chains like Anthropologie (the flagship location—my first stop!) and Urban Outfitters, which originated here. For more mainstream shopping, head a few blocks east and north to The Gallery mall. Antiques lovers should check out historic “Antique Row” (Pine Street between Broad and 9th), and millennials will love South Street, which houses shops, clubs, a mosaic museum—and my favorite cheesteaks, at Jim’s (prepare for a long-but-worth-it wait).
Philadelphia’s range and quality of restaurants is on par with those in the greatest American food cities. From world-class fine dining to ethnic eateries to food trucks and carts, Philly has it all. There’s The Rittenhouse’s own elegant Lacroix, featuring progressive international cuisine, as well as Italian (try Amis Trattoria, Il Pittore, Vetri—or beloved old standbys like Ralph’s); French (Parc, Bibou, Bistro La Minette, Bistro St. Tropez); and virtually every other type of food under the sun.
Details: Prices range from approximately $339 per night for a 500-square-foot king city-view room with AARP or AAA Discount, to upwards of $1099 per night for a 950-square-foot park suite with the Suite Lacroix Package (includes a four-course dinner for two, wine pairing, and two glasses of Champagne, plus an American breakfast for two the next day). Numerous packages are available, and prices vary depending on the season; www.rittenhousehotel.com.