This post is reprinted from my April 26 column in Mount Vernon Patch.

This was the Spring Break that almost wasn’t. Julian was going to be rehearsing almost every day, so a weeklong trip was impossible. To top it off, we were “tightening the belt” after some unexpected expenses and larger than usual credit card bills (I’ll spare you the painful details). So it would have to be fast and cheap.  Don’t take it the wrong way, Philly, but you fit the bill to a tee.

We’d never been to Philadelphia as a family, so we were excited to discover it together. Jacques (you might remember him from my picky eater article) had one wish: to taste the local delicacy, Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  I can’t say that we found any locally-grown cream cheese, but we had some delicious (and cheap) food and lots of fun!

Food

We left our house at 9:30 and arrived there just in time for lunch.  After some Internet research, my husband John tracked down an off-the-tourist-path authentic cheesesteak restaurant and we drove straight there–when I say “straight” I mean we took the scenic route through various Philadelphia neighborhoods. These were gorgeous sandwiches full of paper thin shredded beef with the cheese melted into the bun, topped with mushrooms and fried onions.  (Dalessandro’s, 600 Wendover Street). 

For dinner, we headed to Banana Leaf (1009 Arch Street) a Malaysian restaurant a block away from our hotel.  We ate some delicious noodle dishes and tofu stuffed with cucumber and bean sprouts and topped with satay sauce.  Just make sure you bring your own wine or beer.

Breakfast and lunch were no brainers for us.  Our hotel was next door to the Reading Terminal Market, a veritable mecca filled with every kind of food you can imagine.  We enjoyed crepes filled with bananas, honey and walnut and some delicious coffee for breakfast and each had a different type of food for lunch, including alligator gumbo and grilled eggplant bruschetta.

Activities

Franklin Square– Minutes into our trip, Jacques had a bad frolic attack.  He literally melted down and declared he couldn’t go another step without running around.  We rounded the corner and couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw Franklin Square, a beautiful urban playground complete with a carousel and mini-golf.

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell– You’ll need to get timed-entry tickets for your visit to Independence Hall.  They hand them out at the Visitor Center starting at 8:30.  We got there at 9:30 and were only able to get tickets for 11:45.  I recommend getting your tickets online and picking them up at the will call counter. You don’t need tickets to see the Liberty Bell.  You also don’t need a lot of time. 

The Franklin Institute– We’d heard great things about the Franklin Institute but still, it blew our minds. We walked into a giant heart, tried our spins, throws, and kicks at the hands-on sports exhibit, and some of us even rode through the air the sky bike (others of us stood on line for a half an hour only to find out we didn’t meet the 48-inch height requirement—we are still bitter).  If there are more than four of you, consider getting a family membership for $99.  You will receive free entry to hundreds of other museums around the country, including the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.  

National Constitution Center– This center includes a terrific multi-media introduction to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  We could have spent a few hours in the basic exhibit, but we rushed through to save time for a special exhibit called Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs.  This special program looks at how America has reacted to threats throughout history.  The exhibit wraps some of the most difficult issues related to balancing freedom and security in compelling displays. 

Hotel

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, your standard-issue chain hotel ideally located right next to the Reading Terminal Market (see above).   Right around the corner is the downtown Marriott, also an excellent option with recently renovated rooms and a freshwater pool. Ask for a room with a view.