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Suburban Neat: See What These Towns Have on Tap
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods — and yes, that does include the suburbs. But do we really know what’s happening on the other side of the Schuylkill — or just a few towns over? Summer is the perfect time to do some local exploring.
Yes, Doylestown. Why? It has a castle. And who doesn’t want to visit a castle? Fonthill Castle has six stories, 41 rooms, at least 32 stairwells, 18 fireplaces, 10 bathrooms, 900 works of art and approximately 6,000 books. One mile down the road is the Mercer Museum. Both the castle and museum were built by Henry C. Mercer, a Doylestown historian and archaeologist dedicated to preserving pre-1850 life. Inside the museum are tools, ceramics, textiles and crafts from around the world. This summer, the Mercer Museum hosts a special exhibit, “America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66,” through Aug. 24. Driving down the shore is nothing compared to tooling along that legendary highway, and its glory will be heralded with cars, music and geographical highlights. (mercermuseum.org)
Another Doylestown must-see: The James A. Michener Museum. Known for showcasing crafts, photography and other forms of fine art, the Michener’s new installation (June 28 to Oct. 26) is mind-blowing. Artist Steve Tobin will take over the Michener’s gardens with his massive, colorful sculptures. Adults and kids alike will be awestruck by his art. (michenermuseum.org)
With all this to do, an overnight stay is just the thing, and the newly renovated Doylestown Inn (doylestowninn.com) is just the place. The inn boasts the brand-new Hattery Stove & Still, an American bistro whose executive chef is from Blue Fin, the restaurant inside the W Hotel Times Square in Manhattan.
On the way home, get a liquid souvenir of Doylestown at Alfa & Omega, a family-owned winery producing artisan blends of Northern European varieties (alfaomegawinery.com). Don’t miss The Market At DelVal — the Delaware Valley College. Odd name, great farmers’ market (themarketatdelval.com). There, you can stock up on produce, meats, cheeses, breads, desserts — and more wine — all of it locally grown and prepared.
It’s true that Bryn Athyn was founded by Christian religionists, but so was Philadelphia — and most of the world. Bryn Athyn is an architectural oasis so uniquely gorgeous that its historic district was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008. One feature: Cairnwood Estate, a French version of Downton Abbey. Built in 1895 in the Beaux Arts style, the enormous chateau was home to the Pitcairn family, who were practically American royalty in the late 1800s. The family patriarch, John Pitcairn, Jr., was an industrialist who made his fortune in oil, natural gas and plate glass. Guided tours of the three floors and multiple gardens are available every day but Monday at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Wear walking shoes — the tour is 1½ hours long. On Aug. 14, the estate hosts a Gilded Age-style evening of wine tastings with live jazz. (cairnwood.org)
Glencairn Museum was another Pitcairn estate; this one was built in the Romanesque style between 1928 and 1939. It’s now a museum dedicated to “religion through the ages.” While that includes Islam, Asian religions and American Indian practices, the exhibits are light on Judaism and heavy on Christianity. The Egyptian section focuses on mythology and magic, and the medieval art collection is impressive. Glencairn is currently hosting “American Glass Now: 2014,” the American Glass Guild’s juried exhibition (through June 30) and “Behind The Lens: Raymond Pitcairn and Photography” (through Nov. 15). (glencairnmuseum.org) Other Bryn Athyn places to investigate: Orchard Artworks, a gallery featuring crafts and fine art work (orchardartworks.org), Mitchell Performing Arts Center (mitchellcenter.info), and Bryn Athyn Thrift Shop (www.brynathynthriftshop.org), a big, old barn filled with antiques and novelty items.
Big news: Media is bursting with culture, outdoor fun and dining options. In July and August, Media Theatre hosts productions of Fiddler On The Roof, Disney’s Cinderella For Kids, and “The Vocalist,” a local rendition of NBC’s The Voice singing competition (mediatheatre.org). State Street, Media’s Main Street, is a showcase of upscale entrepreneurialism. Posh clothing boutiques like Per Lei and Sorella share the street with home decor shops like Earth & State and Reconsidered Home, and antiques stores White Orchid and Eric T. Shephard American Antiques.
Media’s burgeoning dining scene includes Asian fusion hot spot Azie, Lotus Farm To Table, Stephen’s On State and House, a must-try spot for inspired weekend brunches.
Media’s great outdoors are great for kids and adults. Linvilla Orchards (linvilla.com) has a barnyard petting “zoo,” train rides, an enormous playground, numerous fields and orchards where you can pick your own fruit, and weekend summer festivals dedicated to blueberries, corn, peaches, tomatoes and other produce. Tyler Arboretum’s 650 acres (tylerarboretum.org) has wetlands and woodlands, gardens and hiking trails. Kids will love the Butterfly House and the very cool treehouses, and be intrigued by winding paths that lead to magical villages filled with fairies, wizards and other creatures.
Bad parking. That was Chestnut Hill’s reputation for decades. But the pesky meters are gone, replaced by easy-to-use payment kiosks. Six lots surround the main street of Germantown Avenue, and if you decide to leave the car behind, two SEPTA regional rail lines stop in Chestnut Hill.
The Chestnut Hill Historical Society (chhist.org) offers free walking tours and information about the area’s amazing architecture and rich history. Woodmere Art Museum (woodmereartmuseum.org) showcases works from the 19th century, especially pieces that relate to Civil War-era Philadelphia. Gravers Lane Gallery (graverslanegallery.com) takes a different approach, presenting work by modern-day artists, including exhibits by painter and fiber artist Barbara Lee Smith (through July 15) and jewelry from Melissa Schmidt (through June 30).
Chestnut Hill’s shopping options include three new stores: Greenology, selling organic and sustainable products for homes and gardens (greenologyorganics.com); Villavillekula, a wonderland of kids’ clothes and accessories named after the house where Pippi Longstocking lived (pippisvillavillekula.com); and Greene Street Kids, a new venture of the consignment shop (greenestreet.com).
Germantown Avenue has many dining options, including Paris Bistro & Jazz Cafe, a 1930s-style bistro from Chef Al Paris and the Bynum brothers, the team behind the late, great Zanzibar Blue. Go for the food. Stay for the music.
Melissa Jacobs is a contributing editor to Inside magazine. This article originally appeared in This Summer, a Jewish Exponent publication.