when will you visit philadelphia's best kept secret?
Designated “Philadelphia’s Garden District” and named “one of the top seven urban enclaves in the country” by Forbes, Chestnut Hill is one of the best kept secrets in the Philadelphia Metro Area. Take an easy 45 minute train ride from Center City, Philadelphia, and you’ll find yourself in this cozy boutique town. We explored the area during a beautiful fall weekend and discovered its unique culture, cuisine and tons of wonderful things to do!
The Chestnut Hill Hotel is both a historical landmark and the perfect spot to stay. It is nestled between restaurants, bars and unique shops on Germantown Ave, the main street in Chestnut Hill. Built in 1894, this historic property is an elegant mixture of old and new that will charm everyone that walks through its doors. During Prohibition, the Hotel degenerated into a speakeasy and, according to some local residents, a bordello (brothel). However, 2010 brings its latest incarnation, restoring the property to its original grandeur and elegance of the 1800’s with a modern twist.
There is an eclectic mix of dining options in Chestnut Hill, with cuisine ranging from classic tavern menus, breweries, pan-Asian, patisseries, bakeries and cafés. On our visit, we couldn’t get to all of the delicious spots to eat, however, below are some of our favorites we experienced along the way.
Mica: A modern American BYOB restaurant that has world-class cuisine. Zagat says “the kitchen works with elevated techniques to create well-conceived plates like roasted eggplant with bonito and basil, or salmon with wheat berries – dishes that you probably wouldn’t touch elsewhere.” We were in love with this restaurant the moment our first dish was served. Our favorites were the crab beignets, Albacore tuna tar tar, and roast chicken. The dishes were packed with flavor and the staff were incredibly welcoming. Check out our full experience and more photos here.
Paris Bistro Jazz Cafe: Inside Paris Bistro’s main restaurant there is a hidden gem that many of the town's residents don’t know about. Follow a narrow hallway, that feels like a Parisian alley, to the back of the main restaurant and you’ll find a stairway that leads you to the 1930’s inspired bistro dining room that is the Jazz Café. Perhaps because it’s invisible from the street above, it reminds many of the prohibition era speakeasies that were hidden in many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. On Thursdays through Sundays, watch Philadelphia’s best jazz musicians perform while you dine on classic bistro fare - the food Maman would have served on a Sunday afternoon. We ordered the Short Rib Beef Bourguignon, Coq au Vin Burgundy, and of course the Vanilla Creme Brûlée. All of the dishes were created perfectly and complimented each other, and the live Jazz performance added even more enjoyment to our experience.
Market at the Fareway: Originally used as The Chestnut Hill Hotel’s carriage house and stables in the 1800’s, this site has been transformed into stores and a farmers’ market. It combines the charm of a country store with the sophistication of the Chestnut Hill lifestyle. We could have spent hours here trying the robust selection of dining options. They have everything from bakeries, to Korean cuisine, to coffee shops. For such a quaint location the variety was truly astounding!
Our experience drinking at Chestnut Hill was not a traditional one, as we were on a Harry Potter Pub Crawl which is part of their famous festival. Nine locations participated, all serving custom made drinks related to the boy who lived. It was pretty incredible to say the least! Two spots stood out to us: Campbell’s Place and Iron Hill Brewery.
Campbell’s Place: An “Old World” tavern styled after an English pub, Campbell's has been around for nearly four decades. This isn’t your average bar. At Campbell’s you can dine on exquisite cuisine while having a solid selection of beer, cocktails and wine. With their vision focused on “delicious and high quality food made with the freshest local ingredients” you will not be disappointed. Especially since the Executive Chef, Rob Mullen, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Boasting over 30 craft beers and a well-balanced cocktail and wine menu, this is a great place to grab a drink with friends where everyone can find something they’ll love.
Iron Hill Brewery: If you love craft beers, then you’ll love doing a tasting at Iron Hill Brewery where they’ve won over 70 awards for their beers. We visited this spot during the Harry Potter Pub Crawl and were thrilled to learn that in addition to serving Butterbeer (obviously!) they had a mahogany ale called Dumbledore’s Dubbel. The beers offered are unique and worth trying. Iron Hill also offers signature menu items to compliment their beers. Cheers to that!
Germantown Avenue is littered with wonderful shops of all kinds. While I was in town, I picked up some cute winter gear from a local shop. It was difficult not to buy more as there was so many unique finds here. As you walk down the main avenue you’ll pass olive oil shops, an artisanal cheese market, jewelers, antique stores, art galleries, clothing boutiques and much more. If you’re visiting, prepare you wallet!
When you’re not exploring the shops on Germantown Avenue, make sure to check out the rest of Chestnut Hill as there is tons of culture in the area.
Woodmere Art Museum: Housed in a 19th-century stone mansion on six acres, Woodmere is a museum dedicated to Philadelphia’s artists. The collection consists of over 6,000 works of art featuring paintings, sculptures and outdoor art. Walking through the space was unlike any art museum we’ve experienced. It felt as if we had been welcomed into someone's home. The staff were friendly and excited to have us visiting. It was a joy! The Woodmere also offers art classes in its converted carriage house and hosts Jazz nights on Fridays. There are always interesting things to do here.
Morris Arboretum: The natural beauty of Chestnut Hill is unprecedented and the best way to witness it is to visit Morris Arboretum, located on the grounds of the University of Pennsylvania. After walking its winding paths and rose gardens, we were not surprised that it had recently been named the #1 most stunning university garden in the United States. While wandering through the gardens you might even stumble upon the 8-sided glass Doris H. Hamilton Fernery that contains 523 varieties of ferns. Built in 1899, the fernery is the only remaining free-standing Victorian structure of this kind in North America.
There is only one way to discover the one-of-a-kind charm that is Chestnut Hill and it’s by experiencing it first-hand. It’s perfect for a weekend away from city life, a fantastic boutique destination, and even a great dinner spot for Philly residents. For more information visit www.chestnuthillpa.com.