Cityscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

BenFranklinStatue 199x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionOne full day of our Philadelphia weekend, our second full day of sightseeing, was the Science day.

We spent most of the day at The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s most excellent science museum. We saw the planetarium show, The Wildest Weather In The Solar System, which was included in our admission, and Kenya Animal Kingdom, the 3-D movie in the Franklin Theater, which had a small upcharge on our Philadelphia Pass admission. Exhibits we liked the best: the special exhibit on tech innovations, the gears and small machines, and the train factory. And of course, the gift shop where Doug found some great science and math books, including The Geek Handbook  and a super “Big Bang Theory” inspired t-shirt that spells out our favorite catch phrase using the symbols for barium zinc and gallium – BA ZN GA. Not exactly this one on Amazon, but close.

On this trip we did not have time for the nearby Academy of Natural Sciences, or the Mutter Museum of medical oddities, which was just a bit off our planned trajectory, but they are both on the list for our next visit.

History

We started our mini-vacation with a visit to the Ben Franklin Museum, which is part of the Independence National Park exhibits, but has a small admission fee. Located on — well strictly speaking underneath — the site of his home and printing business, the museum mixes interactive exhibits and historical artifacts to tell the story of Franklin’s life and role in American history.FranklinCourt 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

The rest of the National Park exhibits are free but you need a timed ticket for the guided tour of Independence Hall (get it free at the National Park desk in the Visitor Center or preorder online for a small charge) and there is a queue to see the Liberty Bell. Both of these exhibits also have security inspection of your bags. Our strategy was to go on a weekday first thing (Tuesday to be exact.) Exterior2IndepHall 200x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe were able to do the first tour of Independence Hall at 9am, followed by Congress Hall (where the House and Senate met when Philadelphia was the US capitol), and there was no line to speak of for the Liberty Bell when we finished with those two important landmarks. Weekends especially later in the day the lines for the Bell are LONG!!!

Most of the rest of the historical sites we saw from the comfort of our seats on the Big Bus Tour, which we used to get around for the two middle days of our 4-day trip. We also did the duck tour, Ride the Ducks, since it was included on our pass, and we had a little time left at the end of Science Day. While it covered most of the same sites as the Big Bus, it was fun to get on the water for that perspective.

ElephantZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe wrapped up our trip with a visit to the Philadelphia Zoo, which I am squeezing into the history category since it is America’s first zoo. Highlights for me were the Victorian-era animal statues throughout the zoo, and the Big Cat exhibit. It was too hot for the cats to be very active, but the exhibit was laid out in such a way that even sleeping cats were visible, without it being disturbing to their sleep. I’d love to go back on a cooler day, and slightly later in the day, when the chances would be better that animals would be moving through the catwalks featured in the exhibit.

BigCatZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition
GiraffeZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

On our list for our next visit: I want to go back to The Barnes Foundation, and Doug never passes up a chance to go to the science museum. We also want to check out the African American Museum, and outside of the city — the Adventure Aquarium across the river in Camden NJ  and Longwood Gardens, which we visited briefly a few years ago and wanted to visit on this trip, but ran out of time.

Because there is A LOT to do in Philadelphia.


See all my photos from the trip on Flickr

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Cityscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Art Museum Edition

PhillCItyHall 199x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum EditionWe barely scratched the surface of things to do and see in Philadelphia, and are already planning a trip back.

We invested in the three-day Philadelphia Pass  which was offering a discount when I purchased it, making it an even better value even though I hedged my bets and bought Doug an adult pass. Some of the attractions cut off child pricing at 12 and don’t offer student pricing (the Zoo for example) and I didn’t want to end up double paying in the end. If you are in the same situation, and have more time for research, I suggest checking out all the attractions you plan to visit and purchasing adult or child for your tweens and teens accordingly. Order online and pick it up at the Independence Visitor Center right downtown, which is a pretty good spot to start your exploration of Philadelphia anyway.

The Philadelphia Pass was definitely a good value for us as it offered admittance to everything on our “must-do” list. The City Pass is another less pricey alternative but it didn’t work for us because it required a choice between two attractions that were on our must-do list.

Since we had never been to Philadelphia, we took full advantage of one of the benefits of our 3-day Philadelphia pass, two-days on the Big Bus Tour , a hop on/hop off double decker tour bus that stops at most of the major attractions. Next time, we’ll just use public transportation (or walk) but for our first visit to the city, it was good to have the guidance.

NOTE: All the above companies promote offerings for other cities, including New York, so worth checking out for other destinations.

PhillyPublic art e1411249698419 300x98 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum Edition

Our sightseeing basically revolved around Art, Science and History. In this post, I’ll share our art excursion, much enjoyed by me, tolerated (just) by Douglas.

Our Stops: The Barnes Foundation, including the special Cezanne exhibit, and the Rodin Museum.

The permanent exhibits at The Barnes Foundation are amazing, full stop. Starting with the building itself. The collection is a mix of largely Impressionist and Modern Art collected by Dr. Barnes at the turn of the 20th century as well as African art, furniture, jewelry and metalcraft. Barnes actively designed the displays, so each wall, each room is itself an artwork, with the pieces in each grouping combining to make a whole that you can appreciate as much as you do its individual parts. The galleries have windows, with the shades opening and closing as the natural light changes so the artwork is displayed, literally, in the best possible light.

Staggering fact: the art in the permanent collection is worth $25 billion in today’s market.

I was less impressed with the Cezanne exhibit, The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne. Perhaps because I was a little rushed by my non-art loving travel companion so I was not taking advantage of the audio tours, but it just felt on the small side, especially given the extra entrance fee it requires.

Know before you go: Bags, briefcases, backpacks are not allowed in the exhibit hall. At the coat and bag check they will provide you with a clear plastic tote for any items you need to carry with you. I imagine this is because the collection includes small objets d’art and jewelry that are NOT exhibited behind glass cases.

DetailBurghersRodin 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum EditionThe Rodin Museum. Certainly one of the most impressive settings I’ve ever seen for a sculpture museum, and I loved seeing old favorites like the Burghers of Calais and the Thinker. It was very focused on Rodin’s Gates of Hell, and offered less context for Rodin’s life and other works such as the monument to Victor Hugo. I guess you need to go to the Musée Rodin in Paris for that. I believe it is however the second largest collection of Rodin after Paris, so if you are a fan (as I am), a must see. Your entrance fee also gets you admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We did not make that stop this trip however, as Doug was pretty much “arted-out” by that point.

A neat fact about Philadelphia – it was the first US city to create a public art program requiring real estate developers to commission art as part of the development process. Building projects that receive public funds are required to allocate 1% of the budget to public art.

PhillyDragon 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum Edition

Public art in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. One of four dragons representing the seasons.

Cityscapes: San Jose

I had a little down time after BlogHer last month so I checked out the San Jose Museum of Art. A small museum, it took a little over an hour to cover all the galleries. I particularly enjoyed two exhibits, Initial Public Offering, a selection of recently acquired works, and Legacy, an exhibit of modern art donated by collector Emily Fisher Landau to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

You can take photos in the IPO gallery so here are two pieces that I loved.

SJMA Image 1 300x225 Cityscapes: San Jose

 Cityscapes: San Jose

You cannot take pictures in the Legacy gallery, so I will just tell you to be on the lookout for the lovely wall of works by Jasper Johns, and in the same room, a silver sculpture that screamed “Game of Thrones.” Just think raven and a head. Just a head.

The museum has a small but lovely gift shop. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a gift for someone who likes unique jewelry or modern art inspired household and tech gadgets.

In the San Jose area with more than a few hours, but not enough to make the trek to San Francisco? The Winchester Mystery House is well worth a visit if you have an afternoon, and is conveniently located near the Santana Row outdoor (and upscale) mall for shopping and restaurant choices. I’ve always had good luck at The Left Bank, but if Paris bistro isn’t your bag, there are many other dining choices.

Further afield, take the drive over the Santa Cruz mountains and check out the Santa Cruz boardwalk. If you have kids, you will probably be here all day, but if you can spring free, drive a little south to Capitola for interesting little boutiques and a lovely beach.

Hotels: the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz — right on the beach,  and still in Santa Cruz but further inland,  The Chaminade. In downtown San Jose, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices near the Convention Center – Hilton, Fairmont, Marriott, St. Clair, Hyatt.

Cityscapes: New York

IMG 0465 EFFECTS 300x300 Cityscapes: New YorkI write about our trips around New York City fairly often. Recently more often on Facebook but I am committed to being more diligent here. Here are some of the things that I highly recommend. Some we have done this year, others are from years past but all are worth your time.

Take a walking tour. We did a chocolate tasting tour of SOHO that I bought through Groupon, but there are many options — cupcakes, TV/film locations, gangsters (30s style), general epicurean, Central Park. Google “walking tours nyc,” but definitely check out Groupon, Amazon Deals and Living Social for options before you pay full price.

Get up high. I prefer Top of the Rock for its magnificent views of Central Park but the Empire State Building is nice too, and has the better view of Lower Manhattan. You cannot go wrong with either.

Get out on the water. You will find that is a common theme for me. I love the Circle Line tour that does the full circle of Manhattan. Doug took the Staten Island Ferry with his cousin this summer, and both reported it was a cheap and cheerful way to see the Statue of Liberty fairly close up. This fall, we are going to do the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island trip now that it’s open again. No way am I willing to brave the summer crowds for that.

A couple of things to do NOW in New York.

At the American Museum of Natural History, the Pterosaurs exhibit. Through January 4 2015. It amazes me how much scientists are able to extrapolate from the small number of actual fossils they have of these creatures. I think most of us glom onto the pterodactyl as the “flying dinosaur” but there were actually numerous variations in behavior, size and diet spanning millions of years.

Doug at Avengers 300x225 Cityscapes: New YorkAt Discovery Times Square — AVENGERS S.T.A.T.I.O.N.  Hands on exhibit that celebrates the Avengers characters, including costumes from the films and the opportunity to test yourself against Captain America and “fly” like Iron Man. Takes about an hour to go through first thing on a weekday. Probably way longer on a weekend. Pricey but for nerdy geeky Avengers fans like us, a must do!

Cityscapes: Chicago

Summer 2013 including Chicago 260 200x300 Cityscapes: ChicagoLast summer, Doug came with me to BlogHer and we spent a few days afterward seeing the sights of Chicago. I had the best intentions to write a recap of the trip way back then but life intervened.

This year I am determined to keep the Roadtrip rolling with reports from our stay- and va- cation trips. In my next few posts, I round up some recommendations for things to do in Chicago, New York, San Jose and Philadelphia.

Starting with Chicago.

Get out on the water. The river and the lake. From the river, you are able to see the amazing architectural heritage of Chicago, and the lake…. Well Lake Michigan just needs to be experienced.

Bridge House Chicago Architecture tour 224x300 Cityscapes: Chicago

We took the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour on the recommendation of some friends, and it did not disappoint. Buy your tickets in advance; on weekends, the river tours do sell out. No time for a full-on boat tour? Take a water taxi. Shoreline and Chicago Water Taxi both stop at multiple points along the river, so you can get a little river flavor and to where you need to be at the same time.

For your lake experience, it all depends on your tastes. Lots of choices leaving from Navy Pier – dinner cruises, speedboats, tall ships. We chose the Tall Ship Windy I like schooners and part of the schtick of the Windy was a pirate story which I thought Doug would enjoy.

Other important stops on a Chicago tour, especially with a teen boy — The Field Museum and the Willis Tower.

Doug Sears tower 200x300 Cityscapes: Chicago
At Navy Pier, don’t miss the free Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.

stained glass exhibit 300x200 Cityscapes: Chicago

We also wanted to check out the Shedd Aquarium but the lines were super super long by the time we got there so my best advice is to make it your first stop of the day right at opening if a visit with the fishes is tops on your list.