Remember when you knew how to relax? It was probably before you had an iPhone, before you had kids, before you had a job that demanded 70 hours a week — plus weekends. Relaxation, we’re afraid, is a dying art (especially this time of year). That’s why we scoured the city — getting massages, sipping tea, zonking out on coffee-shop couches — to find ways to save it from the brink of extinction. So pawn the kids off on Grandma, put your phone down, and get ready to swallow one seriously giant chill pill. Step one: Deep breath, Philly.
1. Take a real lunch break. With its fountain, trees and tangles of green ivy, tiny, hidden John F. Collins Park, wedged between a sushi place and a pizza joint, is a surprising respite smack-dab in the middle of Center City. It’s downright magical in summer, but even in the colder weather it’s gloriously secluded and only steps from the hustle and bustle. Say it with us: No more sad desk lunches. Rittenhouse.
2. Banish the to-go cups. When’s the last time you actually savored your coffee? Thought so. Head to ReAnimator Coffee for a soy latte (no La Colombe lines and — dare we say it? — better lattes) and park it on their cozy couch, taking a minute to do nothing but sip. Fishtown.
3. Say “Wheeeeeee!” You can’t help but have fun at CoreFitness’s all-levels indoor boot camp. You’ll use medicine balls, scooters and jump ropes for one serious — but not too serious — total-body workout. Fairmount.
4. Read. And eat. Where better to do exactly that than Mount Airy Read & Eat? Wander the stacks of dusty used books while devouring a sugary pastry. (But don’t you dare worry about those calories.) Mount Airy.
5. Go to the Zoo. More specifically, visit the Philadelphia Zoo’s pygmy loris exhibit to observe the incredibly cute nocturnal animals moving in slow motion. They’ll make you realize just how silly humans look when we’re rushing around like frantic idiots, worrying about nothing. West Philly.
6. See the light. A silent light show called Skyspace takes place at sunrise and sunset at the Chestnut Hill Quaker meetinghouse. Brainchild of artist James Turrell, the installation features a gradient of pinks, yellows, blues and greens projected on the ceiling; visitors are invited to sit (or, better yet, recline on yoga mats) as the rainbow washes over them. Chestnut Hill.
7. Groove. Catch a concert in the cavelike, candlelit Tin Angel, the upstairs cafe at Serrano restaurant, where the performer is usually a laid-back singer-songwriter and the tucked-away cocktail bar is always shaking. Old City.
8. Get a massage. Duh. But get a good one, preferably at AME Salon and Spa in Wayne, David J. Witchell Salon and Spa in Newtown, or the Rittenhouse Spa right on Rittenhouse Square (which has a full relaxation room!). Tip: Don’t leave immediately post-massage. Lounge in your robe and actually enjoy not checking your phone/wearing pants.
9. Heck, get a bonus massage. At Rittenhouse Nails, you’re guaranteed to get the best shoulder massage of your life along with your manicure — and if you splurge for gel, they rub your shoulders every time you put your hands under the UV lights. Rittenhouse.
10. Tap, tap, tap. Shuffle your way to inner peace — or at least drown out those pesky inner voices — with a no-experience-needed Tap Tonic class at Philly Dance Fitness. Tap shoes aren’t required, but we suggest wearing them for maximum stress-relieving impact. Midtown Village.
11. Embrace the snow. It’s easy at Pennypack Park, where the Christmas-card-worthy vistas of snow-wrapped trees and a peaceful frozen creek will make you feel miles away from the city. Northeast Philly.
12. Embrace the needle. Seriously, it doesn’t hurt, especially when Main Line acupuncturist Dory Ellen Fish is wielding it. She’ll pinpoint (ha, pun?) your tightest areas and unfurl your most stubborn knots for one hell of a release. Bryn Mawr.
13. Be soothed by Strauss. Let the Philadelphia Orchestra unwind you with Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin or Stravinksy. If you’re more than half awake at intermission, you’re working too hard. Center City.
14. Feeling crafty? Keep your hands well-occupied at Sunday Arts and Crafts nights at Tattooed Mom. You’ll tackle everything from sock puppets to embroidery, with ample food and drink specials to keep you fueled. Queen Village.
15. Meditate — sort of. If the idea of sitting stone-cold silent for an hour while you try to get your mind to shut up just isn’t appealing, try Sit n’ Stitch, a more user-friendly approach to meditation at Shambhala Meditation Center of Philadelphia. Every Tuesday night at seven, a super-relaxed informal knitting group gathers for an evening of quiet (but not totally silent) needlework. Rittenhouse.
16. Don’t underestimate the curative powers of a playlist. Step one: Commandeer the jukebox at Good Dog. (If anyone complains, say it’s doctor’s orders.) Step two: Grab a seat at the bar and strike up a conversation with the diverse cast of characters there. Step three: Devour the cheesesteak empanadas. Repeat as needed. Center City.
17. Get oiled up. We’re betting you’ve never tried PB3 spa’s ancient Ayurvedic treatment Shirodhara, which uses a continuous flow of aromatic oil to the forehead coupled with scalp massage to banish brain clutter and promote mental clarity and physical relaxation. How do we know? Because if you had tried it, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Cherry Hill.
18. Take a countryside drive. Consider this your escape plan: Hop in your car, head north from Philly, and take a driving tour of the 12 covered bridges of Bucks County. (Go here for tour directions.) You’ll ramble past quaint farms, expansive meadows and small towns and take in more than your fill of Instagram-worthy views. Bucks County.
19. Shake it off. Nothing keeps troubles at bay quite like a good, sweaty dance night. You’ll find that — and crepes! — at any of L’Étage’s intimate and oh-so-jam-packed Saturday DJ nights. Queen Village.
20. Indulge your inner fanboy — or at least your inner 14-year-old boy. Catch up with your favorite superheroes at Fat Jack’s Comicrypt, where staffers are equally happy to let you browse in peace or parse the sub-subplots of the latest Batman, Spider-Man or Avengers adventure. Rittenhouse and Oaklyn.
21. Bike everywhere — at least on the weekends. Sure, biking around town during the workweek isn’t for everybody: crazy cabs, clueless pedestrians, clogged bike lanes. But if you wake up early on a Sunday morning, you’ll find a quiet, peaceful, stress-free city that’s ripe for two-wheel transportation, even in the winter. Sure beats taking the bus (never peaceful) or car (no parking).
22. Get some perspective (and rum). Okay, okay, so an Eat, Pray, Love-like escape from life isn’t in the cards right now. The next best thing: Head to Alma de Cuba and make a beeline for bartender David Evans. He’ll doctor you up the most delicious, sneaky-strong mojito of all time and lend a therapist’s ear for all your troubles. You’ll leave with a fresh outlook on the world (and, with any luck, a nice buzz going). Rittenhouse.
23. Stop doing that! Did you know you can injure yourself by doing the same thing — say, typing on a computer for 40 hours a week — over and over again? It’s called a repetitive strain injury. At the Wellnest, a holistic wellness center and spa, the Repetitive Stress Massage is specifically designed to soothe the poor, tired muscles you use way too much. Washington Square West.
24. Sit at Terrain. Seriously, just sit. You don’t even need to buy anything at the Martha-worthy gardening mecca to soak up its happy vibes, which are amplified tenfold this time of year by the gorgeous holiday displays — trees, wreaths, lights, the works — and fire pits that dot the rustic outdoor garden. Glen Mills.
25. Hike near. Take a winter walk on the lavender trail of the Wissahickon, crossing over little wooden bridges that make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale. Wissahickon Valley.
26. Hike far. Get well out of Dodge by making a trek to Maryland’s Conowingo Dam with Philly-based TerraMar Adventures for the group’s bald eagle hike. With camera poised, you’ll watch beautiful bald and golden eagles soar majestically along their migratory path. The next hike is happening on December 5th. Darlington.
27. Laugh so hard it hurts. Massages and day spas are nice, but there’s no mental or physical release like the one that comes from laughing your ass off. And for that, there’s Martha Graham Cracker, the drag-cabaret darling of the arts scene, the music scene, the theater scene … the Philly scene, really. Her performances — which you can regularly catch at L’Étage, Franky Bradley’s and other local venues — are an upbeat mix of highbrow camp, great music (really!) and outright hilarity.
28. Have one shaken, not stirred. Because a martini cures all, there’s Butcher & Singer, which tends to be dark and unpopulated — particularly at happy hour — and has martinis that are always spot-on. So much the better if you drink yours with shrimp cocktail; even better if you can follow it with a steak. Center City.
29. Pinkies up! We can’t think of a single thing that could possibly be stressful about a leisurely afternoon sipping chamomile in front of the fireplace at the Dandelion Pub, complete with tiny sandwiches, canapés, sweets and spiked (or not) tea cocktails. Rittenhouse.
30. Make it a blockbuster night. Fact: The oversized recliners at the recently renovated AMC Marlton 8 are every bit as comfortable as the one in your living room. Bonus: You can reserve your seat in advance to be sure you get the best view. Marlton.
31. Try Cecily Tynan’s favorite workout. When the 6 ABC weatherwoman isn’t running, you’ll find her punching the daylights out of a bag at Joltin’ Jabs. The two-location boxing studio runs tough-as-nails boxing classes just made for blowing off steam. Center City and Manayunk.
32. See Spot run. Watch the dogs play at the always-busy Schuylkill River Dog Run. Even better: Get in there and play with them. Schuylkill Banks.
33. Learn something new. When’s the last time you used your brain for something other than work? At Main Line School Night, you can finally tackle all the hobbies you’ve been putting on the back burner, like painting, flower arranging, photography or even baking. Radnor.
34. Crank it to 11. Go full-on Spinal Tap at Apex Rehearsal and Musician Services, a no-frills music studio tucked away in a basement. Seventeen bucks gets you access to a room with a basic drum kit (BYO cymbals and sticks), amps and a couple of mics. For any frustrated musician whose apartment isn’t suited to rocking out, an hour or two here translates to (very loud) sonic nirvana. South Philly.
35. Do yoga on your terms. The newly minted Evolve Mobile Yoga Studio brings the practice — and the mats, and the props — to you, wherever’s convenient. Owner Lora Kantorovich is more than happy to set up a class in a park, a conference room or your living room.
36. Circle up for story time. Order a mug of hot cocoa and play spectator as a handful of Philly’s best raconteurs spin yarns about pivotal — and often humorous — real-life moments at Shot Tower Coffee’s bi-monthly Tell Me a Story event. Queen Village.
37. Dine sans distraction. Three words: Vault Brewing Company. They’ve got great drinks, awesome pizza and patchy cell service, so you’re forced to disconnect whether you like it or not. Yardley.
38. Color (in the lines, please). There’s a reason adult coloring books are all the rage right now: Experts say the activity is an excellent anxiety reducer. You’ll be stocking up on crayons, too, once you get your hands on the beautifully intricate — even frame-worthy — pages by pen-and-ink artist Johanna Basford available at Scarlett Alley. Old City.
39. Maximize your movie night. As much as we love the Ritz, sometimes you want to see a movie on a screen the size of a house with eardrum-rattling surround sound — and still enjoy the comforts of home while you’re there. Movie Tavern offers food service, and beer in Viking-sized refillable steins. Collegeville and Flourtown.
40. Puff away. Smoke a cigar and nurse a scotch at the clubby Ashton Cigar Bar. And by all means, take as much time as you need. Rittenhouse.
41. Bounce it out. Jumping on a trampoline is pure catharsis — when have you ever seen someone not smiling while bouncing like a maniac? Sky Zone Trampoline Park has four warehouse-size outposts (with a fifth on the way) within spitting distance of Philly, God bless ’em. Multiple locations.
42. Go back to school. Visit an exhibit at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, and then linger in the exquisite building’s large, quiet reading room. Tip: Sleuth out the free book cart — it’s almost always there and well-stocked — for some gratis reading material. Society Hill.
43. Take a lunchtime walk — at City Hall? Yup. Since September, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has led twice-weekly open-to-the-public power walks on the sixth floor of City Hall. The goal: to encourage Philadelphians to blow off steam while moving their bodies. Her Noonwalks happen on Tuesdays and Fridays from noon to one o’clock through December 11th. Center City.
44. Take a dive. When you need to vent over this month’s life crisis, head to Oscar’s Tavern, perhaps the city’s most beloved dive bar, where you can meet up with a friend, order a pitcher of beer, and tuck into a heaping plate of nachos to lift your spirits. Think of it as the grown-up version of a slumber party, without the pajamas or Disney movies. Center City.
45. Sink into the sofa. Not yours — the one at 1 Tippling Place. The couch is comfier than what you’ve got at home, and drinks are better than anything in your liquor cabinet. Rittenhouse.
46. Get bendy with Bernini. What could make a museum visit even more relaxing? Yoga, right there among the artwork. Every Wednesday, instructors from Dhyana Yoga host an hour-long in-the-gallery class during the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s pay-what-you-can nights. Stick around after to peruse the collection. Fairmount.
47. Head down the Shore. Yes, in winter. Think about it: There are no crowds, hotel rooms are cheap, and you won’t hit a lick of traffic on the A.C. Expressway.
48. People-watch. Settle into a window-side table at A.Bar and sip a Jack Rose cocktail. Watch as Philadelphia rushes by, oblivious to your gaze. Rittenhouse.
49. Have a no-brainer meal. Dinner out can be fraught with stress: What should you order? Did you get the best dish? But at Marigold Kitchen, there’s no menu: You eat 15 courses of delicious, worry-free whimsy, without the menu-analysis paralysis. University City.
50. Go ice-skating. Because when you have to focus on, say, not falling on your ass, you’re likely not thinking about all those looming deadlines at work. Skate your troubles away at the Scott Hamilton-approved Philadelphia Skating Club, which hosts public skating sessions every Friday evening through April. Ardmore.
51. Make a quick escape. Duck into the 6th Street entrance of the Curtis Center and be awed by the huge Tiffany and Parrish installation Dream Garden, a 15-by-49-foot mosaic of more than 100,000 pieces of iridescent favrile glass. Washington Square West.
52. Assuage your wallet worries. There’s nothing to fret over at the Trocadero’s Monday Movie Night: Three bucks gets you into whatever witty film they’re playing — and a drink or snack. Chinatown.
53. Play through. You know how much fun mini golf is when you’re on vacation down the Shore? Make it a year-round stress-reliever at Philly’s two indoor courses: Kensington’s BYO throwback, Keystone Mini-Golf and Arcade, and South Philly’s black-light Adventurers Mini Golf. Take your pick.
54. When in doubt, drown it all out. There’s no better way to quiet the voices in your head than by blasting some eardrum-destroying Metallica. That’s why metal beats set the tone for the candlelit — yes, candlelit — Heavy Metal Mondays yoga class at the new Palo Santo Wellness Boutique. It’s the ultimate yin and yang. East Passyunk.
55. Sleep. Just sleep. Since that so isn’t happening in your own house (where there’s laundry to do, toilets to clean and groceries to buy), we suggest holing up at the Inn at Bowman’s Hill in pretty New Hope. The rooms are quiet and have fireplaces, and the innkeepers bring you cookies. Done and done. New Hope.
56. Dig deeper, yogis. Those with some yoga experience under their belts should check out Pacific Yoga’s once-monthly Soul Food classes, three-hour (!) yoga-and-meditation intensives aimed at shutting out your stressors and clearing your mind. Kensington.
57. Get in the kitchen. The one at La Cucina at the Market, to be exact, where you can chop, dice and slice your way to culinary catharsis at a cooking class starring fresh seasonal ingredients. Tip: Be sure to come hungry. University City.
58. Float away. There’s something to be said about spending quality time in complete and total darkness. Just ask the devotees who flock to Flotation Philly for a float treatment, the hot trend in sensory deprivation that entails floating in a pitch-black pod of lukewarm salt water. It’s 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated, iPhone-free bliss. Fishtown.
Published as “The Frazzled Philadelphian’s Guide to Relaxation” in the December 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
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