The twinkle-light-festooned patio at El Poquito in Chestnut Hill | Photograph by Jauhien Sasnou
There’s never been a shortage of charm on most small-town Main Streets, but thanks to an influx of cool shops and eateries, our region’s main drags are busier, buzzier and better than ever. Here, the standout spots to visit now.
Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill
Best for: A day of boutique-hopping
Best bets: A longtime standout thanks to its top-notch storefronts, Chestnut Hill’s main drag is a destination worthy of a day-long trek. Start near the Regional Rail stop at the top of the hill and head east toward rustic home shop Isabella Sparrow to scoop up farmhouse-worthy wares like dangling wooden light fixtures and antique serving dishes. A block away is Style Camp, a women’s boutique stocked with covetable accessories, nubby knits and tricky-to-find labels. Break for lunch on the outdoor patio at Mexican cantina El Poquito. Order the street tacos (they offer banh mi, brussels sprout and Korean BBQ varieties), decadent churros and a tequila flight. Don’t leave without a bouquet from one of the street’s duo of respected florists — Robertson’s Flowers and Rothe Florists — both of which can whip up a fall-ready assortment of blooms in a snap.
Lancaster Avenue, Wayne
Best for: Holing up in cozy spots
Best bets: Once a buttoned-up enclave of the Main Line, Wayne’s commercial corridor has shed its stuffy stereotype. First, duck around the corner to North Wayne Avenue, where you’ll find Main Point Books; prod the friendly owner, Cathy Fiebach, for her favorite page-turners. Afterward, head back to Lancaster and hunker down with your new reading material at Gryphon Cafe. It’s home to a cast of regulars you’ll find nursing the cafe’s specialty, Sean’s Latte (a caramel and vanilla sip), and whatever’s on tap (usually kombucha) from weighty patterned mugs. Grab a late lunch at Cornerstone Cheese & Charcuterie, tucked on West Avenue. The BYO posts its happy-hour menu and wine- and beer-pairing suggestions online, so diners can come prepared. (There’s a Fine Wine & Good Spirits store within walking distance.)
Broadway, Jim Thorpe
Best for: Old-school charm (and a bit of adventure)
Best bets: It’s an hour and a half from Philly, but Jim Thorpe’s main thoroughfare — dotted with old stone buildings and hordes of historic markers — feels like it’s been plucked from a Hollywood back lot. The retail lineup lacks some of the refined merchandising of its Philly counterparts, but it’s no less of a treasure trove. Peruse Sellers Books & Fine Art for affordable books; Soundcheck Records for used vinyl and music miscellany; Somersault Letterpress for paper goods; and the Vintagerie for small antiques. Wind down at Stone Row Pub and Eatery (the building’s been there since the 19th century) or American restaurant Moya on Race Street, only steps away. Beyond shops, Broadway is also home to the Jim Thorpe eXperience, an adventure service that lets you choose from a slew of guided trips — from waterfall hikes to nighttime snowshoe treks. Before you set out, grab a to-go sandwich (available to order online) at Through the Looking Glass, the quirky Carrollian restaurant that anchors Broadway.
State Street, Doylestown
Best for: Kid-friendly entertainment
Best bets: A tree-lined one-way dotted with boutiques and eateries, State Street is the pulse of this picturesque suburb. Take little ones to famed children’s bookstore Booktenders Secret Garden, where there’s a lively story time and organized crafts conducted by former teacher and owner Ellen Mager. Reward their creativity at old-timey Sweet Pea Ice Cream with a cone of the seasonal special, pumpkin with gingersnaps, and a scoop of pistachio and wildflower honey for yourself. Let the sugar rush subside and then swing through Estate, a luxe boutique that stocks men’s and women’s collections from a roster of designers like Gant, Ulla Johnson and The Kooples. Insider tip: Before you go, be sure to check out the Doylestown Township Parks & Recreation calendar of events for fun offerings like a kids’ supper club that schools fledgling foodies in the preparation of spaghetti and meatballs, while parents can sneak out for date night. (We suggest catching a foreign flick at the County Theater — just look for the old-school marquee — and enjoy a bucket of its perfectly salted popcorn.)
Baltimore Avenue, West Philly
Best for: A surprisingly wallet-friendly gastronomic tour
Best bets: Eating your way through any neighborhood is often the best way to become acquainted with it, and the variety of fare on Baltimore Avenue is perhaps its strongest suit. Begin your day at Dottie’s Donuts on Springfield Avenue, where you’ll find a bakery case full of vegan doughnuts in flavors like matcha cacao, Thai tea and, for the purist, Boston cream. (Go early; popular flavors sell fast.) For lunch, ethnic foods reign supreme: Enjoy African cuisine at Youma, Thai and Laotian at Vientiane, and Ethiopian and Eritrean at Dahlak. Don’t miss seeing a production at Curio Theatre Company, an offbeat ensemble-based theater company. When it’s over, stroll to family-friendly Clarkville for fried chicken and beer, or, for an elevated dining experience, Marigold Kitchen and its lauded $90-a-head tasting menu.
This article first appeared as “Day-Tripping” in Philadelphia magazine’s October 2016 issue.