What to Do Memorial Day Weekend if You’re Staying in Philly

Five ways to have fun (without the traffic jams).

Something like four billion people will be strapping themselves into their cars this weekend and getting on one of our various interstates, expressways and parkways, leading to migraine-inducing traffic jams in every direction. But what I want to know is, why would you want to do that when Philadelphia is the fifth (or is it sixth?) biggest city in the country with no shortage of diversions and distractions to occupy you this holiday weekend. Here, I offer five tips for getting maximum enjoyment out of your Memorial Day Weekend staycation in Philadelphia.

Get a Room
There’s something incredibly pleasing about waking up in the city that you live in but not having to deal with the messy house, the annoying neighbor, or the fact that you left dishes in the sink from the night before. My Brooklyn-based friend Shannon (she’s coming for her “babymoon”)  just landed a $51 room at the Marriott Downtown via Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature for Saturday and Sunday nights, though she knows how to game the Priceline system. Meanwhile, Hotwire has secret hotels in the low $100s. But if you don’t have the flexibility that those sites require (you have to stay where they stick you), you can pick up a room at Club Quarters for $125, Le Meridien or Loews for $159, or the Ritz-Carlton for $279.

Eat Out
One of the good things about the fact that lots and lots of people flee the city for some reason over Memorial Day Weekend is that it gets a little bit easier to find a prime table in your favorite restaurant. I checked OpenTable, and there are plenty of offerings all weekend long, whether you want to do dinner at Il Pittore, Chifa or Meme on Saturday night, a.kitchen, Amis, Parc or Russet for Sunday brunch, or, what the heck, grab your friends and land a table for eight at Amada on Monday at 1 p.m. and waste away the afternoon over tapas and tempranillo. If that’s all too mainstream for you, I’m recommending one of my favorite things: a progressive meal in Chinatown. Start at David’s for dumplings, move on to Vietnam for the BBQ Platter, and then wind up at Tai Lake eating head-on shrimp, snails, or whatever other Taiwanese treats are calling out to you. Obviously, you can build your own progressive menu if you don’t like mine. Just note that some of the salty waiters in Chinatown will give you the hairy eyeball when you tell them all you want is a plate of dumplings and beers.

Find Greenness
So you won’t be in the Poconos or at the Shore, but you should most certainly get outdoors. Obviously, there’s the Kelly Drive/Boathouse Row/West River Drive portion of the Schuylkill, with West River being closed to automobile traffic on Sunday. Perhaps less obvious is Morris Arboretum (open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday), which is big enough to use up your entire day if you let it. Note that Morris debuts its Garden Railway exhibit this weekend. Totally off the beaten path, there’s Bartram’s Garden (closed Monday but open the rest of the weekend), a woefully undervisited scenic gem in Southwest Philadelphia. And finally, lovely Laurel Hill Cemetery has a free Memorial Day parade and service on Sunday. Not exactly green, but certainly outdoors.

Go Someplace You Haven’t Been Before
The new Barnes Museum has its official public opening this weekend, but either you have (free) tickets already, or you don’t. They’re sold out. But ask around. It seems like people who ordered them ordered the maximum of eight and there may be some extras floating around among your friends (or at least Facebook “friends”). People are also hawking Barnes tickets on Craigslist, which may or may not be illegal, since they were free to begin with. But whatever. On the other side of the city, Morgan’s Pier debuts down by the Delaware with lots of beer, fried green tomatoes, and weekend long dance parties.

Get to the Theater
There’s nothing awesome opening at the movie theater this weekend (unless you think Men In Black III is going to be awesome), so go to the real theater instead. The biggest play in Philadelphia is about to be Angels In America, which just started previews at the Wilma. Once it officially opens next Wednesday, prices go way up. In the meantime, you can get in for as little as $23.50. Other shows to consider: The Walworth Farce, The Island, Asymmetric, and Robin Hood.