An Insider’s Guide to the Best Seats in Fairmount Park

With thousands of acres in East and West Fairmount Park, there’s a lot of ground to cover. So we’ve put together a bucket list for bumming around.

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There’s no shortage of gorgeous places to sit in Fairmount Park. / Photograph by K. Kelly for Visit Philadelphia

With thousands of acres in East and West Fairmount Park and too many destinations to name, there’s (literally) a lot of ground to cover when it comes to finding the best places to park yourself. But with the help of Maura McCarthy, CEO of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, we’ve put together a bucket list for bumming around. Make sure to BYOB — blanket!

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A. Belmont Plateau
Truth: You’re not a real Philadelphian until you’ve lounged on this wide-open vista overlooking the skyline. Sit here at sunrise for peak postcard views.

B. The old train platform on the Trolley Trail
“You have to trek about a mile in from the trailhead. It’s an old raised concrete platform bed,” McCarthy says — and it’s the perfect place for a (small) picnic. “If you don’t mind carrying your picnic basket, that’s a great place to go. It’s pretty peaceful. You don’t feel like you’re in the city.”

C. North Georges Hill Picnic Area
This is a popular picnic-party spot for a reason: It sits on a natural rise above the Mann Center, so the views are stellar, and there’s no need to even bother with a blanket in the grass, because it’s outfitted with benches, tables, and a shady pavilion.

D. Concourse Lake
This highly underrated destination right off Belmont Avenue is a stormwater reservoir amidst 14 wooded acres. Bring your blanket and a book, and you might not see another soul for hours. Also prime bird-watching during migration season.

E. Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center
Want to get lost in nature? Sit by the koi pond, watch the tiered waterfall, and drink in the greenery on the grounds of this breathtaking walled garden. Adult admission is $14.

F. Pavilion in the Trees
“It’s like a pergola built on stilts,” McCarthy says of this tranquil lookout with views of the surrounding treetops and watershed below. Designed by artist Martin Puryear in 1992, the pavilion is just as romantic as the gazebos at Lemon Hill and Water Works but a bit more off the beaten path.

G. The whispering benches at the Smith Memorial Arch
Kids love this spot not far from the Please Touch Museum, and no wonder: Those sitting at one end can whisper into the wall behind them and be heard clearly at the other end. Stop by to eat a snack if you’re at the museum or the nearby playing fields.

H. Kelly Drive Boulder Landing
Feel like fishin’? Any spot along the Schuylkill will do, but this stretch just south of the bouldering wall on Kelly Drive is where the dedicated anglers flock in good weather.

I. Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial sculpture garden
This leafy stretch northwest of Boathouse Row spans three terraces and contains 18 sculptures by various mid-century artists. Sit on a fountain edge, a bench, the statues themselves … you name it: Everywhere, you’re surrounded by art and have the people-watching of Kelly Drive, to boot. “It’s great when it’s really hot because it’s right on the water and pretty shady most of the time,” McCarthy says.

J. Glendinning Rock Garden
This 1930s rock garden just off Kelly Drive offers quiet, shaded hanging space that’s fun to explore, with graffitied stone steps, natural rock formations, a mini-waterfall, a pond and a creek. Highly Instagrammable.

K. The Schuylkill River Grandstand
Watch the geese float by, have lunch on the bleachers, or just sit and relax in the shade by the river.

L. Furness Gateway
A relic from the 1876 Centennial Exposition, this brownstone arch named for its architect, Frank Furness, marks a stone pathway along Kelly Drive and offers a pretty, private perch. And it’s west-facing, so you can watch the sun set over the Schuylkill River.

To get the full effect, check out our cheat sheet to Fairmount Park, here.


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Published as “The Seating Chart: Fairmount Park” in the July 2024 issue of Philadelphia magazine.