City Guide: Philadelphia

Philadelphia City Guide

Philadelphia native and Yowie store owner Shannon Maldonado can sell you on visiting her city in a matter of moments. “Philly is a hidden gem,” she says. “We have amazing restaurants, a live music scene, and some of the most beautiful historic architecture in the world.” Here, for our city guide series, she shares her favorite spots…

Shannon Maldonado Philadelphia City Guide

Shannon Maldonado: I was born and raised in South Philadelphia. My favorite thing about living here is the sense of community. I tell everyone that Philly is a small town dressed up as a city. You can’t go anywhere without running into someone! When I was a kid, that small community feeling is what drove me away, but as an adult, it’s what brought me back.

WHERE TO EAT

Philly City Guide

Shannon’s favorite matcha at Res Ipsa café

One of my favorite places in all of Philly is easily Res Ipsa in Rittenhouse Square. By day, Res Ipsa is a quiet café — the savory egg sandwich paired with iced matcha is my personal favorite. At night, it changes to a bustling restaurant serving handmade pasta and other unforgettable dishes. On the surface, it looks fancier than it is, but the staff is SO lovely and makes the experience feel warm and accessible. Michael, the head chef, practically chases you out the door with desserts. It’s BYOB, so grab your favorite bottle of Grüner or Pinot on the way! And if you’re visiting on a weekend, don’t forget to make a reservation.

K’Far — a new café from James Beard Award winner Camille Cogswell (also behind our beloved Israeli restaurant Zahav) — is a welcome addition to the Rittenhouse area. As soon as you open the door, you’re met with cotton-candy colored decor and the sweet, welcoming waitstaff. Follow the scents to find incredible baked goods, like Jerusalem bagels and chocolate rugelach. Get there early, as there’s usually a line out the door. Say hi to Yasmin, the general manager, for me!

Philadelphia City Guide

The scene at Mission Taqueria

If you’re in the mood for a fun time, check out the vibrant, plant-filled Mission Taqueria in Center City. I recommend the empanadas, as well as everything on their cocktail menu — their drinks are dangerously delicious. It’s also home to Taco Lab, a collaborative monthly event where chefs create one-of-a-kind menus, and Art at Mission, a rotating showcase of diverse local talent.

On a sunny corner in the Bella Vista neighborhood, you’ll find Ricci’s Hoagies, a family operated Italian sandwich shop that’s been slinging delicious hoagies since 1920. A chalkboard lists straightforward items like “Turkey”, “Italian” or “Cheese.” Order the basics, then move to the side to add your toppings: no muss, no fuss, but so delicious. I’m not a cheesesteak person (sorry, Philadelphia!), but I’d say a perfect hoagie on soft bread, a bag of salty chips and seltzer water is a must. Their turkey is sliced so thin, it hits the bread like a fluffy cloud. There’s nowhere to sit inside the shop, so take your sandwich to the one of the many nearby parks.

WHERE TO HANG

Philly City Guide

Rittenhouse Square Park

To me, Rittenhouse Square Park (and more specifically 18th between Walnut and Locust) is far and away the most romantic pocket in Philadelphia. I grew up hanging at this park, and now as an adult it’s still a place I return every week, even if it’s to sit and answer emails. Rittenhouse Square is one of our oldest parks, and also one of the most diverse: you’ll see ALL of the people of Philadelphia here, a genuine cross section of the city at large. I love sitting outside at nearby Joe Coffee and people watching, or grabbing a glass of wine at Parc, a beloved French bistro across from the park. For a moment, you get a taste of Paris in Philadelphia, and it’s magical.

The area around Rittenhouse Square is also home to Philadelphia’s largest shopping district, with shops big and small, as well as many restaurants, so it’s a great place to spend time exploring on foot.

On a breezy morning, you may catch my sister and me on a stretch of Schuylkill River Trail, where we’ll sometimes take weights to do workouts in the park. It manages to be both quiet and lively with people walking their dogs, jogging, riding bikes and commuting to work. The trail has beautiful views of the city and parkway, and they’re building it out more and more every year. On the weekends, it’s home to many picnics, gatherings and families exploring the city. You can also check out an exhibit at the nearby Philadelphia Museum of Art and then head here afterward for a little walk.

WHERE TO SHOP

Yowie Philadelphia

Shannon’s shop, YOWIE

If you come to Philly, I hope you’ll make it to YOWIE. Our Queen Village shop carries artists’ works from near and far, including ceramics, books and graphic tees. The shop is located on a historic block of Philadelphia that used to be our garment district. When I was a child, I used to shop here for fabric with my mom, and I love that the neighborhood has a mix of old and new. YOWIE is highly curated — it has white walls and a white floor, and people often ask if it’s a gallery. But when you walk in, I’m usually the friendly face to greet you and talk your head off, and you’ll find it’s totally welcoming and inviting and accessible! A lot of customers wind up hanging out in the shop and just talking about pop culture, news, or whatever is on their mind. I like to think it’s more than just a place to shop, it’s a place to connect.

Philly City Guide

Lapstone & Hammer

With Lapstone & Hammer, locals Brian Nadav and Kate Rohe created hands-down the most beautiful sneaker store in Philadelphia. The gorgeous, bi-level space has nods to its art deco past; while browsing, you may find yourself taking many photos of the interior. They also carry everyday clothing staples and hard-to-find labels in sportswear, streetwear and jewelry.

WHERE TO STAY

Philly City Guide

The Deacon Hotel

I’m admittedly biased, as The Deacon was an interior design project I worked on, but I promise you, it is one of the most unique stays you can have in Philadelphia — or anywhere! Housed inside a 1906 Watson & Huckel designed church, The Deacon is a boutique hotel and event space. It was designed to be a place to gather, honoring the church’s original ethos of community. There are eight hotel rooms, each designed to look and feel different. My favorite is bedroom number seven, which has the most insane natural light and a reading nook, with lots of art books, including some I donated from my personal collection! And like all the rooms, it has a beautiful stained glass window right above the bed. It’s the kind of place where you notice something different every time you visit.

With three locations in Philadelphia, ROOST apartment hotels are a cozy reprieve. Instead of traditional hotel rooms, ROOST’s spaces are closer to apartments, each furnished with a full-size kitchen. I love the idea of picking up a local cookbook from Dizengoff, an Israeli-style hummus spot, and trying a dish or two. They also have walk-in rainfall showers and a coffee program, (including beans, a grinder, and a Chemex coffeemaker right in your room) with neighbors La Colombe, which got its start nearby.

Philly City Guide

A room at the Lokal Hotel

Lokal is Philadelphia’s first invisible service hotel — meaning there’s no concierge. Everything is self-serve, you just buzz in with your personal code, and walk up! Each room has a kitchenette stocked with local teas, and a huge booklet with suggestions of things to do. The experience feels very intimate and comfortable. Their first location is in Old City, one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful neighborhoods and a short walk from all of our historic activities like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. If you prefer staying in a more bustling area of town, they have a new location in Fishtown, an up-and-coming, eclectic neighborhood with tons of bars, restaurants and music spots.

FINAL TIPS

Philadelphia is a small and walkable city, so pack comfortable shoes and don’t be afraid to explore on foot. That’s my favorite way to see the city, as it’s the best way to appreciate the architecture and smaller details you may miss in a car. However, it’s also easy to get around by bike or cab. I recommend visiting in early fall, when the leaves are changing but it’s not too cold yet, or in spring, when there are tons of cherry blossoms. (They look incredible when in bloom, and as the trees shed the petals, Philly’s abundance of cute alleyways are littered in pink.) At any time of year, Philly is the perfect place to go for a shorter getaway, because you can see a lot in just a few days.

Thank you so much, Shannon! We can’t wait to visit. If you’ve been to Philly or live there, what else would you add?

P.S. More city guides, and 14 great reader tips on travel.

(Res Ipsa, Lapstone & Hammer and Mission Taqueria photos by Marc Williams. K’Far photo courtesy of K’Far. Lokal Hotel and Deacon Hotel photos by Heidi’s Bridge. YOWIE photo by A. Rickets for Visit Philadelphia. Deacon Hotel room interior photo by Jillian Guyette. Philly skyline photo by Bradley Maule.)