When it comes to cities, Philadelphia was my first love. I grew up in the suburbs of South Jersey, right across the bridge from this City of Brotherly Love.
My relationship with Philly was both love and hate. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 2. It spread quickly to every joint in my body and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) soon became my home away from home. When going to Philadelphia meant blood tests and doctors, it was the last place I wanted to be. On the other hand, if we were headed to the city for some weekend exploration and cheesesteaks, I was ready to go.
Philly has a vibe about it that’s hard to match. People are personable and in your face, in a good way. The city sidewalks are bubbling over with history that dates back to before America, was America. You can expect many types of walkways including, cobblestone, bricks, slate, new sidewalk, or no sidewalk at all. It’s amazing to walk the streets and imagine all the people that followed the same path decades ago. Philadelphia was an old stomping ground for the forefathers of our country.
One of the most famous attributes of Philadelphia is its delicious food. This city is truly a melting pot, and it shows in the endless variety of cuisine. On any given day you can indulge at a fine dining restaurant, grab a cheesesteak at a local steak shop or deli, get a soft pretzel from a street vendor or pick up a Tastykake at the nearest 711. They don’t mess around in Philly when it comes to food, especially the famous cheesesteak. There are many opportunities to have an authentic cheesesteak experience, but none quite like going to Geno’s Steaks, Pat’s King of Steaks or Tony Luke’s. The rivalry between Geno’s and Pat’s has been going on for 40 years. They’re located in South Philly, across the street from each other. Be ready with money and your order or they might make you go back to the end of the line, which is always long.
It has your typical city hustle bustle, but feels more laid back then a place like New York City. Locals are usually very willing to lend a hand if you need help maneuvering the sidewalks or getting in the door of a shop or restaurant. Many buildings in the city are considered historical landmarks and are legally protected from modifications, like adding elevators. Independence Hall, in Center City, is a prime example; you can get into the building if you use a wheelchair, but your tour will be cut short since there is no access to the upper floors.
Sidewalk navigation can be tricky at times. Overall, expect the walkways to switch from brick to concrete or cobblestone to slate quickly within a block. There are hidden must see spots down small side streets like Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest residential street. People have explored this space for over 300 years. The walkway down the alley consists of cobblestone, slate and brick. Although this could be a very bumpy ride, it’s worth your time.
Most places are easily accessible, but some shops and restaurants have no access to get in the door. There are situations where it looks as if there’s no accessibility, but when asked, the staff will put out a portable ramp. Be sure to speak up when it comes to visiting Philadelphia, especially in the winter months. The Northeast gets lots of snow, which can become a navigational nightmare for people with mobility considerations. Many times when they have to plow the roads, the ramps get filled with feet of snow. Pedestrians who walk through will eventually clear sidewalk ramps, or the city will remove the snow once the streets are clear. In the meantime, be prepared for some delays and detours.
Philadelphia has a good public transportation system, called SEPTA. There is a paratransit program available for qualified people that will take you door to door. If you are an approved member of a paratransit program and are visiting Philadelphia, you can retain a visitor pass for 21 days. This takes some time and needs to be handled prior to your arrival. Public buses are wheelchair accessible, as is the SEPTA train system, but be sure to look at route maps because many platforms are not wheelchair accessible. You might be able to get on the train, but not off if you don’t plan ahead.
I’ve lived in many places, and Philadelphia is the one place that I wish I could transplant to a warm state like California. The people are to thank for the incredible vibe, local feel and overall good time when visiting this historic city. Feel confident that your vacation will be a success no matter what level of physical ability you experience. Remember to bring a pair of pants with a stretch waistband; you’re going to need it!