Worth a Trip: North Central Philadelphia
Home to the campus of Temple University (www.temple.edu), North Central Philadelphia is a largely African American neighborhood that is worth a visit for a couple of outstanding sights.
The Wagner Free Institute of Science is home to over 100,000 natural-history specimens, from dinosaur bones and a stuffed saber-toothed cat to starfish and mounted butterflies. All have been preserved just as they were presented in the 1890s by this extraordinary museum's founder William Wagner. No photos are allowed but drawing is encouraged and there's a packed schedule of evening lectures and family-friendly weekend programs – all free.
Three blocks north of the museum it's recommended you call ahead to arrange a visit to the extraordinary Church of the Advocate. A fine example of Gothic Revival architecture, this 1897 Episcopal church was a center of activism during the Civil Rights movement and the site of the National Conference of Black Power in 1968. However, it's for its series of protest art murals by Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson, created in the early 1970s, that the church is most notable. These amazing, occasionally violently in-your-face images place African American experiences and faces at the forefront.
While in the area swing by the Martin Luther King Jr Recreation Center to view the mural Staircases & Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream. This huge black-and-white image is based on a photograph by William Lovelace, showing MLK and his wife, Coretta Scott King, leading a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, in March 1965.
Worth A Trip: Wissahickon Valley Park
Covering 2042 acres, this beautiful, wooded park follows the Wissahickon Creek from its confluence with the Schuylkill River up to the city's northwest boundary. With vehicle access to the park mostly banned it's a wonderful spot for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding. A detailed map of the park is produced by Friends of the Wissahickon.
If you're coming by train, Wissahickon is the station closest to the southern end of the park while Tulpehocken is not far east of the location of the Historic Rittenhouse Town where the first paper mill in North America was established in the late 17th century. Alternatively, drive into the park along Valley Green Rd and park next to the Valley Green Inn. The welcome couldn't be warmer at this idyllic creekside inn that dates back to the 1850s and appears little changed since then. The menu is stacked with classic American comfort food such as grilled-cheese sandwiches, crab cakes and bacon-wrapped meatloaf, all done supremely well.