Why I wrote a love letter to Philadelphia

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

I was destined to live in Philadelphia, but I didn’t have a very direct path here.

First, I dated a law student in Michigan who made it very clear that he intended to return to his hometown, Philly. I had never visited the city, but I was game. Until we broke up. Then, my fiancé (a different guy) interviewed at a business school here. He decided to get his degree elsewhere. It was another near miss, but at least that time I got a look at the city. When my by-then-husband graduated, he got a job offer in, you guessed it, Philadelphia. Turned out the third time was the charm.

I landed my dream job at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Since I was responsible for showing the city to travel writers, I had to hit the ground running. I learned the basics, like where the Liberty Bell was and the fastest way to get there. I soaked up the city quickly and saw all of Philly’s highlights in the process. Travel writers are the world’s most jaded travelers. Every city in the world caters to them and tries to win their adoration and accolades — making them rather hard to impress. I paid attention to what surprised and delighted them.

After nearly a decade showing off the city, I opened my own firm, Spotlight Public Relations, specializing in restaurants and hospitality. By then, my friends, most of whom are Philadelphia natives, were routinely calling to ask me where to take their mother-in-law, college roommate, or 25-year-old niece.

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By the way, the answers are:

  • Take your mother-in-law to the Rosenbach Museum, because the book and antique collections are astounding, you get a peek inside an exquisite 19th century townhouse on one of the city’s prettiest streets (Delancey) in one of the city’s ritziest neighborhoods (Rittenhouse Square), and she’ll only be on her feet for about an hour.
  • Take your college roommate to the Magic Gardens, Isaiah Zagar’s artistic wonderland on South Street, because she won’t have seen anything else like it no matter where she lives.
  • Take your niece to Spruce Street Harbor Park, because its rainbow hammocks, giant games, and illumination are irresistible.

Does it seem strange that a non-native is giving out advice about the city? It probably is — but being born and raised elsewhere means I don’t have that feeling I encounter so often in Philadelphia that we’re a provincial city lurking in the shadows of New York and Washington, D.C. I mean, really, how could I help but fall in love with a city that was flourishing with outside dining, illuminated beer gardens, ice skating alongside City Hall and more?

And I’m not the only one noticing how Philadelphia has blossomed since the early ’90s. The city is suddenly winning major kudos from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lonely Planet, Zagat, and many others. And you’d have to be asleep to not know about visits from the Pope and Democrats.

I’ve spent 25 years exploring the city’s nooks and crannies and I am ready to share the city’s secrets. So, I wrote a book: “100 Things To Do In Philadelphia Before You Die.” Want to snag a table at the city’s trendiest restaurants? Get Instagram-worthy photos of the sunset over the city? Score discounted show tickets? Introduce your jaded teen to a dwarf’s skeleton? Discover a kid-sized grocery store that will keep your toddler busy on a rainy afternoon? Want to be serenaded by future opera stars or sing the praises of the best cheesesteak? Then this bucket list book is for you.

Clearly someone, or something, lured me to Philadelphia. Now I know why.

Irene Levy Baker is the author of newly released book, “100 Things To Do In Philadelphia Before You Die” (Reedy Press). For more information about the book, visit Facebook or Instagram.

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