What to do this Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia

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A couple takes a selfie in a hammock during opening weekend at Spruce Street Harbor Park. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

A couple takes a selfie in a hammock during opening weekend at Spruce Street Harbor Park. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

At last, it’s Memorial Day weekend, the official start to summer. Maybe you’ve got Monday off, maybe even Friday if you’re lucky. And if you’re staying local, that means even more time to get out there and have fun. So for all of you sticking around the city, coming in from the ‘burbs, or hosting out-of-towners this weekend, here are my picks for things to do.

There are, of course, all the classics. Spruce Street Harbor Park is back for a fifth summer of music, hammocks, food trucks, and beer. Summerfest at Penn’s Landing is open too, with a roller skating rink and carnival rides. Then there’s Sail Philadelphia, where you can tour tall ships docked on the Delaware River and top off your night with fireworks over the water. But you already knew all that. Here are some Memorial Day weekend activities a little further off the beaten path.

Beach Party Beer Garden at the Mutter Museum

  • Thursday May 24, 6pm to 10pm
  • The Mutter Museum, 19 S 22nd St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
  • $5 for Mutter Members, $12 for the public

Start the weekend early at, of all places, the Mutter Museum. The somewhat morbid medical museum is kicking off the summer with a beach-themed beer garden. There’s a cash bar with sangria and beer, and the museum is staying open late so you can check out their creepier, crawlier offerings. I highly recommend the show in the Thomson Gallery right now, featuring 18th- and 19th-century hair art. Apparently it was once common to make mementos of the deceased by sculpting their hair into elaborate flowers, scenes, and even jewelry. Who doesn’t like to start their summer with a reminder of the inevitability of death?

Got kids with you? Check out Dinos after Dark at the Academy of Natural Sciences instead. It’s pay-what-you-wish on Thursday night, and the museum is open late, until 8pm. There’s a butterfly house, free family-friendly yoga, and yes, a beer garden.

8th Annual Philly Tango Fest

  • Friday May 25 – Monday May 28
  • Lithuanian Music Hall, 2715 E Allegheny Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19134
  • Ticket prices vary

Whether you’re an expert tango dancer, or a total beginner, the Philly Tango Fest has classes for you, starting Friday night and running all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Some workshops are only for partners and require pre-registration, but most are open to singles and you can sign up day-of. There are also free soirees to help you meet potential dance partners on Friday and Saturday nights. Tango dancers are, it turns out, a fairly hardcore bunch: The milongas — events where tango is danced — on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights are scheduled to last until 4 a.m.

Can’t dance but still looking for a date idea? Head to the Philadelphia Magic Gardens on South Street. The fantastical mosaiced gardens are open late on Friday night, with live music by Avi Wisnia and a lantern-making workshop from artist Meg Bowersox. You can also get a rare tour of the basement, which is also, of course, covered in mosaics by Isaiah Zagar. It’s BYOB, $20 for adults, $16 for students and seniors and $12 for garden members.

Looking for more of a side-splitter? In 2014, comedian Amanda Nicastro donated a kidney for her sister, and she’s had to endure being called a hero ever since. While it may not seem like a punchline, that experience forms the basis of Nicastro’s comedic solo romp through organ donation, I’m Just Kidneying, at The Philly Improv Theater this Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets are $12.

Revolutionary Soldiers at the Museum of the American Revolution

  • May 26 – May 28, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
  • Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for students and seniors, $12 for youth, free this weekend for active and retired service members and veterans

If you need a reminder of what Memorial Day is all about, this is your chance to check out Philadelphia’s newest museum: the Museum of the American Revolution, opened just last year. To tie in with Sail Philadelphia, the museum will focus this weekend on the lives of Revolutionary sailors. You can tour a replica ship and meet reenactors portraying seafarers of the times. Veterans and active and retired service members get in free all weekend.

Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society perform at the Stars and Stripes Burlesque Veteran Charity Cabaret. (Courtesy Redlite Photos)

Looking for a fun way to support veterans? Take a trip to wartimes past with a throwback, USO-style cabaret show, replete with tap dancers, musicians, comedians, and burlesque performers. The “Stars and Stripes Burlesque Veteran Charity Cabaret” runs Saturday night at the Ruba Club and Sunday night at L’Etage. “We want to make it feel like a ‘back door’ show typical of the USO’s in the 1940s,” says Adam Iezzi, creator of the event. The event also offers up period cocktails, a swing dance competition, historic reenactors, vintage board games, and something called “tassle twirling for the Red, White, and Blue.” I’ll leave that last one up to your imagination. Tickets range from $10 to $85, and proceeds go towards veterans services provided by the Veteran Multi-Service Center.


This article is part of a new effort recommending things to do in the Philly region.  Tell us what you think.

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