Manayunk. I’m still probably butchering the pronunciation; but at least, I didn’t butcher my day spent in this thriving Philadelphia suburb. I was only able to spend a few hours here, and it was full of adventure and intrigue! Danger at every turn! (Kidding.) Seriously, the place has remade itself and offers a lot of eclectic variety on a day trip…a day trip that you won’t regret!
Manayunk History Touring
Manayunk has a rich history and transformed itself from a working class neighborhood into a suburb with a very youthful, active vibe. As it was initially populated by immigrants, they formed their own individual churches. In fact, you’ll see two of the ethnic immigrant churches in my video–St. John The Baptist (Irish) and St. Josaphat’s (Polish). (St. Michael’s Church of Chicago, eat your heart out!) Manayunk well-maintains this rich heritage through impressive preservation. Instead of tearing down old churches and buildings in favor of the newest flavor-of-the-decade, the community refurbishes and repurposes buildings and heritage dating to the 1800s to suit new needs.
Merely walking the streets provides a veritable history tour de preservation. Classy cobblestone streets and beautifully kept infrastructure will fill your eyes! And believe me–this burg has skillfully woven everything together. You can see a keen example of this on Cresson Street. Crafting a Philadelphia’s SEPTA train system line directly over city streets while maintaining the area cobblestone heritage and street system? Instead of adding a potential eyesore, blending seamlessly into the working class history? Well-played, Manayunk and Philadelphia. Well-played.
Pro Tip 1: Get off the beaten Main Street path, but you need not stray far! One or two blocks will keep you close to the main strip while letting you see a more diverse slate of architecture.
Pro Tip 2: Don’t spend money on parking on Main Street or in one of the few lots nearby! Scope side streets just north of Main Street for a space, and catch some of the historic flavor of the area while walking toward Main Street!
Manayunk Art Scene
Adding to the heritage is Manayunk’s commitment to art in any and all possible forms. Stroll Main Street and the accompanying side streets; and you’ll find murals, sample paintings found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, decorated solar compactors, at least one art gallery, and a real pride about the creative facet of this community. So much so that there is a huge art festival hosted every year here! It’s a nice enclave of creativity just beyond the reach of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (But don’t be surprised to find a replica Museum of Art piece or two if you hunt hard enough!)
Pro Tip 3: ALL of the art murals I found were situated between Main Street and the trail by the river! The art scene, from what I could tell, is fairly concentrated.
Expanding the definition of art to performance, the across-the-Manayunk-Canal Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center (PARC) features theatrical performances as well as concerts, lectures, dance, and more! The variety is huge, and events happen weekly. A short cursory glance through the current schedule features events as wide-ranging as a talent show by the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia, the Miss Black America Pageant, and WILD: A Clown Western presented by Shoe Box Theatre Company. Diverse and fun, right?
Manayunk Main Street Eats
During its modern day renaissance, many restaurants with a variety of delicious foods have opened in Manayunk. And if that pizza above looks good, you’re right. (More on that in a hot minute.) Manayunk is on-trend for food design. Everything I ate (which wasn’t all that much, given the sheer scope of possibilities) was absolutely delightful. The food left me wanting more though my burgeoning stomach strongly advised against that. I followed the advice of my stomach. Begrudgingly. Still, I was able to visit three establishments and leave extremely impressed with the food quality.
The Couch Tomato Café was my first stop, and it’s an interesting one splitting into two restaurants. The top floor is the bistro while the bottom floor is a café with some outdoor sidewalk seating. I parked my tail at the window-side counter for some quality people-watching with my meal. The restaurant is currently ranked 15th on TripAdvisor; and while TripAdvisor is certainly not a know-it-all for travel, I’d be hard-pressed to find a better pizza in Philadelphia. I previously sampled 3-4 different pies in and around the city, but I hadn’t found “my place” yet. This is “my place” without a doubt. The uniqueness of their pizzas is exciting and adventurous, leaving you curious about the next pie. Which I certainly hope is in my future…because it was superb!
My Selection: Short Rib Pizza – All-natural bacon, grana padano, horseradish sauce, short rib, mozzarella, organic arugula
For dessert, I chose Tubby Robot Ice Cream Factory which just won Best Ice Cream in Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly 2017 issue. Wow! This place is petite with minimal space but feels like home with neighborly employees. The owners combined two of their loves in life–ice cream and video games–to create this vision. Homemade ice cream will tickle your tongue. While I selected dark chocolate and blueberry cheesecake, I could have easily jumped to a litany of other options (chocolate-covered strawberries…peanut butter fudge swirl…you get my drift). But love for chocolate and blueberries won the day, and love for these ice creams subsequently followed due to their creamy deca-dance on my tongue. And the video games? Play retro video games from inside the parlor on their Wall-O-Vision screens hung on the adjacent building. It’s an innovative setup that cries for you to duel supreme on Donkey Kong and Contra. This place is a retro joy.
My Selection: Two Scoops of Ice Cream – 1 Dark chocolate, 1 blueberry cheesecake
And finally, for a snack and to hydrate and rejuvenate, I selected vegan establishment The Juice Merchant. With veggies and fruits on the mind, this whitewashed establishment immediately and subconsciously prepares your mind for a health cleanse. And it’s a tasty (albeit expensive) cleanse at that. I needed hydration and opted for a smoothie with some power goods in it to carry me through day’s end. I’ve never had oats in a smoothie before, but it added to the body of the drink. Sadly, I downed the smoothie fast (I must have been thirsty!); happily, I was sufficiently satiated and pleased with my final Manayunk restaurant selection.
My Selection: Oat Berry Berry Smoothie – Strawberry, blueberry, gluten-free rolled oats, banana, almond milk, orange juice
Pro Tip 4: Visit with friends if you are able. Then, order with a “sampling” purpose and share each other’s food so that you are able to sample more! I would have loved to sample a secondary pizza at Couch Tomato…alas.
Pro Tip 5: Don’t spend all your calories and money at one location. Hop from restaurant to restaurant so you can experience a variety of different food! It’s super easy to do with almost all restaurants centered on Main Street. (And those that aren’t on Main Street are typically 1 block away and within sight!)
Manayunk Festival Scene
And if you’re interested in festivals celebrating Manayunk and fortunate enough to visit on certain dates, you’ll find them a’plenty. The Manayunk Development Corporation navigates the marketing angle with a variety of awesome festivals that I’m disappointed I missed! (I mean, seriously…there’s two per week at minimum during the summer! Manayunk 1, Melissa 0 and c’est la vie…)
The Fall (and Spring!) StrEAT Food Festival & Restaurant Week imports nearly 50 special food trucks and vendors that sound utterly divine. (Oink & Moo BBQ with brisket and pulled pork chili? The Cow and The Curd with Wisconsin cheese curds? Foolish Waffles with sweet and savory-style waffle selections? Count me in for some of all of that business.) The fact that this festival is offered twice during the year shows how absolutely popular and awesome it is!
If you can’t visit during those two major food festivals, Stroll the Street on Thursdays is a nice alternative. This regular event brings a smaller selection of vendors and food trucks from across Philadelphia to Manayunk Main Street in addition to featuring local restaurants offering $5 food and drink specials.
The two-day Manayunk Arts Festival shines additional light on the the community’s creativity mid-summer in this celebration that will be entering its 29th year in 2018. Nearly 200,000 collectors, buyers, and designers visit this festival. If all the murals in this suburb aren’t enough for your artsy side, this festival should be your event.
The Manayunk Harvest Festival celebrates fall in October in the heart of Manayunk at Pretzel Park! With pumpkin carving, scarecrow contests, and local artists, this is a fun family-oriented event just off the main drag of Main Street.
But if it’s not fall, the Pretzel Park Farmer’s Market starts in mid-May and runs every Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. through the end of the harvest season in November! Pick up some fresh local delicacies and mingle with locals? Don’t mind if I do!
For the alcohol aficionados, Manayunk Cocktail Week in November caters to your craft and signature cocktail soul! Among the restaurants is a great pride in alcohol, and this booze blowout shows the best that Manayunk’s many mixmaster mixologists have to offer!
Finally, the Hidden River Blues Festival affords the neighborhood to show off great blues and funk tunes, allowing music to reign supreme. (Who needs Memphis, TN blues when you can find them in Philadelphia?) Local and national acts flock to the aforementioned Venice Island Amphitheater to see great music! And, naturally, grab great eats.
Pro Tip 6: Due to the limited parking and narrow streets, consider using the SEPTA Manayunk train with its central depot location or arriving via car very early for the biggest festivals. (StrEAT Food Festivals and Arts Festival, I’m especially looking at you!)
I’ll admit I shopped but didn’t really find anything I needed given the minimalist phase I’ve entered in my life. Plus, carrying more home was very unappealing this trip. The most fabulous item I loved was a painting of Philadelphia which you’ll see in my video. That was located at the wonderfully snazzy Pineapple On Main, a home goods store with a bright personality. (And some rather witty cards for various occasions.)
Plenty of other stores abound. Approximately twenty clothing stores (with Nicole Miller as the biggest designer) fill the streets and ensure that you’ll find something cute! From music and home goods to books and crafts, kitschy shops of all sorts will beckon you to enter.
The most impressive shopping moment happened while I drank my smoothie. The owner of one of the clothing stores recognized me, struck up a conversation, and tried to ascertain my style so she could alert me when she bought new clothes. Friendly local entrepreneurs for the win!
Pro Tip 7: The only mainstream brand you’ll find is Nicole Miller, and most stores are owned by locals with unique goods. Resultantly, plan to spend a bit more for local quality and flair as opposed to mass produced items.
Manayunk Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor recreation is a Manayunk mainstay, evidencing itself in four primary ways. First, the Manayunk Bridge Trail, featured above, is a pedestrian and biking bridge connecting Manayunk to the other side of the river. The traffic is light but steady, and the view of the city and river which are featured in my video is excellent!
Second, the Schuylkill River Trail runs along the banks of the river and Manayunk where you’ll find biking, running, and cycling as options. With 130 miles, this trail offers recreational opportunities for those with a marathon or those with a short jaunt in mind. Philadelphia alone offers approximately 10 miles of the trail. A trailhead is in Manayunk, and the neighborhood provides easy access at multiple points along the Main Street corridor!
Third, canoeing and other similar water sports are popular pastimes along the river. Connecting with the Philadelphia Canoe Club will help guide you to group opportunities. Manayunk is known as a launch point for these kinds of adventures (as well as an endpoint with a post-adventure brew waiting at one of the local breweries).
Fourth, the possibly defunct Philadelphia International Cycling Championship flows through Manayunk in an internationally known leg known as “The Wall” to professional cyclists. Starting with the entrance of cobblestone, the steep incline running along Levering Street and Lyceum Avenue challenges the stamina of the most experienced cyclists similarly to famous races globally. 2017 was the event’s first cancellation due to lack of sufficient sponsorship; but hopefully, the prolific race will return in 2018.
Pro Tip 8: Walk everywhere for part of your activity! Anywhere you want to go is within short, enjoyable walking distance. Plus, it will help counteract all the calories you’re downing from all of Manayunk’s incredible food and drink! (Trust me…you’ll need all the caloric burn you can muster if you’re into keeping your figure as is.)
Obviously, plenty of opportunity for a wide variety of fun awaits you in this awesome neighborhood! Have you visited Manayunk? What else would you recommend? Comment below and let me know! Until next time, toodles!