Beyond Philly: The Main Line

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I just spent the weekend in Philadelphia, but not the urban center known for its cheesesteaks and Rocky. To the west of downtown Philly is an area called the Main Line, a collection of small towns built along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s central route in the 19th century.

In addition to being one of America’s first “old money” enclaves (see The Philadelphia Story), the area has maintained its reputation for being a prime place to settle down and raise a family. I can verify this from personal experience, having just returned from my cousin’s baby shower, where I met scads of picture-perfect (and fun!) couples who are raising families on the Main Line.

As someone who has yet to have kids, I wondered if the Main Line had enough going on to justify recommending it as a weekend getaway. The answer turned out to be, unequivocally, yes.

I loved the rolling hills, acres of pasture, small towns with a deep-rooted sense of place, and delicious restaurants. Plus, all eyes are on the Main Line this week as the U.S. Open kicks off at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore.

With so many quaint hamlets dotting the Main Line, this is by no means an exhaustive list (I spent most of my time in Wayne, Bryn Mawr, Villanova, and Malvern), so feel free to add your favorite spots in the comments section below!

Here are a few reasons to plan a trip to Philadelphia’s Main Line:

A scallop dish at the White Dog Cafe. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

A scallop dish at the White Dog Cafe (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

To Stay: A landmark on the Main Line for more than 100 years, the Wayne Hotel epitomizes old-time elegance. Even if you’re not staying at the renovated Tudor Revival style inn, stop by to have a cocktail on the porch and watch the town stream by.

Good Eats: Though it’s called The Classic Diner, the food at this Malvern eatery is a cut above diner fare. The Wayne location of White Dog Cafe is truly special, both for its emphasis on local ingredients and for its decor, which feels like a quirky Ralph Lauren ad. Nectar is a sophisticated spot with Asian flair, while Teresa’s Next Door has an extensive beer list and Georges’ offers up American cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere. End your night at The Flying Pig Saloon, a Malvern mainstay with quintessential neighborhood-bar quirk (think Christmas lights and lava lamps). I left wanting to be a regular.

Sweet Spot: Started by a Philadelphia college student, Hope’s Cookies churns out delectable flavors like “lemon sugar” and “double fudge” for its legions of devotees. The parking lot at Handel’s in Berwyn is packed with ice cream lovers every night in the summer.

The courtyard at Suburban Square. (Photograph by Kimco Realty, Flickr)

The courtyard at Suburban Square (Photograph by Kimco Realty, Flickr)

Health Kick: While there is no shortage of indoor offerings (Focus Fitness has a great lineup of classes, and my favorite spin studio in NYC, Flywheel, just opened a branch in Bryn Mawr), you’ll find the Main Line’s real natural allure outside. Join the locals in taking advantage of the ample walking and biking trails, tennis courts, sports fields, and parks (my favorite was The Willows in Radnor) in the area.

Shop Suburbia: My fiancé joked that I could be the “Suburban Insider” when we went to King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall in the U.S. Sure, malls lack an authentic spirit, but this one is worth a stop. Outdoor Main Line favorite Suburban Square, with upscale chains like Lululemon and Lilly Pulitzer, brings an air of So-Cal breeziness to the area, while Anthropologie’s flagship store in Wayne remains a draw to this day. Interior design aficionados won’t want to miss Haven.

The Devon Horse Show has been held since 1896. (Photograph by Photommo, Flickr)

The Devon Horse Show has been held since 1896. (Photograph by Photommo, Flickr)

Nature’s Way: The Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne operates three days a week, bringing in just picked produce from nearby farms (it also boasts a cute gift shop called The Cottage at the Market). You can pick up berries and vegetables in the summer at Sugartown Strawberries, and go on hayrides in the fall. And Chanticleer Gardens is a romantic spot with highlights like the Teacup Garden.

World-Class Art: Though the Barnes Foundation recently relocated its impressive collection of Renoirs, Matisses, and Picassos to downtown Philadelphia (which is an absolute must-see), the arboretum at its original campus in Merion is well worth a visit.

Old-World Events: Held each spring, the Devon Horse Show is one of the most respected, historic shows in the nation. The Radnor Hunt is the oldest continuously active fox hunt in America, taking place on 100 acres of idyllic countryside.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her on Twitter @anniefitz.