A Love Letter to Philly – Part One


Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture, in Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Plaza

Recently, my friend and colleague Jen Jones Donatelli traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her husband, Joe, on behalf of Travels With Two. Please enjoy reading about her fun/delicious discoveries in Philly!

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Dear Philly (can I call you Phil?):

When Melanie shared your invite to explore you as part of your “XOXO Philly” campaign, I’m not gonna lie—I was pretty pumped. After all, my only exposure to you had been watching Rocky over and over as a kid and (as an adult) consuming ample amounts of Art in the Age spirits at tastings here in L.A.

My husband Joe and I were happy to take on this assignment for Travels With Two, excited for the opportunity to say sayonara to typical tourist itineraries and make our own way through Philadelphia’s outlying, trendier neighborhoods.

What we found was a city filled with creativity, true grit, lots to eat and really great beer.

So how do I love thee, Philly? Let me count the ways…

Bella Vista Neighborhood

South 9th Street Italian Market: Since Joe and I are both half-Italian (but often like to pretend that we’re 100 percent), we knew a visit to the Italian Market was an absolute must, especially since it came highly recommended by locals. Plus, as famous Rocky filming locations go, it’s second only to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Spanning a few blocks of 9th Street, this outdoor market is the oldest and largest of its kind in the States. Walking this lively stretch involved taking in the smell of fresh fish, peering into windows where mustachioed chefs were rolling pasta noodles, and taking brief meatball-tasting detours (our favorite was at Villa di Roma, winner of Michael Symon’s Food Feuds and a great family joint).

The bustling Italian Market on Philly's South 9th Street

The bustling Italian Market on Philly’s South 9th Street

But our favorite visit was to Cardenas Oil & Vinegar Taproom, an unexpected, shiny new find amid a bevy of small businesses that have been there for generations. Having just opened in August, its walls are lined with tap after tap of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world (can you say Blood Orange EVOO and honey ginger BV? I can—and did.). Being here felt like we’d been transported back to California’s Central Coast; no wonder I felt so at home. A must-see…and taste!

OOC with the EVOO

Cardenas Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom: OOC with the EVOO

The Magic Gardens: Round the corner from the Italian Market onto South Street, and you’ll encounter a public art playground unlike any other. As an admitted mosaic tile and stained glass fanatic, I was absolutely entranced by the sight of this painstakingly crafted Technicolor wonderland—and Joey D was coming along for the ride, whether he liked it or not. (Luckily, in the end, he did like it…but not as much as me.)

Joe and me at the Magic Gardens

Joe and me at the Magic Gardens

First imagined in 1994 by celebrated local artist Isaiah Zagar and his wife, Julia, the Magic Gardens are a real labor of love. Zagar spent 14 years excavating tunnels and grottos and exhaustively tiling/grouting 3,000 square feet of gorgeous mosaicked walls in this once-sketchy neighborhood.

The result? A truly sacred space that speaks to the power of art as it relates to community and revitalization. Magical surprises await around every tiled turn, whether it’s a Day of the Dead sculpture, glittery mirror, or randomly placed bicycle wheel. I would highly suggest checking out the free audio tour at Lokadot; even if you can’t visit, you can hear the rich history and learn what it’s all about.

At the Magic Gardens, there's so much to see and be inspired by

At the Magic Gardens, there’s so much to see and be inspired by

Places I’d wish we’d had time to check out in Bella Vista: Cucina Forte, a BYOB Italian (surprise!) haunt known for the best ricotta gnocchi in town; and Fante’s Kitchen Shop, a foodie’s paradise with an extensive array of high-end cooking tools (often at at rock-bottom prices).

Fishtown Neighborhood

Pizza Brain: Little did we know that we would encounter Isaiah Zagar’s work again, let alone at a delightfully quirky pizza place that plays host to the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia. (Guinness Book certified. Truth.)

Though we took what felt like the longest walk ever from Philly’s “L” train (aka the Market-Frankford line) to get there, every step proved worth it. It was a blast perusing the impressively wacky collection of random pizza stuff, including old vinyl albums, VHS tapes (including a personal fave, Mystic Pizza), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. (The ‘za ain’t bad, either—it was named Best of Philly in Philadelphia mag’s 2013 poll.)

Tip: enjoy your slice in the backyard, where you’ll be surrounded with Zagar mosaics and a mural of Philly’s “pizzalebrities.”

"We the pizza..."

“We the pizza…”

Frankford Hall: Why, hello, Sunday Funday, you’ve just met your match: Frankford Hall, a mostly outdoor German beer garden where you can enjoy a hot pretzel, and even more heated game of ping-pong, and an ice cold brew housed in a giant stein. (Try a local beer like Yards Frankford Pale Ale or Victory Braumeister Pilsner.)

Highly recommended for day-drinking as opposed to evening, when the fun but rowdy “braus” tend to come out in full force.

Frankford Hall, we salute you

Just some of the many places I wish we’d had time to check out in Fishtown: Craft Foundry, a shop that carries local artisan goods and classes on topics like bookbinding and greeting card making; DiPinto Guitars, a vintage guitar showroom; Little Baby’s Ice Cream, which serves up funky gelato flavors made from locally sourced ingredients; and Barcade, where you can one-up your travel partner at a game of Tetris or Donkey Kong over a craft beer.

But oh…there’s more. And I’ll tell you all about it in Part Two!




To be continued in
A Love Letter to Philly – Part Two


This trip was sponsored by Visit Philly, the Philadelphia visitors’ bureau,
who provided airfare, lodgings, itinerary suggestions, and reimbursed expenses.
However, all opinions and observations are her own.


Jen Jones Donatelli, aka “GirlGetawayJJ,” is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who specializes in travel, lifestyle and all things “girl.” Her writing has appeared in a wide range of outlets, including LA Confidential, Blackboard Eats, Variety and Thrillist, and her photos can be seen in publications like the Los Angeles Times and Condé Nast Traveler. Her travel bucket list includes New Zealand, Turkey, Spain and Costa Rica. Jen can be found on Twitter at @GirlGetawayJJ, on Instagram at @girlgetawayjj and online at: www.girlgetawayjj.com



  1. […] high on my to-do list, so when my friend/bloggess rockstar Melanie asked me to represent her blog Travels with Two on a media familiarization trip to Philadelphia, my first words were…”Let freedom […]

  2. […] Continued from A Love Letter to Philly – Part One […]

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