A local has clued us in to another treat just down the street: the Curtis Center, an office building that once housed the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal. Inside are two hidden treasures, and we're the only tourists who've stopped to see them: a two-story fountain of water cascading over patterns of pink, blue, gray, black and white marble. Behind the fountain: a wall covered with a giant mosaic by Louis Comfort Tiffany. He used more than 100,00 pieces of glass of 160 colors to make the impressionistic garden scene. A one-time owner of the building once entertained an offer to sell the mosaic to a Las Vegas casino operator, but the city stepped in to save it.
We end our tour with a trip to the Reading Market Terminal, where Philadelphians have shopped for generations at stalls selling fresh produce, meat, flowers, bric-a-brac and prepared foods.
At Philadelphia's Constitution Center, there are no ho-hum history lessons.
We gorge on hot pretzels twisted before our eyes by Mennonite women and stock up on chocolate-covered potato chips from Mueller's. Then comes the highlight of my day: a Philly cheese-steak. Overstuffed, bread crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, onions grilled just so, altogether warm and greasy. Just like in the old days.
Cindy Loose will be available for questions on the Travel section's regular weekly chat on Monday at 2 p.m. at www.washingtonpost.com.
GETTING THERE: Philadelphia, approximately 135 miles from Washington, is about a 21/2-hour drive. Amtrak trains take about two hours, and Philly's 30th Street station leaves you in the heart of downtown. Prices generally begin at about $90 round trip. Children aged 2 to 15 are half-price.
WHERE TO STAY: About 70 hotels in or near Philadelphia are participating in "Philly Overnight" -- weekend packages that offer two nights for the price of one and free parking, through March 28. All are profiled at www.gophilly.org. Our two-night stay at the Sheraton Society Hill (Second and Walnut streets, 888-625-5144, www.starwood.com) averaged $99 a night, with tax. I'd recommend choosing from hotels in the Old City, including Society Hill, or near Rittenhouse Square.
WHERE TO EAT: Food in all its ethnic hues is one of Philadelphia's strong points. For breakfast or lunch every day except Sunday, eat among the vegetables at the Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch streets). Takeout stands and restaurants offer Middle Eastern and Pennsylvania Dutch foods, cheesesteaks, ribs and sushi, to name a few options.
Richmond native Delilah Winder has been cooking up great southern soul food in Philadelphia for 20 years. Find it cheap at Delilah's in the Reading Terminal -- fried chicken or fish with two sides is $9 -- or dine in more upscale surroundings at her restaurant Bluezette (246 Market St.), where entrees range from $16 to $26.
Cheesesteaks are plentiful, but not all are equal. The best of the convenient downtown locations is Geno's Steaks (1219 S. Ninth St.). If you're willing to go a bit out of the way, the very best are at Tony Luke's (39 E. Oregon Ave.) and John's (14 E. Snyder), according to Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan. LaBan's "Cheesesteak Project," a report of his quest for the best, is listed under "food" at his paper's Web site, www.philly.com.
Italian food is another Philly specialty. For a small, family-owned, BYOB place, try La Locanda del Ghiottone (130 N. Third St.), where dinner entrees are $15-$20. Or buy your wine with dinner at Ristorante Panorama (14 N. Front St.), where entrees range from $18 to $26. Less upscale but great food in the heart of the Italian Market is at Villa Di Roma (936 S. Ninth St.), where entrees range from $8 to $22.
Totally cool and fun, with tasty food too: Cuba Libre (10 S. Second St.) Sandwiches begin at $10, entrees at $16.
WHAT TO DO: Visiting the Liberty Bell (on Sixth Street between Market and Chestnut, 215-597-8974, www.nps.gov/inde) is free. Get a multimedia history lesson at the National Constitution Center (525 Arch St., 866-917-1787, www.constitutioncenter.org) on Independence Mall. Cost: $6. For a longer visit, consider buying a city pass for $36, which includes admission to the various attractions, including the Constitution Center and the Franklin Institute. Info: 888-330-5008, www.citypass.com.
INFO: Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., 800-537-7676, www.gophila.org.
-- Cindy Loose