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A Place Called New Hope

In the morning, the sun is bright, the air is cold and we venture out to explore the shops in broad daylight. They range from the unique -- high-end vintage, with displays showing off molded glass purses, faux leopard throws and platform shoes with heels carved like Polynesian gods -- to such classics as Mission-style antique furniture and stained-glass windows.

There is still a little bit of an edge to the place -- the naughty-naughty leather and latex store on Mechanic Street advertises a "spanking New Year party." But by and large, the town has gotten quieter. It's become a popular weekend spot for gay couples (even though earlier this year, a "Queen of the Day" fundraiser held by a downtown group was notably restricted to "straight men only"). One thing left over from the old days is the open and fun feel to the town.

A tour guide awaits the carriage trade in hippie-turned-trendy New Hope, Pa., near Philadelphia. (Jeff Gunton -- www.newhopepa.cpm)

So the biker bar is now a sports bar, and much of the art displayed in galleries features pricey and up-and-coming impressionists of Pennsylvania, including some whose work has been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. New Hope may be more yuppie than hippie these days, but it nevertheless has found a way to meld its many histories in a welcoming place.

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: New Hope, Pa., is about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia and 180 miles from D.C. Take Interstate 95 north to the New Hope Exit 51.

STAYING THERE: The Wedgwood Inn (111 W. Bridge St., 215-862-2570, www.wedgwoodinn.com) is a two-minute walk from Main Street, which, in summer months when crowds grow, can offer a little more quiet. Rooms are appointed with an eclectic mix of Victorian furnishings and some rooms have Jacuzzis, fireplaces and balconies. Prices range from $120 to $250 a night; a two-night stay is required on weekends.

The Mansion Inn (9 S. Main St., 215-862-6260, www.themansioninn.com) is a striking 1865 Victorian gingerbread manor with whirlpool tubs and fireplaces. Breakfast is included in the Champagne Room restaurant, which is also open for cocktails and dinner. Rates start at $155 per weekday night, $195 on weekends (two-night stay required).

WHERE TO EAT: Marsha Brown's (15 S. Main St.) is one of the town's most popular restaurants. Housed in a converted church, it merges ecclesiastic roots with culinary opulence. Entrees range from $22 to $36, and side dishes are generous enough to share. Also good is Esca (18 W. Mechanic St.), with canal views and a Latin fusion menu. Entrees in the $17 to $23 range.

WHAT TO DO: Explore the shops on New Hope's four main arteries (Main, Bridge, Ferry and Mechanic streets). Highlights within less than a square mile include Cockamamie's, for art deco and 1950s furniture and accessories; Love Saves the Day, for vintage clothing and accessories; Farley's Bookshop; A Mano Galleries, for crafts, jewelry and furniture; and A Stage in Time, for Mission furniture.

For worthwhile art and history exhibits, the Michener Museum-New Hope (Union Square complex on Bridge Street, 215-862-7633, www.michenermuseum.org, $5) is a satellite of the James A. Michener Art Museum in nearby Doylestown, Pa.

Take the kids for a ride with Santa on the New Hope-Ivyland Railroad (32 W. Bridge St., 215-862-2332, newhoperailroad.com) and see the countryside in an old steam train. During December, it offers the " Polar Express Event," a cocoa and read-aloud ride inspired by the book and movie. Tickets are $22 for adults, $14 for ages 2 to 12. Up-and-coming local cabaret performers are often featured at Odette's (274 S. River Rd., 215-862-2432), a 200-year-old restaurant in town.

This Saturday, actors and historians will parade up Main Street, retracing the movement of George Washington's officers to join him before the Battle of Trenton. At noon on Sunday, they will rehearse the reenactment of Washington's crossing of the Delaware at Washington Crossing Historic Park, on Route 32 south of New Hope. The actual reenactment will take place at 11 a.m. on Christmas day. Info: 215-493-4076, www.phmc.state.pa.us/bhsm/toh/washington/washingtoncrossing.asp.

INFO: New Hope Chamber of Commerce, 215-862-5880, www.newhopepa.com.

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