Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

    Related Items
Outside Philly, Holiday Shopping in Fine Style

By Marilyn Thompson
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 23, 1997; Page E02

What: The Philadelphia suburb of Chestnut Hill

Where: Ten miles northwest of Philly's center city, about three hours north of D.C. by car

Why: Holiday shopping in a picturesque, English-style village rarely visited by out-of-towners

Philadelphians know all about the charming, northwestern suburb of Chestnut Hill and its tree-lined, cobblestone streets, flickering holiday lights, festive store windows, troupes of carolers and even an old-fashioned streetcar headed into town. But the neighborhood is rarely advertised to outsiders and rarely visited by them. Only a single quaint hotel in the village's center caters to visitors. Still, Chestnut Hill offers a storybook setting for a Christmas shopping getaway. And there are enough winter amusements, fine restaurants, classic neighborhood bars and children's activities to keep even non-shoppers well entertained.

Chestnut Hill began as a Colonial settlement built at the junction of two major thoroughfares; vintage farmhouses and taverns still dot the rolling landscape. Years ago, Philadelphia residents spent summer vacations in Chestnut Hill; now, commuters trek home via two rail lines from different points in Center City.

If you find yourself in Philly, you can ride the Chestnut Hill West or East train line; it winds through the woods and drops visitors on Germantown Avenue at a gingerbread train station, wobbly from age. Commuters surround a well-stocked newsstand just doors from a favorite neighborhood watering hole, McNally's Pub. Nearly hidden behind a heavy wooden door marked only with an inconspicuous brass nameplate, McNally's serves up afternoon beer, hot cocoa and a hearty sandwich that in itself is worth the trip -- the Schmitter, a variation of the Philly cheese steak. Like Campbell's Place, a similar pub down the street, the spot is a weekend gathering place for shoppers, retirees, yuppie couples, nuns and sports fans glued to TVs at the bar.

The shops and galleries along cobblestoned Germantown Avenue range from mall clones like the Gap and Borders Books to such unique offerings as an antique-map shop, a gardeners' store featuring gadgetry and antique lawn furniture and a classic hardware store that also offers electric guitars. There are 11 antiques stores, a collection of up-market consignment shops, a toy store and a shop for theater and art lovers that rivals anything this side of Broadway. You can dispose of a good part of your holiday shopping list in a single afternoon.

The restaurant scene is bustling. Along with coffee shops and bakeries, a short stretch of German-town Avenue features more than a dozen restaurants, most family-friendly and affordable, a few known for outstanding American cuisine. A farmer's market, with not just vegetables and meats but hot pretzels, cheese steaks and Amish treats, sets up every Saturday just behind the Chestnut Hill Hotel.

And that's only the central shopping district. A short drive away, down a crooked path known as Forbidden Drive, stands the Valley Green Inn, a favorite stop along the Fairmount Park jogging and biking path that winds beside the Wissahickon Creek through the city. In the 19th century it was a travelers' hotel; now it's a classy restaurant that serves lavish Sunday brunches in wood-beamed rooms with roaring fires. During snows, horse-drawn carriages jingle outside.

The Morris Arboretum also calls Chestnut Hill home. Considered one of the country's finest, it features a 19th-century glass house, the only free-standing fernery in North America. Nearby, the Woodmere Art Museum houses a permanent collection that includes works by Sully, Wyeth and Church.

Even the drive from Washington is worth the outing. Leave I-95 just past Aberdeen and find Route 1, wander by Maryland's foggy Susquehanna River, the mushroom farms and Amish buggies of rural Chester County, Pa., and the inspirational views of Delaware's lush Brandywine Valley. By the time you arrive at Chestnut Hill, it will truly seem a world away.

For more information on Chestnut Hill, or to arrange a tour, contact the Chestnut Hill Business Association, 215-247-6696. Weekend rooms at the Chestnut Hill Hotel (215-242-5905) start at $109 double, including a continental breakfast. Amtrak is quoting a round-trip weekend fare of $82 from Washington to Philadelphia.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar