"Philadelphia," said W.C. Fields, the city's most famous and most forthright son, "is a good place to be from. Far from."
That was true back in the bad old days, when Philadelphia was the dullest big city in the United States, a sleepy town with a few seedy remnants of its revolutionary past -- the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House -- tucked in among warehouses and office buildings by a dying port.
But those days, happily, are gone forever. The National Park Service took over the Revolutionary history, tore down the ugly buildings and created a green and gorgeous mall. You can now walk from the Liberty Bell to the restored chambers of the original Supreme Court of the United States, our first House of Representatives and Senate and the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Along with the handsome new setting for its history, Philadelphia has changed with the lifestyle revolutions of the 1960s and '70s. It is now, according to Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis Richman, the best restaurant city on the East Coast: "Perhaps," said she, "there are three great cuisines in the world: French, Chinese and Philadelphia." And along with its bright new good looks, Philadelphia still has its own homey virtues. It is slower and more human than New York, cheaper than Washington, and more fun than either.
The weekend of the Fourth is the perfect time to visit Philadelphia -- because it sets out all its best, and all its endearing second-best, for everyone to see.