Bucks County, Pa., has roots that reach back into the earliest days of the Colonies when the gentle hills along the Delaware River were part of the land grant from Charles II to William Penn. In 1776, during the bleak days of the Revolution, George Washington camped on the banks of the Delaware before he and his troops made the historic Christmas night crossing into New Jersey and then marched south in a blizzard to defeat the British and their mercenaries encamped at Trenton.
York Road traversed the county and was the main route between Philadelphia and New York, and the stream of travelers led to the creation of a number of fine inns and restaurants in the villages there. Today's travelers find many of the same attractions: small towns and quaint villages, fine inns, superb restaurants, 18th-century buildings, a dozen covered bridges and places steeped in history. And while those may be attractive to couples or singles, there are also many activities designed for families: rides on a vintage train or mule-pulled canal barges, tubing and rafting on the mild Delaware River, shopping for teddy bears and whimsical works of art and visits to "Sesame Place," an amusement park built around the characters of the long-running PBS show "Sesame Street."
Start your visit at Washington Crossing Historic Park (1112 River Rd., at Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, Pa.; 215/493-4076; closed on Mondays), where Washington launched his famed attack in 1776. The 500-acre park has a visitor center with an informative movie on Washington's daring feat, picnicking pavilions and several restored 18th- and early 19th-century buildings, including a general store and grist mill. The Old Ferry Inn, at the bridge to New Jersey, has been restored with much of its 18th-century paneling and woodwork intact. It is believed that Washington ate dinner there before launching his attack. Copies of the boats that shuttled Washington's troops across the river are also on display. Each Christmas Day the boats are used in the reenactment of the crossing.
North of the park on Route 32 is New Hope. The town is on the National Register of Historic Places and has become famous as the home of theatrical personalities and artists, including writers Dorothy Parker, James Michener and Pearl S. Buck; playwrights George Kaufman and Moss Hart; actress Kitty Carlisle and Broadway composer Oscar Hammerstein. Here you will find art shops, toy stores, clothing boutiques, restaurants and other diversions. The New Hope & Ivyland Railroad (32 W. Bridge St.; 215/862-2332) offers 55-minute narrated round trips daily to Lahaska on antique coaches pulled by steam or diesel engines. The mule-pulled canal boats of the New Hope Canal Boat Co. (149 S. Main St.; 215/862-0758) make several leisurely journeys each day on the canal that once was a vital commercial artery in these parts. Coryell's Ferry (22 S. Main St.; 215/862-2050) is a double pleasure: You can take a ride on a 65-foot riverboat and enjoy a treat at Gerenser's Exotic Ice Cream, where you buy your tickets.
Shopping in New Hope and the surrounding towns is eclectic, from Indian clothing boutiques to fine art galleries. Children will enjoy a visit to the Lazer Illusions Holograms (11 W. Bridge St.; 215/862-9710), which displays more than 200 holograms. Outside New Hope, the Doll & Mini Nook (336 W. Broad St., Quakertown; 215/536-4242) specializes in limited-edition dolls, dollhouses and accessories. And Rita's Gallery of Treasures and Teddys (Neshaminy Square Shopping Center, 4201 Neshaminy Blvd., Bensalem; 215/355-8838) is devoted to teddy bears, dolls, collectibles and the like.
The Delaware Canal passes through New Hope, paralleling the gentle Delaware River. The canal was built in 1832 and was used until 1931, when the railroads finally put it out of business. The path that runs alongside the canal is a peaceful walk that takes you by covered bridges, ducks and geese, old homes and sheer bluffs and captivating river valley views. The path is perfect for biking, hiking or jogging, though there is construction on the canal north of New Hope. Route 32 north of New Hope is a lovely drive, taking you along the river and canal to Phillips Mill, where you will find a restored grist mill, and Lumberville, a village of stone and frame cottages and inns flanked by the river and canal.
Point Pleasant, one of the many small riverfront villages on Route 32, is also home of Bucks County River Country (Walter Lane, off Route 32; 215/297-5000). This outfitter can help you go tubing, rafting, canoeing or kayaking on the river. In the fall, it also offers haunted hayrides and pumpkin patch rides for kids.
In the center of New Hope, the bridge leads across the river to Lambertville, N.J., another area popular for its many fine shops and attractions. The streets on the north side of town -- North Union, George Street, Church Street, Coryell Street and Bridge Street -- are home to art galleries, antique stores, clothing and jewelry shops and other diversions, but these are more for adults than children.
West of New Hope is where more shops, galleries and boutiques await. The biggest concentration of antique and crafts galleries is found on Route 202, from New Hope west to the county line, with ground zero at Peddler's Village (Routes 202 and 263, Lahaska; 215/794-4000), a vast new complex of boutiques, restaurants and galleries selling everything from ice cream and crafts to clothing and antiques.
If your family includes young children, consider a stop at Sesame Place (100 Sesame Rd., Langhorne; 215/752-7070), which offers more than 50 play and water activities plus live shows with Big Bird and his Sesame Street friends and animal acts. Better yet, make this your last stop; the young ones will tire themselves out and sleep all the way back home.
When to Go
A Colonial Day Encampment takes place Saturday at Washington Crossing Historic Park (215/493-4076). Peddler's Village holds its annual Scarecrow Festival Sept. 18-19 (215/794-4000). Canal Walk 1999 is held Sept. 25 and every Saturday in October, sponsored by Friends of the Delaware Canal (215/862-2021).
Where To Stay
Bucks County is blessed with a number of fine inns, but not all welcome children, and those that do sometimes set age restrictions. Here are three inns that welcome children: The Mansion Inn, an elegant Victorian in the heart of New Hope (9 S. Main St.; 215/862-1231). The Wedgwood Inn of New Hope has 25 rooms in three buildings, all just a short walk from the center of New Hope (111 W. Bridge St.; 215/862-2570). The 10-room Barley Sheaf Farm, a peaceful, 30-acre farm that once was the home of playwright George S. Kaufman, accepts children 8 and older during the week (5281 York Rd., Holicong; 215/794-5104).
Best Western has two motels in the area, one in New Hope, and Days Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Econo Lodge and Hampton Inn also have locations in the county.
Where to Dine
Bucks County has a number of fine restaurants. Always call first for reservations. For family dining in New Hope, try Havana (105 S. Main St.; 215/862-9897), which has a canopied patio and offers international cuisine as well as live music, comedy and karaoke; the Logan Inn (10 W. Ferry St.; 215/862-2300), which serves continental cuisine in a 272-year-old inn; and Odette's (South River Road, one mile south of New Hope; 215/862-2432), which features continental cuisine as well as a celebrated piano bar and cabaret show.
Odette's piano bar, Havana and the Bucks County Playhouse (70 S. Main St.; 215/862-2041) are the places to be. The playhouse features "Fiddler on the Roof" Sept. 16-26.
How to Get There
New Hope is about 195 miles north of Washington. From the Beltway, take I-95 north to Philadelphia and continue to the exit for Washington Crossing State Park and New Hope.
For More Information
Contact the Bucks County Conference & Visitors Bureau, 152 Swamp Rd., Doylestown, PA 18901-2451. Call 800/836-2825 or 215/345-4552. Web site: www.bccvb.org.