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Loaded with photo-worthy charm, Chestnut Hill is tucked in the northwest section of Philadelphia just 25 minutes from Center City. And thanks to its location near the Wissahickon and Cresheim creeks and Fairmount Park, this National Register Historic District enjoys an abundance of greenery and open spaces.
Once a suburb where well-to-do Philadelphians escaped the city’s summer heat, Chestnut Hill saw an influx of year-round residents with the arrival of railroads in the 19th century. It was then, and still is, a relatively affluent community with an array of historic mansions and Victorian twins and row houses.
Throughout the neighborhood there are unexpected delights. Skyspace, a permanent light installation by renowned artist James Terrell in the Chestnut Hill Friends Quaker meetinghouse, is open to people of all backgrounds who reserve their space for sunrise and sunset viewings. Stagecrafters Theater, a tradition since 1929, presents professional stage productions in an intimate setting. Hockey and freestyle skaters of all ages and abilities lace up at Wissahickon Skating Rink. And Morris Arboretum and the Wissahickon Valley captivate visitors with their hidden trails, rippling waters and stunning natural treasures.
The neighborhood’s history is alive and well at the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, home to a 20,000- piece collection that dates back to the 1680s and a demonstration garden of native plants featuring the Franklinia alatamaha tree—the Franklin Tree—first discovered in 1765 and named for Ben Franklin.
The main street, Germantown Avenue, is a treasure trove of shops, galleries, boutiques, home furnishings stores and restaurants. Stretching for almost 10 blocks, the avenue boasts cobblestones on the street and historic facades on many shops and businesses—all adding to the picturesque charm. Altogether, it creates a vibe that is lively but not wild and a quaint setting that is traditional but not stuffy, giving Chestnut Hill a village-like atmosphere.
Artistic pleasures await at the Woodmere Art Museum. Housed in a 19th-century stone Victorian-era mansion, the museum tells the story of Philadelphia’s artists, including N.C. Wyeth, Benjamin West, Violet Oakley and Daniel Garber, as well as new and emerging contemporary artists. Modern-day collectors can find a wide range of works offered in galleries throughout the area. Borrelli’s Chestnut Hill Gallery (known to most as “Chestnut Hill Gallery”) specializes in traditional and contemporary works by established and emerging artists. The Gravers Lane Gallery exhibits paintings and sculptures alongside glass and fiber arts. And Carol Schwartz Gallery presents national and international artists, as well as vintage posters and jewelry.
Whatever the month, something is blooming at Morris Arboretum. Whether it’s the ever-changing assortment of flowers and trees, workshops and classes, summer concerts, tours or birding programs, each visit to the 92-acre arboretum can be a surprise. The 50-foot high Tree Adventure gives an elevated view of the grounds, and the quarter-mile miniature Garden Railway fascinates youngsters and their parents. With Wissahickon Valley Park’s 1,800 wooded acres and the seven-mile Wissahickon Creek at its door step, Chestnut Hill is an oasis of peaceful green space for gentle hikes and walks. Forbidden Drive, a wide, gravel no-cars-allowed road beside the creek, features more than 50 miles of trails that criss-cross the park. During the summer months, locals head to Pastorius Park for picnics and free summer concerts. The Wissahickon Environmental Center, nicknamed the Tree House for the giant sycamore around which the small building was constructed, invites visitors to explore its trails and programs.
Restaurants and pubs line the main drag, and the options for indulging in a marvelous meal are numerous. Chinese cuisine goes upscale at CinCin, while Mica has earned national kudos for its progressive American cuisine. Since 1889, customers have frequented Bredenbeck’s Bakery & Ice Cream Parlor for their yummy baked goods and locally made ice cream. There is no shortage or nightlife either. Locals gather at Campbell’s Place or Iron Hill Brewery for locally made brews. The small brass plaque on the door is McNally’s only sign, but the pub is a Chestnut Hill legend. Try the homemade soups or the signature Schmitter, an unexpected combo of ingredients that ups the ante on a standard cheesesteak. Snag a table or hit the small dance floor at the Mermaid Inn, where live blues, jazz, folk and bluegrass are on the schedule five nights a week.
With 10 blocks of locally owned shops and nationally recognized brands, Chestnut Hill features everything from yarn shops and toy stores to antique emporiums and home décor showplaces. One must-see spot is the iconic William A. Kilian Hardware Co., an owner-operated hardware store that has been a fixture for decades. For almost half a century, the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop has stocked gourmet foods and hard-to-find cheeses. O’Doodles Toy Store specializes in unplugged, kid-powered toys. Thrifty fashionistas snap up trendy threads at several upscale consignment shops, including Greene Street Consignment, or opt for new active wear at Indigo Schuy. And add Hipster Home and the Chestnut Hill Trading Company to the growing number of garden and home-design shops.
Germantown Avenue serves as festival central in season. The Home & Garden Festival takes place in May, while the Fall for the Arts Festival dots the calendar in October. Both take over several blocks with merchants, live entertainment, artisans and food vendors. Also in October, the neighborhood is transformed into a mini-Hogwarts as thousands turn out for the magical Harry Potter Festival, complete with Quidditch tournaments.
The Chestnut Hill West regional rail line stops at the top of “the Hill” on Germantown Avenue. The Chestnut Hill East station is located at 101 E. Chestnut Hill Avenue. SEPTA bus routes 23, 77, 94, 134 and L also run in the neighborhood. By car, take Wissahickon Drive to Allen’s Lane to Germantown Avenue. Metered street parking is available, and there are six lots as well.