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Sometimes a name so perfectly defines a neighborhood that it creates a pretty accurate mental image. That’s Mt. Airy. Gently rising from the banks of the Wissahickon Creek, Mt. Airy, which is only 20 minutes from Center City, combines dense leafy park land, miles of multi-use trails, tree-lined streets and a historic cobblestoned business corridor that attracts aspiring entrepreneurs.
Mt. Airy’s varied architecture recounts its historic roots. Structures dating back to the 18th century sit alongside Victorian and 20th-century homes. The community’s Quaker roots might be one reason that Mt. Airy became a model of successful integration early on. Since the 1950s, the community has earned a national reputation as a model of diversity, welcoming families of all races, genders and nationalities who share a fierce commitment to civic engagement and social activism.
Remnants of American history are scattered throughout Mt. Airy. Troops fought the devastating Battle of Germantown on the front lawn of the Cliveden mansion, and the Johnson House Historic Site is one of the few stops on the Underground Railroad still open to the public.
East Mt. Airy and West Mt. Airy are united by historic Germantown Avenue, where British troops once marched during the Battle of Germantown. Now a commercial corridor, imaginative entrepreneurs are re-energizing the cobblestoned avenue, opening new restaurants, cafes and shops.
Somewhat newer, but no less vibrant is the neighborhood’s gallery scene, with new artists’ co-ops popping up throughout Mt. Airy. The Six Senses Clay Studio and the Mt. Airy Art Garage collaboratives display works by established artists and hold classes and workshops so aspiring artists can hone their skills. The Allens Lane Art Center offers classes, theatrical performances and other arts education programs for all ages. And on the performing-arts front, the Quintessence Theatre Group presents classic dramas in the Sedgwick Theater, a former Art Deco movie house.
For many folks, Mt. Airy is synonymous with the Wissahickon Creek and its surrounding parkland. More than 57 miles of trails wind through the 1,600-acre park, where hikers, bikers, horseback riders and runners pound it out on various terrains suited to their skills; Valley Green and Forbidden Drive are particular favorites. For anglers, the creek is a peaceful place to sink their lines, and rock climbers take on the challenge of Livezey Rock. The National Audubon Society designated the Wissahickon as an Important Birding Area, and birdwatchers flock to Carpenter’s Woods. Once the private estate of a Quaker family, Awbury Arboretum welcomes the public to its 55 acres of meadows, wetlands, trails and secret garden. To find the Wyck House gardens, visitors just follow their noses. Dating back to 1824 and boasting 70 varieties, it is widely recognized as the nation’s oldest rose garden still in its original plan.
Germantown Avenue is dining central. Earth Bread + Brewery has loyal fans who crave the flatbreads and house-brewed beers. At Jyoti Indian Bistro, Mi Puebla and Chef Ken’s Café, diners enjoy international and down-home Southern cuisines. The Trolley Car Diner, which is actually part 1948 trolley car, serves traditional and updated diner classics. Other neighborhood landmarks combine history and up-to-date dining. Lucky guests nab a coveted front porch seat at the 19th-century Valley Green Inn for views of Wissahickon Creek while dining on modern American cuisine. Cantina Avenida tempts diners with a tapas menu of Latin street fare presented in a restored historic 1700s house.
A consortium of artisans sell hand-crafted and vintage clothing, jewelry, handbags and other accessories at The Vendors Boutique. Part workshop, part showroom, Majeki’s Stained Glass features one-of-a-kind items made on-site. Stylish women’s threads stock the racks at BellaNOR Boutique. And in addition to brilliantly colored blooms and plants, Rothe Florists, a long-time avenue landmark, sells gifts and decorative items. A relative newcomer to the gallery scene, Lujon features collections of mid-century modern furnishings and décor.
When the last Friday of the month rolls around, local businesses, restaurants, galleries, guest vendors and artists stay open late for Final-ly Friday. Foodies come out in big numbers for the annual Street Fare: Sip, Savor, Stroll when some of the city’s best restaurants and food trucks turn Germantown Avenue into a giant party. Every October, the Colonial troops battle the British in a daylong re-enactment of the Battle of Germantown at the Revolutionary Germantown Festival.
Mt. Airy is served by two Septa Regional Rail lines: the Chestnut Hill East line stops at the Mount Airy, Sedgwick, Stenton and Washington Lane stations in East Mt. Airy; the Chestnut Hill West line stops at Allen Lane, Carpenter, Upsal and Tulpehocken stations in West Mt. Airy. Bus routes H, XH and 23 also serve the area. The primary driving routes are I-76 or Kelly Drive to Lincoln Drive. Metered street parking is available, and there is a free municipal lot on the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue.
The Chestnut Hill Hotel is nearby for people looking to stay close to Mt. Airy. Save during your stay in Philadelphia with the two-night Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, which includes FREE hotel parking.