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At the intersection of the Schuylkill River and French Creek, Phoenixville blends historic charm with a modern mindset. Originally known as Manavon, it adopted its current name in 1849; at the time, the town’s biggest employer was the Phoenix Iron Company, a major manufacturer of nails, rails, structural steel and weapons. Today, Phoenixville boasts an artsy, low-key vibe that attracts visitors craving a relaxing day with a creative twist.
Occupying the former Phoenix Iron Company Foundry, the Schuylkill River Heritage Center offers a multi-media glimpse into the history of the local area. The museum’s exhibits focus on the town’s iron and steel legacy (Fun fact: The Washington Monument’s elevator shaft and staircase are made from Phoenix iron), the important role of the Schuylkill River and Chester County as a whole.
Bridge Street—the town’s main drag—offers a mix of wine-tasting rooms, low-key restaurants and artsy, locally owned shops. Bridge Street is divided in the center of town by Main Street, home to boutique retail and food outlets.
Considered the cultural center of town, the Colonial Theatre opened its doors in 1903. While back then it hosted live shows and vaudeville, today the 658-seat auditorium screens new and classic movies. Film buffs will recognize the marquee from the 1958 hit The Blob.
On the art front, The Art Gallery at Franklin Commons displays permanent, site-specific installations, as well as traveling exhibits, while Diving Cat Studio and Gallery showcases works from more than 200 artists.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Port Providence Paddle on the Schuylkill Canal rents kayaks, canoes and tubes. Nearby French Creek State Park offers more than 8,000 acres of forests, lakes, wetlands and fields, providing ample opportunity for hiking, biking, fishing and camping. The recently improved Schuylkill River Trail, which starts in Philadelphia, runs through Phoenixville and is popular with runners, walkers and bikers. About a mile north of town on Route 113 between Riverwalk Drive and Winding River Boulevard is Black Rock Sanctuary, which consists of 119 acres of wetlands, woodlands and meadows.
Diners enjoy casual fare at pubs PJ Ryan’s and Molly Maguire’s, both of which offer indoor and outdoor seating. Iron Hill Brewery prides itself on its craft beer, which is complemented by an extensive menu of burgers, pizzas, salads and other dishes. Part music venue and part café, Steel City Coffee House packs its event calendar with live bands and performers. And with a stellar view of the Colonial Theatre, Artisans Gallery & Café displays and sells handmade pottery by local artists while serving up homemade food, including “sconuts,” a scone/donut combo available in a variety of flavors. Two regional wineries operate tasting rooms on Bridge Street: Taste serves premium estate wines from Bucks County’s Sand Castle Winery, while Black Walnut Winery hosts tastings, wine and chocolate pairings and live music. Focusing strictly on food, bring-your-own-bottle spots Black Lab Bistro & Bakery and Majolica serve exquisite, seasonally inspired cuisine.
Attracting both professionals and hobbyists, Beads on Main Boutique provides all of the components necessary for jewelry making and sells already-made fashion jewelry. Romantic Jewelers specializes in fine estate pieces and antique engagement rings. For 20 years, Ellie’s Choice has been a go-to destination for gifts, decorative items, clothing, candles and incense. Athletes stock up on footwear, gear and running accessories at All Kinds of Fast, while Bridge Street Chocolates churns out interesting chocolate bark flavors, including bourbon, espresso, blueberry, strawberries and cream and wasabi.
Phoenixville celebrates First Friday every month with live music, theatrical performances, artist shows, gallery openings and plenty of community spirit. The Dogwood Parade and Festival has been a springtime tradition since the days of World War II. Today, the May event spans six days and includes rides, vendors, live entertainment, a pageant and, of course, the highly anticipated parade. In May and October, the Phoenixville Food Festival celebrates local cuisine. Every summer, the Colonial Theatre hosts Blobfest, a three-day horror extravaganza complete with screenings, themed competitions and a street fair. Thousands of fans come to town in September for the Phoenixville Blues Festival, a daylong celebration of music and food. It’s all things fall for October’s Pumpkinfest, and in December, the Firebird Festival shines a light on emerging artistic talent and local culture.
Driving the 27 miles from Center City to Phoenixville takes roughly 40 minutes. Metered street parking and municipal lots are available. Public transportation from Philadelphia is not easily accessible.
The Mainstay Inn, the Desmond and the Courtyard Philadelphia Great Valley/Malvern are options where to stay. Alternatively, set up home base in Philadelphia and save with the two-night Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, which includes FREE hotel parking.