Forty years ago next month, the world witnessed the set-in-Philly birth of the ultimate, all-American underdog flick. On November 21, 1976, Rocky brought to life the glorious grit of Philadelphia’s favorite fictional son. But Rocky Balboa won more than the hearts of filmgoers: Sylvester Stallone’s creation earned 10 Academy Award nominations—and ultimately won three, including Best Film and Best Director—led to six sequels, grossed more than $1 billion dollars and showed off a tough-love side of Philly whose legend has persisted to this day. Sure, the city’s skyline, cultural scene, restaurants and reputation have dramatically evolved since Rocky’s debut—but Philadelphia still offers plenty of real experiences evocative of the spirit of the original “Rock.”
Here are some essential sites to see and only-in-Philly experiences to have in honor of Rocky’s 40th anniversary. For more, check out Visit Philly’s Quintessential Rocky Tour.
- The Rocky steps – Seventy-two treads lead art aficionados, exercise enthusiasts and millions of film buffs up to the East Entrance of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s esteemed Philadelphia Museum of Art. On any given day, Balboa wannabes jog to the top, raise their fists in the air and, on occasion, belt out “Gonna Fly Now.” Fun fact: This dolomite staircase was featured in every Rocky film except Rocky IV. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org
- The Rocky statue – Originally commissioned for Rocky III, sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg’s larger-than-life interpretation of the triumphant boxer stands on a stretch of grass just north of the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Previously located at the Spectrum Arena (now Wells Fargo Center), the statue was installed at the museum in 2006. Sylvester Stallone himself presided over the rededication ceremony. Today, visitors still line up for photographs alongside their hero. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (609) 468-4660, rockystatue.com
- Rocky Run – Just past dawn, thousands of runners and walkers will gather outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art for 5K and 10-mile treks along the Schuylkill River and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Runners who want to test their stamina can enlist in the “Italian Stallion Challenge,” tackling both races in one day—and taking home three medals instead of one. November 12. rockybalboarun.com
- The 39.3 Rocky Challenge – Super fans who happen to be super runners can sign up for Philadelphia’s inaugural 39.3 (mile) Rocky Challenge: a back-to-back half marathon (13.1 miles) on November 19 followed by a full marathon (26.2 miles) on November 20. Those who double-down on the races will follow courses that wind through the streets of Philly—and finish the weekend with three medals. Shorter-distance participants can take part in an 8K and kids’ fun run, both on November 19. November 19-20. philadelphiamarathon.com
- The Yo, Philly! Rocky Film Tour – In a town of Rocky impersonators, Mike Kunda is one of the most dedicated. His popular three-hour tour takes fans through Philly to every important stop from Rocky to Creed. theyorockyfilmtour.net
Rocky’s Favorite Hangs:
- 9th Street Italian Market – During the famous training scenes in Rocky and Rocky II, Balboa jubilantly jogs past vendors in Philadelphia’s iconic 9th Street Italian Market. Today, butcher shops, produce stands, cheese purveyors—and, in recent decades, taquerias and bistros—comprise the nation’s oldest and largest working outdoor market. Plus, the stretch looks almost exactly the same as it did in 1976. 9th Street between Fitzwater & Wharton Streets; Italian Market Visitor Center, 919 S. 9th Street, (215) 278-2903, italianmarketphilly.org
- Laurel Hill Cemetery – East Falls’ historic cemetery is a National Historic Landmark—and the site of two of the series’ most touching moments, when Rocky visits Adrian’s grave in both Rocky Balboa and Creed. The headstone used in the film was just a prop, but throughout the 78-acre, still-active venue, elaborate mausoleums serve as the final resting place for a number of Philadelphia’s wealthiest citizens and celebrities. Self-guided tours are available every day. Special events run year-round. 3822 Ridge Avenue, (215) 228-8200, thelaurelhillcemetery.org
- Johnny Brenda’s – Bianca (Tessa Johnson), the love interest of Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) in Creed, performs at this popular 250-person bar, restaurant and performance space in the city’s Fishtown section. Downstairs, patrons enjoy seasonal American plates, local craft brews and pool. Upstairs, it’s all about the live music. 1201 Frankford Avenue, (215) 739-9684, johnnybrendas.com
- Victor Cafe – This circa 1933 South Philly spot stood in as “Adrian’s,” the restaurant owned and operated by Rocky in Rocky Balboa and Creed. In reality, the Victor is known for fine Italian cuisine and a waitstaff who performs operatic arias during every dinner service.
1303 Dickinson Street, (215) 468-3040, victorcafe.com
- Philadelphia Zoo – America’s first zoo is the scene of Rocky and Adrian’s engagement in Rocky II. Rocky memorably proposed in the snow-blanketed zoo in front of the tiger exhibit. Today, tigers and other big cats roam freely through Big Cat Crossing, an overhead mesh pathway that’s part of Zoo360, a first-in-the-world system of trails that encourage the animals to explore and travel throughout the Zoo. 3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org
- Max’s Steaks – Located in North Philadelphia, this cheesesteak stand—rated best in the city by Playboy magazine—had a star turn in Creed, serving as the go-to spot for Philly’s famous sandwich. In the film, Adonis, who is new to Philly, comes here to get his steak on during his first date with Bianca. 3653 Germantown Avenue, (215) 229-9048
- Penn’s Landing – Diehard Philadelphians noticed decades ago that the iconic training runs in the first two Rocky films didn’t exactly follow a logical path. Instead, the routes took him from waterfront to waterfront, spanning Center City, the Italian Market and featuring Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River waterfront. Today, Penn’s Landing, no longer an industrial tract, is home to pop-up beer gardens, outdoor concerts, new parks and plenty of exercise enthusiasts. Columbus Boulevard, between Market Street & Lombard Street, (215) 922-2386, delawareriverwaterfront.com
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.
On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.