I’ve lived near Philadelphia most of my life. As a kid, we had obligatory field trips to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Franklin Institute. (not all at the same time)
As an adult, I still enjoy going there. When the kids were little, we did ‘little kid’ stuff like the Please Touch Museum. As they grew, the educational stuff (Liberty Bell, museums) was fun for them. Now, my teen and tween find that stuff boring. We’ve had to change it up a bit
When we have medical appointments in the city I like to go see stuff while we’re there. Now, I’m a regular shopper in south Philadelphia. Because even if you live here, you can only go see the historic stuff so many times.
Where is South Philly?
Locals may define this differently. I view South Philly as the area below South Street, and bordered on both the east and the west with the rivers.
South Philadelphia used to be known as predominantly people of Italian heritage. Now it is home to a very large Vietnamese community and many other ethnic groups.
I’ve never had a problem finding on-street parking but I’m pretty damn good at parallel parking. PPA will ticket you, so make sure you’re in an actual parking spot.
And, Philly residents do “savesies.” That is, they’ll put a chair or something in the street to save their spot. Yep, they’re not allowed to do that. Yep, I would never in a million years move someone’s savesies chair. Park some place else.
So, if you’re game for heading into south Philly, with or without kids, here are some cool things to do.
South Philly–where to stay away from.
You know what? People ask me this. “You drive there?? Isn’t it unsafe??”
Yes, some areas of the city have higher crime rates. Those areas often overlap with the neighborhoods that have a large percentage of residents living in poverty. But it feels racist to me to ask this.
Things to Do in South Philadelphia
Please note: Due to the pandemic, some of these places and activities might be paused or have restrictions. Always check before you go.
Eat a Taco for Breakfast
South Philly Barbacoa-It’s one of Philly’s most popular restaurants. I’ve never driven past and not seen a long line that wraps around the block. They open at 5 am and sell until they are sold out. Go early.
GPS Address for South Philly Barbacoa: 1140 S 9th S, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Eat a South Philly Cheesesteak
Be a tourist. Who cares? Philadelphians will tell you that a) most Philly folks don’t eat at Pat’s or Gino’s and b) real Philadelphians eat roast pork sandwiches, not cheesesteaks. (If you do want pork, head down to John’s on Snyder Avenue, but it’s too far to walk from here)
Eat what you want. Want a cheesesteak? Eat a cheesesteak! At 9th and Passyunk is where you’ll find the two opposing, battling cheesesteak places. I prefer Pat’s. I believe both are open 24 hours. I do recommend going after an Eagles win, but not after a defeat. You will find some grumpy people for sure.
Run like Rocky
The original Rocky was filmed here, in case you didn’t know. The Italian Market looks much the same as it did in the movie. I wouldn’t recommend running nor punching meat, but it’s a cool place to visit. I’m highlighting some of the shops and foods later on in this article.
GPS Address for Italian Market: 919 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Take the Termini Tour
As you can see, much of south Philadelphia centers around south 9th street. But mosey on over to south 8th street to Termini Brothers. Legendary! Get a cannoli. Make plans to take the tour and see how they prepare pastries today–the same way for 100 years.
We now order all of our holiday desserts from Termini. It’s so good!
Termini Brothers Bakery-1523 S. 8th Street. Philadelphia, PA 19147. (215) 334-1816
Mangia on 9th Street
On one block of south 9th, you’ll find DiBruno’s, Talluto’s, Cardena’s, and Claudio’s. Both are historic, legendary cheese shops. Locals will tell you that Claudio’s is better and that DiBruno’s has gone too corporate and too commercial.
DiBruno’s used to also be known for their support for our former president, which I believe they have since rescinded their support for him. Claudio’s has a sign up threatening to shoot you if you steal. So there are reasons to shop both and reasons to avoid both. Just keep it all about the food.
I guess technically, they don’t say shoot. You get the idea.
My personal preferences: I like Claudio’s fresh mozzarella better than DiBruno’s. I also like their pepperoni and meats more than DiBruno’s.
For DiBruno’s, I like their L’Amuse gouda, black lava cashews, cocoa pecans and it is the best place if you need some help putting together a charcuterie board. Or even just cheese and crackers for a football game–it will be the best damned cheese and crackers you’ve ever had.
During the pandemic, I got introduced to and hooked on their catering. Now, we do all our holidays with them. We have such a small family that it doesn’t make sense to do all that cooking when DiBruno’s does it better.
Go to Cardena’s and get olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A big bottle of each will set you back about $50. Which kinda sucks because we went through the olive oil very quickly. We only use it for dipping and eating, not cooking.
At Talluto’s, you must get some fresh cut pasta (cut to order!) and their burrata. Burrata is not always available. Hopefully it is the day you’re there. Get some crackers or bread to go with it at DiBruno’s. I take home several pounds of fresh cut pasta (it freezes), their ravioli and their red sauce. We’re spoiled and now my husband turns his nose up at grocery store pasta.
One of my favorites: Get a pound of fresh cut tagliatelle at Talluto’s. Cook as directed. Toss with Sardenas olive oil and the romano from Talluto’s with some fresh ground pepper. I could seriously eat that every day.
Sarcones–go up the block to Sarcones and get your bread to dip in sauce or olive oil. Some locals refer to red sauce as gravy. Either way, bread from Sarcones and gravy from Talluto’s is a meal.
Ok, one last tip. Next to DiBruno’s is a bar. I can’t think of the name of it, but their entry way kind of juts out onto 9th street. Go in there, go to the back. There’s a cooler with red sauce and the best damn meatball you will ever put in your mouth.
Visit the Mummer Museum
Ok, we’ve basically eaten our way up and down 9th street. Now what? Strut at the Mummer Museum. Free to enter but they take donations. Read the history of the Mummers before you go, otherwise it will make zero sense if you’re not local.
Great opportunity to have race discussions too, as they do have some unfortunate history that needs to be examined.
Check hours before you go.
Get a Wooder Ice at John’s
We only eat Rita’s because sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to drive an hour to get a water ice.
But, when in Rome…or south Philly….
Get a water ice, or wooder ice as we say here. And seriously, you’ll never want a Rita’s again.
They are not open year-round, warmer months only. Cash only. Check before you go. And the mac machine out front never works. I’m not sure why it’s there.
Fun Fact: John’s is in the 700 block of Christian Street. Chubby Checker is from the 500 block.
GPS address for John’s: 701 Christian St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
South Philadelphia and Accessibility
Hey, I gotta call it like I see it, right? And, south Philly has a ways to go as far as being accessible. Many of the shops and businesses are grandfathered in, due to the stores being there for decades. I get it, it’s historic. It’s also not very accessible. Though, I should add, when pointed out, most store staff will go out of their way to accommodate me, and wait on me from the sidewalk. Some even got out portable ramps and set them up for us to enter.
One of the best examples of social capital was at the meatball place I referenced above. And it isn’t nearly as bad as what I experienced at Deep Creek Lake.
See the Iggles
We love our Philadelphia Eagles. The owner, Jeffrey Lurie, has a brother with autism and makes that the focus of the team’s philanthropy.
Several times a year they have fun events at the stadium and families like ours get to see things that the public doesn’t always get to see (like the locker rooms and Lombardi trophy). I wouldn’t go there on a game day without a ticket, but follow them so that you know about the disability-related events. Plus the store is open almost every day and has a great assortment.
So I’ll end this with….GO BIRDS.
Editing to add: A few folks emailed me with “I can’t believe you didn’t include the Miracle on South 13th Street!”
You’re right, I didn’t, and I originally didn’t because it is a seasonal event. And while I have been there, my pictures didn’t turn out so great. But there you go, there’s the information if you want it.