Urban Explorer: Finding Fun in Unusual (and Free!) Places

Urban Explorer: Finding Fun in Unusual (and Free!) Places

Posted by Katie Gambone

As a new parent, I am always looking for fun new things to do with my baby.  Philadelphia has a ton of amazing spots for kids like The Please Touch Museum, the Philadelphia Zoo and The Franklin Institute. While they are always fun, they aren’t always free.  It takes thinking outside of the box, but there are fun, unusual and relatively inexpensive or free places to spend a few hours with your little ones that you may not have thought of.  Here are two places that I have passed through or by so many times and never thought twice about stopping and exploring until I experienced them through the eyes of an (almost) one year old little boy.

The great news is that these unexpected places are in every town if you just look around!  Do you have favorite unexpected places that you like to visit?  Share your ideas with Button Jar readers.  And next time you are in Philadelphia, be sure to stop by these two recommendations!

Favorite Sunny Day Spot: Azalea Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

I jog (when I have time) and I have probably run by the Azalea Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art  a hundred times, but I’ve never taken the time to walk or sit in the Azalea Garden unless it was for a quick stretch.  A friend of mine recommended the Azalea Garden as a great spot for families on a sunny day.   While the Azalea Garden is sandwiched between Kelly Drive and the Lloyd Hall parking lot at the top of Boathouse Row, the shrubbery and trees that surround the perimeter make it a quiet, peaceful and serene secret garden.


There is plenty of green space to spread out a blanket for a breakfast or lunch picnic, kick around a ball, or run your baby’s hands through the flowers or the grass for the first time (can you imagine how amazing that must feel?!).


I recommend grabbing a sandwich at Rye Bread on Fairmount Avenue for your lunch or breakfast picnic, or, in keeping with the free them, bring your own.  Here is a picture of one of my favorite days in the Azalea Garden with Matteo when he was about 3 or 4 months old and some pictures from a more recent visit.

Favorite Rainy Day Spot: 30th Street Train Station

I travel to New York City on Amtrak for work every other month so I am often passing through Philadelphia’s 30th Street Train Station.  I am always rushing because I operate on a “just in the nick of time” schedule.  In my rush, I don’t think I ever realized how amazing the train station is.  A few months ago I had to run an errand there and I decided to take Matteo with me.  What a delightful experience for us both!  From taking the glass elevator in the parking garage, which offers an amazing view of the city, to riding the escalator, to watching the trains go by through the big glass windows in the Cira Center, the train station is full of cool experiences for kids.  And the people watching is fantastic!  Matteo loved sitting on the pews and waving to all of the different people walking by.  The poor kid almost broke his neck looking up at the cool Art Deco chandeliers and ceiling, but clearly he couldn’t stop (see picture below).

There is a large open space that is perfect for little ones to practice walking.  The beautiful wall relief sculpture in the background is also pretty special.


The train station also offers several different breakfast or lunch spots and an open cafeteria space if you and your little ones get hungry.


If it is a nice day, you can sit out on The Porch, just outside the cafeteria doors, where there are swings and climbable sculptures that your kids will love.

Now that the weather is warming up and it’s easier to leave the house, get out there and be an urban (or suburban or rural) explorer and let us know what you find!

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