Sharing a dorm room may mean less personal space, but luckily, for new college freshmen in Philadelphia, there’s no shortage of areas in which to expand their interests. One’s college experience shouldn’t just be limited to their campus—the world’s much bigger than your student center and frat parties. The real benefit of living in Philadelphia is everything the city itself has to offer, from shockingly delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants to a thriving local music scene. Whether high school graduation money is burning a hole in your pocket or you’re already feeling the dread of entering your financial aid office, Philly won’t disappoint. There are beautiful high-dollar boutiques and classy Center City restaurants, but there are also thrift stores and house shows that won’t break the bank.
First of all, invest in a bike. Yes, the SEPTA subway system is great; it’s affordable and can generally get you where you need to go—especially now that the trial period for the all-night trains on weekends has been extended. Cabs, though, are expensive. Thankfully, the City of Brotherly Love is easily one of the most navigable cities in the nation. The grid-like structure of the streets, almost entirely running north-south or east-west, makes it next to impossible to get lost here. Even the most directionally challenged can find their way without being glued to Google maps; the conveniently numbered north-south streets will guide you to just the intersection you were looking for. Hop on that bike, and suddenly, it’s not a hassle to travel to Fishtown or South Philly, and with friendly and helpful staffers at stores like Fairmount Bicycles, you can easily keep your bike in top shape. Not to mention, you’ll likely spend less for one yearly bike tune-up than you would buying gas for your car in one month.
Plan to shop outside of the Center City District. It’s definitely tempting to go on weekend shopping sprees on Walnut Street, where you can get caught up in the glamour. Soon enough, however, you’ll realize how much money you’re blowing and see that shopping at Urban Outfitters all the time isn’t expanding your horizons. To get more for your dollar, target places like Philly AIDS Thrift or Buffalo Exchange. For cheap eats, check out places like Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market, where families sell handmade goods and food at small stands. It’s a more authentic experience, where you’ll meet interesting people and see more of the population that calls Philadelphia home.
Eat food you’ve never tried before. Philadelphia is a hugely diverse city, which directly translates into a wide selection of cuisine. Don’t pass up the opportunity to educate your taste buds while you’re living in such a cultural mecca. Of course there’s time for American comfort food at your favorite brunch places, but add a healthy mix of foreign restaurants to your diet. Check out places like Almaz Cafe, where you can try authentic Ethiopian food, Q.T. Vietnamese Sandwich for a cheap and fulfilling Vietnamese hoagie, Hardena-Waroeng Surabaya for a heaping platter of Indonesian curries, and Ekta Indian Cuisine for samosas to die for.
Go for a run or bike ride on Kelly Drive. The city may seem like a concrete jungle at times, but you can still get quality outdoor time in the right areas. Kelly Drive is a particularly gorgeous area that follows the Schuylkill River from the Philadelphia Art Museum (think Rocky steps) through beautiful Fairmount Park and into eastern Philadelphia. It should be high on your list of green space to venture into because of its awesomely accessible bike and walking path. It’s perfect for a long weekend bike ride when you have hours to spare, but also welcomes you on a weeknight when you just want to run along the river for half an hour. The city is actually full of little pockets of nature, from Sister Cities Park at Logan’s Circle, located at 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to Liberty Lands Park near 3rd and Poplar streets. Just look a little farther than your immediate surroundings. Parks might not be right off campus, but on your bike, you’ll have no trouble getting to them.
Visit the Gayborhood for nightlife. If you’re frustrated that you can’t get into bars, you’re not alone. Luckily, the world is bigger than your two hometown pubs. Check out the fabulous, fun-filled Center City area from Chestnut to Pine streets and between 11th and Broad streets, affectionately dubbed the Gayborhood, where plenty of clubs have 18+ nights for college kids. Look to iCandy and Woody’s in particular for their college-friendly weekend nights with reasonable cover charges, considering you won’t be drinking in the club. When venturing outside the Gayborhood, check out Bamboo Bar for its 17-to-enter nights and raucous themes, like foam parties. You may still have a few years until you can order a whiskey sour, but at least you can get your dance on.
Watch for free music events. There are numerous ways for you to expand your musical taste without shelling out for concert tickets. Look into upcoming World Cafe Live Free at Noon shows, Underground Arts shows for local artist performances and even house shows near you. By picking up a copy of PW this week, you’re already ahead of the game. Keep doing so, and be sure to check the event listings online for cheap and little-known shows coming up.
The bottom line: Explore while you’re here. Visit slightly spooky but mesmerizing historic places like Laurel Hill Cemetery and the Mütter Museum. Go to the Dollar Stroll on Baltimore Avenue, where you can eat and drink a selection of items for just a buck. Socializing on campus is very important, but your peers are more than those kids you meet in class.
Get out there! Make it a priority to not just be a student in Philadelphia—instead, become a Philadelphian.
Welcome, college students! Many of us were you not so very long ago. So take this issue as a hello from Philly to you.