People who don’t live in Fairmount often think of it as the sort of hinterlands of the city: To be “north of the Parkway” is to be removed from the action … or so they think, anyway. What Fairmounters love about their ‘hood is a certain duality — there’s all the amenities you want from a city neighborhood (cool bars and restaurants, lots of parks, diversity, good bus routes, cultural institutions within walking distance) and just a little less traffic, noise and hustle/bustle than, say, Center City. Here’s a snapshot of some of the best bets for families in Fairmount.
Region: Like many Philly neighborhoods, Fairmount is one of those with boundaries that vary depending on whom you ask — but if you take a broad lens (like the Center City District does, for instance), then we’re talking about the area defined by Poplar on the north, Vine Street on the south, Broad on the east, and the Schuylkill River and Pennsylvania Avenue on the west. (Technically, this doesn’t distinguish between Art Museum, Spring Garden, Callowhill, Brewerytown and Francisville ‘hoods… but for the sake of inclusion, we’ll just call it all part of the broader Fairmount area.)
Public Elementary Schools: Bache-Martin (K-8), Laura W. Waring School (K-8)
Bordering Neighborhoods: Logan Square, North Philly, West Philly (across the Schuylkill)
Website: Fairmount Civic Association; http://www.fairmountcivicassociation.org/
Neighborhood Parents’ List Serve: Fairmount Parents Forum on Yahoo
Fun fact: David Lynch (of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) used to live in Fairmount. (At 24th and Aspen, to be exact.) So did Al Capone. (At Eastern State Penitentiary, to be exact.)
Things Fairmount Families Love About Their ‘Hood: Super-easy access to the Schuylkill Expressway, the Schyulkill River Trail (for family bike rides!) and Fairmount Park; the high concentration of other people with strollers; easy bus routes into Center City; the list serve; block parties galore; increasingly interesting dining scene; still-affordable real estate (for now).
Things Fairmount Families Complain About: The Parkway chaos for the Fourth of July/Made in America/fill-in-the-blank festival hoopla; a sparse retail scene (though it’s growing, slowly); and parking, in some areas.
Parks & Playgrounds
Fairmount Park. So yes. This is the biggie, and a major perk of living/being in Fairmount: The bulk of the massive Fairmount Park system is located right off of this neighborhood, and it has bike- and hiking paths, bike rentals, sports fields, playgrounds, disc golf, the Please Touch Museum, Boathouse Row, the Horticulture Center, the Shofuso House, and so, so much more. But you probably knew that. (In case you don’t: Check it out — there’s a lot to see and do.)
Eastern State Playpen. This fenced-in playground at 22nd and Brown has a rubberized ground, a little rock wall, a rope maze, a great climbing jungle gym and a ton of run-around space. It’s aimed at kids age 5 and up, but toddlers can find some fun here with close parental supervision. (Bonus, for the summertime: There’s also a mister.)
Clemente Park: Clemente is a popular, sprawling spot at 18th and Wallace (right across from Spring Garden) with multiple jungle gyms, swings, lots of benches for parents, basketball courts, playing fields, and a sprayground that’s in operation all summer.
Smith Memorial Playground: Given that it’s located in East Fairmount Park across Girard, this famous playground is outside the confines of Fairmount proper. But it’s a five-minute drive or bus ride, and both the 16,000-square-foot indoor playhouse and three massive outdoor play spaces (with swings and the famous wooden slide) are destinations for families all over the city.
Francisville Playground: The playground at 18th and Francis is another cheerful, popular play mecca — this one borders the Francisville Pool basketball courts and playing fields, and boasts some great, recently updated playground equipment: swings, slides, jungle gym. There’s also a sprayground element throughout the summer.
2601 Parkway Condo Playground: To be honest, we’re not sure this tiny little playground has an official name — locals call it the 2601 Playground, as it’s located at 2601 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a small but nice little play space, and a great one for toddlers because it’s fenced in and has soft mulch on the ground.
The Tot Lot: A tiny fenced-in play space with a great sandbox, a couple Fisher Price plastic slides and playhouses, and a bunch of beat-up (but beloved) outdoor toys (balls, toy cars, riders, mini-bouncies, etc.). It’s geared toward very little ones: Kids over four or five will probably get bored here, but parents love it because it’s an easy, safe, contained space for the toddler set.
Van Colln Playground: A great shaded playground at 23rd and the Parkway, this spot is nice because it has a good amount of swings (including baby swings), plenty of benches and some old but trusty jungle gym equipment with lots of slides and monkey bars, making it relatively well-suited for little ones as well as young elementary kids on up. It also borders the ball fields that are right off the Parkway, which makes for good watching when there’s a game on.
Lemon Hill Playground: At the intersection of Poplar Street and Poplar Drive sits this wonderful, fun playground, right at the top of a big hill. There’s lots to climb on, slides, bridges, a few swings and massive amounts of space in which to frolic.
Great Kid & Family Hangs
Fairmount Art Center: This neighborhood staple offers art classes of all stripes: There’s drop-ins for babies, kids and adults, after-school programs (with pick-ups), summer camps, infant music classes, BYOB nights, and more. The place is clean and cheery, the staff is great, and it’s an awesome birthday party venue.
The PMA: The Philadelphia Museum of Art might not seem like the most obvious family outing, but looks are deceiving: The children’s programming here is amazing. (You can read about Art Splash and classes here — and there are even drop-off classes for older kids!) Plus, kids under 12 get free admission to the museum.
The Please Touch Museum: This destination, like Smith Playground, is right outside the confines of the ‘hood, nestled in Fairmount Park, just a five-minute drive or bus ride for Fairmounters. It’s also easily one of the most popular, worth-it day trips for families anywhere in the city.
Neighborhood Potters: Pottery classes for adults and kids alike — Saturdays are the kids’ instructionals (aimed at children age 6 to 13). The six-week sessions do fill up, so you have to watch and register in advance.
Mi Casita: One of the newest additions to the roster of city preschools, Mi Casita isn’t just a Spanish immersion school for kids aged 2 to 5, it’s also a spot for occasional children’s classes (recent ones have included yoga and Rhythm Babies), as well as a party venue.
Nearby Points of Interest
The Free Library: The Central Branch of the Free Library is super close — right there on the Parkway — and offers both a great kid’s section and weekly story times for babies, toddlers and kids.
Sister Cities Park: This Center City gem on the Parkway is just a few steps away from the Free Library. The boat pond and spray pad are huge hits in the summer, and the cafe’s hot chocolate makes some cold park time palatable in the winter.
The Zoo: The Philadelphia Zoo, just outside the confines of the ‘hood, is obviously a massively popular destination for families. (The membership is worth the cash if you go more than a few times a year– between the admission and the free parking, the value adds up quickly.) And KidZooU is a pretty cool new(ish) addition, as are those elevated monkey and tiger trails.
Eastern State Penitentiary: The historic federal prison (the first true penitentiary in the country) is the most defining architectural characteristic of the neighborhood: A truly imposing, impressive structure, ESP is famous for its awesome tours (Steve Buschemi is the narrator on the audio tour) and for its even more awesome (and legitimately terrifying) haunted house every October. Neither of those things are particularly kid-friendly (well, for little ones, anyway; older kids might appreciate the tour). However, the gardens, park space and regular events (e.g. farmers’ markets; Fairmount Arts Crawl) just outside the prison are enjoyed by all.
The Barnes Foundation: The new building that houses a collection of the world’s most famous impressionist and modernist art is an absolute must-do. The place isn’t quite as family friendly as the PMA, but it certainly makes an effort, with children’s and family programming that ranges from pajama story times to craft times and beyond.
Eakins Oval: The parking lot in front of the PMA transforms every summer into a pop-up park of sorts, featuring everything from carnivals to world-famous art exhibits to outdoor movies to beer gardens. You can follow the Oval on Facebook to stay in the loop.
Ali’s Wagon: This locally owned boutique has an eclectic but well-edited collection gifts and kids’ stuff (clothes, toys, books, decor, onesies, legwarmers, booties, etc.) — and it also has a parenting center that hosts new-mom groups, Q-and-As with childcare professionals, breastfeeding groups, and more. A local gem.
Fairmount Bicycles: A small but smartly stocked bike shop with everything from balance bikes to helmets to seats and bells.
Bookhaven: A cool, personality-packed used bookstore with a kids’ section … and a resident cat. The perfect neighborhood bookshop.
The Museum Gift Shops: You can always find cool, colorful special gifts galore at the Barnes, PMA and Please Touch Museum gift shops.
Fairmount Pet Shoppe: Four words: Kitties in the window.
Restaurants, Snacks and Treats
Rembrandt’s is a sprawling family-friendly bar with a kids menu, patient servers and outdoor seating. Bonus points because it’s within spitting distance of both the Play Pen playground and the Tot Lot.
London Grill is a chill neighborhood hangout bar with a kids’ menu (and crayons/coloring books to keep little ones’ busy) and the best beer list in Fairmount.
La Calaca Feliz has outdoor seating, a wild, colorful interior, a low-key vibe and elevated Mexican fare. Best to go early — like, 5 p.m. — if you want to beat the crowds.
Philly Flavors is the neighborhood’s favorite spot for soft serve, ice cream, water ice and sundaes. It’s always a zoo, but lines usually go fast. (There’s also a new Whirled Peace on Callowhill that’s really good.)
Little Pete’s is a go-to for classic diner food — always lots of old folks and very young folks (like, toddlers.) Super family-friendly.
Alla Spina is on the far eastern edge of the ‘hood, right up by Broad Street, but it’s arguably the most kid-friendly of the Vetri establishments, with a lounge area where kids have a bit of room to roam a little. Good brunch, too.
Pizzeria Vetri on Callowhill is probably the other most kid-friendly of the Vetri establishments. You’ll order (awesome) pizza, a must-have rotolo (a garlic knot), and truly delish soft serve. Only downside is communal tables, which can get tight with a wiggly toddler.
Sabrina’s Cafe on Callowhill Street is a wildly popular breakfast spot (great for lunch, too) that’s BYOB. Tip: Get there as soon as they open (or for a late lunch), else you’ll have to deal with a wait.
Hickory Lane is a cute little bistro/bar with a great burger, a solid brunch and shaded outdoor seating on a busy, buzzy corner of Fairmount.
OCF is ostensibly a coffee house, but it serves a really tasty breakfast and lunch, too, in a great sun-drenched space right on the main drag of Fairmount Avenue. Great smoothies, plenty of healthy options (like a blueberry quinoa cereal everyone in the neighborhood talks about) and lots of gluten-free sweets, if that’s your thing.
Lucky Goat is a cozy little coffee shop on the corner of 26th and Girard with awesome special coffee drinks. (The chai is to die for, as is the hot cider — and there’s a small selection of baked goods for snacks.) One note: Steps going inside can be tricky for strollers. Same goes for another little neighborhood coffee shop at 26th and Brown, The Flying Saucer: Good muffins; tricky stroller steps.
MugShots, an old favorite in the hood, is all about baked goods and breakfast sandwiches … and coffee. It’s homey, casual, always busy and family-friendly.
Figs, a BYO with a Morroccan(ish) menu, serves great food, is affordable and offers super-chill, patient service. One of the most popular brunch spots for families in the ‘hood. Cash only.
Trio happens to be one of the few Thai restaurants in the city. You’ll find all the dishes you’d expect from a Thai menu, as well as some Asian fusion for both eat-in and takeout. It’s a BYO.
Fare has what is easily the most appealing outdoor dining space in the neighborhood, a small kids menu and usually no wait at brunch.
Tela’s Market & Kitchen is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood — a beautiful gourmet market with fresh fish, meats and prepared foods, combined with a casual little eatery with really tasty sandwiches. (See our review here!)
Angelino’s, a causal BYO has amazing calzones that can feed a family of four, big pizzas, sandwiches and Italian standbys for dine-in, delivery or take-out. Kid-friendly to the max.
Check out Wee’s neighborhood guide to Queen Village