PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Shopping bags from big city stores, suburban malls and wee country shops are stuffed under restaurant tables, topped by nibbles, noshes and warming sips. The region is awash in shoppers, meeting friends and family after a day of gift gathering to relax at piano lounges and tapas bars. So, let’s match up some traditional shopping stops with nearby wining and dining. A good start is Center City.
My introduction to Santa as a kid was in the toy department of the iconic Macy’s store in New York’s Herald Square. Arriving in Philadelphia by December of 1961, John Wanamaker’s wasn’t so different. And it had an organ. Today Wanamaker’s is Macy’s and the traditions continue. Light Shows, Santa and vaulted ceilings frame the tree. We made an overnighter out of this town trip – regional rail to Jefferson Station, checked into a nearby hotel, then 2 blocks to Macy’s and a world of shopping and childhood reflections. The store also served as an indoor passage from Market to Chestnut Streets and then, just a block to Jamonera where tapas and paella rule. A well mixed Happy Hour Manhattan and Martini with croquetas and tortillas at the bar followed by a seafood paella at a table for two. The crowd soon followed. The following day – a stop at Reading Terminal Market on the way to a homebound train.
George Washington wintered at King of Prussia (Valley Forge). Now shoppers, diners and cocktail sippers do too. It’s simply a matter of location. Today, friends can come from different compass points and easily find this burgeoning shopping and dining mini-metropolis via the Schuylkill Expressway, the PA Turnpike, 422 and the nearby Blue Route. The mall is a dynamic Horn of Plenty that spills baubles, bangles, bling and everything between at the center of a bar and restaurant complex that has taken a major leap forward with celebrity chef and International eateries in the new Town Center. Find major stores and one-of-a-kind crafts. Then it’s time for bar and table. I pick Seasons 52 both for the consistency of the food and a lively piano lounge. It has a big city feel in a close-to-suburban-home location. And at holiday time, The Seasons 52 concept of keeping an eye on the calories makes for guilt-free gluttony.
With over 40 shops, nearly 30 spots to eat and drink, plus a hotel, Skippack Village in Central Montgomery County joins Peddler’s Village and New Hope as holiday destinations. Caroling, luminaires, village strolls and cider stops put a glow into evening shopping here. But trying to pick one focal point for me is easy. I have a gardener on the shopping list. So my first stop is Floral and Hardy, a green thumb smorgasbord. If it goes in, with or around a garden, it’s here. Then just a short stroll up the street for a drink and giant shrimp cocktail at Parc Bistro. During the week, the crowd is decidedly local. On weekends look for newcomers and special occasion visitors. Staying for dinner? Just 2 words – “short ribs”.
For a town dedicated to unique shopping, destination dining and theater, it should be a challenge to pick a single entry for present plucking and festive food. But it’s a snap if you consider that Christmas and Santa transit the years from childhood to elder sage. Love Saves the Day is a shop filled with relics and vintage fashion that traces every stage of our lives. No matter when you dropped on the planet, there will be something here that you played with as a kid or wore on a date. When shopping here, you’ll think more about self-gifting than dazzling someone else. Now for a dinner splurge. The name, Marsha Brown may not ring a bell. But she was the driving force behind the popular Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses. She brings a different vibe to her own namesake New Hope restaurant. Eye filling art-work blends into a menu that speaks with a Louisiana Creole lilt. Raw bar nibbles can lead to fin and claw shares or big appetite red meat platters. Save space for dessert.
NEW YORK CITY
It may come as no surprise to hear that the most popular holiday shopping destination for the Philly crowd is that Big Apple, just 90 miles to the north. While New Yorkers and transplants favor thousands of tiny neighborhood shops and nearby bistros for their own secret treasure caves, the visitor must see and be part of Fifth Avenue – Christmas time at St. Patricks Cathedral, Chanukah at Temple Emanu-El, Skating and the tree at Rockefeller Center, Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and fashion up and down the Avenue. But for children of all ages, the one store that captures pure joy is F.A.O. Schwarz and it’s toys of the world. A visit to this 19th century icon can consume hours. For drinks and raw bar nibbles, nearby Grand Central Station and the iconic Oyster Bar is my choice. Why? It is an oasis of elegant leisure at the heart of a bustling city in an early American hub. It’s also the site of an amazing model train display, another holiday tradition at the center of the nation’s premier railway station.