Updated 05.02.2020: If road tripping through the Delaware Valley isn’t on your boomer travel list, it definitely should be. Today, Cheryl Rodewig is here to tell us all about the beautiful things you can see and fun things do while exploring this vibrant east coast destination that travels through Pennsylvania and Delaware.
The Delaware Valley is a patchwork of storybook Americana: gardens, bucolic pastures, iconic cities. It’s the perfect place—especially in warmer months—to scratch that travel itch. On a Delaware Valley road trip through the region’s historic heartland, you’ll discover gardens, waterfalls and big city fun.
Getting started on a Delaware Valley road trip
The valley is easily accessible from major tourist hubs like Philadelphia PA, and Wilmington DE, but don’t overlook the smaller towns as a place to begin your journey. I decided to begin mine in New Castle, Delaware.
With only 5,000-odd residents, New Castle sits on the southern banks of the Delaware River. Its historic center dates back to the 1600s. It’s a peaceful start to a trip filled with travel fun that any active baby boomer would love.
As you drive north, follow the river into Pennsylvania. It’s less than an hour, but there are plenty of stop-off points along the way for sightseers. Downtown Wilmington is great for lunch, and both Fox Point State Park and the Scott Arboretum offer plenty of room to stretch your legs in the great outdoors.
Where to stay in the Delaware Valley
Delaware County, affectionately called Delco, sits in the heart of the Delaware Valley, a convenient home base for a few days of your boomer getaway. You’re close to tourist hotspots like the 6-million-square-foot King of Prussia Mall, Valley Forge, and Philadelphia.
I settled for a couple nights at the Radnor Hotel, a quiet, upscale establishment that’s played host to stars like Susan Sarandon. Just because I was on the road and often eating lunch from a cooler doesn’t mean I object to a little luxury. The Radnor has a stately charm, traditional style decor and attentive service.
Amenities, like free WiFi and a 24/7 gym, were convenient, but it was the breakfast with cheese blintzes, berries and French toast that won my heart. Outdoors, the brick-paved courtyard is a welcoming retreat. In their award-winning formal gardens, I spotted roses, marigolds, pansies, peonies and tulips.
This is garden country
As it happens, gardens are the theme of the Delaware Valley. The region boasts more than 30, including the famous Longwood Gardens. Although some are near each other, I found you don’t want to do more than two in a day to allow time to explore.
The closest is Chanticleer, just five minutes from the hotel. If you’re staying at the Radnor, you can take advantage of their garden package that includes admission to Chanticleer, but either way, you don’t want to miss this one.
Most of the other area gardens I visited had more of an emphasis on formal design. At Chanticleer, there was scarcely a boxwood hedge in sight. Instead, I spent the afternoon rambling the 35 acres and discovering ponds, woodlands, terraces and arbors.
Chanticleer’s centerpiece is the Ruin and Gravel Garden. The ruin is an illusion, made to look like a derelict stone house overgrown with ivy and dripping in wisteria. The effect is enchanting.
Save time, if you can, for the Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens, just 10 minutes away in Devon, Pennsylvania, a world of wildflowers and azaleas, open daily till sunset for free.
Visit the best Philadelphia attractions
I took a day away from the countryside to see the big city. Philadelphia has it all: museums, monuments, parks and theaters. Purchase a CityPass for admission to the top attractions at a great value.
Check the Liberty Bell off your bucket list if you must, but there’s so much more to do. The hop-on-hop-off bus is an easy way to get around. Click here to buy tickets ahead of time.
The Philadelphia Zoo, opened in 1874, is America’s oldest and a must when you’re visiting. Expect crowds, especially on weekends, but bring your camera. I loved photographing the toddler gorilla riding around on her mother’s legs, as young often do, a zoo guide explained.
While I love doing the traditional touristy things, I always try to visit at least one local hangout. In Philly, that’s the downtown Kawaii Kitty Cafe.
Cat cafes are popping up all over the country, but this one in the City of Brotherly Love is a little different. It has cute Japanese Kawaii decor, pastel snacks and some of the most mellow, well-groomed cool cats around.
From there, it’s a pleasant walk to the Delaware River. On summer nights, cross the boardwalk and see the changing colored lights at Spruce Street Harbor Park.
Where to eat in the Delaware Valley
Almost any kind of cuisine you can imagine? You’ll find something for every tastebud in the Delaware Valley. Microbreweries abound as do cafés serving up cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, even outside Philly.
With so much to see in the area, the best tip I can offer is to dine at places already on your itinerary. At the zoo, there’s healthy, chef-inspired options at the 34th Street Market and drinks in the open-air beer garden.
For something fancier away from the city, Paramour in suburban Wayne, Pennsylvania, dishes up new American cuisine with a seasonal menu. I never order a salad, but the seafood-laden North East Louis was so fresh, I had no regrets. Their seasonal flatbread and soup left just enough room for dessert.
As a fan of historic architecture, I fell in love with the Wayne Hotel which houses Paramour. The turn-of-the-century brick building is modernized inside with up-to-date rooms and a contemporary lobby but historic accents peek through. Save time after dinner to soak up the atmosphere on the veranda or stroll the quaint downtown.
Enjoy Pennsylvania waterfall hikes
Head north for the final leg of your trip to savor the last of road trip pleasures. The Delaware Water Gap is a national recreation area with no entrance fee and over a half dozen waterfalls.
The fun begins in Pennsylvania and ends in New Jersey, but most of the falls are on the Pennsylvania side. One of the most popular, Dingmans Falls, is ADA accessible by a level boardwalk (closed for 2018 and 2019 due to storm damage). The more adventurous should try Raymondskill Falls, a moderate hike to the tallest waterfall in the state.
If you have an extra day, as I did, you can take advantage of Pennsylvania’s free state parks. They feature waterfalls, gorges, boulder fields and miles of trails. It’s a perfect ending to a scenic road trip in the Delaware Valley.
Disclosure: The Radnor and Wayne hotels hosted my visit, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
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