Let’s face it—air travel isn’t what it used to be. With interminable security lines, frequent flight delays, and overcrowded planes, flying the “friendly skies” seems to be a thing of the past. Add to that the current climate abroad, and staying close to home is an increasingly appealing option.
By Susan McGrath
Staycation: (added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2009)
noun stay·ca·tion \ˈstā-ˈkā-shən\
definition : a vacation spent at home or nearby
There’s a lot to love in the Lehigh Valley. First stop, Easton. Known for hosting the oldest farmers’ market in the country, this family-friendly town is home to a vibrant culinary and cultural scene.
Not to be missed, every Saturday from 9:00 to 1:00 in the downtown center square is the famed Easton Farmers’ Market. Running continuously since 1752, the open-air market operates rain or shine from May to December, making it easy and fun to shop local and eat fresh. Organic produce, baked goods, a variety of farm-to-table prepared foods, live music, and entertainment make this a lively and delectable destination. Tip–get there early to avoid parking problems.
July 29 – 11th Annual Zucchini 500
August 5 – Peach Day
August 19 – Tomato Day
Next to the farmers’ market is the Easton Public Market, an indoor culinary and shopping space that houses 15 vendors and an adorable activity area for the kids, the “Little Sprouts Play Zone”. The place is abuzz with cooking demonstrations, workshops, tastings and classes, and, of course, tempting treats to satisfy your taste buds. Tip–come hungry.
After you’ve indulged (or overindulged) at the Market District, take a stroll, run, or cycle along the Karl Stirner Arts Trail. The 2.5 mile scenic, paved path meanders alongside Bushkill Creek and features more than 15 sculptures by contemporary artists. It is the perfect fusion of art and nature, with its trailhead punctuated by the signature red arch by Karl Stirner.
For indoor family fun, check out the Crayola Experience where the kiddos can stay busy with 26 different attractions and hands-on experiences. Color me happy! The Nurture Nature Center makes environmental education cool for kids and adults alike, spotlighting the famed Sphere globe exhibit, as well as art galleries, docent-led programs, and shows.
For the Gents
Tucked below street level, the Gentlemen’s Barbershop keeps it old school. Owner and master barber Ronald Corales and his experienced team promise precision cuts and stellar service. Try a hot shave and haircut—you won’t be disappointed.
If Easton is the cool, hipster kid, then Bethlehem is his classically beautiful older sister. Founded on Christmas Eve 275 years ago, Bethlehem is much more than just the “Christmas City”–it is a place rich in culture and history.
Saunter down Main Street, take in the stately, historic Hotel Bethlehem.Shop in the many boutiques and peruse the vast variety of books, home decor, Christmas ornaments, and gifts at the famous and expansive Moravian Book Store.
Blueberry Festival – July 15 & 16
Celebrating all things blueberry, this family-fun festival at the Burnside Plantation has everything from culinary and pie-eating contests to craft blueberry brews, live music, a pet parade, colonial crafts and games, and an animal presentation from the Wildlands Conservancy.Musikfest – August 4-13
This star-studded music festival is one of the largest in the country, with 500-plus shows on 14 stages over 10 days. This year’s lineup ranges from legends like Santana and Chicago to country favorites Toby Keith and The Band Perry and everything in-between.
With more than 80 restaurants and outdoor cafes in historic Bethlehem offering foods from every ethnicity, there is something to please every palate. We love the Apollo Grille for a leisurely meal downtown. But for a fine dining experience, hop in the car and head to Bolete. Located in a former Stagecoach Inn between Bethlehem and Allentown, it is consistently ranked as the best in the Lehigh Valley.
The former site of Bethlehem Steel (the second largest steel manufacturer in the country) has been reborn as the SteelStacks. The ten-acre campus is dedicated to arts, culture, family events, community celebrations, education and entertainment—putting on more than 1,000 concerts and eight different festivals, including the Yuengling Summer Concert Series, every year.
It might come as a surprise that Allentown is the third largest city in Pennsylvania. Not only is the revitalized downtown full of museums, historical sights, and cultural attractions, but Allentown also boasts more parkland per capita than any other city its size in the US.
For fun with the kiddos, head to Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom. There are more than 100 rides and attractions, including eight roller coasters, and one of the country’s top-ranked water parks on over 200 acres.
If you have a budding scientist in the family, be sure to check out the Da Vinci Science Center. The hands-on exhibits include a dark tunnel maze, KEVA plank design studio, animation station, marine tank, windy hurricane simulator, and much more.
Hunter Hayes, July 13th
Old Dominion, August 27th
At the PPL center, you can catch a Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey game or enjoy marquis-name concerts or family favorites like Disney on Ice or Sesame Street Live.
For a little culture, visit the Allentown Art Museum.The museum’s collection of more than 17,000 works of art includes European Old Master paintings and the Frank Lloyd Wright Library (from the Francis W. Little House, designed by the famous architect), It is considered to be an important regional art institution.
For a bite to eat in the heart of downtown, The Hamilton offers seasonal American cuisine and right up the street, Grain is a stylish rustic-industrial eatery.
Right in Philadelphia’s backyard lies beautiful Bucks County. Known for its scenic countryside, covered bridges, historic sites, and art and antiques, it is also popular for its emerging wine scene. Take a tour of the wine trail and sample the many wines crafted by the nine local vintners. Tip—plan your trip to enjoy the concerts on Friday nights.
We started our tour of Bucks County in the charming borough of Yardley.
Yardley is a picturesque small town, with lovely Lake Afton at its center and locally owned shops, restaurants, and boutiques within the historic downtown.
At the top of our list for dining is the Continental Tavern, a favorite of locals with a bit of hidden history. During a recent restoration to bring the building back to its 1877 glory, a cylindrical stone tunnel burrowed deep into the ground was discovered. Historians believe the building was part of the Underground Railroad, and the tunnel was its link with other stations in Yardley. In addition, a chamber was found in the basement beneath the kitchen. Inside were more than 10,000 empty whiskey bottles from the Prohibition era, many of which are now artfully displayed in the restaurant.
Fast forward to 2017 and this inviting tavern has a wide offering of draught beers, and is the perfect place to take in your sporting event of choice. For alfresco dining, a spacious outdoor porch overlooking Lake Afton provides a scenic vista.
When you’re ready to relax, Face & Body Spa is the place to find your zen. Enjoy one of their many pampering treatments like the aromatic massage. Their professional, friendly staff uses only natural or vegan product lines and will leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready for more exploring.
Be sure to stop by Yardley General—it’s not your grandmother’s general store. With high-end local products, specialty foods, and award-winning wine from Bucks County’s own Sand Castle Winery, we wanted to browse a while. Want to sip while you shop? It’s encouraged here. We say, yes, please!
One of Bucks County’s most idyllic Main Streets is in the bustling little town on the Delaware river, New Hope. There’s a lot to take in, with galleries, eclectic shops, restaurants, and of course, the famous Bucks County Playhouse.
Located on the site of a former grist mill on the banks of the Delaware River, the historic playhouse underwent a complete restoration in 2012. Known as “America’s Most Famous Summer Theater”, all of the Broadway luminaries have performed there, as it is truly a stepping stone to the Great White Way. Don’t miss this for top notch entertainment.
If you’re in the mood for adventure, try tubing down Delaware—it’s really a leisurely float down a nine mile stretch — or rent a canoe or kayak, and enjoy the scenery from the water. You can also cycle or stroll along the 61-mile long canal towpath where mules once pulled barges along the river, and now bald eagles can be seen nesting.
Bastille Day – July 15th
Riverfest – September 3rd
On the restaurant scene is standout Marsha Brown, located in a 125 year old stone church in the center of downtown. With 40-foot ceilings, antique furnishings, and stained glass windows, it would be worth a visit even if they didn’t have the best steaks in town. They don’t just cater to carnivores, though — fish is delivered fresh daily and they have a premier raw bar.
Another place worth mentioning is the beautiful historic stone Inn at Phillips Mill for a romantic French dining experience. Tip—it is byob and they only accept cash.
We took a detour across the Delaware out of Bucks County and wandered into New Jersey, to scout around Frenchtown. Situated on the Delaware River, the quaint town is home to art galleries, specialty shops, and restaurants.
Our favorite finds were Dalla Terra for its for its fabulous and unusual home goods and The Book Garden—a quirky, yet delightful bookstore taking residence in a house. Yes, there were even books in the kitchen. We were in love!
Be sure to plan a visit to take in Frenchtown’s street fairs and festivals featuring great food, art, music, and theater.
The Pocono Mountains
The Pocono Mountains are a paradise for nature lovers, with an abundance of rivers, streams, lakes, and woodlands to enjoy. The rolling hills and pristine waters are perfect for hiking, cycling, fishing, camping, rafting and virtually any outdoor activity you can imagine.
The natural beauty found in the Poconos extends to the more than 30 golf courses, making them a popular destination. Among the best is Jack Nicklaus’ signature golf course at Great Bear Golf and Country Club. Buck Hill Golf Club is a 27-hole classic Donald Ross design featuring undulating greens that challenge the most skilled player. Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort was a favorite of Jackie Gleason, and Skytop Lodge never disappoints with its majestic mountain views.
The Poconos are also home to Stroudsburg, full of small-town charm, and host to farmers markets, racing, and festivals galore.
One of the premier events of the summer is The Pocono Music Festival (formerly the Buck Hill Skytop Music Festival). Founded in 2009, the festival showcases seasoned and up-and-coming performers, including chamber music, cabaret, jazz, pop, and musical theater. The festival’s education program offers local students the opportunity to study and perform with professional musicians. In partnership with NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the festival will be presenting a new theatrical work—Danny and the Rocket, a musical by Casey O’Neil and Marella Martin Koch premiering on August 4th. This year’s season kicks off on July 28th with The Music Man, and runs through August 6th.
The oldest continuously running jazz club, The Deer Head Inn, isn’t in New Orleans as you might expect, but in the Poconos, in the Delaware Water Gap. The jazz scene there is big and has given rise to the the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts (COTA), which is putting on its 40th Annual Jazz Festival this year. The festival will take place September 8-10 with live performances at three venues, the Main Stage across from “the hill” on Delaware Avenue, the Hall at Castle Inn, and the the Deer Head Inn across the street from the main stage.
The Mount Airy Casino is a popular spot for a little gambling and some great entertainment. So if you’re unlucky at the blackjack table, don’t despair—concerts scheduled this summer include Smokey Robinson and 3 Doors Down, as well as comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Artie Lange.
Poconos Summer Events
Pocono’s Wurst Festival – July 22 & 23
Audubon Art and Craft Festival – July 22 & 23
Pocono Music Festival – July 28-August 6
Pennsylvania 400 at the Pocono Raceway – July 30th
Carbon County Fair – August 7-12
155th Annual Wayne County Fair – August 4-12
Sweet Corn and BBQ Festival – August 12 & 13
ABC Supply 500 Race – August 19 & 20
The West End Fair – August 20-26
Pocono State Craft Festival – August 26 & 27
COTA 40th Annual Jazz Festival – September 8-10
Tucked in the rolling hills of New Jersey’s horse country, the bucolic Bedminster Township is home to riding trails, trout streams, parklands—and, of course, a certain president’s golf course and vacation retreat, now dubbed “the summer White House”.
In this quiet, affluent suburb an hour west of Manhattan, there are expansive horse farms everywhere the eye can see, and most of the beautiful estates have green lawns spanning more than five acres. Some roads remain unpaved to accommodate the area’s fox hunts. Yes, living in Bedminster is lovely, unless you happen to be a fox. Or you are stuck in traffic when President Trump is in residence.
The grand estate once belonging to Hassan II, the late King of Morocco is now home to a
fabulous farm-to-table restaurant, Ninety Acres, which has its own 12-acre sustainable farm right on the estate. The property also has magnificent trails throughout, running alongside the North Branch of the Raritan River, through beautiful wooded areas and across meadows where you can walk, jog, bike, or horseback ride and take in the splendor of the surroundings.
Photos by Jennie Finken, Andrew Larsen and Rick Newman