We recently found an unexpected hidden gem of a family travel spot in the Lehigh Valley. Located just less than two hours from where we live in the heart of Pennsylvania near the Poconos Mountains lies several quiet towns filled with museums, restaurants, antique shops and things to do. As my daughter correctly stated we had never really explored much of Pennsylvania other than Philadelphia (though we have actually been to the Poconos and the Amish Country). After this trip, I can tell you for sure that we will be back. We were all very taken with the area, and Bethlehem was a great place to start our trip.
Known as “Christmas City”, I am quite sure this city is beyond beautiful in heart of the holiday season. It was named on Christmas Eve, 1741, by a group of Moravians who relocated from North Carolina and settled at the confluence of the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek. Bethlehem has six distinct National Historic Districts within its boundaries, as well as two National Historic landmarks. Many of its original structures, built by the early settlers, still line the streets of the downtown historic district. The downtown area is quaint and great for a strolling family like ours. We roamed around the antique shops, wine shops and art galleries on Main Street. For dinner, we stepped into Petra at 81 Broad Street for arabic fare. We ordered shish kabobs, hummus, cous cous and other favorite Middle Eastern delicacies. Every restaurant in town was booked up that evening, and this happened to be the only one we could just wander into, but it was great for us. Fortunately, my kids eat meat, pita and rice/cous cous and very much enjoyed the meal. Service wasn’t much to be desired as the small family that run the restaurant must not have expected such an influx of customers, but the owner kept making the delay up to us by offering free appetizers, wine and, finally, dessert.
We stayed overnight at the Hyatt Bethlehem, located right in the center of town at 45 West North Street Bethlehem, PA 18018 (Tel: 610-625-0500). We had a suite, which was more than spacious for a family of four. It was clean and comfortable and we loved the fact that our kids had their own beds and a wall separated where we slept so we could stay up slightly later without bothering them. For $159 a night, you really can’t beat the experience. Free parking in a covered lot, breakfast is included and free Wifi. ($149-$299 per night)
The next day we set out to explore a few towns and their offerings for kids. We started out at the Crayola Factory in Easton, just 20 minutes away, at 30 Centre Square (Tel: 610-515-8000). My kids were particularly excited about this part of the trip and we made it on time for our 10am private tour. First we had a live demo of how crayons and markers are made in their Manufacturing Theatre. We learned how melted wax is boxed and labeled. Then my kids wandered through the museum and had the most unique experiences.
They colored on a miniature race car, the Dry E-Racecar; they painted with melted Crayola Crayons in Meltdown; they played on the Chalk Walk; they colored on canvases with wands in After Dark; they jumped and danced in Cool Moves; they colored on the walls in the Inside Out Wall; and they got their creative juices flowing in the Creative Studio. I particularly enjoyed reading the history of Crayola on the Crayola Chronology and Wall of Fame (they’re over 100 years old). My kids loved getting tokens, which they took through the museum and traded in for boxes of crayons and markers along the way, and they loved the many art projects throughout the museum. An additional pleasure for my kids was the Waterworks gallery that is located upstairs and is free to visitors of the museum that teaches the kids about canals and water management. Admission is $9.75 per person/children ages 2 and under are free.
When it was time to eat, we walked right across the street to Pearly’s Bakery at 11 Centre Square (Tel: 610-253-9949) after the recommendation of a museum staff member. Perfect for lunch and full of other families, they have both pub fare and more upscale entrees. They offer delicious salads, sandwiches, soup and casual fare. My kids loved the children’s menu, with kid’s meals for $5.95 and choices of mac & cheese, chicken fingers, fish sticks, grilled hot dogs and PB&J on wheat with carrot sticks. The service was excellent and we were all rightly recharged and ready for the next leg of our trip.
From there, we headed to Allentown and I admit that I couldn’t help but sing the Billy Joel song all the way there, much to my children’s delight and my husband’s horror. We ended up at the Da Vinci Science Center at 3145 Hamilton Blvd. (Tel: 484-664-1002 x112) where we would spend the remainder of the afternoon. The center is 10,000 square feet of science and technology activities for children of all ages. It’s a true science museum in every sense of the word. My kids went from one part of the museum to the next with big, open eyes. At What’s Alive? they learned about non-human living systems; at What on Earth?, they studied the Earth & Environment; at Watt’s Up?, they studied light and electricity; at What Works?, they learned about forces and machines. We watched a short film about cosmic comets and visited their featured exhibit, KEVA Build it Up!, an interactive visitor experience in which curious minds of all ages can enjoy showing off their design and building skills using the popular KEVA planks. The museum is $11.95 for adults; $8.95 for children ages 4-12, seniors ages 62 and up, active military members, and veterans; free for toddlers ages 3 and under and members.
On our way out of town, we serendipitously passed by America on Wheels, an auto museum located at 5 North Front Street (Tel: 610-432-4200). I can’t say too much about it, as my husband and son ran in on their own, but my son came out thrilled after exploring carriages, bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles and trucks. $7 for adults, free for children.
After a full day, we ended up at one of my favorite U.S. national chains, the Olive Garden, in Allentown. Where else can you feed a family of four for $30 with tax? With full bellies, full minds and as content as a family could possibly be, we headed home. We all want to return to the region to explore more of what it has to offer.