Guide to Downtown Lancaster

My mother-in-law was visiting from Ireland and she’s never been to Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  My family has gone several times, but this time we decided to venture in downtown Lancaster instead.

Let it be known that while there is a difference in Amish country versus the downtown environment, both are close enough together and share common ties making it a win-win trip no matter which adventure you choose.

Long’s Park1441 Harrisburg PikeLancaster, PA 17601www.longspark.org

Downtown LancasterFormerly the farm of Henry Long, the 74-acre estate city park offers plenty in terms or relaxation and recreation.  There is a petting zoo, several playgrounds, lake, tennis and basketball courts, fitness trail, picnic pavilions and snack bar.

The park is a one way system and the first stop is the three-acre lake filled with ducks, geese and turtles.  There are benches and picnic tables dotted along the perimeter and the view of the fountains and the ducklings are fun for the kids to see.

We also saw a snapping turtle sunbathing on a rock and some fish.  There are numerous playgrounds with adjacent picnic shelters.  The popular playground is the wooden one that resembles a castle.  This playground is quite large and has various obstacle course like features including a few metal slides and tire course.  The adjacent restrooms were closed on a Friday afternoon.

We were disappointed that the petting zoo was not open to the public.  The sign said that they would open in the summer when they had more staff.  We hear that they are open mid-May until Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but that they also close for one hour during that time for lunch.

There are llamas, donkeys, pigs, horses and goats (that we could only view from the fence).  Strollers are not permitted in the petting zoo.  I suggest calling in advance if you are interested in interacting with the animals.  Admittance to Long’s Park is free.

Lancaster Central Market23 North Market St.Lancaster, PA 17603www.centralmarketlancaster.com

Downtown LancasterLancaster Central Market is the oldest running farmer’s market in the United States.  Located in the heart of downtown Lancaster, the always popular market is only three days a week.  They operate Tuesdays and Fridays from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. & Saturdays 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The downside to the market is its popularity.  It is extremely crowded and I would not recommend bringing small children, let alone a stroller.  However, it is a fantastic way to get everything you need from vegetables, freshly made smoothies and tea to prepared meals, flowers and candles.  No visit to Lancaster is complete without some Amish souvenirs.

We picked up cookies from Wendy Jo’s Homemade, strawberry jam from Amish Family Recipes, sweets from The Candy Stand and grilled hot dogs and Turkey Hill lemonade from Stoltzfus Fresh Meats.  While I mainly bought Amish brand products, various cultures are represented here like NY bagels, Italian cheeses, Greek cuisine and more.

I would have loved to stroll along the market longer, but the crowds made it impossible to thoroughly enjoy the experience.  There is only one restroom with changing station.

I found the price of the items and parking to be reasonable.  The best parking is the Lancaster City Parking Authority garage at W. Orange & N. Prince St. Shoppers because it is located behind the building.  There are also lots on the first block of W. King and N. Prince Streets.  Metered street parking is impossible to secure.

North Museum of Nature and Science400 College Ave.Lancaster, PA 17603www.northmuseum.org

The newly renovated North Museum of Nature and Science is located on the campus of Franklin & Marshal College.  The small hands-on museum is a great stop for families of young and elementary aged children and takes approximately two hours to go through.

Downtown LancasterThe basement is filled with cases of taxidermy; mainly birds, but also a wolverine.  You can see a case filled with different kinds of eggs and compare the tiny egg of a hummingbird to the giant egg of an ostrich.  There is also a large collection of rocks dating back to Pre-Cambrian time of 4,500 million years ago to the Cenozoic Era of today.

Rocks like malachite, black jasper, native copper, several kinds of meteorites, skeletons of fossil squids, the Dichotomous cabinet, even poop from extinct sloths – gross, I know!

The neatest part of this area was speaking with retired geologist and museum volunteer, Steve Kirsch.  In a small room, Kirsch unveils and stores precious rocks.  Rocks and minerals that are donated or cannot be used for the collection are stored in buckets with sand.

Children are allowed to pick two stones each for free.  My daughter loved this experience and Mr. Kirsch was able to identify each rock she found.  She walked away with rose quartz and a quarite rock mixed with magnetite and pyrite.  He even showed us a giant block of rock crystal quartz from Brazil that will be on display in the future.

The main floor is all about nature.  There are several activities for kids to discover like examining objects under a microscope, exploring  discovery boxes filled with oyster and pearls and different types of horns and antlers or putting on a puppet show in the hollow of a tree.

There is a section dedicated to nano and the new exhibit, Dinosaur Discoveries, which will grow in size this fall.  The coolest part on this floor was the live reptile collection.

Staff members allow guests to experience animal counters with a Giant Cave cockroach, Honduran Milk Snake or Blue-tongued skink.

The third floor comprises the museum’s offices, but also dinosaur artwork from various viewpoints.  The gift shop is stocked with an array of neat, but pricey gifts such as dinosaur crayons, nature explorer kit, gold panning kit, excavate a meteorite and create your own reptile nuts and bolts.

The museum is open select holiday Mondays and during the summer, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 5 p.m.  Admission is free for children 2 and under, $8 for ages 3-17 and $9 an adult.  There is an extra fee if you add the Sci Dome theatre.  Street parking is located on the street along with a small lot next to the museum.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant781 Harrisburg Ave.Lancaster, PA 17603www.ironhillbrewery.com

The best restaurant hands-down in the downtown area is Iron Hill Brewery.  Aside from the warm and cozy atmosphere and the superb service, the food is delicious.

We made a special request for hand-cut onion rings as an appetizer and the kitchen was accommodating.  I sampled the fried goat cheese with honey, arugula and onion jam.

It’s so good I want it right now!  Both my husband and my mother-in-law had the pan roast chicken with asparagus, fried onion rings and Yukon mashed potatoes.  The portions were generous and perfectly cooked.

Their children’s menu offered nearly 20 options!  Move over chicken fingers and mac & cheese.  You can get that anywhere.  How about chicken pot pie, broiled shrimp, pork BBQ or a black bean burger?

For $6.50 it includes an entrée, choice of two sides and a beverage.  I squeezed room in for the Meyer lemon pie for dessert.  I wish I knew about Iron Hill before now!

Other points of interest in the downtown area include The Beadworks and Gem Den rock and fossil shop, Lancaster Science Factory and Sky Zone Trampoline Park.  Remember, that Lancaster comprises both the city and the Amish countryside.  With so many options for families, make Lancaster, Pennsylvania part of your next vacation!

Photos by Kathleen Molloy.

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