Philly Family Neighborhood Guide: Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy
This unique section of Northwest Philly is lush with nature, art, and much more.
Travel about a half-hour northwest from Center City, and you’ll feel like you have left the city entirely and entered an idyllic village. Chestnut Hill is rightfully referred to as Philadelphia’s Garden District, and neighboring Mt. Airy has a similar charm. Living in or visiting this area of Philly lets you connect with nature in ways that city life typically does not allow—from hiking the Forbidden Trail to resting on a tree canopy atop an epic 92-acre garden. At the same time, a lively downtown of unique shops, restaurants, and more create a thriving business district that is its own draw. There is so much going on in this little corner of Northwest Philly. Let’s take a look around.
Our latest Philadelphia Family cover parents, Maureen and Joanna Maier, described why they decided to make their home here: “we knew we wanted to be in a place that reflected the diversity of the city and would be open and accustomed to a diversity of family structures, especially LGBT families such as our two-mom family. Now, as a family of four, we love all those things about our community, but also that it is so walkable!” From their Chestnut Hill home, the Maiers can walk to school, as well as multiple playgrounds, parks, and businesses.
Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy offer residents so many wonderful school options, both public and private. The Maier children attend Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences, the neighborhood public school in Chestnut Hill that emphasizes a STEAM curriculum. Jenks has a very involved Home and School Association, as the Maiers describe “it was clear that the administration, teachers, and other families truly care about all of the students. Our kids have learned so much already, both academically and socially, and so have we.”
In Mt. Airy, C.W. Henry has a similarly involved community that works hard to make the school a great place to learn and grow, organizes family activities, and forms community partnerships with local businesses to help strengthen the school’s support and resources.
Wissahickon Valley Park is a local treasure with over 50 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. Families can also enjoy fishing and picnicking here. Forbidden Drive is an especially popular five-mile trail in the park that appeals to all ages and abilities for its relatively flat gravel course. There are monthly kid-friendly guided hikes, making it even more welcoming. Wissahickon Environmental Center—affectionately called the Tree House—hosts even more events for kids and families, from nature exploration to special events to preschool-aged Thursday Tots which combines storytime with nature time.
In addition to Wissahickon Park, Chestnut Hill is home to Morris Arboretum, a beautifully maintained garden filled with public art and more than 12,000 different trees, plants, and flowers over 92 acres. The Out on a Limb tree adventure allows kids and adults alike to get a bird’s-eye view of the arboretum with a giant tree canopy, and even a giant-scale nest. Kids especially love to come to Morris for the epic Garden Railway display, which includes a quarter-mile of track (including a bridge kids can walk under) depicting a mini Philly landscape. It runs daily in the summer, and becomes holiday-themed in the winter. Morris hosts special events throughout the year, like its own little Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring, and a Scarecrow Contest at Oak Allee with amazingly designed entries to vote on in the fall.
Pastorius Park in Chestnut Hill is another place to connect with nature, encompassing 16 acres of land including a pond. In the summer, the park hosts free outdoor concerts.
Chestnut Hill is home to Woodmere Art Museum (9201 Germantown Avenue), which celebrates Philadelphia’s art and artists. Come on a weekend in the fall to enjoy their annual Straw Maze—even better, time it with their family art-making on Saturdays. The museum also hosts family festivals throughout the year.
Allens Lane Art Center (601 W. Allens Lane) in Mt. Airy offers classes and camp in everything from theater to visual arts. If a full session is too much commitment, be on the lookout for their special one-day workshops, in everything from “Kidz-Clay Saturdays” to stage makeup for older kids. And if you’re looking for a unique adult night out, the art center also hosts Date Nights.
Quintessence Theatre in Residence at the Sedgwick Theater (7137 Germantown Avenue) in Mt. Airy adapts and performs classic works throughout the season, including the family-friendly Oliver! beginning this November.
Libraries, Playgrounds, and More
The area has some great playground options, including Pleasant Playground in East Mt. Airy (6720 Boyer Street), Water Tower Rec Center (209 E. Hartwell Lane) in Chestnut Hill, and even the wooden playground at Jenks Elementary.
Lovett Memorial Library (6945 Germantown Avenue) in Mt. Airy recently underwent an extensive renovation, re-opening last year with a wonderful children’s space including a special Pre-K Zone and Teen Zone. The new outdoor reading porch is lovely, and looks out onto the one-acre Lovett Park. The library hosts free community programming for children, teens, and adults all year round.
Chestnut Hill is home to the Philadelphia Cricket Club (415 W. Willow Grove Avenue), the nation’s oldest country club, including recreational resources including golf, swimming, tennis, and more. Kids as young as age 3 can take lessons, attend summer camp, and enjoy family celebrations.
More athletic opportunities can be found at Wissahickon Skating Club (550 West Willow Grove Avenue) and through Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club. Mt. Airy Baseball is an all-volunteer community tradition that holds leagues and clinics all year. And for something a little different, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (6452 Greene Street) hosts exhilarating classes and camps starting as young as age 3 (and even has adult offerings), and has just added an outdoor flying trapeze!
Germantown Avenue is the main street in Chestnut Hill, where you’ll find so many wonderful independent businesses. Villavillekula (8419 Germantown Avenue) is one of the city’s best children’s stores, with unique toys, clothes, and more. Oxford Circus Toys (8127 Germantown Avenue) is another great place to shop for toys and gifts. And if that’s not enough great toy stores for you, Busy Bee Toys is set to open this fall as well.
Fun preppy clothes and accessories can be found at Quelque Chose (8437 Germantown Avenue) and Bohemian Pink (8638 Germantown Avenue), which you may have encountered in pop-ups at places like the Flower Show or Devon Horse Show. Germantown Avenue also is the location for many antique, home, and gift shops. We especially love the unique Serendipity (8506 Germantown Avenue).
In Mt. Airy, you’ll find a branch of The Nesting House (606 Carpenter Lane), the welcoming kids’ consignment store that also hosts weekly events and new parent meet-ups. As with its other Philly outposts, this is not simply a store, but a community gathering spot to find your village. And they recently revealed that they are relocating to a much larger space down the street, so there will be even more to love!
Mt. Airy also is home to Big Blue Marble Bookstore (551 Carpenter Lane)—one of our city’s great independent bookstores—that hosts weekly storytimes for little ones, Dungeons and Dragons for tweens, and an annual Kids’ Literary Festival with local authors and more fun.
Weavers Way Co-op (at 559 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy, 8424 Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, and various satellite locations in the neighborhood) is a member-owned cooperative grocery store that brings the community together and focuses on providing local, sustainable, and organic products.
You can’t visit Chestnut Hill without stopping by the Market at the Fareway (8221 Germantown Avenue), which features an eclectic selection of food vendors, as well as an outdoor fire pit with brightly colored plastic thrones! From sushi to sandwiches, and everything in between, you’re sure to find something tasty to eat—and lots of goodies to take home for later. Top of the Hill (184 E. Evergreen Avenue) is another nice option for a locally sourced market and café all in one stop.
Chestnut Hill has so many great restaurants that they have their own Restaurant Week, which is typically held in August. Family-friendly favorites like El Poquito (8201 Germantown Avenue), Chestnut Hill Brewing Company (8221 Germantown Avenue), and Iron Hill Brewery (8400 Germantown Avenue) all participate, and there are many other options for family dining or a date night.
In Mt. Airy, Earth – Bread + Brewery (7136 Germantown Avenue) is cited by our cover family as a kid-friendly favorite as well. And of course, Mt. Airy is also known for the 1950s-style Trolley Car Diner (7619 Germantown Avenue), which gets its name from the adjacent 1948 trolley car that houses their ice cream shop.
This year, during late-summer and fall Mt. Airy’s food scene goes al fresco with Supper Sessions, when restaurants, businesses, and performances gather on the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue for a fun community night.
In addition to proper meals, this area has a plethora of sweet treats. Bredenbeck’s Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor (8126 Germantown Avenue) and Night Kitchen Bakery (7723-25 Germantown Avenue) in Chestnut Hill, and The Frosted Fox (6511 Germantown Avenue) in Mt. Airy are some of the city’s best bakeries, and frequently land on “best of” lists for wedding and birthday cakes. Zipf’s Candies (8433 Germantown Avenue) in Chestnut Hill is also a sweet location not to be missed.
In the fall, come for the annual Mt. Airy Village Fair and the Chestnut Hill Fall for the Arts Festival. Both fall festivals shut down the streets with fun, food, art, shopping, and community for all ages.
As fall progresses, Chestnut Hill has gained quite a reputation for its Harry Potter themed Halloween celebration—now called the Chestnut Hill Witches and Wizards Day—which features traditions such as the Brotherly Love Cup Quidditch Tournament, creepy crafts for kids, live circus performers, an archery range, Mad Science demonstrations, harvest hayrides, shopping, and more. And if you feel like getting a babysitter the night before, there is the Brews and Broomsticks pub crawl.
Chestnut Hill lights up for the holidays, and has various Holidays on the Hill weekends and shopping nights where local businesses host festive events and specials. Chestnut Hill also hosts a house tour, tree lighting, and a holiday parade that marches down Germantown Avenue.
Spring brings the annual festivals Mt. Airy Day and the Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival, both held in May. And as things heat up in the summer, catch outdoor movies all season at the Moonlight Movies series in Mt. Airy, and Movies under the Stars at the Water Tower Rec Center in Chestnut Hill.
Two SEPTA Regional Rail lines serve this area from Center City: Chestnut Hill East (Mt. Airy Station is on this line) and Chestnut Hill West. You can also come here by bus—SEPTA Route 23 travels from Center City to Chestnut Hill, and other bus routes travel from Chestnut Hill to other areas of the region.
Lead photograph by Laura Swartz.
Want to learn more about Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy from our cover family? Check out their My Philly Q and A and this Sneak Peek into our Fall 2018 Issue.
Our Fall issue is on the street! Here's what's inside.
Learn more about our latest cover family, and why they love their little corner of Northwest Philly.