Philly Family Neighborhood Guide: Manayunk and Roxborough
Small town feel without leaving the city.
Situated next to the Schuylkill River, and bridging the gap between the city and the Main Line, Manayunk and Roxborough offer the perks of a small town within city limits. Combine that with the natural beauty of the location and the variety of independent businesses that populate the area, and you can easily see why these neighborhoods are so special. Let’s explore!
Photographer Carolyn Clement and her family call this neighborhood home, and they especially like the family-friendly businesses and the proximity to both Center City and the Main Line (her son attends French International School of Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd).
The neighborhood is home to James Dobson Elementary School, an inclusive and close-knit K-8 public school with an involved and vibrant Home and School Association that plan fun events and fundraisers to enhance the community.
Little ones have the very unique option of learning at The Schuylkill Center’s Nature Preschool, which readies kids for school while connecting them to the natural world. The school has access to the nature preserve’s amazing settings, like the sensory garden and Tall Trees Playscape. They have recently added the additional option of kindergarten, so kids can stay in their forest wonderland a little longer.
The Great Outdoors
Speaking of The Schuylkill Center (8480 Hagy’s Mill Rd.), it is an amazing resource well beyond preschool. The 340-acre nature preserve provides many opportunities for environmental education, no matter your age. They host an afterschool program, summer camps, day-off camps, and free family nature exploration events every Saturday morning.
You can also enjoy the area’s proximity to the Schuylkill River through the Manayunk Towpath, which is great for biking and running; and taking in views of the city, nature, and public art all at once.
There are also some great parks in the area that hold family-friendly events throughout the year. Gorgas Park in Roxborough has gardens, playgrounds, and really comes alive in warm weather with a summer concert series, outdoor movies, and a visit from Parks on Tap. In cooler weather, you can visit for the Harvest Festival, tree lighting, and more. Roxborough has added even more outdoor community space with Pocket Park (6170 Ridge Ave.), a park created from a once-vacant lot in town. Today, you’ll find seasonal events throughout the year, from live performances to farmers’ markets and more. The summertime Pocket Park Series is held on first Fridays, and welcomes all ages to come together for an evening of community.
Pretzel Park in Manayunk (4300 Silverwood St.) is home to a giant silver sculpture of a pretzel, as well as a playground, dog park, weekly farmers’ market (in warm months), and other community events. Family-friendly events like drum circles, yoga and jam sessions make this a unique market, not just a place to buy local food on Saturdays.
And in the summer, drop by Venice Island (7 Lock St.) to beat the heat—and this “spray garden” in Manayunk also waters the park’s greenery!
Art and Community
The North Light Community Center (175 Green Ln.) in Manayunk truly lives up to its mission, providing services for all ages and abilities. In one place, you can find everything from a public computer lab to a KaBOOM! playground. Kids can participate in after-school programs, summer camps, classes, tutoring, and even youth development programs for teens to get them ready for employment.
Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (419 Green Ln.) is another great place for classes, summer camp, and Saturday family drop-ins. Or, for another medium of creation, kids can attend camp or take private lessons at Philadelphia Woodworks (4901 Umbria St.).
Dancers of all ages and interests will find their rhythm at Merge Dance Studio (4047 Cresson St.), whether it’s little ones learning Creative Movement, tweens getting into hip-hop, or even adults doing dance and fitness classes.
The Roxborough Library (6245 Ridge Ave.) has free weekly kids’ programming, like storytimes and art lessons, as well as special events like kids’ holiday parties.
Main Street in Manayunk is a citywide destination, in part because of all the fabulous independent shops. When we did our Shop Local Guide this holiday season, one of the first places we had to include was The Little Apple (4353 Main St.), because we always find ourselves there, whether it’s for a hostess gift, a soft cuddle friend for our littles, or maybe just some Philly-themed home décor for ourselves. Plus the owner is herself a Philly mom—to both her little girl and the amazing dog Bettie (practically the boutique’s mascot)—so we’ve gotta support our own!
Pineapple on Main (4347 Main St.) was another Shop Local Guide pick this year, for their great collection of luxe home goods, gifts for all ages, and friendly shopping experience. And, of course, if you’re shopping to treat yourself, fashion boutiques like LILA (4339 Main St.) and Nicole Miller (4249 Main St.) never fail to deliver.
One of Philly’s best independent bookstores, The Spiral Bookcase (112 Cotton St.) is also located in Manayunk, has great selection of children’s books, both new and used. They even let you trade in your used books for store credit, so you can keep your kid’s collection fresh. And comic book lovers shouldn’t miss Johnny Destructo’s Hero Complex (4327 Main St.) for a truly impressive collection (and truly passionate and personalized service).
And for your four-legged family members, Pet Friendly Dog Bakery (4324 Main St.) is not just a place to shop, but also a place for dog lovers to connect through the store’s doggie parties and meetups—they’ve even hosted a Puppy Prom!
You’ve no doubt found yourself in the area for the nightlife, but Manayunk and Roxborough have so much more to offer than bars.
Let’s get this out of the way—I will fight anyone who says Pat’s or Geno’s cheesesteaks are better than Dalessandro’s (600 Wendover St.) in Roxborough, and I’m pretty sure I’d have some pretty sizeable backup, so come at me. You can also find some of the best tomato pie in the city here, at Marchiano’s Bakery (4653 Umbria St.).
For kid-friendly meals, Winnie’s (4266 Main St.) and The Couch Tomato (102 Rector St.) in Manayunk are mainstays, and deservedly so. If you want to get a little more adventurous, Clement strongly recommends Han Dynasty’s Manayunk location (4356 Main St.): “They have the most delicious Szechuan, and it always comes out so quickly—very important when eating with children.”
On the sweeter side, there are so many delicious dessert options that always bring smiles to little faces. Custard and Cakes Creamery (5461 Ridge Ave.)—family owned and operated since 1955—remains a summertime favorite in Roxborough for homemade ice cream and other treats. The popular food truck Sugar Philly opened a brick-and-mortar storefront in Manayunk (4409 Main St.), where it serves up a rainbow of creative and fresh macaron flavors.
And last—but certainly not least—the Tubby Robot (4369 Main St.) is a dream come true, blending homemade ice cream with old school video games. We especially love the fun tile mosaics throughout the store of the robot mascot in local spots like Pretzel Park and the Plateau! And all while eating some creative sundaes and playing video games? Seriously, don’t miss this place.
Shared community space, as well as shopping small, are huge draws of the area. The summer is a time when parks get activated for free outdoor movies, concerts, and family fun every week—be sure to hit up Gorgas Park, especially!
Summer is also a great time for Stroll the Street in Manayunk, where every Thursday night, food trucks, music, vendors, and more converge on Main Street for themed nights. Businesses stay open with special sales, and kids can do fun activities or even take in a free outdoor movie based on the theme. Our favorite night this year was Superhero Night, which included a free screening of Wonder Woman once it got dark. Stroll the Street was so popular this year, that Manayunk extended it into September to keep the fun going.
Summer also brings the extremely popular Manayunk Arts Festival—two days in late June when arts and crafts vendors from all over descend onto Main Street. And while we don’t recommend this event for littles (something about crowds, hot weather, and many breakable objects just doesn’t scream “bring the strollers!” to us), this is a must-do for any art lover looking to buy or just appreciate the best of our region.
In the fall, Manayunk and Roxborough have harvest festivals, where families can take part in fun seasonal activities. Fall also means Roxtoberfest, Roxborough’s neighborhood Oktoberfest that makes itself family-friendly with live performers (including polka, of course!), food trucks, vendors, carnival games, inflatables, and more.
Twice a year, Manayunk celebrates its food scene with the StrEAT Food Festival and Restaurant Week. The StrEAT festival includes dozens of food trucks, as well as live music and vendors. Meanwhile, Restaurant Week shows off the best of Manayunk food with prix fixe meals throughout the neighborhood.
The holidays bring tree lightings, caroling nights, and more community events to both Manayunk and Roxborough as well. Both business districts also celebrate Small Business Saturday after Thanksgiving to kick off Christmas shopping and encourage everyone to shop local. And given the vibrant array of shops to choose from, it’s easy to check everyone off your list without leaving the neighborhood!
Photographs courtesy of Visit Philadelphia.