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The 2021 Philly Summer Bucket List

We love Philly in the summer! Bookmark our picks to enjoy everything this great city has to offer.

Summertime in Philly is so iconic, it earned itself a DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince tribute. A highlight of late spring at Philly Family is putting together the Summer Bucket List. The annual must-do list took a break in 2020 (things were bleak; it was dangerously close to being a literal list of buckets), but it is back in all its (cautious) glory!

In 2021, there is just so much to look forward to right here in the city. Here is everything you’ll want to do to make the most out of every summer day.

Outside Pop-Ups and More

From playing by the river to skating at City Hall to splashing and playing at Sister Cities Park, there are some fabulous outdoor spaces that come to life in the summer, making Philly that much more vibrant and fun. Who needs to sit in Shore traffic when we’ve got a boardwalk right here, and a waterfront with so much to do?

First off, the Delaware River Waterfront returns with the River Rink, Summerfest, and Spruce Street Harbor Park. Rollerskate by the river, ride the giant Ferris wheel (and other midway rides!), play carnival and arcade games, and much more! SSHP is bringing boardwalk fun and eats with its own arcade, hammock lounge, fabulous food stands, and even a floating beer garden! And the year-round Cherry Street Pier is keeping the fun and art going, plus has its own waterfront eatery in the Garden!

We always love Dilworth Park in the summer for its prime location and giant programmed sprayground, but this year they have raised the bar with the addition of their own skating rink! Retro in theme, the Rothman Rink joins their new Summer Lawn, smaller sprayground (you can cross the street to LOVE Park for more splashing), and open-air grill and bar. Sadly, the rink at Dilworth is only scheduled to be there through July 11, so get in while you can (and enjoy the other Dilworth amenities the rest of the summer).

Of course, if we’re talking splashing in the summer, you can’t miss Sister Cities Park, which recently got a huge upgrade. In addition to the Discovery Garden’s legendary boat pond, they’ve added more to climb and discover, including a giant lounging net at the top of the park. Parkway Pals free programming will return this summer as well, featuring kids’ activities like interactive storytelling, nature-inspired crafts, and science lessons. Be sure to check our events posts so you don’t miss a thing.

Franklin Square remains a key location for family fun, with its carousel, playgrounds, Philly-themed mini-golf, and free fountain shows every half hour from noon to closing. This summer, they also have free storytimes and live music planned.

Museum Exhibits

If you and your kids didn’t have much time to visit all the great museums during the school year, use your free time to catch up on all the exhibits, and see some new ones too!

If you haven’t caught the Franklin Institute’s Crayola IDEAworks exhibit, you can still catch the very colorful and hands-on fun through July 18. Step into the Colorverse, get creative, and grow your problem-solving skills with over 150 physical and digital inquiry-based experiences and challenges. The exhibit runs through July 18.

All our little ones were delighted with the reopening of the Please Touch Museum this spring, but it’s about to get even better. Starting June 4, a special exhibit celebrating the world of Mo Willems will open! Your favorite books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! , the Elephant and Piggie series, and more will come alive in a new interactive exhibit that will give children the opportunity to make art that is inspired by these beloved books and to learn about the social and emotional lives of the author’s popular characters.

The Academy of Natural Sciences has reopened (save for some areas that remain off-limits due to Covid concerns), and its lineup includes the special exhibit “Permian Monsters: Life Before Dinosaurs” all summer long (and for the rest of the year). With artwork, fossils, interactives, and scientifically accurate animatronic models, you can step back 290 million years to when bizarre-looking creatures dominated life on land and sea, and dinosaurs had not yet evolved.

‘Big Time’ Dinosaurs at the Zoo

Speaking of animatronic dinosaurs (and dinosaur-adjacent creatures), the Philadelphia Zoo is all in with Big Time: Life in an Endangerous Age. Walk through the Age of Dinosaurs through to the present day with 24 life-size animatronic dinosaurs (and other creatures) in realistic settings. We loved the special exhibit, and plan to return over and over until it closes on September 30.

To make our summer even more dino-riffic, the zoo is planning extended Friday night hours (with dino-themed food and fun!) called Friday Nights Dinos and Bites beginning May 28. Along with the new “Dino Bites fooderie,” the zoo’s beer garden (formerly called The Watering Hole, reborn as Bedrock Brews), will have pre-historic burger and beer pairings and other tasty treats.

Drinking Outdoors (with Kids in Tow!)

While we are excited to drink in the shadow of a T.Rex, there are so many seasonal locations to enjoy an alfresco drink with our kids in tow. Summer means the return of Parks on Tap, which is not just a brilliant way to plan an adult evening with your kids, but it’s a great way to discover some of the amazing parks of our city and give back, too! During the pandemic, Parks on Tap has popped up at three static locations (Fairmount Horticulture Center, Waterworks, and the south end of the Schuylkill River Trail) rather than its usual tour of city parks each week.

There are also great locales like the PHS Pop-Up Gardens (South Street and Manayunk), Morgan’s Pier, and of course the Delaware River Waterfront attractions, all of which have fun and laidback environments that make room for both craft beers and sippy cups. See our full list of kid-friendly beer gardens here!

The Philadelphia Flower Show

For the first time ever, the Flower Show is being held in the summer and taking it outside, in what is sure to be a popular and unique iteration of the iconic event. The event will be held June 5 through 13 in FDR Park. Another notable change for this year: due to capacity restrictions, tickets must be reserved for a specific date and time, and are not good for the entire day. Tickets are very limited, so be sure to reserve yours early.

Save the date for June 12, which will be the very fun Family Frolic with special kid-friendly play activities and photo opportunities including a scavenger hunt with LEGOLAND, performances by the Pennsylvania Ballet, and even photos with Gritty! This is history in the making, people!

More Outdoor Events and Activities

While perhaps not as widespread as in previous summers, outdoor concerts and movies are making a comeback this year! Because everyone is still being cautiously optimistic (and cautious in general), schedules are not completely set at this point in the year, but rest assured we will be publishing those guides as soon as that information is out!

Meanwhile, we can definitely look forward to the return of the kid-favorite series Smith Memorial Playground’s Kidchella, which will have concerts on June 18, July 16, and August 13. Center City District is keeping the music playing at Dilworth Park all summer long, with Arts on Center Stage on Wednesday evenings.

In addition to the Philadelphia Film Society’s pandemic-era Drive-In at the Navy Yard, outdoor movies are making a comeback as well. Locations like Clark Park, the Schuylkill Banks, and Betsy Ross House (for their signature B-movie horror film series) are in, and we expect more to join the lineup as things open up more, so stay tuned for those schedules as well.

Philly pools are planning to reopen this summer on a rolling schedule (stay tuned for more info), and they’re free! Hike or bike on the Schuylkill River Trail or Forbidden Drive for some incredible scenic paths right inside our city limits. Or paddle Penn’s Landing in a kayak, swan boat, or even a dragon!

Finally, if you’re looking for some unique outdoor activities of a different kind, the pandemic has perfected the concept of the ambulatory adventure. In Northern Liberties, the Philadelphia Mural Art Crawl (May 28-July 5) will allow participants to use an app on their phones and go at their own pace to find 20 pieces of street art and murals, while learning about the art pieces’ history and significance. Meanwhile, the Chinatown Scavenger Hunt (May 10–July 3) will guide you through the history and vibrancy of Chinatown with the chance to earn free tickets to the Franklin Square carousel, mini-golf, and the Betsy Ross House by answering questions and taking pictures with your phone.

And for older kids (tweens and up), try a weekend Murder Mystery Walking Tour in Old City! In Murder by Gaslight, Without a Cue Productions has come up with a very creative Covid pivot, having their interactive performances at various outdoor locations on an hour-long walking tour throughout Historic Philadelphia.

Summer Camp

No matter what your kids’ interests or ages, you’re sure to find something to excite them in our Summer Camp Guide, so be sure to check it out!

Photographs by Laura Swartz.

Contributing Writer