Drexel University’s and University of Pennsylvania’s campuses combine to create “University City,” which takes the form of an urban college town. They have the feel of college campuses but are nestled in West Philadelphia.
Center City and Rittenhouse Square are a quick walk or SEPTA ride away to the east. South Philly can be reached with a SEPTA ride and free transfer at City Hall, or by a longer walk through Penn’s campus and across the South Street Bridge. Areas like Fishtown and Penn’s Landing can be reached by taking a single SEPTA ride all the way across the city.
All of these neighborhoods and places in Philly are big destinations with a lot of restaurants, cafes, shops and attractions, but what about what is right next door to Drexel?
West Philadelphia isn’t meant to be a tourist destination. It’s not meant to be a place where everyone will flock to. It’s meant to be a place where you feel at home, and where the people around you become your community.
While “University City” is in West Philadelphia, it isn’t a part of West Philly. It is its own thing, and around the bubble of the two college campuses lies a vibrant, diverse and community.
In a 2015 PhillyVoice article, writer Michael Fichman tries to explain his own neighborhood and why he believes it is the best in Philadelphia. However, West Philadelphia isn’t just one neighborhood.
“This task is complicated by the fact that I’m not sure exactly how to delineate my part of the neighborhood. West and Southwest Philly are made up of dozens of micro-hoods and about 300,000 people,” Fichman said.
West Philadelphia has places where you feel connected to the place you live, not just to the city your house is a part of.
Northwest of Drexel’s campus, you’ll find the neighborhoods of Powelton Village, Mantua, Belmont and West Parkside. There are attractions like the Philadelphia Zoo, Fairmount Park and all of the trails that create the famous Belmont Plateau.
In Fairmount, there is the Please Touch Museum, the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and the Centennial Arboretum along the beautiful tree-lined paths.
Looking west past Penn’s campus, there are the neighborhoods of Spruce Hill, Walnut Hill, Cobbs Creek and West Powelton. If you go west along Market Street to 40th, you will find rows of family-owned restaurants and shops that give back to the local community. If you take Lancaster Avenue west past 37th, you’ll find the exact same scene, with people sitting outside the shops and restaurants, old friends and neighbors catching up on the sidewalk.
If you go southwest of Penn’s campus, tucked away are some beautiful and downright hidden gems of Philadelphia. There is first The Woodlands: a cemetery with a walking path centered around a stunning mansion. Follow along Baltimore Avenue to the charming Clark Park, which shows outdoor movies in the summertime and hosts events such as Parks on Tap, local farmers markets and arts and music festivals.
The Spruce Hill area is also home to a large Ethiopian population, which is highlighted by the number of restaurants and markets in the area. As you go further south, you run into the University of the Sciences and some local bakeries — Four Worlds Bakery is supposed to be well worth the visit — in Squirrel Hill and Cedar Park.
Finally, there is Kingessing. A neighborhood home to schools, churches and the beautiful Bartram’s Garden. It bridges the gap between West and Southwest Philadelphia while also leading into Gray’s Ferry, a South Philly neighborhood on the Schuylkill River.
These are all as close to Drexel’s campus — if not closer — than Center City and the rest of Philadelphia east of the Schuylkill, but there is something to be said about the unique destinations in West Philadelphia:
You could start exploring now and still never see all that it has to offer.