Nearly 17 years ago Jarrett and I transplanted to western Pennsylvania when we started our college careers at a small school in Grove City. At the time we both thought we would only live in the state temporarily until we exited with degree in hand. But one job offer and a wedding later we found ourselves official PA residents. And it was only the beginning of a long love affair with our state.
Since our college years, we have camped and explored nooks and crannies all around the state. So in the coming months we are going to try to shine a spotlight on some of our favorite places to visit in Pennsylvania and help you discover all there is to explore. To get us started, last month Jarrett and I had the chance to visit State College sans kiddos: Here’s a roundup of the fun we had in and around Happy Valley.
American Philatelic Center
The American Philatelic Center is a fancy word for the American stamp collecting society’s headquarters. As a kid I dabbled in stamp collecting after my father introduced the hobby to my siblings and me. So I was intrigued when I read about this place–and knew I had to visit.
The kind folks at the center gave us a free tour of the building, library, and exhibits, as well as introduced us to the many services the center provides. We also learned a good bit about the history of stamp collecting. (Did you know Queen Elizabeth, President FDR, Charlie Chaplin, and John Lennon all were stamp collectors?)
If you are a teacher, homeschooler, or involved in a scout program, the center offers some great educational resources for students. I’ve kept my little collection all these years and our visit to the center was the perfect opportunity to dig it out to show to our kiddos. And thanks to the goody bags the staff sent home for our kids, they now are eager to start their own collection.
Penn State University
On a balmy sunny day, it is a treat to explore Penn State’s arboretum, which is free and open to the public. The area includes a tropical grove, a lotus pool, a children’s garden, and several other themed gardens.
If you have an art lover among you, then you may want to pay a visit to Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art, which offers free admission to view a small but diverse collection of works.
And any visit to State College wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Berkey Creamery, where students dish out about 750,000 cones and bowls of ice cream every year. This legendary ice cream spot got its start back in the 1860s, and today the Creamery remains an integral part of the university’s food science department.
For shopping or dining with the charm of yesteryear, Bellefonte is just a short jaunt from State College. We drove through Bellefonte en route to do some backroad driving in the state forest, so we only had time to stop in for a “little smackerel of something” at the Governor’s Pub, but the creamy corn chowder and poutine fries hit the spot.
Off the beaten path driving
A visit to the Pennsylvania mountains also wouldn’t be complete without some hiking or backroad driving. So we pulled out our handy Purple Lizard Map and started exploring the backroads of Bald Eagle State Forest. We found some amazing spots to take in sweeping views of the central Pennsylvania mountains.
For this drive, we followed Pine Swamp Road to Poe Paddy Drive. That stretch of road up to the Penn’s View overlook was a pretty easy drive (dirt/gravel and drivable for many vehicles). Below are a few pictures from the vista, and oh my goodness: Penn’s View would be spectacular in the fall!
We then drove a little bit further past the next “purple lizard” vista, at which point we came to a sign that said “no maintenance beyond this point.” From this point you need a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle to continue. We survived with our Subaru, but things got a bit dicey due to deep ruts and big boulders on this narrow mountain road and I (Kristin) was quite relieved when we pulled back onto “maintained” roads.
We’ve used the Purple Lizard Maps to explore Bald Eagle State Forest in the past. If you are a hiker, backpacker, biker, or off-roader, you MUST check out these maps. Read our full post here.
Dining at Herwigs
We capped off our fun day of exploring with a visit to Herwig’s Austrian Bistro–which receives high marks for its authentic homestyle Austrian cuisine in the heart of State College. When you arrive at Herwig’s, you order from a chalkboard menu on the wall–which changes throughout the week. My meal of Kaslaberl (fried potato, egg, and cheese patties with a dollop of Liptaver) had awesome flavor. Jarrett’s plate featured a sampling of Austrian-style meats with a side order of sauerkraut. Come hungry because the cooks dish out generous servings.
Other points of interest in or near State College:
We only had one day to explore on this trip, so we had to fit a lot of touring into those hours. But there were a few other things to do in State College (or nearby) that we would love to check out on a return trip, including:
- The Centre Furnace Mansion: This restored ironmaster’s home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Columbus Chapel and Boal Mansion Museum: Tour the house and the Columbus Chapel, which the Boal family brought from Spain to the U.S. in early 1900. The collection includes a desk that once belonged to the famous explorer.
- Fireworks at the Central PA 4th Fest: We have attended this epic Independence Day celebration twice in the last 10 years. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip at least once in a lifetime.
Have you visited the State College area before? Any other places you would recommend we see?