Al Fresco Finds: Harrisburg, PA [Quick Weekend Guide and Recommendations]

When you get the opportunity to cross a state off of your “Visited States” Map, you take it. Bonus points if you cover the state’s capital city too.

For me it was Pennsylvania. Sure, I had crossed the state lines on a road trip before, but watching The Office was as close as I had ever gotten to a Pennsylvania experience, which hardly goes deeper than town name references. This time, over a long weekend trip to reunite with my girls and celebrate a delayed housewarming party, I was finally able to visit my friend in PA and do as the locals do when around Harrisburg.

People were definitely surprised by our choice destination, but we stand by it! When friends come together for great food, enjoy awesome beverages, and serene views, it is a splendid combination. And boy did we find all of that this side of Pennsylvania.

Here are our al fresco finds and recs for you!

1. Tröegs (Hershey, PA)

We happened upon Tröegs in a search for fresh air and a hydration station after one too many roller coaster rides. It wasn’t exactly part of the plan post-Hershey Park (we questioned ourselves too initially), but I’m glad we made this not-so-small pitstop. Tröegs Independent Brewing is quite the watering hole. Their outdoor seating area, with its pergola, greenery and serene view, is a sight at dusk, made 100 times better with a cold one in hand. Inside, long bar tables and stools place you right at the heart of the brewhouse within a massive tasting room. You can expect to spend a good chunk of the day there trying their selection of beers (try a tour!) and snacks. Their flatbread was amazing and perfect for sharing.

2. Millworks (Midtown Harrisonburg, PA)

Millworks brunch is just the bomb.com. Between the courtyard and their rooftop biergarten, you can really go from casual to romantic options while eating outside. The indoor dining space has industrial, rustic details and is enormous, with capacity for large groups or local special events. In fact, they host a variety of special events as well as artists and their work at their very own in-house studios. Your head is going to be in a swivel as soon as you step into those doors and you will be stuffed to your heart’s content when you leave.

3. Spring Gate Vineyard and Winery (Harrisburg, PA)

Spring Gate may just have it all. Wines, ciders, and beers within its expansive grounds. We were lucky to make it there early afternoon on a Friday and have the place almost all to ourselves, but that also meant that the party was far from getting started. At its peak, there’s live music, food trucks, plenty of outdoor seating and parking, but be sure to plan ahead to maximize your experience!

4. Ever Grain Brewing Company (Camp Hill, PA)

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Ever Grain is a casual warehouse-style spot with a good selection of beers, party games and food, care of their neighbor, Red Sky Cafe. We had their samples for a tasting of all their offerings and there was plenty to share among three people. Their staff was very accommodating too, even when we spilled some beer from the sheer weight of the tray – be very careful and save your drinks when carrying that thing!

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Like I said, I had no previous experience anywhere in PA before visiting this past year, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It felt a lot like being in Virginia when we drove around and explored with more of a Northeastern social culture.

Should you feel compelled to pay the Harrisburg area a visit, there are a few ways to do so and to make the most of your stay.

How to get there:

From Boston, I flew in from Boston Logan to BWI via Southwest and drove to Harrisburg with friends who were mostly coming in from the metro D.C. and VA area. I was fortunate to have that option. Our friends from New York City were conveniently able to take the train directly to Harrisburg PA. There is also a small airport in Harrisonburg itself that may be more convenient for a higher fares.

Where to stay:

Harrisburg seems to have a wide selection of hotels that range from affordable to commercial to boutique. Closer to the main downtown area is a Hilton Hotel, a Crowne Plaza, and City House Bed and Breakfast.  Since I was staying with a friend, I was based in Mechanicsburg for the weekend, a short 20 minute drive from downtown. It is a quaint area with more affordable lodging options if you’re trying to save on accommodations. If you’d prefer to check Harrisburg out on a day trip with family, it might make more sense to stay in the town of Hershey, where the park and a few family-centered destinations are located.

What to do:

If you’re like me and plan your adventures around food and drinks, Downtown Harrisburg has a growing and increasingly diverse scene. It is also fairly walkable, conducive to fun bar crawls with a crew. During the day, a stroll to Midtown Scholar Bookstore and Cafe, around Broad Street Market and along the river make for nice day time activities. For more of an adventure, the Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat takes you on a scenic tour of Harrisburg aboard a historic vessel itself. City Island Harrisburg is exactly what the name implies and is home to various tourist destinations such as a baseball stadium and a soccer stadium and a few businesses. Children and children at heart can also make a day trip (or longer if you wish!) out of Hershey Park.

Other Places to Eat or Drink:

Some key and notable destinations during our weekend in Harrisburg include Cafe Fresco (where we ate practically everything on the menu and loved it), The Brick Haus (taking the lumberjack shot is a must, hint: it comes with bacon!), and Sawyer’s (simply for its central location and outdoor bar and games + dancing).

Let me know in the comments if you have any other thoughts or want to link up! I referred a lot to the Explore HBG website and my local friend’s recommendations.

Thanks for reading!

x,

Valerie

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Why visit Harrisburg, PA? [A Weekend Trip: Highlights]

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When planning a visit to Pennsylvania, travelers often instinctively think of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh before considering its capital as a worthy destination. Now with a growing food, beverage, and art scene, and its own place in American history, Harrisburg and its surrounding areas are trying to prove that it can always be sunny this side of PA too.

“There has to be a story here.” A man, clearly very confused, stopped a group of seven women casually traveling as a pack in downtown Harrisburg. My college group of friends and I have been fortunate enough to reunite from various points of the US once a year. It started as an effort to visit one another no matter where we in the country we settled into. Four years in, and I’d say the efforts are going strong.

It was our dear PA-based resident’s turn to host for a long weekend. Our itinerary consisted of vineyard/brewery stops, Hershey Park, a scenic, historic stroll, and plenty of time to catch up. It turned out to be the perfect amount of activity and down time to suit the interests of a group our size.

Our home-base was in Mechanicsburg, a mere 20-minute drive from downtown Harrisburg. We were too early for the town’s Jubilee Day, “the  largest, longest-running, one-day street fair on the East Coast” (pennlive.com), but our weekend wasn’t short on memorable moments. We had amazing bites in all our food destinations, though I wouldn’t recommend poutine fries between rollercoaster stops at Hershey Park if you know what I mean.

Have you ever been around Harrisburg? I’ll share my recommendations particularly some must-try al fresco finds in the area in a post soon! Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or check out the Thrillist feature on Harrisburg or VisitPA for any Pennsylvania-related trip planning needs including free resources. Philly is definitely still on my list for my next time in Pennsylvania so I’ll have to make a return in the future. Feel free to link up with your post or favorite related links in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

x,

Valerie

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Planning a Trip to Paris in May [Paris Guide and Recommendations]

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With its steady stream of tourists and unmistaken popularity among travel wish lists worldwide, planning a trip to Paris can be exciting, and easily overwhelming. Every time I visit, there’s something new to discover, draw inspiration from, or rekindle a mix of emotions.

On my last trip to Paris, I was finally able to share it with the hubby. The expectations were certainly stacked high with this being Alex’s first international travel destination. I’m happy to report that it was well worth the hype and Alex, most surprising of all, is officially hooked.

If you’re planning a romantic/family-centered getaway to the City of Light, the City of Love, the fashion, art, and culture capital of the world, here are some tried and tested recommendations for you! And if you’ve been before, what would you add/second from this list?

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Getting there:

  • Kayak.com – as a gauge for prices, airlines, and good dates to go
  • AirFrance/Delta – this worked out well for us to and from Boston and, as airline partners, they offered an excellent SkyMiles rewards program

Where to stay:

  • Le Dokhan’s – a beautiful boutique hotel close to the Trocadero area that can be a destination in itself for its Champagne Bar and gorgeous LV-themed elevator
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees – right in the heart of the shopping center that is Champs Elysees and a few steps away from the Arc de Triomphe
  • A La Carte Paris Apartments – Paris apartment rentals you can match with your travel needs

Places to see:

Places to eat (al fresco guaranteed):

A glimpse at our week in Paris by the day (for an overview of the experience, check the highlights here):

  1. DAY 1 – Saturday: Getting Our Bearings. Exploring the neighborhood and leading with our noses. For us that meant brunch at Boulangeries Saveurs de Pains right beneath our apartment and exploring Les Marais. Place de Georges Pompidou was a short walk from there with lots of dinner options. We continued on with a family stroll to the nearby Notre Dame area, to the Louvre, before making our way back with our first metro ride of the trip.
  2. DAY 2 – Sunday: Take Me to Church. Appreciating grandiose architecture and history. We took an early stroll around Notre Dame and Saint Michel in our excitement for our first full day in the city. We toured the interior of Notre Dame before attending mass with their Gregorian choir. Sainte Chapelle was next – my favorite discovery on this trip! Then we headed to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre.
  3. DAY 3 – Monday: Bucketlist Item Complete. 1st day of Roland Garros Pre-qualifiers. Cheered for our hosts, the French players, and obviously the Americans 😉
  4. DAY 4 – Tuesday: A Family Affair. Sister’s Graduation at Théâtre de Paris and swanky after party at Cercle de l’Union Interalliée
  5. Day 5 – Wednesday: Relax and Recuperate. Window shopping along the Seine, Exploring the 7th arrondissement, Assemblée Nationale, rue de l’université, Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower, Bateaux Mouches River Cruise at night
  6. Day 6 – Thursday: To All the Glories of France. Day trip to Versailles
  7. Day 7 – Friday: The Possibilities are Endless. While the parents met with old friends and took a trip to Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny. I took Alex around the Latin Quarter, Jardin du Luxembourg, the Pantheon, then much later, Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and Jardins du Trocadero.
  8. Day 8 – Saturday: Do as the Locals Do. Visited my sister’s apartment and school. Got a sneak peek at a day in the life of a Parisienne, ending with a picnic at the neighborhood park around families and children playing pick-up football before bidding her au revoir.

It is so easy to keep coming back to favorites in Paris even when there’s so much more to say. In the spring time, it would take a rainy day and/or a lot of convincing to stand in lines for indoor monuments and pass up Paris glistening in the sun with all its appealing patios to try. There really isn’t a “wrong” way to do Paris if you do enough research and follow your heart (or your nose and hungry belly). It’s all about finding the balance to make it memorable for you and the company you’re with.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or anything to add. I referred a lot to the Paris Tourist Office, Time Out Paris, Fodors Travel (c/o our local library) and a variety of people’s recommendations (as well as my tested faves) over the years in planning this trip.

Thanks for reading!

x,

Valerie

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