Off the Beaten Path

Most every Sunday evening, especially in the warmer months, we take a “mini vacation.” We’ll load up the kids in our old VW van, drive to one of our favorite parks, eat a picnic dinner and play. We may choose a spot with a creek, especially on those blistering summer days. Or we might visit a playground where the kids can swing, slide and climb to their hearts’ content. Wherever we end up, there’s lots of greenery, (relative) quiet, and space. These “family dates” refresh our spirits.

Looking for a reset yourself? Check out one of the following options below. I’ve included six of our favorite outdoor locations, each with distinct features that highlight the variety of activities Lancaster County has to offer. This is only a starting place: our area is FULL of gorgeous settings in which to bike, hike, and climb (or…relax). So get going. There are plenty of activities to enjoy off the beaten path, even here in an area that boasts bustling tourist attractions.

For the Younger Set – Amos Herr Park

While this park features basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, baseball and soccer fields, and pavilions for picnicking, our favorite part is the play area for kids. Perfect for kids 12 and under, it boasts a zipline in addition to all of the typical playground accoutrements (like swings and slides). Our little ones love the play structures, which give a nod to Lancaster County farm life and include a barn, schoolhouse, silo and tractor. Trees surround the park, and if you happen to find that golden moment when your kids are playing contentedly, there are an array of benches where parents can sit, all within eyesight of the little ones.

Or Check Out: Daniel’s Den Playground in Lancaster; Jaycee Park or King Swings in Strasburg (just down the road if you’re staying at The Carriage House and need a spot to let the kids run off some steam)

Creek Stompin’ – Wolf’s Hollow County Park

This park is located in Chester County, but it’s not even 20 minutes from The Carriage House at Strasburg, so it’s a great option for our guests. The Octoraro Creek winds through the nearly 600 acres of wooded forest and open meadows. Enjoy 10 miles of hiking trails (from moderate to challenging) lined with Pennsylvania mountain laurel, or sit at one of the picnic tables and have a snack. The shallow creek is just the right size for small explorers (dogs or kids!) to get wet.

Or Check Out: Silver Mine Park in Conestoga; Paradise Community Park in Paradise

Take a Hike – Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve

The Tucquan Glen Loop Trail is a moderately challenging, 2.6 mile hike featuring forested terrain, creeks and even a waterfall. You’ll find an occasional clearing just right for a picnic and catch a glimpse of the Susquehanna River from parts of the trail. It offers a real taste of Pennsylvania beauty, from the native plants below to the hawks flying high above (punctuated by the sound of the creek flowing in the background). But take note, you won’t find a restroom here and parking is limited so your hike may include some extra mileage depending on where you leave your vehicle!

Or Check Out: Turkey Hill Overlook Trail in Conestoga; Mill Creek Falls in York

Ticket to Ride – Northwest Lancaster County River Trail

This 14-mile trail follows the route of the historic Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, connecting Columbia, Marietta, Bainbridge and Falmouth. Though the condition of the trail varies, we appreciate the easily traveled segment near the trailhead at Columbia River Park. The paved path is free from inclines, so the kids can ride easily (and my husband can haul a few little ones in our bike trailer with relative ease). Additionally, various historical remains dot the trail, from old canal locks to the quarry at Billmeyer. Many of these sites include educational plaques, so you can learn about the past while riding, jogging, or walking in the present. Additionally, Marietta is home to several riverside pubs and restaurants, easily accessible from the trail (we recommend the Railroad House Inn or McCleary’s Public House).

Or Check Out: Conewago Recreation Trail; Enola Low Grade Trail

Check out the View – Pinnacle Scenic Overlook

If you’re looking for a spectacular view of the Susquehanna River, this is the spot. Though captivating in any season, we think it’s the perfect place to visit in the fall when the brilliant autumn foliage is on display. The Pinnacle Overlook sits high above the western side of the river, and it’s just a short walk from the parking lot. Though you won’t get much exercise walking to the overlook, there are ample hiking opportunities nearby, including the Mason-Dixon Trail and Mill Creek Falls.

Or Check Out: Chickies Rock Overlook Trail

For the Wildlife Enthusiast – Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

If you time it right, you can experience the amazing site of an estimated 100,000 snow geese on the lake at Middle Creek, along with tundra swans and other waterfowl. The birds typically migrate late February to early April in the spring and October to early November in the fall. However, it’s best to check the Pennsylvania Game Commission website for information on annual migrating trends (they post frequent updates with approximate numbers of various species during peak season). The walk to the lake isn’t strenuous, and the visitor’s center is top notch so it’s an enjoyable and informative venture for all ages. Make sure to hit up nearby Fox Meadows Creamery on your way home for some of the best homemade ice cream in the area.

Or Check Out: The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania in Lititz

Travel Tips

Don’t forget your bug spray, sunscreen and drinking water! Beyond that, we’ve found the following to be helpful:

  1. Bring an extra bag for stashing muddy clothes or removing trash
  2. Pack Food, utensils and a picnic blanket (a necessity, if you have a bunch of kids like us)
  3. Throw in towels and/or a change of clothes (especially if you’re planning to get wet)
  4. Do a quick google search of the closest emergency center and keep your phone charged, just in case
  5. Always do a tick-check after spending time outdoors

We hope you enjoy your outdoor adventures this season. Comment below with your favorite parks, trails, and preserves in Lancaster County. We’d love to find some new favorites!

Foodie Favorites, Part 2

As a follow-up to my last post, which highlighted places to eat in Strasburg, local cafes, and where to get your fill of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, here are our top picks for ethnic cuisine and fine dining restaurants in the area. We’ll conclude this series in a few weeks with the pubs and breweries we recommend, plus our go-to spots to satisfy your sweet tooth. While we enjoy a meal out, we certainly haven’t explored all of the options available in Lancaster County, so please comment below with YOUR favorites! Of note, each of the restaurants listed in this post are located in nearby Lancaster City.

Ethnic Cuisine

Sprout

Sprout offers authentic Vietnamese cuisine for a casual lunch or dinner. Fresh and tasty!

Citronnelle

A chic and intimate little French BYOB restaurant located in the heart of Downtown Lancaster City. Their dishes are classically prepared yet modern with global influences from Asia and Africa.

The Himalayan Curry and Grill

Offers deliciously authentic Nepalase and Indian Cuisine. Call ahead…the restaurant is SMALL, but well worth making a reservation!

Luca Italian Kitchen

Luca showcases a wood-burning hearth and handmade Neapolitan oven where pizzas, simple roast meats and seafoods are prepared, along with handmade pastas, antipasto and Italian beverages. Call ahead for a reservation here as it’s become a local hotspot!

Fine Dining

Checkers Bistro

With a blend of French, Asian, and American cuisines, the seasonal menu at Checkers showcases dishes that are both deliciously surprising and elegant. The restaurant is well-known for it’s support of local food purveyors and farmers.

John J. Jeffries

The menu at John J. Jeffries changes throughout the season in harmony with the harvest. You’ll always find some variation of grassfed beef, responsibly sourced seafood and organic veggies. An enjoyable experience for both the steak lover and vegetarian alike!

Ma(i)son

An intimate, farm-driven restaurant where everything is homemade with intention. Think local pork, perfectly prepared vegetables and comforting cassoulets and gnocchi. The menu changes weekly to include the finest, freshest foods our county has to offer.

Let us know your favorite ethnic and fine dining restaurants below!


Foodie Favorites

With five little ones at home, Jeremy and I relish the opportunity to get out for a date night. There’s nothing like catching up over a leisurely meal of well-crafted, local food! We’re self-proclaimed foodies, and we rarely eat at the same place twice. Lancaster County boasts an abundance of delicious options for all tastes, stemming from its rich farming background and cultural diversity. Listed below are a few of our favorite spots to eat in Strasburg, the top restaurants to visit for traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods, and a few local cafes and brunch options we recommend. There’s a lot of good food in our area, so this is by no means a comprehensive list! Stay tuned for our next dining post where we’ll highlight our top choices for ethnic cuisine and fine dining in the area.

Dining in Strasburg

Speckled Hen Coffee Shop & Kitchen
Speckled Hen features craft coffee, espresso, tea and a delicious array of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. They specialize in artisan foods that are fresh and simple. Try: the desserts (the lemon cheesecake is a rich treat!), the fair-trade coffee, and handcrafted lattes with house-made syrups

Strasburg Creamery
With over 140 rotating flavors made in house (and homemade waffle cones!!!), you won’t want to miss this local gem. Check out the adjoined gift and candy shoppe for unique souvenirs. Try: The rotating seasonal icecream flavors

Fireside Tavern
Enjoy cozy, tavern style dining with all the traditional pub favorites. Try: the burgers or crabcakes

  • Also located in Strasburg (most within walking distance of The Carriage House) – Strasburg Winery, Pizza City, Smokestack BBQ, Isaac’s Deli

Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking

To be honest, homestyle Pennsylvania Dutch cooking is not our thing. However, If you love a hearty family-style dinner topped off with homemade pie, check out nearby Millers Smorgasbord, Dienner’s Country Restaurant, or Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant. Perhaps the most “famous” of these family-style eateries is Shady Maple Smorgasbord. If you’re not from the area and you want to try scrapple, ham loaf, apple butter, or shoo-fly pie (and a host of other traditional Dutch foods), it’s a must-visit! With an all-you-can-eat buffet that’s over 200 feet long, you won’t leave hungry.

Cafes and Brunch Spots

Prince Street Cafe (Lancaster, PA)
Open 7 days a week, 6:30 am to 11 pm, Prince Street Cafe is one of the few cafes in Lancaster County with early morning and late night hours. And you’re in luck—their coffee is wonderful (from Passenger Coffee Roasters, which is located just around the corner) and their handcrafted soups, sandwiches and salads are delicious. Try: a scratch-made latte, nutella sandwich cookie, or cali egg wrap

Square One Cafe (Lancaster, PA)
Square One is an award-winning micro-roaster of specialty coffee based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You won’t find much to eat here, but if you’re a coffee connoisseur, you’re in for a treat!

Goldie’s Bakery (Lancaster, PA)
Goldie’s serves Square One Coffee alongside their amazing, house-made baked goods and breakfast and lunch items. Buy something to go from their bakery on your way out! Try: The “bird nests” (shredded potato nests served with a variety of savory breakfast toppings).

Tomato Pie Cafe (Lititz, PA)
This urban style eatery in the “best small town in America” offers a fresh menu with both sweet and savory options. The owners take pride in seasonal specials and are committed to “flavor excellence”. A great stop for breakfast, dessert, or a sandwich with flair. Try: the tomato pie—just trust us

Slate Cafe (Lititz, PA)
Started by twin sisters with a passion for coffee and community, Slate is the perfect spot for a simple, healthy breakfast. Try: the seasonal scramble and a pastry

  • Other favorites include Zig’s Bakery & Cafe (Lititz–everything is made from scratch with the finest local ingredients), Cafe One Eight (Lancaster City–try the espresso milkshake!), On Orange (Lancaster City — a breakfast favorite), and the nearby Lampeter Cafe (Lampeter–homemade comfort foods at a great price point).

 

Let us know your favorite restaurant in Strasburg, a PA Dutch treat you can’t do without, or a local cafe you enjoy below!