Hi everyone! I hope you had a wonderful weekend! I was lucky enough to take a walk on the beach with my mom in Point Pleasant. It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 months since Hurricane Sandy ravaged our shores, but there is a lot of great progress on our beaches and boardwalks to get ready for the fast approaching summer season.
While the Jersey Shore is a popular destination for tourists of all ages, another great spot to visit is Lancaster, PA. Having a reputation as boring and horrible – sentiments I heard from my boyfriend’s brother last time we spoke about it – Lancaster may not be the first choice on your list for a weekend getaway. But let me assure you that it is quite the opposite!
This is what most people imagine when thinking of Lancaster: farmland, Amish homesteads, and more farmland. This is half-true. Lancaster (also called Pennsylvania Dutch Country), located about 1.5-2.5 hours southwest of New Jersey, is perfect for a weekend getaway. My mother and I visit 3-4 times per year to get away from the stresses of home, eat/buy some great food, and partake in some fantastic shopping. Interestingly most people think we are nuts for visiting so often, but there is so much to do and see that we have a new experience each time.
Let’s start with where to stay. Right outside of Lancaster County’s farmland is the city of Lancaster and Lincoln Highway. This is where you find most of the shopping and entertainment. Two hotels that have stood out as comfortable, clean, and affordable are the Holiday Inn Express and Wingate by Wyndham.
The Holiday Inn is located in the middle of the Rockvale Outlets on Lincoln Highway. With spacious rooms, comfortable beds, and an outdoor pool, this hotel is good for shoppers and parents with children. There are a lot of dining options available within walking distance and shops are only steps away. The only drawback I experienced over the last few years is that tour buses typically have their people stay there. Booking last-minute with the Holiday Inn Express is usually difficult.
Since I ran into those problems the last few times we visited, my mother and I switched to Wingate by Wyndham, which is a few miles away from the Rockvale Outlets. This hotel has quickly become my favorite in Lancaster, and for the price I don’t think you can get a better deal. This hotel is good for visitors of all ages AND gives you free breakfast (can’t argue with that). The rooms are spacious and clean, the beds are super comfortable, there is a large indoor hot tub, and kids have access to the indoor water park located at the hotel next door. Now, that I will not vouch for because I have never tried it out and frankly, the other hotel looks a little sketchy. If you would like to read more about Wingate, read my tripadvisor review here.
So you know where Lancaster is and where to stay, but now what to do? I have put together a list of activities ranging from shopping, site-seeing, eating, and even thrill-seeking. Get your camera and cooler ready!
- Kitchen Kettle Village – This little village has become a large tourist attraction for most visitors. It boasts over 40 shops, restaurants, and galleries. A few of my favorite stops are The Jam and Relish Kitchen, The Sassy Spoon, Lancaster Yarn Shop (very expensive), The Smokehouse Shop, and Girls Day Out. There are also some shops along the streets around Kitchen Kettle Village that are worth checking out. Other attractions are AAA Buggy Rides and the live band that plays in front of The Jam and Relish Kitchen.
- Rockvale Outlets – Admittedly, these outlets used to have a much larger choice of shops but there are still some great finds. The best thing about this plaza is the large range of dining options: Ruby Tuesday, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, and other fast food choices. Also, the Holiday Inn Express is in this plaza and hot air balloon companies usually use this area as a launch site.
- Tanger Outlets – These outlets are part of a larger national chain of outlet malls. There are more mall-like outlets featured here with stores such as Bath & Body Works, Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, Fossil, and many others. This plaza lends itself more to shoppers looking for name brand apparel.
- Old Candle Barn – Located across the parking lot from Kitchen Kettle Village, this old barn houses lots of handmade candles, home decor, and trinkets. Years ago, the candle-making facility used to be open to the public but I am not sure about its current status. It’s a little cramped inside during peak season, but it is definitely worth the time to look around.
- King’s Homestead – This furniture store is one of my favorites. My mother bought a lot of our furniture from Les, the owner, more than ten years ago and it still looks fantastic. Not far from Kitchen Kettle Village, this store sits on beautiful farmland and offers outdoor and indoor furniture, home decor, candles, artwork, and quilts, among many other items. The staff is wonderful and very helpful. I think they also offer home delivery service depending on your location. Honestly, I used to hate coming to this store as a kid because my mom could spend hours looking around, but the big payoff was the large fish pond and swans on the side of the property. Equipped with fish food dispensers, the fish pond could offer some old-fashioned child-friendly entertainment for kids who have had enough of shopping.
- The Outhouse – For those looking for a little relief from home, food, and clothing shopping this is the place to visit. The Outhouse is really just one big fart joke. Filled with a wide array of gag and non-gag gift, there is plenty to see here. I admit that the allure wears off after you’ve been here a few times but it’s always entertaining to see new-comers fall prey to the staff’s practical jokes or use the restroom for the first time (you’ll see what I mean). There are some other stores around this area worth checking out too. If you poke around the windmill store located behind the outhouse you can sample some shoo-fly pie, but I assure you it’s not the best.
Foodie Activities – Warning: I am a complete foodie and get extremely excited over fresh and delicious food. Just wanted to prepare you for the usage of caps lock. 🙂
- September Farm – This place is one of my favorite finds EVER! Located outside of Lancaster County, this is a great place to visit on your way home. If you haven’t clicked on the link yet, I’m going to go ahead and kill the anticipation for you. IT’S A CHEESE FARM! THEY MAKE FRESH CHEESE EVERY DAY! The awe, beauty, and grandeur of freshly made cheese makes everything more wonderful. If I could, I would change my website to sun, sand, saltwater, and CHEESE. Because it’s delicious, of course. But coming back from that derailment, I want to strongly urge you to visit this farm. There are tons of different types of cheeses to sample and buy, including my personal favorite cheddar cheese curds. This is also a great place for kids to go so they can see the process of how cheese is made.
- Stoltzfus Meats & Deli – I always look forward to stopping here on each visit. This market is just like a local grocery, except BETTER! They make their own jerky, meat sticks, ring bologna, sausages, cheese spreads, soups, lard (for the paleo lovers out there), desserts, and much more. There’s something about little markets that get me so excited. Also, the free samples are wonderful (You’ll see that Lancaster County is the world capital of free samples). Attached to the market is a little restaurant with a wide array of sandwiches and snacks. I urge you to taste the chicken corn soup because it is fabulous. This place is usually what ends up filling my cooler, well what’s left of it after my cheese binge at September Farm.
- Miller’s Smorgasbord – This is not a trick. I really want you to avoid this place like the plague. It’s an over-priced, over-crowded, over-hyped buffet that just isn’t good. It’s just a small selection of bland food in a nice building. Tour buses are attracted to it like flies to, well you know.
- Hershey Farm Restaurant – This is one of the better buffets in the area. While tour buses come here too, there is a large selection of food for a reasonable price. There is a nice variety of food featuring more traditional Pennsylvania Dutch entrees. Also, it is a good alternative to the typical american dining options around Lincoln Highway.
- Intercourse Pretzel Factory – Located in the Cross Keys plaza, the Intercourse Pretzel Factory is a little pretzel shop that offers free tours and pretzel-making tutorials. Kids and adults will enjoy learning about the process of making a pretzel from beginning to end and get to practice spinning the perfect pretzel.
- Turkey Hill Experience – A relatively new offering in the Lancaster area, the Turkey Hill Experience allows visitors to tour the ice cream factory, sample some ice cream, and (I’ve heard) make your own ice cream. I haven’t tried this out yet, but as soon as I do I will amend this post. There is an admission charge but there are coupons available.
- Kitchen Kettle Village Jam and Relish Kitchen – I know I’ve already mentioned Kitchen Kettle Village, but the Jam and Relish Kitchen is an attraction all its own. Come with your appetites ready because there are TONS and TONS of things to sample: Salsa, relish, jams, jellies, dips, butters, pickles, pickled veggies, and fruit curds. Be very conscious of the time of day you visit this store because it can get very crowded and very frustrating. Imagine at least a hundred people pushing around to get a little sample of everything. I know, horrifying. So that being said, try to come early in the day or before closing to avoid the crowds. More than just sampling, the Kitchen shows staff actively making and canning the product of the day and offers a kid’s corner where they can frost a gingerbread figure with icing bags.
- Lancaster Canning Company – Similar to the Jam and Relish Kitchen in the Kitchen Kettle Village, the Canning Company is located across from Stoltzfus. Sometimes I find their inventory to be a bit more pricey than Kitchen Kettle, but not by much. Also they have a small selection of pickled and flavored pickled eggs, which the Kitchen is lacking.
- Lancaster Beer & Wine Gallery – Tour buses also frequent this location but it usually isn’t too overwhelming. The Gallery offers many wines and beers that are made locally. There is a wine tasting area downstairs and a small cafe upstairs for light snacks and beer tasting. I recommend tasting the ice wine (if you like sweet) and Becky’s Blush (mom’s favorite).
- Bird In Hand Farmer’s Market – Depending on the day and time you will be in the area, you might catch this market open and thriving. Selling everything from spices and nuts to fresh fruits and vegetables, the Bird-in-Hand Farmer’s Market is a nice place to walk around. If the merchandise doesn’t entice you to buy, the scents coming from the pastry and bread stands should tickle your fancy. More importantly, across the street you will find the most delicious bakery EVER. Really. I include it here because I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but they have the best shoo-fly pie in Lancaster County. That should be reason enough to visit!
- Lancaster Central Farmer’s Market – This is another location I have yet to visit. I saw it on this great farmer’s market documentary (yes, they exist and yes, I watched it) and it looks like a lot of fun!
- Dutch Wonderland – What’s a theme park doing in the middle of Lancaster? Well, it serves as leverage to drag your kids along with you to do some major shopping. While it’s no Six Flags, Dutch Wonderland has a fair amount of thrill and kiddie rides to appease even the biggest whiner. Also, it was featured on an episode of John and Kate Plus Eight. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing, but for my purposes let’s say good!
- Hot Air Ballooning – My mother took me hot air ballooning here more than ten years ago and I still remember the beauty and serenity of floating above lush farmlands as the sun rose. While I linked a specific company, I do not remember who we chose to ride with. Regardless of who you hire, this is a must do.
- Lapp’s Coach Shop – Located across from Kitchen Kettle Village, Lapp’s Coach Shop is a very traditional Amish shop. I was never overly impressed with their furniture or merchandise but this is a great place to get a feel for Amish living, culture, and industry.
- American Music Theater – Another location I am meaning to go, American Music Theater is located across from Rockvale Outlets and features an array of shows. I have read that they have a lovely Christmas show and look forward to trying it out this winter!
So there you have it. There is a lot to do in Lancaster! If you’ve done any research about the area, you’ll notice that I have left out most of the Amish tourist areas. This is purposeful for multiple reasons, but mostly because I believe that some of these attractions are exploiting the cultural beliefs of the Amish and they are quite pricey. For everything else I missed, please visit the Lancaster County website here. And if you visit and decide that you hated it and wasted your weekend, Hershey Park is just an hour away. 🙂