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Road Trip! Destination: Philadelphia

| Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

With attractions such as The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall on their must-see list, many visitors treat Philadelphia like a historical theme park that celebrates the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Those who fail to venture beyond the core area between the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall are missing out.

Surrounding those historic sites is a sophisticated East Coast city with an abundance of entertainment, dining options and shops with distinctive offerings.

Before you consign Philadelphia to the "Been there, done that" bin, you might want to widen your focus with a second look.

Inspiring

Even repeat visitors unlikely are to have seen all of the more than two dozen historic sites that are part of Independence National Historic Park. The portrait gallery in the Second Bank of the United States or Christ Church, for example, is a meticulously maintained 18th-century place of worship where Benjamin Franklin and some signers of the Declaration of Independence were among the congregation. Do-it-yourself visitors can pick up an area map at the Independence National Historic Park and Visitors Center at Sixth and Market streets to explore on their own. Details: 800-537-7676 or www.independencevisitorcenter.com .

If you'd rather have others lead the way, purchase a spot on The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia. Their 75-minute walking tour conducts visitors to more than 20 historic sites. Guided tours begin at the National Constitution Center, Fifth and Arch streets. Details: 215-525-1776 or www.theconstitutional.com .

Provocative

For 35 years, Philadelphia Theatre Company has been introducing audiences to innovative new plays by living American playwrights. Now in a new home -- The Suzanne Roberts Theatre -- the company's season begins Oct. 14 with John Logan's "Red." Details: 215-985-0420 or www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org .

Appetizing

The cheese steak war is waged 24/7 at the triangle where East Passayunk Ave. intersects with Wharton and South Ninth streets in South Philadelphia, where Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks face off. Both have supporters who are loyal to one or the other of these long, crusty rolls filled with thinly sliced beef and fried onions covered in your choice of Cheez Whiz, melted provolone or American cheese. Each line is long, but moves swiftly. Plan your order before you reach the window. Those who dither over details are not tolerated. That's part of the mystique. Details: Pat's King of Steaks, 215-468-1546 or www.patskingofsteaks.com ; Geno's Steaks, 215-389-0659 or www.genosteaks.com .

Suspenseful

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (532 N. Seventh St.) Poe spent his most creative years in Philadelphia, composing tales such as "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "Murders in the Rue Morgue." Choose between self-guided and ranger led tours. Watch an 8-minute presentation on Poe's life and explore exhibits on Poe's life, work and influence on artists such as Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock. Details: 215- 597-8780 or www.nps.gov/edal .

Inviting

If you can't find someplace to eat or drink in the South Street Headhouse District, you're probably not hungry or thirsty. In which case, you can always go shopping. With more than 300 stores, nightclubs and restaurants, many of which stay open until midnight or later, this bustling area is the place to go. South Street between Front and 11th streets is the district's center. But the action extends to surrounding streets. Details: 215-413-3713 or www.southstreet.com .

Enlightening

Covering 25,000 square feet and three-and-a-half floors, the National Museum of American Jewish History encourages visitors to explore more than 350 years of Jewish life in America through evocative objects, personal stories and interactive media. The exhibit explores how and when Jews immigrated to America, the choices they faced, the challenges they confronted. It highlights the religious, social, political and economic lives of American Jews. Details: 215-923-3811 or nmajh.org .

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