Secretly Local: Four ways to get the most out of Harrisburg, PA (by feeling like you live there)
As any Go Girl knows, the key to an amazing trip is really getting to know a destination and its local personality, rather than just the hot spots on the tourist map. Yet how possible would it be to find these things during a short visit in a new town? If you keep your ears to the ground, it might just be easier than you expect.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is an adorable small town that the Go Girl team recently visited in partnership with the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Tourism Bureau. In just 48 hours, we snuck around looking for the local favorites in order to get the most out of Harrisburg. Here’s what we found:
1. Bike the narrow, tree-lined streets of residential Harrisburg
Jump on a bike taxi and ask him or her to take you around to his/her favorite spots. Wind through alleyways and past gardens; places that a car would never let you go. When we hopped in the cab of local bike taxi driver Josh, we knew we were in for a treat. Not only was it an amazing way to get a comprehensive view of the city in a short period of time, but avoiding main roads and staying on the less-busy streets gave us up-close and personal interactions with neighbors gardening, playing with their kids and lounging on their porch.
2. Get an iced coffee in a mason jar at Little Amps. That’s what Josh did.
If you’re taking advantage of your bike taxi driver, the least you can do is invite him in for a drink when you stop at locally owned Little Amps. But pay close attention to what he orders. In our case, Josh went right to the front and asked for a unique iced coffee served in a mason jar. Having just ordered (and begun sipping on) some herbal teas, we all simultaneously smacked our foreheads. If we had only known that there was a cool local concoction, we would have pounced on it in a second. Keep your eyes open.
3. Find the immigrant community.
In our case, it was Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe in Midtown.The walls are lined with images of the Italian-American owners throughout various decades of their life. The showcases are filled with fresh loaves of bread, flat mozzarella-stacked pizzas, creamy gelato and colorful cookies. After speaking briefly with the young man serving us, we found out that he was the owners’ son, and that they return to southern Italy every year to visit family. One man munched on a sandwich in the corner while we talked. This, I thought to myself, this is America.
4. Hit up a local event at the Midtown Scholar.
The Midtown Scholar is a bookstore empire owned by Harrisburg’s mayor. It’s also an incredible community center with events and activities throughout the week. On May 22nd, they hosted a presentation from the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Network with a discussion about a special exhibit called “Our Voices” that was hung in the Scholar’s second floor balcony. On other nights, the Scholar hosts coffeehouse music and other events. On the third Friday of each month, they participate in the city-wide “3rd in the Burg” events where local participants host gallery receptions, music, comedy troupes, and other activities.
It’s not hard to find the local when you travel, and in small cities like Harrisburg it permeates the very ground you walk on. But in case you have a hard time, look for the hidden cues: invite your bike taxi driver in for a drink, ask about the local institutions, and make sure you find some immigrant-owned facilities. You’ll be surprised how deeply immersed into the local community you may become.
Editor’s note: This post was written after the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau took us on a trip of their beloved towns of Hershey and Harrisburg. Our opinions are our own and we stand by them! For more information, see our disclosure statement.