Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies. That’s the mnemonic for the train stations for the eastern Main Line, Philadelphia’s western suburb of old money, great shopping, fine dining and outstanding schools. (FYI: It’s Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr; the western Main Line towns—Rosemont, Villanova, Radnor, St. Davids, Wayne, Stafford, Devon, Berwyn, Dayelsford, Paoli and Malvern—need to work on a new memory aid).
Made famous by the 1940s Kathryn Hepburn movie, The Philadelphia Story, the current TV series, Pretty Little Liars, and the backstories of Kobe Bryant and Tory Burch, this 15-mile stretch along Lancaster Avenue (Route 30) between Bala Cynwyd and Paoli got its name because it parallels the Pennsylvania Railroad’s former main rail line from Philadelphia to Chicago. Many railroad shareholders built lavish homes—often of stone and by famous architects—along this rail line and were followed by more of Philadelphia’s elite, until the area became “the” upscale place to live.
The best Main Line tour is to roam north of Lancaster Ave., a neighborhood full of estates, landscaped mansions, near-mansions and merely very, very big houses. Wander winding, tree-lined lanes and enjoy the scenery in an area where a GPS comes in handy—and Old, New, Upper and South Gulph Roads meet.
Look for Quaker meeting houses and historic burial grounds along with buildings by architect Frank Furness, like the Merion Cricket Club and The Baldwin School, both along Montgomery Avenue, running parallel and north of Lancaster Ave.
Other great Main Line pastimes are shopping and dining. Check out Lancaster Ave.’s assortment of unique boutiques, fashionable eateries and latest brewpubs—Bryn Mawr’s Tin Lizard Brewing, Berwyn’s La Cabra Brewing, Malvern’s Locust Lane Craft Brewery. From Bryn Mawr to Wayne to Malvern, there are plenty of shopping towns where you can park and browse from shop to shop. See more on these towns in “Stops Along the Main Line” and “Best of the Best” dining guide online.
Farther west in Devon, you’ll spot the light blue wall (know as Devon blue around here) of the Devon Horse Show Grounds, home to world-class and local equestrian shows. June and July host the Brandywine Valley Summer Series and September welcomes Dressage at Devon and Devon Fall Classic for more equestrian fun. DevonHorseShow.net; DressageAtDevon.org.
Afascinating aspect of life on the Main Line is the large number of private schools and colleges located here—about a dozen colleges, ranging from Bryn Mawr (Kathryn Hepburn’s alma mater) to Villanova University (home to great basketball). About 18 elite private schools and seven parochial schools are located here, too.
The most inviting campus is at Haverford College, on Lancaster Ave. Highlights of this picture-perfect campus setting include a popular 3-mile jogging path open to the public, 300 labeled trees in the 18-acre Pinetum (collection of living coniferous trees), a 3.5-acre pond attracting ducks and geese, and a well-used cricket field, home to the country’s only varsity cricket team.
Public gardens worth a visit in this leafy enclave include Chanticleer Garden, a former private residence in Wayne, now known as “a pleasure garden”; Jenkins Arboretum in Devon with its collection of native plants; and the Barnes Foundation Arboretum in Merion with specimen and rare plants. ChanticleerGarden.org; JenkinsArboretum.org; BarnesFoundation.org/Visit/Merion.
Wharton Esherick Museum
The last Main Line area stop is a special gem, the stunning home and studio of renowned artist and sculptor Wharton Esherick (1887-1970), who inspired the Studio furniture movement. The Wharton Esherick Museum is a National Historic Landmark for Architecture, housing 50 years of work.
Esherick’s hilltop studio/residence has been preserved much as it was when he lived and worked there, with over 200 works displayed: paintings, woodcuts, prints, sculpture, furniture and more. The dramatic spiral stairway is a piece of sculpture in itself! Tues–Sun. Horseshoe Trail, Malvern. Virtual tours on the website. WhartonEsherickMuseum.org.
Visit Valley Forge
Get a stamp on your National Parks Passport at our final stop. Perhaps the best-known site associated with the American Revolution, Valley Forge National Historical Park is a living monument to the men of George Washington’s ragged Continental Army that survived the 1777–78 winter encampment and became a victorious force.
Nearly 3,600-acres, the Park is a tangible reminder of the significance of the area, filled with preserved landscapes and period structures, like the 1851 Knox Covered Bridge and the Washington Memorial Chapel, know as the “shrine of the American people.” Visit Washington’s Headquarters, the original stone building was where General Washington plotted his strategy against the British. You’ll also find reconstructed soldiers’ huts, fortifications and cannons.
The Valley Forge Historical Society Museum displays one of the largest collections of George Washington and Revolutionary War artifacts, while the Visitors Center offers maps, self-guided driving tours, ranger-led walking tours, trolley tours, podcasts and more.
TIP: Find one of the special benches in the Park to hear a riveting story about the encampment by the Once Upon a Nation Storytellers, at 11 and 4, through August 19.
Nature is mixed with history and 75 miles of interconnected trails, including 20 miles in the Park, perfect for jogging, running, biking and horseback riding. With plenty of open space and picnic areas, the Park is perfect for families and summer days filled with soaking up the sunshine along with a little history.
Join the community picnic on July 4th for a cookout, artillery demos and a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Park grounds are open year-round, dawn to dusk. Days and times vary by attraction. ValleyForge.org.
Destination Towns Worth a Detour
Eagleview Town Center
With its “live, work, play” ethos, Eagleview has entertainment—summer concerts, movie nights, festivals, farmers market, "Beauty and the Beast"—and dining, adding a sixth spot on its Restaurant Row, the latest offering sushi and scheduled for a summer opening.
Charming, historic Kennett Square is worth a stop. Visit First Friday Art Strolls, weekly farmers markets, The Creamery Beer Garden, and shopping and dining on State Street on Third Thursdays—yes, tables come out on the street. And return for the Mushroom Festival in September.
King of Prussia Mall & KOP Town Center
The upscale KOP Mall got a major facelift, adding even more haute shops and hip dining options, like Kevin Sbraga’s The Fat Ham. Nearby KOP Town Center is a live-work-play community and dining hub with more places opening every month, from casual Naf Naf Grill to elegant Davio’s.
A small Victorian town with big charm, Malvern continues to evolve. King Street is a great place to sip, shop and stroll on third Thursdays for the Malvern Stroll. Browse everything from art, furniture, clothing, gifts and food, plus a collection of outdoor murals.
The big draw in Media is Dining Under the Stars on Wednesday nights during warm months. State Street, where a trolley still runs, is the site of most shopping and dining, along with the iconic Media Theatre.
Phoenixville combines an artistic vibe and a neighborly spirit with excitement and entertainment emanating from the expanded Colonial Theatre. Stroll down Bridge Street for shopping, lively music, a surprisingly varied restaurant row, plus a growing beer, wine and spirits scene.
A quintessential Main Line town, Wayne is more than a strip along Lancaster Avenue. Check out boutiques, eateries and shops—including a bookstore! Head west of town to walkable Eagle Village Shops to see what’s new at The Barn at Valley Forge Flowers.
A Great American Main Street award winner, West Chester boasts a university, plus historic buildings housing 75 upscale shops and 64 dining destinations. Gay and Market Streets are parallel and filled with places for browsing. A favorite place to while away some time.