Where to Eat, Drink, Shop and Stay in Lancaster City
by Melissa Jacobs
Portions of this story are sponsored content.
Need a weekend getaway that’s close to Philadelphia but far enough to feel like a vacation? Grab your friends or your sweetie and head to Lancaster, PA. Yes, Lancaster. Dutch Wonderland, the Strasburg Rail Road and the other family-friendly attractions are still great fun. But the city itself has a sophisticated, vibrant arts, food and culture scene. If you haven’t been since you were little (or your kids were), it’s time to rediscover Lancaster.
Where To Stay
Thanks to a recent $40 million renovation, the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square has modern amenities and a swank décor. The lobby’s design befits that of a five star hotel and is perfect for casual hangouts and corporate meetings. Rooms are generously sized and completely sound proofed, plus the beds and showers are excellent. Parking is easy and affordable in the lot adjacent to the hotel. Plus, the Marriott at Penn Square is in the heart of Lancaster City with plenty of hot spots within walking distance of the hotel.
Where To Eat
Opened inside the Marriott in 2019, Plough is an upscale farm-to-table restaurant. Here, farm to table isn’t a long journey. Ingredients from Lancaster-area farms star in starters like roasted squash toast with whipped ricotta, pumpkin seed and sage-black pepper honey. Plough’s cheese plate – featuring hard and soft cheeses, fresh jam and locally-made honey with toasted, housemade bread – is the best we’ve had in years.
Chef Ryan McQuillan’s winter entrées feature seasonal comfort food like braised short ribs with smoked gouda mash, bacon apple jam, shaved squash and carrot salad. Roasted chicken with sausage, fennel, sweet potato, apple and bread pudding are upscale versions of the Lancaster Country classics. One of our favorites: the Plough burger, made with Eleven Oaks Farm wagyu beef, Cooper sharp cheese and house made sauce on a brioche bun. Save room for the housemade desserts (the dark chocolate brownie is insane) and the creative cocktails.
Where To Drink
The 12-story Marriott’s tiara is a swank rooftop bar called The Exchange. Fire pits, cozy couches, amazing views of the city and an upscale décor make The Exchange feel like a VIP lounge. Sliders, skewers and other shareables are as interesting as the cocktails. Try the brown butter sage old fashioned, father knows best (vanilla-infused Knob Creek rye with root beer reduction) or one of the wines, beers or ciders.
What To Do
Renovated and reopened in September 2021, Fulton Theatre is steps away from the Marriott and features a full roster of shows, including newer dramas like Fun Home and classic musicals like Man of La Mancha. Get tickets before you go and, if you have the kids in tow, check out Fulton’s family-friendly shows.
Lancaster Central Market is packed with vendors offering the best produce, meat, cheese, baked goods, flowers and condiments in the region. Start with joe from Lancaster County Coffee Roasters and juice from Central Market Juice Company, then dive into Amish Family Recipes and Lancaster Distilleries, Christina’s Criollo, Empanada Gourmet and Saife’s Middle Eastern Food.
Shop the boutiques on the 300 block of N. Queen St. in the heart of Lancaster City. New and vintage clothes, locally-made crafts, jewelry, and a fabulous record store are among the great finds.
Check out the vibrant, interesting contemporary artists showing their work on Lancaster’s Gallery Row. If you’re not there on a First Friday or a Saturday, make appointments to see the work of Lancaster artists Christiane David, Freiman Stoltzfus and Liz Hess. You won’t be disappointed.
After seeing historical markers everywhere, we finally got wise to Lancaster City’s rich Black history. Turns out, Lancaster held pivotal stops along the Underground Railroad. That and more is detailed in comprehensive, compelling African-American Heritage Tours run by the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania.
We think of Philadelphia as a mural city, but Lancaster also has a vibrant mural scene. Contemporary artists have created public art filled with color, themes and contemporary artists. (This one courtesy of Lancaster Simple Life.)
Side Trip: Kitchen Kettle Village
Drive home via the back roads (aka Old Philadelphia Pike) so you can stop at Kitchen Kettle Village, an outdoor shopping village with more than 40 shops and eateries to explore.
The Jam & Relish Kitchen, owned by Kitchen Kettle’s founders Pat and Bob Burnley, is a little piece of Lancaster heaven – and smells like it, thanks to the in-store bakery and canning kitchen.
Waltz Vineyards has a wonderful tasting room (with free samples), and we loved the handmade quilts and home décor pieces at Village Handmade. Lancaster Yarn Shop is worth a visit, as is the fun and fashionable women’s boutique Girls Day Out.