My boyfriend (Will) and I were living in Virginia and searching for jobs. We decided to move wherever the first person got a decent job. Will was the first to get job offers: the middle of nowhere Kentucky, the middle of nowhere Ohio, or Lancaster, PA.
None of these sounded particularly appealing since we had never heard of them, but Lancaster seemed like it could be a neat place. It was briefly the capitol of the United States (for one day) during the Revolutionary War and seemed to be known for its Amish population.
We took the bait; Will accepted the job, and we loved it so much we bought a house after living here for 9 months. It might not be as well known as nearby Philadelphia, but oh man is it better. Read on to find out why you should put Lancaster (pronounced Lan-kiss-ter) on your bucket list asap.
So Many NOMS
You know when a city has not one but two restaurant weeks per year that the people are serious about its food. Every Spring and Fall, Lancaster restaurants pull out all the stops and offer SUPER affordable and SUPER delicious menu items to show off their skills and what makes them unique. There are different restaurants that participate each year which keeps it fresh! Whether you want French, Trinidadian, Indian, Greek, or American food and more, Lancaster has you covered.
Food trucks, both savory and sweet, are common at nearly every event here. They even had food truck events that show off the mobile restaurants in town. Nothing beats going to an event and feasting on delicious food without having to wait at a restaurant.
Surprisingly, there is a lack of chain restaurants here. There are a few, but they are certainly not the majority. Most places to eat are local or started out that way. Many local shops and cafes/restaurants participate in food tasting tours around town. Events like “Taste the World” and “Sips N Bits” are self-guided tours that allow participants to experience local shops while devouring local food!
Arts, Film, and Theater
One of my biggest fears was moving to a place that was a black hole for the arts. I have played the cello for almost 2 decades, I am heavily involved in acting for both stage and film, and I make/sell handmade home decor and also do photography. Needless to say, I need to live somewhere that fosters creativity.
Little did I know that Lancaster was the best possible place I could move. Fulton Theatre, Prima Theater, Sight and Sound, Dutch Apple Dinner Theater, The People’s Shakespeare Project, and SO many more all have shows year-round. There is always a show running that will suit the preferences of even the pickiest of theater-goers.
I discovered the film community through the Facebook Lancaster Film & TV group. I was lucky enough to meet filmmakers, like Uproot CS, who have become close friends and let me act in their films. Vidjam hosts 3 different 48-hour film festivals each year. There are monthly meetups for anyone in the film community. Local theaters, like Zoetropolis, feature indie movies that have a huge impact on anyone who sees them.
“Shop local” and “buy handmade” are campaigns that have taken the world by storm but are truly embodied by Lancastrians. Lancaster has a crafters’ guild that protects the rights of its members. Madcap and Building Character are sister companies that showcase local artists’ work. I’m lucky enough to sell my string art there!
It’s hard to go one block downtown where you do not see somewhere to shop locally. The 300 block of Queen St hosts lots of local food, clothing shops, candy shops, and even a non-profit bike shop.
Don’t forget about the murals! Wherever you find yourself in the city, you will find murals hidden or brazenly displayed.
If there is a local market when I travel you can bet money that I will want to visit. Established in 1730, the Lancaster County Central Market hosts local farmers, makers, bakers, you name it to sell their incredible goods every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Bring cash as some stands do not accept cards.
You can get whole meals, baked goods, dog treats, smoothies, cheese, meats, vegetables, fruits, spices, fresh condiments, coffee, and gifts! This market is such an installation in the city that a visit to Lancaster without setting foot inside would be an incomplete trip!
Throughout the year, the market hosts events like the harvest breakfast that brings out locals by the hundreds and sometimes thousands. Besides the market being a little crowded, especially on weekends, I’ve never had a bad experience. Everyone is always so friendly, and the worst thing that’s happened to me is Rick’s Bread running out of their delicious muffins.
If you’ve met me, you’ve heard me talk about my dog Atlas. Yes, I am one of “those” people who would take their dog anywhere with them. I live near the outside of the city but am close enough to walk downtown and visit my favorite places. Lancaster is surprisingly dog-friendly.
The biggest winner when it comes to dog friendly is Beau’s Dream Dog Park located in Buchanan Park. Someone won a contest which led to the $500,000 dog park being established. There are two fenced in areas, one for small dogs and another for larger dogs. The park is well-maintained and is almost always being used. The park even has balls, a ramp, shady areas, seats, and a water park for the dogs to cool off in on hot summer days.
Dog-friendly restaurants are becoming more and more prevalent. Lots of cafes with outdoor seating love having dogs as patrons as much as their humans. Rachel’s Cafe and Creperie is my number one go-to spot to take my dog for breakfast and lunch. Cafe One Eight is a close second!
There are even a few stores downtown that allow dogs! Common Wheel (the bike shop), MadCap, and Building Character all allow your fur family inside with you as long as they are well-behaved. Shopping with your dog makes any day better.
Music and Social Activities
First and Third Fridays are a staple downtown. These events feature local bands and musicians in various locations around town. Visitors and locals can enjoy their evening walk downtown and hear music while they shop, socialize, and just have an all around good time.
It’s hard to find a day when live music isn’t being played somewhere, especially at TellUs360. Bands large and small have the opportunity to play at a bunch of different venues downtown. Lancaster even sends out great emails for those who are interested in their weekly and monthly entertainment events.
Long’s Park hosts Sunday in the Park music each week. The Lancaster Symphony performs each month around town. There’s even a music festival that comes to town each year! And that’s not even a complete list of the musical entertainment!
Looking for something a little more on the quirky side? Good. The Circus School of Lancaster offers classes, events, and open gym events that will fuel your creativity and teach you new skills that will make all of your friends envious.
Fitness for a Cause
There are so many 5k, 10k, half marathon and fun run races throughout the year that it can be hard to choose only a few. If you’re like me and want to do them all, then you can feel great about your choices. Many of the races benefit local charities or non-profits.
Local non-profits also create their own events. The Common Wheel established Women on Wheels and Womxn on Wheels to empower women and those who identify as women become confident on a bike. They do this through workshops, social rides, and other classes. The Lancaster Running Squad hosts training every Sunday at various locations around Lancaster County that help people of any fitness level have fun and improve their running!
When I first moved here, I (no joke) tried every gym in town that I could find. As a group fitness instructor, I am slightly picky when it comes to my gyms and the quality of their classes. Universal Athletic Club had me hooked the moment I walked in the door. I’ve been working there ever since. They hold canned food drives, free entrance weeks with the donation of a canned food items, and hold fitness boot camps every Saturday which benefits a different charity each month.
Speaking of fitness, have you visited one of the ten parks in Lancaster? Each one hosts either music or events like craft fairs multiple times a year. Lancaster County Park is the largest and is host to several trails and activity areas; it even has one of PA’s iconic covered bridges.
Proximity Without The Cost
Lancaster, PA is perfectly situated geographically. It is 1.5 hours from Philadelphia, 1 hour from King of Prussia, 2 hours from Washington D.C, 2 hours from Baltimore, and 3 hours from NYC.
The Amtrak station runs daily to many destinations which makes traveling to those destinations simple and cuts down on money spent on gas and time spent driving. There are even buses, like OurBus, that offer cheap tickets to NYC if you’re willing to go at certain times.
After reading all of this, you might be thinking the costs of visiting Lancaster are ridiculously high. Think again! AirBnb has exploded here which means you can find chic rooms for $20 a night near the center of town. You can save on transportation by walking or using the bike share program.
If you come during restaurant week, you can experience expensive restaurants for half the cost. Otherwise, finding restaurants with meals under $15 is easy.
Have You Visited Lancaster?
I hope so! Which aspect are you most excited about? Do you have any questions or need suggestions for your upcoming trip? Feel free to comment below and I’ll be happy to help you as best I can!