Welcome to Lancaster, PA, home to a vibrant Amish community but also home to a young and modern downtown with lots of architectural character, so let’s explore!
When I was younger, we frequently made the trip to Lancaster, PA to take in the regular gamut of touristy attractions. We were devoted fans of the wax museum, where a sleeping man in the lobby caused my family much debate as to the very modern direction of the new figures.
On these trips, my family and I would admire the Amish quilts, listen to tape cassettes that narrated our drive through the Amish countryside, eat traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods, and on one occasion, I watched a blind Amish farmer lead piglets through an obstacle course (?). I appreciated those explorations, but on my recent trip, I was curious to take in the more modern downtown scene.
My friend Lindsey and I chose Lancaster because it offered us a chance to explore a smaller city. Above all, it was a time for the two of us to escape our day-to-day distractions and iron out some of the bigger ideas and goals we share. Lancaster was the perfect size for this sort of work/play trip. There were plenty of shops and restaurants to experience, but the downtown was also quaint enough that we could hole away in our Air BnB for work and not feel like we were squandering all the offerings.
There’s still much for me to explore there, and I definitely want to return with the Rustbelt Farmer, but we did make it to one of my favorites, Passenger Coffee, as well as the Central Market. Larger, indoor markets feel like the cliffs notes version of a city. They’re a chance to sample a little bit of everything there is to offer, which is why I try to visit them whenever I’m traveling (like in Milwaukee and Harrisburg).
I walked into Lancaster’s Central Market, expecting to see an array of locally harvested goods and to feel the energy that arises from open stall markets, and I did. But what I didn’t expect was the waves of nostalgia that washed over me. When I saw the Shady Maple sign, I started to sing the Shady Maple Smorgasbord jingle.
Shady Maple, “America’s largest buffet,” was a longtime advertiser on my parents’ preferred Christian radio stations, and apparently, the commercial worked on me. Meanwhile, the bakery stalls of funny cakes and shoofly pies reminded me of the bakery samples at my childhood grocery store. A hefty bite of free funny cake and a dixie cup of milk made grocery shopping a coveted trip.
As a kid who grew up in suburbia, I admit I am guilty of dismissing the cultural influences I had. The way the Central Market made me feel at home made it clear that my area had shaped me in ways I hadn’t yet articulated.
Our Air Bnb, located inside this intricate building, was conveniently close to the downtown places we wanted to visit, so we were able to walk and explore the neighborhood even more. There were a lot of audible oohs and ahhs escaping from me, as I imagined living in all the large homes, with their wrap-around porches and ornate details. Meanwhile, Julep was busy becoming a street artist.
I often prefer to leave my camera behind when it comes to dining these days, so you’ll have to simply trust my words when I say Luca, a wood-fired pizza restaurant in Lancaster, should be your dinner destination if you find yourself in the area.
We chose our Air Bnb for its character and proximity to downtown, but the best part about our Lancaster Air BnB?
Julep was allowed to stay too!
Plus, I was excited to work in this sunny kitchen with all the windows and the view of a big yard. It was a win win for Julep and me.
Have you been to Lancaster, PA? Did you find a favorite spot? Leave me suggestions below, as I’m eager to return again soon.