My move from Philadelphia to Grand Rapids, Michigan, made clear exactly what I was missing — and exactly what I can live without.
When I moved to Grand Rapids from Philadelphia in 2021, I knew the adjustment would be a tough one.
I was born and raised in Montgomery County next to Philadelphia, but its culture and grit shaped my upbringing: I’m a die-hard Philly sports fan, a lover of cheesesteaks on Amoroso’s rolls, and a frequent patron of area eateries and cultural spots.
I have always been in love with Philly and knew there would be things I’d definitely miss about the City of Brotherly Love when I left.
Philadelphia has tons of weird museums (that even some Philadelphians haven’t heard of).
Philadelphia is famous for its art museum steps and the “Rocky” statue that lives there, but it’s also home to some very cool galleries and exhibits.
The Fishtown neighborhood is home to Pizza Brain, a small pizzeria with heaps of pizza collectibles and memorabilia. In Center City, you can find The Fabric Workshop and Museum, which exhibits art that utilizes textiles and new media. The Magic Gardens on South Street is a large-scale, indoor-outdoor mosaic that you can walk through. One of Philadelphia’s weirdest museums is the Mütter Museum, which displays a large collection of anatomical oddities.
It didn’t take me long to go through most of the museums in downtown Grand Rapids, and although I found them impressive, I still prefer the variety that I can find in Philadelphia.
I still have a Wawa-shaped hole in my heart.
The convenience store is a staple for Philadelphians, with many people relying on the chain for their morning coffee or afternoon snack.
I grew up across the street from a Wawa, and I definitely miss building my own hoagies. Philadelphia-based Tastykake, which sells many of its delicious snack cakes at Wawa, is another irreplaceable favorite. I used to buy food and snacks at Wawa before a day trip in the summer or for lunch at school.
Many comparisons have been made between Wawa and other convenience stores like Sheetz and Royal Farms, but Wawa will always have my loyalty.
I miss having access to professional sporting events nearby.
Anyone who grew up in or near Philadelphia knows about Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, and the Wells Fargo Center. These stadiums are home to the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, and Flyers — and they’re right next to each other.
When I went to games, I would go to the Philadelphia Sports Complex and see fans tailgating across the parking lots. Oftentimes, several teams would play on the same night, so South Philadelphia would really be hopping as passionate fans streamed into the arenas.
Although many Detroit sports fans live in Grand Rapids, Detroit is about two and a half hours away from where I live. I miss feeling the energy of game night in Philly.
The Jersey Shore was an easy drive from the Philadelphia area.
Say what you want about the Jersey Shore, but I have a soft spot for the beaches in New Jersey.
It can get crowded (especially on holiday weekends) and the water isn’t the prettiest shade of blue, but the Jersey Shore holds a lot of memories and nostalgia for many people in the Philadelphia area. In addition, the greasy boardwalk food can’t be beaten.
Although I’m hundreds of miles away from an ocean now that I live in Grand Rapids, I’m excited to explore the beaches on the lakes in Western Michigan.
There are a lot of options for authentic Puerto Rican food in Philly.
As someone of Puerto Rican heritage, I loved being able to go into the city for delicious and authentic Puerto Rican food.
Restaurants like Freddy and Tony’s in North Philly, or Boricua Restaurant in Northern Liberties offer fantastic selections of food that remind me of visiting family on the island. I’ve been to both of these restaurants with my Puerto Rican mother, and she gave everything she tried her blessing.
There are a few Puerto Rican spots in Grand Rapids I’ve been wanting to try. I’m excited to compare once I do.
Something I saw more in Philadelphia than I do in Grand Rapids is cool city fashion.
Every city has its own culture, which means every city has its own sense of style.
In Philadelphia, I often saw people dressing differently in every neighborhood, with indie, alternative styles in some places and cool street styles in others. I don’t think it compares to places like New York or Los Angeles in terms of fashion, but Philadelphians have diversity in style that I always appreciated.
The view of the Philadelphia skyline always made me so happy.
Grand Rapids is a smaller city than Philadelphia and doesn’t have as many skyscrapers. While I agree that can sometimes be a good thing, I still miss seeing the skyline of my home city as I took the train into town.
The iconic shapes of One Liberty Place and Philadelphia City Hall always reminded me of the history and culture of the area.
The City of Brotherly Love has history everywhere you turn.
A visit to the Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell is a rite of passage for Philadelphia-area school kids. Off of 2nd Street is Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street that feels like it’s straight out of the colonial era.
Philadelphia not only houses much of America’s history, but it has its own unique history as well. Blue historical signs around the city give brief histories of significant events and places, such as the Arch Street Meeting House where activists planned a march for “lesbian and gay rights” in 1979.
Atlas Obscura notes that the cave of America’s first doomsday cult is in Philadelphia.
A large, East Coast hub like Philadelphia has a hustle and bustle that I’ve been craving to experience again.
Many people don’t like large cities because of the noise and the speed at which life moves. I’ve always known I wanted to live in a large city as an adult, so the noise and vitality of Philly always energized me. With people running by you to catch the subway and lines outside bars brimming with enthusiasm, it was hard to escape the vibrancy of a city like Philadelphia.
Still, it’s nice to get a break after almost 25 years in one city. I find Grand Rapids has a calmness that never overwhelms me, even on a weekend night.
There’s no shortage of late-night activities in the City of Brotherly Love.
I moved to Grand Rapids during the pandemic, so I want to give it the benefit of the doubt when it comes to businesses closing earlier than I’m used to. In my first few months here, I found that most of the places wanted to order food from were closed earlier than I was used to.
It’s probably a good thing for my wallet, but I always enjoyed going to a busy bar at midnight in Philadelphia or ordering late-night food when I spent the night in the city. An enticing option was the Insomnia Cookies CookieLab, a speakeasy-style cookie store in East Passyunk, which was open until 3 a.m.
One of the things I don’t miss is traffic and parking.
No one likes traffic, but no one tells you that in Grand Rapids, you don’t really run into any.
Even during typical rush hours, getting into Grand Rapids is a breeze with few to no delays. Once you get in, street parking is a lot easier to find and parking prices aren’t nearly as exorbitant as they are in Philly.
Trying to get into Philadelphia at the wrong time can set you back several hours, and if there’s an accident on the highway, you’re going to be stuck there for a while. It’s one of the most annoying things about living near a big city.
Something else I can do without is the lack of public restrooms in Philadelphia.
One of the very first things I noticed about Grand Rapids was the abundance of public restrooms. As an avid thrifter, I was used to having to hold it when I went shopping at stores in the Philadelphia area. If I wanted to use the bathroom, I’d have to locate a coffee shop or a fast-food restaurant and buy something first. In Center City, it can be a nightmare trying to find a bathroom.
When I went on my first thrift outing in Michigan, I couldn’t believe that almost every store had a clean, public bathroom.