Cooking Light Best Cities: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In America's fifth-largest city, the historic past provides a backdrop for a present that's healthful and happening.
Chris Rodel

From a distance, present-day Philadelphia-number nine on our Best Cities list-appears to be all gleaming skyscrapers and shimmering glass. However, many of those modern structures cast their shadows on centuries-old cobblestone streets and sites of star-spangled history, including Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, and the Liberty Bell, a symbol of freedom for more than 200 years. The combination of old and new makes Philly a city you want to touch, taste, and toast.

Best farmers' market: Fresh flowers, produce, sandwiches, and even sushi await at Philly's famous Reading Terminal Market (215-922-2317). More than 90 vendors (including Michael Strange of Bassett's Ice Cream, a descendant of an original 1892 stand holder) bustle for business amid the smells and sensations of this uniquely Philadelphia attraction.

Best socially conscious restaurant: Owner Judy Wicks opened the White Dog Café (215-386-9224) in 1983 with the stated mission of "doing well by doing good." Along with its fine menu of food-entrées like citrus marinated tofu or grilled free-range lamb leg-White Dog hosts monthly talks on local and national politics, curates rotating art exhibits (a recent one featured farms that are the source of White Dog's menu), and coordinates community service days.

Best seafood: Old Original Bookbinder's (215-925-7027) has been in business since 1865. Maine lobster is the star here, as you'll undoubtedly notice-Bookbinder's features the country's largest indoor lobster tank.

Best takes on a Philly classic: Cheesesteak-shaved rib eye, sautéed onions, and gooey Cheez Whiz-is the city's most renowned contribution to our national cuisine. Invented by a Philly street vendor in 1930, these sandwiches are still a source of local pride. For a truly indulgent version, Barclay Prime (215-732-7560) elevates the fare with Kobe beef, lobster, truffle butter, and a whopping $100 price tag. For a lighter-and lighter on your wallet-sandwich, opt for a vegetarian version at Gianna's Grille (215-829-4448), where textured soy protein doubles for steak and soy cheese takes the place of Cheez Whiz. Six dollars buys a sandwich big enough to share.

Best outdoor excursions: Enjoy a preview of Philadelphia's premiere fitness venue as you approach the city. Driving toward downtown on I-76 east, keep a lookout for Boathouse Row, a series of charming 19th-century Tudor-Victorian structures that line a placid curve of the Schuylkill River. The river is ideal for rowing. PA Rowing Camps (267-971-9073) offers helpful instruction for beginners. However, water isn't a necessary ingredient for Boathouse Row fitness. The Schuylkill flows through Fairmount Park (215-683-0200), where twin four-mile paths border its banks. As one of the largest urban parks in the country-it accounts for 10 percent of the city's land-it's an outdoor fitness hub for Philly residents.

Best living-history walk: What's been judged the most historic square mile in America is best explored on foot. Starting at the Independence Mall, you'll have tour options that include The Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall. Heading east on Arch Street will take you past Christ Church Burial Ground and the penny-strewn grave site of Benjamin Franklin. Leaving a penny in homage to Philadelphia's favorite son is a good luck tradition.