By Arissa May
As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to leave Lebanon County. Now, as a parent of 3 children, I am so glad I returned.
Bringing my family here after living 12 years in other states and areas, I saw the richness of a place that I once took for granted. With new eyes and a wealth of wonderful experiences, I have discovered many new and exciting things I didn’t know existed before! The Lebanon Valley has so many historical and educational opportunities, beautiful natural spaces to enjoy and small businesses that have popped up in our area that provide excellent food and fun family experiences. These are just a few of our family’s top picks to have a great day of learning and fun.
No matter what the season, we head to Quittie Creek Nature Park when we crave some fresh air and natural scenery. Inconspicuously tucked away just off of Rt 422 in Annville PA, visitors can walk along a 1.3 mile flat, woodchip path and immediately relax with the sound of the rushing waters of the Quittapahilla creek flowing alongside the trail. Sweet and soothing bird songs fill the air along with the curious activity of all kinds of wildlife around the 36 acre park. My kids love climbing the white limestone hill and exploring the old lime kiln remains around the marsh pond. With an easy walk upstream, we even attempted tubing down the creek recently! Gently floating back to our car, we tackled a couple of kid friendly “rapids”. Bring a bucket and net to catch minnows, crayfish, baby frogs or even bring a fishing rod as it’s a popular trout fishing area.
Just down the street from the Quittie park, we find Splat studio, which is a great place to express our artistic side and learn a thing or two from the wonderful owner and staff. This family art studio offers walk-in hours to do projects such as mosaics, pottery and collages. They also offer classes, camps and parties all year long. We have all enjoyed making pieces of art for fun and to give as gifts to family members at the holidays.
Another big hit for some great local shopping is found a short drive away in the heart of Palmyra. J&T Prestigious has a large selection of essential oils, salt lamps, crystals and gems which have always held a certain allure for my children. Being able to purchase a new gem for their treasure collection is always a highlight for them. I love the selection of local homemade soaps and nice smelling things.
Just next door is Little Paw Dog Shop which is a unique pet boutique where the animal lover can find fun accessories for their pup as well as see and play with puppies that are available for sale. And lastly, stop in at Sweet Velvet Macarons across the street for the most delicious and unique flavored treats outside of France. Warning: these macarons are addictive, we love them!
If you are looking for a nice lunch or a delicious specialty coffee drink, 3J’s Coffee is the place to go. With a large selection of salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, wraps, soups, brunch foods and baked goods, and kid-friendly options like homemade hummus and pita bread or quesadillas, you will have plenty to choose from to make everyone happy and full. They even offer gluten-free options which is a big win for me, with my dietary restrictions. Their coffee is outstanding and the “Belize” latte is my favorite coffee drink ever!
For a unique walk into 19th century history and more indoor and outdoor fun for everyone, hop in the car and take a 20 min drive south of Palmyra to Mt. Gretna. Founded by the PA Chautauqua society, a highly popular adult arts and education organization in the 1890’s, the town is made up of quaint Victorian era cottages and buildings, which remind us all of life-sized Gingerbread houses. The Mt. Gretna community library offers information on the history of the town as well as tours and educational programming. We enjoy searching around the fairy garden for Fiona the fairy, riding our scooters through the maze of tiny streets, shopping in the gift shop for trinkets and grabbing ice cream at the famous Jigger Shop, in the summer season. There is also a vintage roller skating rink that has been in operation from the 1930’s and hasn’t changed much since. My kids have all learned to roller skate in the fun and nostalgic Mt. Gretna Roller Rink. While the roller rink is open all year long, the shaded miniature golf course, gift shop and Jigger Shop are only open during the summer season.
Lastly, at the end of a long day of exploring, a great family friendly spot for dinner is the Mount Gretna Craft Brewery, located in Palmyra, PA. With a great selection of craft brews made in-house and a delicious farm to table menu, this stop is sure to please the grownups along with the kids, as they have plenty of fun games and coloring activities to keep the little ones occupied. With a very casual and homey vibe, Mt. Gretna’s menu delivers on a variety of seasonal, upscale bar food as well as popular favorites on the kids menu. They also have a coffee shop that brews the best coffee I have had outside of Seattle!
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in the Lebanon Valley, it’s really difficult to pick just a few and I guarantee, it won’t take you living and leaving this area to realize all the greatness it has to offer!