By Rebecca Sloan
Museums, markets abound
Visitors can also experience life on an Amish farm.
LANCASTER, Pa. — On a sunny spring morning, Lancaster’s Central Market bustles with eager barterers.
It’s a scene that’s been going on for centuries.
This red brick building at the heart of downtown is the oldest farmers market in America, and locals have been bringing meat and produce here since the 1730s.
In some ways, Central Market hasn’t changed much.
Fresh meats and homegrown veggies still occupy many of the stands, and folks from near and far still come early for top choice.
In other ways, the market has evolved with the times.
Vibrant Amish quilts, oven-hot pretzels, colorful jars of jellybeans and fragrant carts of potted herbs are among the more modern wares.
It’s an intriguing mix — of old-world and new fads colliding.
The market-goers themselves are just as varied.
Slick urbanites in jeans and sunglasses mingle with Amish and Mennonites clad in simple homespun clothing and curious tourists ages 8 to 80.
Everybody’s searching for something: a pound of cheese, a loaf of bread, a blueberry pie — if you want it, somebody’s got it. Just come early and bring your wallet.
Located at historic Penn Square near many of the downtown’s most popular tourist attractions, the contrasts of the Central Market seem to capture the essence of Lancaster itself.
Hip and yet old-fashioned, busy and yet tranquil, conservative and yet rich in liberal arts and culture — Lancaster is sort of like a grandma and college student rolled into one.
Drive a few miles from the urban bustle of downtown, and you’ll find rolling fields dotted with Amish farms and quaint bed and breakfasts.
Catch a contemporary show at downtown’s Theatre of the Seventh Sister and then venture into the country for a biblical play at the spectacular Sight and Sound Theater in nearby Strasburg.
It’s all part of the Lancaster experience, and it fits together somehow and feels right.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that trends and tradition coexist so harmoniously here.
Lancaster is the oldest inland city in America, and its people are proud of their deeply rooted heritage as well as their premier education institutions focusing on design, music, health care and liberal arts.
The numerous museums in and around Lancaster offer insight into the rich history and diverse culture of the area.
At the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum, for example, tourists can see and learn more about what defines a Lancaster County Amish quilt and the process of making a quilt.
Located at 37 Market St. in a beautiful historical building, the museum houses a collection of quilts made by local Amish women that date between 1870 and 1940.
The museum also boasts a charming collection of hooked rugs.
The Quilt and Textile Museum is a branch of Lancaster’s Heritage Center, a museum that preserves and interprets area history through exhibits and educational programs.
The Heritage Center Museum, located at King and Queen streets, features everything from folk art to elegant portraits, and currently offers a rare exhibit demonstrating how an old-fashioned printing press works.
While tourists observe, a printer operates the antique press and explains how the process has changed since the good old days.
If the printing press demonstration piques your interest about newspapers, just mosey over to the Lancaster Newspapers Museum at 28 Queen St.
This museum traces the evolution of newspapers throughout the ages and pays special attention to the evolution of Lancaster newspapers.
Of course, not all of Lancaster’s museums are located downtown or indoors.
The Landis Valley Museum is a working farm just minutes from the city.
The largest Pennsylvania Dutch living history village in America, Landis Valley interprets German heritage from 1740 until 1940.
While exploring the farm’s 100 scenic acres, visitors can watch artisans demonstrate tinsmithing or blacksmithing, ride in a horse-drawn wagon, explore an heirloom garden or get close to historical breeds of animals.
Landis Valley also has a year-round calendar of special events and workshops where visitors can learn how to cook on an open hearth, plow a field or weave a rug the old-fashioned way.
Kids’ activities are available, too. In fact, a kids museum called the Hands-On House Children’s Museum is next door to Landis Valley.
This museum is geared toward children 2 through 10 and is dedicated to making learning fun.
The Lancaster Science Factory, located at 454 New Holland Ave., is also geared toward making learning fun. This museum allows kids to experiment and create using workstations and minilabs focused on engineering, mathematics and technology.
The North Museum of Natural History and Science is another fun and educational option for kids.
Located at 400 College Ave., this museum allows kids to play with a wave machine or a simulated tornado, explore the galaxy in a planetarium, examine rocks and minerals or get close to dinosaurs.
Other notable Lancaster museums include the Lancaster Museum of Art, where fine art is displayed in a scenic downtown public park, and the Rock Ford Plantation, a historical 1700s home that illustrates refined country living.
If you’d rather go shopping than visit a museum, Lancaster offers plenty of retail therapy.
Lancaster’s Tanger Outlet Center and Rockvale Outlets offer brand-names at a fraction of the price. Stock up on Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, Jones New York, Tommy Hilfiger and more.
Lancaster’s premier mall, Park City Center, includes more than 150 stores such as Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Hollister, Coldwater Creek and Gymboree.
If antiques get your blood pumping, prepare for more than 300 area shops. Or buy a reproduction at the Olde Mill House Shoppes. This 18th century millhouse and bank barn are packed full of antique reproduction furniture, lighting, folk art, pottery, candles, curtains and more.
Shops specializing in Amish furniture and quilts also abound.
Gish’s Furniture in downtown sells hardwood, Amish-crafted furniture at reasonable prices, and Lancaster’s Almost Amish sells products straight from the local Old Order Amish communities.
Speaking of the Amish — Amish cooking is king in Lancaster, and that means family-style meals with second helpings of fried chicken, meatloaf, fresh-baked bread, apple dumplings, shoo-fly pie and more.
Wear your “fat clothes,” and get ready to feast.
Willow Valley Family Restaurant at 2416 Willow Street Pike offers an award-winning dinner smorgasbord with ham, fish, chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, soups, salads and assorted pastries and pies.
The restaurant also offers lunch and breakfast smorgasbords and an award-winning brunch.
Willow Valley Family Restaurant is inside Willow Valley Resort, a conference center about three miles south of downtown on Route 222.
Of course, not every Lancaster restaurant specializes in Amish-style food.
Ethnic restaurants also abound — Thai, Indian, Italian, Chinese and Greek, just to name a few.
Lancaster also offers plenty of historic taverns and breweries that serve traditional American fare.
At the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant at 781 Harrisburg Pike, the ales and lagers are brewed on site, and the dining is casual but upscale.
At the historic Revere Tavern, just outside of Lancaster in Paradise, Pa., diners can enjoy seafood and steak in a 1740 tavern once owned by former U.S. President James Buchanan, who was a Lancaster resident.
American songwriter Stephen Foster penned some of his famous works here, including “Oh, Susannah!” and “My Olde Kentucky Home.”
Doc Holliday’s Steakhouse at 931 Harrisburg Pike boasts choice beef specially aged and grilled as well as award-winning crab cakes and ribs.
Are you hungry yet?
When it comes to choosing accommodations, Lancaster offers endless options as well.
It seems you can’t drive a mile without stumbling upon a quaint bed and breakfast.
Some bed and breakfasts offer “Victorian or European elegance,” while others guarantee amenities and comfort in the heart of Amish farm country.
Tourists can even lodge at a working farm and try their hand at milking cows or collecting eggs for a true farm-fresh breakfast.
Some of these working farms are owned by the Amish, so if seeing how the “plain people” live is your primary objective, this is your chance.
Or if golfing is your ideal way to spend an afternoon in the country, the Lancaster Host Resort at 2300 Lincoln Highway East boasts a challenging 18-hole golf course with scenic farmland views.
The Lancaster Host Resort is located across the street from Dutch Wonderland Family Amusement Park.
This park has more than 30 kid-friendly rides, including roller coasters and water rides. A live Thomas the Tank Engine show is new at the park this year.
The Old Mill Stream Campground is located right next to the amusement park, and site rentals start at $31 per night.
Lancaster is about five hours east of Youngstown.
XSome of Lancaster’s hotels and bed and breakfasts are currently offering $25 gas cards in exchange for two consecutive nights of lodging. For more information on this offer or the area in general, go to www.padutchcountry.com or call (717) 299-8901.