The City of Brotherly Love hasn't shaken its gritty rep entirely, but livability is at an all-time high. Crime is down; civic pride is up. A 1984 program that funded graffiti artists instead of fining them has led to 2,700-plus public murals. But the key to the renaissance may be sprawling Fairmount Park. This 9,200-acre network of forests, ravines, and creeks is over ten times the size of Central Park--and all within city limits. Commute from downtown high-rises to rugged singletrack, paddle the urban Schuylkill River and pick off 215 miles of hiking routes. "You don't have to waste time driving somewhere to go mountain biking or trail running," says grad student Laura Zagrocki. "There are tons of great trails within a mile of my apartment." Even so, a few hours in the car are never wasted: The Allegheny Mountains, Delaware Water Gap and Appalachian Trail are all within day-trip range.
Want to live here?REAL ESTATE LOWDOWN: Center City is growing fast, with converted lofts and town houses right downtown; a 1,300-square-foot two-bedroom rental runs $1,700 a month. The median home price in greater Philly is $248,044.
THE LOCAL ECONOMY: With over 80 colleges and universities--even more than Boston--Philly is a major center for education and medical research. Cable and Internet giant Comcast is based here as well, employing 1,300.
Weekend Scouting TripPLAYGROUNDS: Fairmount Park has it all--paved riverside lanes, wooded tracks and downtown bike paths--but the new Schuylkill River Trail is the clear favorite (schuylkillriver.org). Runners can make an eight-mile loop from the art museum; bikers connect it to the singletrack around 1,800-acre Wissahickon Gorge; and cyclists tackle the full 44-mile loop through the rolling hills surrounding Valley Forge National Historical Park (nps.gov/vafo). Hikers head west to the AT's 8.4-mile Pinnacle Trail for views across the Lehigh Valley.
THE SCENE: The byzantine Reading Terminal Market hawks everything from falafel to Amish cheese (readingterminalmarket.org). For Spanish flavor, try Amada, a tapas and wine bar that's heating up Old City; local celeb chef Jose Garces, famed for whole roasted suckling pig, spent a year in Andalusia perfecting his craft (amadarestaurant.com).
WHERE TO STAY: Check out the cityscape from the glass-walled 33rd floor of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, a renovated art deco bank downtown ($199; loewshotels.com). The Carriage House B&B, a Victorian two-bedroom, is a quiet alternative in the University City district ($150; thecarriagehouse.info).
Local WisdomCycling to Belmont Plateau gets you the best view of Philly: You're surrounded by woods, and the skyline and City Hall are spread out before you."
--Alex Doti, executive director, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia