WHY GO: This choice corner of Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia has been termed “America’s Garden Capital.” With 31 world-class horticultural assets within a 30-mile radius, Brandywine Valley encompasses the greatest concentration of public gardens on the continent.
The typical tourist comes to Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley – Southern Chester County PA to see the world-famous Longwood Gardens, and then leaves. But you know by now that The Getaway Mavens don’t do “typical tourism.”
So, come to see the gardens, then stay to eat some fungi in the Mushroom Capital of the World, step into the “inner sanctums” of three generations of Wyeth artists, and meet the artisans behind your soon to be favorite foodstuffs.
Of course, all while staying in amazing inns and eating the best cuisine this spectacular region has to offer. Combine this getaway with this more remote Chester County PA for a longer respite from urban life.
Things To Do In Brandywine Valley
START: Brandywine Valley Tourism Information (near Longwood Gardens)
Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and others spoke at this former Quaker Meeting House. Now, as the Brandywine Valley Tourism office, it should be a first stop for visitors who want to get the most out of this region. There’s an interactive information board, plenty of brochures, and friendly folk who are happy to make suggestions based on your timeframe.
VISIT: Longwood Gardens
With 11,000 plants on over 1,000 acres, and programming to make a media executive humble, Longwood Gardens has been called a “wildly extraordinary place.” It’s Brandywine Valley’s biggest draw by far, bringing in over a million visitors a year. Gardeners change out flower beds in the main sundrenched Conservatory room weekly. As does Mother Nature, Longwood Gardens transforms with the seasons. So even if you come often, you’ll never see the same flowers twice.
Pierce’s Park, one of the nation’s finest collections of trees, was originally part of a William Penn Land Grant. in 1907, it was in danger of falling into the hands of a lumber mill. Pierre Du Pont, hobby horticulturist and head of both Du Pont Corp. and General Motors, purchased the property and designed his very first garden on what was to become one of the Earth’s most magnificent public attractions.
Du Pont, a M.I.T Engineering grad, built the 4.5-acre indoor Conservatory in 1919 in order to grow vegetables year round. And then, in 1925, after a trip to Italy, he was inspired to fashion the breathtaking 600-jet Italian Water Garden. Du Pont designed the complicated and intricate hydraulic system himself.
Du Pont’s Home
There’s plenty to do on nearly 1,100 acres, but to understand the history of Longwood Gardens, stop in to Du Pont’s home on the property: initially the 1780 Pierce House. The second wing, separated by a small indoor Conservatory, was added in 1915 after Pierre married Alice.
The Main Fountain Garden was recently reopened after a $92 million, 2 ½ year renovation. First built in 1931, the plaza, rooftop, and interior grotto are now welcoming spaces once again, and add to the overall grandeur of the place.
The Visitor’s Center houses quite possibly the most exquisite restroom area on the planet. Creeping vines that form the “Largest Greenwall in North America” frame the doors to each of a dozen private privies. If you have to go, you’ll want to go here. $18 adults, $8 kids, open in season 9am-6pm Sun-Thurs, 9am-10pm Fri./Sat. Check website for hours other times of year.
VISIT/TOUR: Brandywine River Museum of Art and Wyeth Artist Studios, Chadds Ford
The Brandywine River Valley is ground-zero for the prolific Wyeth family. Compare the work of all three generations of Wyeths in one place. Observe NC’s cruder, prop-driven oils (he did not consider himself a “fine painter”), Andy’s photo-like detail with an almost tactile aspect, and Jamie’s stunning and whimsical work. For example, he painted a portrait of Nureyev on corrugated cardboard.
But visitors won’t want to miss independent tours of NC’s Home and Studio (built with commissions earned from illustrating Treasure Island, Last of the Mohicans and other books for Scribner Publishing), Andrew’s home studio, and the Kuerner Farm – the subject of many an Andrew Wyeth painting.
Andrew Wyeth’s Studio-Home Tour
Andy’s hideaway home/studio, a repurposed schoolhouse – was his “inner sanctum.” It opened to the public after he died in 2009. Take the tour for an intimate look at his working process and home life with wife Betsy (who just passed away in May 2020) and two sons, Nick and Jamie.
Andrew’s studio is just as he left it. Large windows cast natural light on watercolor studies scattered beneath his easel. A dozen cracked eggs indicate the type of tempera paint he used (egg tempera, one of the toughest paints to mix and apply). And the wall above his phone remains just as he left it – covered with penciled-in names and phone numbers – some still in use. Museum open daily 9:30-4:30pm, Adults $12. Studio and Kuerner Farm tours cost an additional $8 each.
VISIT: Sanderson Museum, Chadd’s Ford
These days we’d call itinerant Chris Sanderson a hoarder. He kept everything that came into his possession. But NC Wyeth took a liking to this young man who taught school for years in what was to become his son Andrew’s home and studio. So NC found this place for Sanderson and his mother in 1937.
Now, one man’s obsession is crammed into eight rooms. There’s everything from maps to historical posters, cannonballs and other memorabilia from the Battle of Brandywine, an extensive autograph collection including those of Queen Victoria, Babe Ruth and Woodrow Wilson, and portraits of Sanderson painted by NC Wyeth.
This quirky home museum is billed as “A Man’s History; A Nation’s Heritage.” Be sure not to miss the very first “museum guest” register with doodles by both NC and Andrew Wyeth. Open March to November, Saturday and Sunday 12-4. $5 adults, kids free. You can purchase a Limited Edition (only 5,000 printed) Chester County Tourist Map designed by Andrew Wyeth for $95 to support the museum.
VISIT: Artisan Exchange at Matlack Industrial Center, West Chester
Have your friends told you that you could sell your sublime gluten-free cheesecake to the masses? Are people constantly gushing about your version of the cake that your great-grandfather’s baked for Irish royalty?
Corporate types with a passion for something other than office work – a product, an heirloom recipe – can build a business at the Artisan Exchange without risking their retirement nest egg. And fans of home-made, artisanal foodstuffs will find nirvana here.
History of Artisan Exchange
The brainchild of Maryanne and Frank Baldassarre, the Artisan Exchange, next door to Levante Brewing, is a Small Business Collaboration and business incubator, focusing mostly on food. Maryanne started Golden Valley Farms Coffee 32 years ago. One of the few organic, fair-trade companies, Golden Valley sources from 20 countries and was “triple certified before people even knew about organics,” says Frank.
With a background in banking and finance, Frank came onboard to analyze profit margins on various products sold by his wife’s company, which owned 30,000 sq. ft of space in an industrial park. “We were loosing money on lids, cups, and sugar,” Frank admits. “So, when we eliminated the product lines that were not performing, we had a lot of empty rooms.”
Incubator For Chefs and Bakers
After six months attempting to attract renters with no bites, the Baldassarres came up with the idea of a “food hub.” They’d rent space in increments of 130 sq. ft. to “home and basement” chefs and bakers who wanted to sell their products to the public. Expanding product sales to the public required proof of sanitary food prep. The Baldassarres installed “Sanitation Stations” for every ten vendors, allowing entrepreneurs to keep their costs low.
Professional Kitchens For Food Entrepreneurs
The low cost entry point (130 sq ft @ $620 per month) includes electric, cleaning area, a loading dock for two tractor trailers – everything to be compliant with food handling regulations. Plus, this model generates a sense of camaraderie and community.
The Baldassarres have so far helped launch 130 small businesses (70% women owned) with purveyors from 23 countries – including Russia, Argentina, N. Africa, Ireland, Mexico, Germany, France.
“So many multinationals are taking over, we’re loosing the personal touch,” says Frank. “Here, we’re trying to revive the entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrant ancestors who had nothing when they came here and built businesses out of necessity.”
The Artisan Exchange also encompasses an on-site 950 sq. ft. commercial kitchen for chefs who need to ramp up production. The kitchen is available to all (for a fee) who require more space for a limited amount of time. There are currently 54 vendors who sell directly to the public every Saturday from 10-2. “It’s a great way to meet the person who made your food,” Frank enthuses. “Each with a story to tell.”
Meet the Makers
Come on a market Saturday, and you might find the brains behind Gary’s Hot Sauce, Anastasia Patricia’s Handcrafted Cheesecakes (named for 2 grandmothers), Cheryl’s Southern Style (catering, Vegan Chili, Collard Greens), Masala Meals (Indian family recipes), and MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes (the vintage butter pound-cake recipe her great-grandfather baked for Irish royalty.)
Also look for Wilson’s Curiously Good Foods (“My pot pies don’t have peas”), Flavors of Jose Falisco (incredible chunky guacamole and pico de gayo, and other Latin American food), Mojo PopCo (Toffee Popcorn, and the fastest biz to get up and running – from query to set up – 2 weeks), and Pure Scents Candle Co. There are really too many more to mention here. Open to the public on Saturdays from 10-2. If you’re in West Chester on any given Saturday from 10-2, the Artisan Exchange is the hottest attraction in town.
THEATER: Knauer Performing Arts Center, aka Uptown! West Chester
EXPLORE: Downtown West Chester
West Chester’s main street, shaded by old growth trees, is so achingly charming, it stole a whole scene in the movie Marley and Me. You might be surprised to find world and regionally renowned shops like, Eclat, regarded as “Best Chocolate” by Bon Appétit Magazine and called “Celebrity Chocolate” by the NY Times and A Taste of Olive with a bounty of infused oils and vinegars, including rare white balsamics.
For a bit of US History, the Lincoln Tea Room is situated in a former print shop. This is where Abe Lincoln authored and copied his own biography in 1860. (The book was considered the reason Lincoln became so popular prior to his election).
VISIT: American Helicopter Museum, West Chester
You’ll see Bells, Hughes, Sikorsky’s and other rotary-wing aircraft – 35 in all – including civilian and military helicopters, autogiros and convertaplanes. In fact, this is America’s largest collection of helicopters in one place. And why, on any given day you’ll find excitable kids and, let’s face it, Dads, in this former chopper-manufacturing hangar. Wed-Sat. 10am-5pm, Sun 12-5pm, $10 adults, $8 kids.
VISIT/SHOP: The Mushroom Cap, Kennet Square
Kennett Square is called the Mushroom Capital of the World for a reason. Over 500 million pounds of mushrooms, representing 55% of the nation’s total, come from Chester County, PA. So it behooves you to discover the mysteries of the ‘shroom by stopping in to the Mushroom Cap, which serves as both emporium and museum.
Sit on a toadstool (of course) to watch a 12 minute video. You’ll learn that mushrooms are the largest cash crop in PA, pound for pound they have more potassium than bananas, and are the only produce that contain Vitamin D. Sure, mushrooms are grown indoors in manure, but the poop, thankfully, is sterilized.
So, order the freshest 3 lb box. Or spring for a year-round Mushroom of the Month Club. At the very least try “the Cap’s” proprietary dehydrated “Snack ‘N Shrooms” for $6.75 a bag. Tasty!
Restaurants In Brandywine Valley
TASTE: Chaddsford Winery, Chadds Ford
This small but eye-catching winery excels in the lesser-known French-American hybrid – red Chambourcin grape. Though known mostly for its “fun” (read: sweet) wines, both the Chaddsford 2015 Artisan Series Chambourcin, and Red Standard Proprioter’s Reserve drink smooth and flavorful. Open daily, check website for times.
TASTE: Levante Brewing Co., West Chester
Try Fluffy Stuff (a snappy “lactose IPA”), Dewdrop Mornings, Decadent Tourist, Functioning Call, sweet Fruit Fetish (Lactose and fruit puree), and more of the 20 beers on tap at this merry tasting room. Levante invites 30 food trucks in rotation (one per day), has live music, and is “working on” outdoor seating for people and their dogs. Open Wed – Fri 4-9, 10, 11 as the week progresses. Sat 11-11 to coincide with Artisan Exchange open market next door.
EAT/DRINK: Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant, West Chester
College towns love brew-pubs and West Chester’s Iron Hill Brewery proves that point. Its massive dining room is packed with regulars on a cold April Wednesday night, scarfing up tweaks on pub-grub. The burgers are great. And those include Falafel Burger ($14) and Pimento Cheeseburger ($14). Also find salads from Strawberry to Quinoa ($8-$11), and a selection of Hearth Baked Pizzas ($13-$15). All go down well with a flight of Iron Hill’s best brews on tap.
EAT/PROVISION: Carlino’s Italian Market, West Chester
Sure, you can buy a slice of one of the best Tomato Pie’s in the country. Or order a wedge of Gouda from the largest cheese selections outside of Philly. But even if you don’t intend to purchase anything, just walk in the door of this family–run market and take a deep breath.
The aroma from the combination of fresh baked breads and pastries, olives and olive oils, dried meats, pastas, and salads, will impel you to walk out with at least a crispy warmed slice of pizza. Or, you can do what those who work nearby do nearly every day. Pick up a square of incredible lasagna or salad from the salad bar and eat at one of a few tables.
EAT: Hank’s Place, Chadds Ford
When he was alive, Andrew Wyeth used to come in often. He’d sit at the counter, and order his favorite home-cooked meals. The fresh “Homestyle Cooking” still brings ‘em in, and remains a nothing-fancy but comfort-food landmark in town.
EAT/WEST CHESTER: Locals recommend
Limoncello for fantastic Italian, High St. Café for Cajun, The Mediterranean, Spence Café, and Avalon.
EAT: The Whip Tavern. Coatesville
Formerly a run-down biker bar, you’ll find this Brit-i-sized pub at a crossroads far from town, surrounded by undulating hills as green as the Emerald Isles. Do you crave Scotch Eggs, Bubble and Squeak ($6.99), Bangers and Mash, Welsh Rarebit ($7.99), Shepherd’s Pie ($12.95) or a bit of Curried Lamb to go with the most refreshing hard ciders (and beer) on tap? You’re in luck! Save room for the house-favorite dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is sure to make you forget those pesky Weight Watchers points.
EAT: Talula’s Table, Kennett Square
By day, grab fresh baked breads, cheeses, soups and other locally sourced prepared food to either take out or enjoy at one of the butcher block tables. At 7pm, however, Tulula’s transforms into hotspot for a special “Farm Table Dinner.” Only ten people can indulge in this exceptional 8-course meal per night; just don’t expect to get a seat for at least a year. This nightly event, costing $110 per person, is more coveted than tickets to Hamilton on Broadway.
Hotels In Brandywine Valley PA
STAY: Faunbrook B&B
When visiting your student at West Chester University in West Chester PA, check out Faunbrook B&B. Why settle for a cookie cutter franchise hotel when you can stay in the charmer of a Bed and Breakfast. The home was built in 1860 by PA Congressman and oil and banking tycoon, Smedley Darlington, a name that conjures up the hero (or villain) of a Victorian melodrama.
The Darlington Family – Smedley, his wife, five daughters, and a son – all lived in this three-story home. The six B&B rooms are now named after the Darlington children. One daughter, Isabelle, graduated Carlisle Law School in 1895, and though prohibited from taking classes there, snuck into University of Pennsylvania to attend lectures.
A woman way before her time, Isabelle was legal counsel and attorney for Pierre Du Pont and his wife when they purchased Longwood. Later, she became the first female President of the West Chester Bar Association (in 1941). Fittingly, the Isabelle Room is a popular one.
The brick mansion, with black shutters and filigreed wrought iron adorning a wrap-around porch, would fit nicely in New Orleans. Inside, common rooms, the essence of Victorian-era finery, have been arranged much as they would have looked when the Darlington’s lived there. In fact, some of the furniture is original to the Darlington Family. These pieces were left when the home was converted into a B&B in the 1980’s, and incorporated into a subsequent restoration by innkeeper, Lori Zytkowicz.
A bit out of town, but near the West Chester University campus, Faunbrook attracts visitors who want a home-style stay. Zytkowicz (who purchased the property in 2008, after it was renovated in 2007) is a gracious host, providing complimentary wine before (and/or after) dinner in town, and a gourmet breakfast in the morning.
Lori gives each guest a short tour. She takes you through the parlor where she arranges corporate meetings, teas, murder mystery dinners, showers, and weddings for 2-100 people. She’ll show you how the Monticello Windows work: the top window portion opens up, and two wall panels below it swing out like Dutch doors, creating a convenient passage onto the porch outside – a very clever and unusual architectural feature.
Guests generally make themselves at home in a smaller parlor room. Or on original settees in the whimsically colorful “Winter Porch” – set with wine glasses and several bottles of wine that guests can pour for themselves (complimentary) at their leisure.
The Rooms at Faunbrook B&B
My room, Elizabeth, features Laura Ashley style floral wallpaper and bed quilt, carved wood headboard, and a claw-foot bathtub (set up as shower as well) in a bright bathroom with black and white tile floors. You’ll find antiques in all 7-guest rooms, some original to the home and the Darlington family.
The three suites have TV’s, though the four regular rooms do not. However, internet access is free and fast in all the rooms, and there’s a communal TV in the living room downstairs.
Breakfast at Faunbrook BnB
“I’ve been doing farm to table before farm to table was a thing,” says Lori. She sources her eggs from a neighbor, and other ingredients, used to cook her morning meals, from local farms.
Enjoy a candle-lit (and in cooler weather, fireplace-lit) breakfast every morning on a formal dining room table. Guests converse over stuffed French Toast, Asparagus-Herb Egg Bake, and other delightful offerings. It’s communal, friendly, and a fantastic experience for solo travelers who seek company while dining.
Rooms from $141 – $209 per night. Includes parking, wi-fi, glass (or two) of wine, gourmet breakfast.
STAY: Inn at Whitewing Farm
Guests adore this place in the country with good reason. Luxuriate in blue-blood-luxe rooms and suites with pastel yellow walls, wingback chairs, window seats, and horsey décor, situated in former stables and tack rooms.
One can just imagine Fox Hunt horsemen tally ho’ing right outside your door. Snacks and soft drinks are complementary any time of day. Owners, Lance and Sandy Shortt, believe it’s outrageous to charge – which makes everyone happy.
There’s a pool, a pond (for swimming and catch and release fishing – just not at the same time). Plus a Har-tru tennis courts and plenty of land to stroll and explore.
In the morning, scarf up a hearty country breakfast in the immaculately renovated 1796 hay barn. Rooms and suites from $195-$299. Includes free wi-fi, made-to-order breakfast, parking, soft drinks and snacks.
STAY: Hotel Warner
Right in downtown West Chester, the Warner Hotel pays homage to its former life…as a movie theater.