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One way we get the most out of our travels is through long weekend getaways. Living on the East Coast, there are dozens of destinations within a few hours of our home. For my birthday, we spent a long weekend exploring all the fun things to do in Hershey, PA. This is far more than the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a chocolate factory–it’s a region that is transforming from large scale manufacturing to small scale entrepreneurship, while providing fun activities for all ages.
Just 90 minutes from our house, Hershey-Harrisburg made the perfect weekend getaway for my birthday. In the past, we only thought about this town as home to the chocolate factory and an amusement park, but there is so much more available. Here are a few of our favorites—
Things to do in Hershey
Hershey-Harrisburg Wine Country
We’re generally skeptical of self-proclaimed wine regions. However, during our two days of visiting the vineyards in the Hershey-Harrisburg Wine Country, we were extremely impressed with the quality of the wines and the vineyards. Pennsylvania wines have historically had the reputation of being very sweet and lacking dimension, but we found something quite different.
Vineyards like Nissley Vineyards and the Vineyard at Hershey are producing sophisticated, complex wines, including many dry wines. For me, this was the highlight of our weekend getaway and one of the most fun things to do in Hershey.
No visit to the town would be complete without a visit to Hershey Park. This compact amusement park boasts over 65 rides, including 11 high-thrills roller coasters. This is what amusement parks used to be like before the mega-corporate parks took hold. While we didn’t go on this trip (too cold), we have visited Hershey Park previously and had a great time.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
It is not possible to visit the Hershey’s chocolate factory, so the company created an experience center called Chocolate World. As experience centers go, Chocolate World is fabulous! There is a small ride, a build-your-own-candy-bar activity and a 4D theater experience.
Basic admission to Chocolate World is free, but extra activities have a nominal charge. Naturally, it comes complete with a massive gift shop, carrying all things chocolate. This is a great way to spend time in Hershey, particularly if the weather is bad.
The Hotel Hershey and Spa
The Hotel Hershey is one of the great older hotels in America. Opened in 1933 by Milton S. Hershey, this property has defined luxury. We stayed at the hotel in 2010 and had an amazing experience. Additionally, the Spa at the Hotel Hershey is known for its unique chocolate treatments.
We’ve tried several times to get into the spa, but it’s always fully booked. However, on this trip, we toured the hotel property on Segways. This is a novel way to learn about the hotel complex, while having a lot of fun. We particularly enjoyed the opportunity to ride the Segways off-road.
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park
One afternoon, we went to the Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, which is a private zoo. Since 1965, over 200,000 visitors a summer enjoy seeing the animals from topless school buses. As the animals come right up to the buses, visitors feed the animals crackers. With over 700 animals from six continents on over 200 acres, this park is large.
The animals seemed very well cared for and had lots of room roam, although we felt a little sad for the lions out in the Pennsylvania cold. For kids, this should be at the top of the list of things to do, but we enjoyed it, too, and took lots of photographs.
Having lived in New York for many years, we have pretty high expectations for dining but were delighted with the restaurants we tried. The Sturges Speakeasy in Harrisburg looks like many other bars all over the city, but serves amazing pub food made from scratch. The Harvest restaurant at the Hotel Hershey serves traditional American favorites like fish and chips, burgers, soups and sandwiches – all using locally sourced ingredients.
In fine dining, we tried Char’s at Tracy Mansion, with a duet of lamb and filet mignon. Fenicci’s Italian restaurant in Hershey, with its charismatic owner Phil, serves up amazing home-style Italian cuisine (hint – try the meatballs!). In Harrisburg, Home 231 delivers a farm fresh brunch with locally sourced ingredients (try the donut dessert as an appetizer).
We were the guests of the Hershey-Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. All opinions of excellent wine and tasty food are our own.