What’s a grad student to do in central Pennsylvania–especially when said student is not a football enthusiast? Over the time my husband and I have lived in State College, we’ve found some favorite haunts. I’ve ordered this list from year-round spots to those best enjoyed in warmer weather, since I spend wintertime hibernating indoors in the warmest spot possible.
Unless in an emergency, I refuse to eat at chain restaurants, favoring the greater creativity and consciousness of environment on the menus of locally-owned restaurants. Even in the heart of rural Pennsylvania, you can find tasty examples of most of the cuisines I consider most delicious–Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Indian.
The Greek: Sergey jokes that this restaurant should give us our own parking spot, since we visit so frequently. My favorites are their Greek fries with tzatziki, eggplant dip (melitzano salata), the tart avgolemono soup, and the refreshing village salad. The Greek is run by the (Greek) owner of the Original Waffle Shop–a cozy, and constantly bustling, spot for brunch.
The Field: I adore the milkshakes at the Field, especially the salted caramel pretzel. These shakes are made with fresh ice cream from Penn State’s Berkey Creamery. Their burgers are also tasty and come branded like their predecessor cattle.
Herwigs: Not a place for vegetarians, this Austrian bistro serves homestyle dishes with plentiful pork. Their enormous schnitzel–especially the version in a sandwich–is worth the wait!
India Pavilion: All the decadent curries you could wish for are served up in this subterranean restaurant. I particularly enjoy their mango lassi, presented in an extremely tall and skinny glass.
Barranquero Cafe: Being a cheapskate, I usually make my coffee and tea at home instead of shelling out cash at coffeeshops, but for fresh fruit juice, I’ll spend. Barranquero offers delectable strawberry and raspberry juices, frothy from the presser, which you can sip on inside the attractive shop or outside, watching passersby on East Calder Street. Plus, their empanadas are the only decent Latin American food I’ve found in State College.
Kamrai Thai and Sushi: For cheap Thai food, the Cozy Thai Bistro is a go-to, but for a more upscale dinner in a comfy house in Lemont, try Kamrai.
Saturday Farmers Market: I’ve heard students from bigger cities complain about the dearth of food carts in State College. In the warmer months, a few carts can be found at the Saturday Farmers Market, serving up grilled burgers, wood-fired pizza, and the like. The parking lot of Home Depot might not be the most gorgeous ambiance, but you’ll get a fresh lunch and indulge in your nostalgia for food cart couture!
Asiago’s Tuscan Italian: If you happen to be out near Johnstown, take the inclined plane car up to Asiago’s restaurant, where you’ll get unbeatable views of the valley below. Make sure to save room for their fresh mini-donuts.
I’m no athlete, so my primary mode of exercise is walking, preferably surrounded by native flora and fauna. If there’s one resource central Pennsylvania has in abundance, it’s natural beauty.
In the Penn State Arboretum is the lovely H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens. Be sure to wander through the Children’s Garden (don’t worry, there are usually more adults enjoying the scenery here than kids). Fanciful statues, a fairy garden, and a cavern are just a few of this garden’s attractions.
Near campus is Millbrook Marsh, where you can enjoy the wetland beauty from boardwalks. It’s a great place for birdwatching, as various species of both aquatic birds and songbirds enjoy the marshy habitat.
A little farther afield is the charming Victorian downtown of Bellefonte. I enjoy wandering the residential streets and cemetery, imagining the somber dramas of the earlier era that produced the whimsical architecture ornamenting this town’s steep hills.
If you’re craving a body of water larger than the lily pond in the botanical garden or the creeks of Millbrook Marsh, about 20 minutes south of State College is a dammed lake in Whipple Dam State Park. Take a fairly easy hike around the lake following the trail, or go for a paddleboat ride. Once you’ve had your fill of the water and are ready to return to State College, get your brunch at the Naked Egg Cafe.
Sergey and I have enjoyed performances ranging from Afro-Brazilian dance to Broadway musicals through Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts. Students get generous discounts compared to the full-price tickets.
In summertime, Penn State is tranquil, the campus possessed mostly by older residents–grad students, staff, and faculty. Except, that is, for the arts festivals. The Penn’s Woods Music Festival offers classical music in June. The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts fills downtown State College and Penn State’s campus with aesthetic expressions in July.