CollegeFest, Cheesesteaks, and Naked Bikers

Live music from a college band pulsed from the edge of the park. Groups of friends laughed and flitted from vendor to vendor, stuffing as much free stuff into bags that they could. The spirit of the afternoon was one of camaraderie and boundless freedom that comes with a school-free Saturday.

Every year in mid-September, college students from all over Pennsylvania descend on Dilworth Park in downtown Philly for CollegeFest. Organized by Campus Philly, the annual event promises free food, souvenirs, fun, and relaxation. The only missing joy was cotton candy. Sadness.

With free, no-excuses-not-to-go train tickets from Arcadia’s Office of Engagement and New Student Programs, my friends and I made a day trip into Philly for the annual festival. We walked 20 minutes down to the Glenside train station and then boarded the train for a 30-minute ride into Suburban Station, right across the street from Dilworth Park.

By the time we got there, CollegeFest was in full swing and then some. Vendors were everywhere and students lined up for an array of activities, including hair dyeing, trying out virtual reality gear (it’s as cool as it sounds), and rock climbing.

Satisfied with our fill of CollegeFest, we left Dilworth and headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Another perk of CollegeFest was free admission to several other museums as well, including the Eastern State Penitentiary. Unlike Eastern State, visiting the Art Museum was an incredible and calming experience. I love being surrounded by art. The highlight for me was seeing a Monet and an original from Van Gogh’s Sunflowers series, along with other highlights of European and American art.

Another cool perk of CollegeFest was free access to the Philly PHLASH bus, which hits many major attractions. While on the downtown loop, we saw, well, an unexpected attraction. Stuck at an excruciatingly long red light, I suddenly heard screaming and laughter from other passengers. I whipped my head to the left and saw immediately what the commotion was all about. Naked people. Lots of them. Biking through the city. For 10 minutes, we either watched or averted our eyes as hundreds of carefree naked riders biked on.

Our final stop was a different kind of sensory overload and must for anyone coming to Philadelphia. Reading Terminal Market, a bustling market in Center City, greets visitors with everything from lobster mac and cheese to fresh out-of-the-oven soft pretzels. I opted for a classic cheesesteak with onions and mushrooms, which I ate in a small park across the street from the market.

CollegeFest was an amazing experience, one I’d recommend to both first-year and returning students. I always learn new things about Center City every time I visit, and this time was no exception. The attractions in the guidebooks are alluring alone, but as with our side adventure, there’s also the joy of the unknown.