James Cuorato is a born-and-bred Philadelphian who can sometimes be found behind the visitor services desk of the Independence Visitor Center (1 N. Independence Mall West, 800.537.7676, phlvisitorcenter.com), where he has been the president and CEO for over five years. “I’ve had several instances where people have asked, ‘can you come with us?’” says Cuorato, “How rewarding is that?” After hours, Cuorato moonlights as the drummer of a Beatles tribute band called The Beat Tells. Here, Jim tells about Philadelphia, music and travel.
How does the Independence Visitor Center gear up for the Fourth of July? As you would expect, it is our biggest day of the year. Philadelphia is the place to spend the Fourth of July. We have a whole series of programs in the historic district. For us here at the Center, the highlight of the day, which has become a tradition, is giving out 2,500 red, white and blue cupcakes from Termini Bros. Last year the line went around the block.
What do you think it is that draws people to Philadelphia? When people are making their decisions about where to spend vacation and they think of Philadelphia, I believe that history is what comes to mind first. We have all of these historical treasures here, but over the years the city has evolved to be so much more. We have great cultural attractions, some of the finest restaurants in the city and shopping. There’s so much more to do in Philadelphia now and we present a very well-rounded package of things to do to visitors.
What are the top attractions to see? Other cities have science museums and art museums and zoos, but I would put The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Philadelphia Zoo (3400 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, 215.243.1100) against any in the country — and that’s not even to mention The Barnes Foundation.
You moonlight as the drummer in a Beatles tribute band The Beat Tells. Was music ever something you wanted to pursue as a career? It’s always been a passionate hobby. It’s a great outlet. It’s fun. It keeps me active. The band has been together for five years. It’s a great experience.
What are your favorite spots for live music in Philly? I love the shows down on the Delaware River Waterfront at Penn’s Landing. [The Beat Tells] have played at the Hard Rock Cafe (12th and Market streets, Philadelphia, 215.238.1000), and I’ve also gone to see some shows there. Beyond that, on any given weekend night, you can usually find, especially in the neighborhoods such as Northern Liberties and Old City, local musicians playing shows in the bars. I’ll just drop in and catch an act.
What other things do you like to do in your downtime? I have five grandkids, and they range in age from 6 months to 5 years old. It’s the greatest when we all get together. We like to go to Franklin Square. It’s a great place for families. In fact, when families visit the Center and are looking for family-friendly things to do, we send them there all the time.
Do you travel often? I do like to travel, usually within the United States. I like warm climates. I have a cousin that lives in Los Angeles in Santa Monica, so I go out to visit him. I love New York and try to get there whenever I can. It is the center of the universe — so much to do there — and it’s just a train ride away [from Philly].
What destination tops your bucket list? Rome. I really would like to go to Italy and see the Vatican.
A PERFECT DAY
Coffee First: For me, coffee is a very important start to my day. We have some great little boutique coffee shops, like Old City Coffee (221 Church St, Philadelphia, 215.629.9292), High Street on Market (308 Market St., Philadelphia, 215.625.0988) and La Colombe (several locations).
Explore Historic Philadelphia: The best thing to do is come to the Independence Visitor Center first because we can provide information on special events for the day, exhibitions at all the museums and tickets to historical attractions. Then, you can spend all morning just in the surrounding historic district seeing Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley — just ticking off the most popular attractions. You would be wise to pick up a Phlash Pass to help you navigate the entire city.
Lunch at Jones: Next, grab lunch at Jones 700 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, 215.223.5663). The menu features All-American comfort food so there’s something for everyone. Plus, it’s close to the historic district. The chicken pot pie and beef brisket sandwich are both great. They even offer Thanksgiving turkey dinners — all year.
Pick Two: After lunch, pick two museums or attractions to visit. Depending on whether you’re interested in science, art or history, I would visit The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, National Constitution Center, National Museum of American Jewish History, the National Liberty Museum or the Benjamin Franklin Museum.
Dinner at Panorama: Go to Panorama (Penn's View Hotel, 14 N. Front St., Philadelphia, 215.922.7800) for dinner. It is my favorite restaurant in the city and it’s been around for years. It offers the perfect combination of great food, great service, great wines and great ambiance. The menu is Northern Italian and they have the largest selection of wines in the country. For the wine connoisseur, or anyone who enjoys a glass of wine, it is an amazing experience.
Waterfront Fun: At the end of the day, head to the Delaware River Waterfront and check out Spruce Street Harbor. This is the first year they transformed what was an ice rink the winter to a roller rink for the summer. It has truly become a year-round destination.