Where to Find Philadelphia's Strange Side

The quirky, fun and sometimes mysterious side of Philly is waiting for you.

Searching for the unexpected in Philadelphia? Check out these quirky spots for some of the most fun and unusual experiences in the city.

At Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, visitors meander through narrow pathways made from found items like glass bottles, broken tiles and bicycle wheels. The creativity doesn’t end here; artist Isaiah Zagar’s eye-catching mosaics adorn buildings all over the surrounding neighborhood.

Woman demostrates a chemistry set at a museum
Visitors to the Science History Institute get to interact with historic chemistry sets, inventions, exhibits full of curated subject matter diving deeply into the history of science. (Courtesy Science History Institute)

The Science History Institute—formerly known as the Chemical Heritage Foundation—goes beyond the traditional museum experience, inviting curious minds to explore the intersection of science and history. The collection features a host of fascinating items like 170 chemistry sets from around the world and more than 500 pieces of science-centric fine art.

Familiar faces like Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and even Frankenstein greet pedestrians who stop at the corner of 13th and Pine streets. The “Famous Franks” mural outside of Dirty Frank’s bar pays homage to its many well-known namesakes. Most recently, artist David McShane added the likeness of Pope Francis in 2015.

Pizza Brain in Fishtown is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach. The casual eatery dishes out thin-crust pies in a shop that holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of pizza-related memorabilia on the planet. Nostalgia-hungry visitors ogle everything from “Star-Trek”-shaped pizza cutters to pizza-themed movie posters to the classic 1980s board game “Pizza Party.”

Pizza Brain restaurant interior Philadelphia
Pizza Brain interior, with staff dishing up high-flying pies. (©Amanda Capasso/Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts houses a treasure trove of impressive works, but one of the museum’s most interesting pieces can’t be contained indoors. Claes Oldenburg’s massive “Paint Torch” towers 51 feet over Broad Street. The sculpture leans at a 60-degree angle, giving the illusion that it just might come down on passersby.

For a close-up view of the medically macabre, step inside the Mütter Museum, home to more than 25,000 unusual anatomical specimens, including Einstein’s brain, John Wilkes Booth’s vertebrae and a collection of 139 human skulls. Be sure to check out the plaster cast made from the bodies of Chang and Eng Bunker, the conjoined twins whose autopsy was performed at the museum in 1874.  

Fun and games are super-sized in Thomas Paine Plaza. “Your Move,” a multi-element outdoor sculpture, features giant dominoes, oversized bingo markers, larger-than-life chess pieces and other massive recreations. Visitors can wander through the structures and pose for social media-worthy photo opps.

Your Move artwork in Philadelphia
"Your Move," the giant game piece art sculpture (©Paul Joseph/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Patrons of South Street’s Tattooed Mom sip on whimsical cocktails with ingredients like cotton candy and Pop Rocks as they play with temporary tattoos, spinning tops and other trinkets. Downstairs, the décor features eye-catching colors and eclectic furniture while upstairs, guests are invited to doodle on the graffiti-covered walls.

Halloween delivers a dose of the unexpected. Inside the bi-level, Gothic-style jewelry store, customers find a seemingly endless assortment of tables and display cases crammed with thousands of brooches, rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and hard-to-find pieces.

Mad Rex, the world’s first post-apocalypse-themed restaurant, opened in October 2017. The Fishtown outpost somehow manages to make an urban-industrial, wasteland-esque atmosphere seem inviting, complete with graffiti murals, weapon displays, elaborate exhibits with movie and theater props and a virtual reality lounge.

When patrons walk through the doors of The Strange and Unusual, they enter into a world where oddities are the norm. This can’t-miss curiosity shop stocks items as varied as a taxidermied grizzly bear, Victorian jewelry made from human hair and the original walking stick belonging to Gomez Addams from “The Addams Family.”