Where to Geek Out in Philadelphia

A science festival, a superhero exhibit and more nerdy pursuits

These days, nerdiness is more a badge of honor than a term for teasing. In Philadelphia, plenty of places encourage enthusiasts of all kinds of subjects to embrace their passions no matter where they fall on the geek scale, from science and technology to video games and comic books. And if you’re into bugs–whether the creepy-crawly or programming variety—Philly delivers there, too. So wonks, fan boys and gals read on for where to let your geek flag fly.

It’s Experimental

The Philadelphia Science Festival returns for the ninth year this month, once again making nerdy cool with more than 60 engaging and thought-provoking events spanning nine days. The festivities start on April 26 with a Citywide Star Party, where astronomers explain the wonders of the sky to attendees gathered at several sites across town. The party ends on May 4 with the fun-filled, family-friendly Carnival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, complete with games, experiments, live entertainment and more. In between, science geeks and non-geeks alike participate in everything from interactive after-school lessons for kids to science-themed pub crawls for adults 21 and older. Multiple locations, 215.448.1200

Philadelphia Science Festival
Philadelphia Science Festival (Courtesy Franklin Institute/Kyle Gronostajski)

Gamers and Growlers

Before pop cultural phenomena like Fortnite and Assassin’s Creed united gamers across the globe, video game players communed the old-fashioned way: in person at arcades. Housed in a former electrical warehouse, Barcade in Fishtown reinvents the nostalgic experience by blending retro appeal with the modern craft beer movement. With a joystick in one hand and a stellar brew in the other, patrons try to beat the top scores on Donkey Kong, Centipede, Mario Brothers and more than 50 cult classic games from the 1980s and ’90s—all for just a quarter, just like in the good old days. 1114 Frankford Ave., 215.634.4400

Virtual Insanity

Prefer a more futuristic gaming experience? Step into the mind-bending world of virtual reality at Mad Rex, a zombie-apocalypse-themed restaurant and bar complete with a high-tech VR lounge. The venue offers both a seated Gear VR experience and a fully immersive HTC Vive with a variety of scenarios, from touring the international space station to freeing a submarine pilot trapped underwater to a 360-degree extrapolation of one of Salvador Dali’s most famous surrealist masterpieces. 1000 Frankford Ave., 267.773.7566

Mad Rex
Mad Rex (Courtesy Mad Rex)

Graphically Novel

Fans of comic books unite at the Franklin Institute, where Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes opens on April 13. The gloriously geeky exhibit features more than 300 items, including historic memorabilia, costumes, life-sized sets and original drawings. Visitors can even interact with their favorite legends by taking selfies with Black Panther, transforming into Iron Man and traveling to another dimension like Dr. Strange. Celebrating Marvel’s 80th anniversary, the display also delves into the indelible impact that iconic characters like Spider-man, Captain America and the Hulk have had, not just on comic book culture, but on society at large. 222 N. 20th St., 215.448.1200

 Universe of Super Heroes”
Universe of Super Heroes” Dr. Strange Mirror Room (©Christine Mitchell)

Bug Out

Does the thought of viewing the world’s largest centipedes and bird-eating tarantulas sound more intriguing than scary? The Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, home to two floors’ worth of exhibits, draws science nerds who want to get (safely) up close and personal to bees, spiders, scorpions and other creepy crawlers. Techies will appreciate the museum’s AI app, which offers an enhanced experience for understanding environmental diversity and the world’s delicate ecosystem. Be sure to stop into the adjacent 7,000-square-foot tropical Butterfly Pavilion, home to 2,000 colorful and exotic species. 8046 Frankford Ave., 215.335.9500

Get with the Program

Interested in Apple technology? You may want to check out PhillyCocoa. The local chapter of the Cocoaheads worldwide organization for enthusiasts of Mac and iPhone programming hosts a seasonal book club, social gatherings and collaboration sessions where techies of all skill levels exchange ideas and help each other thrive. Check the website for a schedule of upcoming get-togethers, and then get your tech on with like-minded locals.