I’ve wanted to visit Punxsutawney, PA for a long time. I even added it to my travel bucket list for this year. Home to the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, this small town is known as the Weather Capital of the World, and in less than two weeks, media from around the country (maybe even the world) will descend upon Punxsutawney for Phil’s annual weather prediction on Groundhog Day, February 2.
Located 90 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh, you don’t need to trek to Punxsutawney with several thousand other people for Groundhog Day (up to 30,000 people will visit when February 2 falls on a weekend). In fact, going in the off-season may be an even better way to enjoy the town as I recently discovered with two of my kids, Paul (age 6) and Molly (age 8).
First things first, you’ll want to book a stay at the Cobblestone Hotel. It’s a brand new hotel that opened up just over a year ago. It’s got a free hot breakfast, including make-your-own waffles, an indoor swimming pool and a hot tub, so it’s perfect for kids. It’s also only a mile or two from the center of town (it’s worth noting here that there are just three hotels in Punxsutawney, including a B&B).
A visit to the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center is a must. Kids will love forecasting the weather in front of a green screen, creating a windstorm and becoming a tornado as they go down a twisty slide and crash into a pile of soft blocks. It’s very hands-on and a favorite among school-age kids (up to age 10 or 12).
Look for a new interactive exhibit that teaches kids about emergency preparedness. Listen to an emergency siren, explore severe weather situations, like hurricanes and lightning strikes, and learn what to bring into an emergency shelter. The weather center is closed on Sundays, so make this one of your first stops in town.
The Phantastic Phils public art project is another must-do while in Punxsutawney. Pick up a map and take selfies with more than 30 six-foot tall groundhog statues around town. Each one is colorfully decorated, including one that looks like a Scottish bagpiper and another that’s dressed up as a tacky tourist.
My kids absolutely loved going from Phil to Phil all around town. In some spots, there were three or four within easy walking distance of each other. There’s even one in front of the Cobblestone Hotel that’s dressed up like a hotel bellman.
In the middle of our quest to find all of the Phantastic Phils, we made a stop at Gobbler’s Knob. A total must. A mile or two from the center of town, this is where Phil speaks in “groundhogese” to the president of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle and shares his prediction about the coming of spring.
Also at Gobbler’s Knob there’s a half-mile walking trail with signs and photos along the way that tell the story of Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil. If you are in Punxsutawney on a weekday, you’ll also want to stop in the Groundhog Club Headquarters for more displays and memorabilia.
You can even take home a “Flat Phil” (a photo of a groundhog on a postcard, like a Flat Stanley) to take photos with in your own hometown or on your travels Once you’ve taken a photo, just mail it back to the Groundhog Club Headquarters where they’ll mark your “Flat Phil” submission on a giant world map.
And, don’t forget to visit Phil himself at Phil’s Burrow, a glass-enclosed home in the side of the Memorial Library where Punxsutawney Phil lives with his wife, Phyllis. They sleep more than 23 hours a day, so you may not see them when you first visit, but keep your eyes open.
When it’s time to eat, stop in Nick’s Corner Lunch, which is just a couple of blocks away from the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center. Despite the name, Nick’s Corner Lunch is open for dinner, but it’s not open on Sundays. Kids will love the hamburgers made with loose ground beef served up in a hot dog bun. Order two or three with everything, including onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and special sauce.
Another favorite in town is Laska’s Pizza. The sauce is sweeter than most pizza sauces, which may be why their pizzas are so popular. The kids will also love that one of the Phantastic Phils is right in front of Laska’s Pizza. As a bonus, he’s dressed up as an Italian pizza chef. Snap a photo with pizza chef Phil and get warm inside with a few slices of pizza.
One last pick is Punxy Phil’s Family Restaurant. The food is great, it’s served up quickly. They also serve breakfast all day, so this restaurant was naturally a winner for me. On Sundays the restaurant can get quite busy with the after-church crowd, so expect a full parking lot if you want to grab a bite before you head home from your fun weekend in Punxsutawney.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by the Northwest Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau while in Punxsutawney. However, I was not compensated for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.