Harrisburg rainy day activities on a budget

By Lisa K. Berton

Winter's official start date is around the corner bringing cold temperatures and wet cloudy days. Don't let them get you down. Head to Harrisburg and spend a day or two. Learn about Pennsylvania's transportation history, ecosystem and the dinosaurs that once roamed the area. Gaze at architectural works of art created out of marble, gold, and glass. Best of all these activities are budget friendly.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania
300 North St, Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: (717) 787-4980
Hours: Wed-Sat: 9-5 pm, Sun: 12-5 pm
Admission: $7 adults, $6 seniors 65+, $5 kids age 1 - 11, free to active duty military + immediate family, retired military, State Museum Affiliate Members, and PA Heritage Foundation Members. Participant in the Museums for All program.

It's easy to spend hours at the museum, expanding one's knowledge on a multitude of topics. The building houses three floors including a planetarium, gift shop, and a small snack bar.

Transportation buffs will enjoy the expansive vehicle collection. Vehicles include a Concord-style coach, plane, motorcycle, and cars. Archival images of aviation are quite interesting as well. Locals will fall in love all over again with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (opened 1940) after reading up on how much it improved drivability. The PA Turnpike exhibit, in addition to fun facts,  includes knickknacks from days gone by that are now collectible. Howard Johnson's matchbooks and dinnerware are on display. The chain which dwindled after World War II thrived on serving diners who stopped all along the PA Turnpike.

Pre-historic footprints and skeletal remains are on view on the third floor. Any kid going through their dinosaur-everything phase will be amazed by the sheer size of these creatures. Step into the Hall of Geology and watch a video about plate tectonics, the movement of Earth's layers, and how mountains were formed.  Also on the third floor is a dark room with twelve wildlife dioramas. Each providing information on that animal's origin, diet, and predators.

True to the museum's theme is a space dedicated to the people, ideas, and products that helped shape Pennsylvania and beyond. Additional exhibits include the Civil War, industry, archaeology, and Native American life.

Featured image: Painting by Vincent Maragliotti.

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The Pennsylvania Capitol
Harrisburg, PA
Main Rotunda Entrance on Third and State Streets or East Wing Entrance at the fountain on Commonwealth Ave (handicapped accessible).
Phone: 1-800-868-7672

Welcome Center (East Wing) Hours: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday - Friday. Admission: Free

Capitol Tour (Main Rotunda) Hours: Every half hour Monday - Friday, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. Weekends and some holidays at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, & 3:00 pm. Call to schedule or book online.  Admission: Free

Located just across the street from The State Museum. Visit both locations on the same day.

Enjoy a 30-45 minute guided tour or download the app for a self-guided tour. The Capitol is filled with art made from nearly every material available. Chandeliers weighing two tons each are dwarfed by four and a half ton light fixtures. Thorough cleanings and bulb replacements are scheduled every eight years. Marble floors and staircases were inspired by Palais Garnier, a famous opera house in Paris, France. In the lobby, intricate Moravian tiles line the floor. The tiles were created by Henry Chapman Mercer, an Ivy League school student who had various interests and accomplishments.

The Pennsylvania Capitol is home to all three branches of government: judicial, legislative, and executive. When not in session, tours visit the Senate, Supreme Court and House of Representatives. These rooms are also filled with works of art including stained glass, murals, and carvings. It is possible to sit in during sessions. Call ahead for more information.

It is best to be aware of security guidelines before entering the building.

After a full day, consider having dinner at Tres Hermanos. The Mexican restaurant and grocery store is one and a half miles away at 712 S. Cameron Street.

Free Time Journal participated in Visit Hershey & Harrisburg Fall Media Days. Attraction tickets were provided. Reviews are not affected.

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