Bellefonte: A perfect blend of small town charm, big city energy
BELLEFONTE — When I ask people who live in Bellefonte about what they love the most about their town, one word keeps coming up. Charm. “I love the vibe,” Melissa Hombosky, founding member of the State College Young Professionals group, and member of the Bellefonte Borough Council says, “Every town has its problems, but it’s easy to overlook ours.”
It has a small-town TV show feel to it — somewhere between It's a Wonderful Life and Gilmore Girls — that place where you hang out with your neighbors on lazy summer nights, and kids knock on your front door to see if your children can come out and play. “Everyone who visits just says, I love the vibe of this place,” says Nikki Etter, assistant professor at Penn State's College of Health and Human Development. “It’s not just the local businesses, which are rad, it’s the feeling of a community. I love the cruise, a giant Easter egg hunt in the spring, Victorian Christmas and community gingerbread houses in winter, art festivals in the summer, Music in the Park....it’s the closest I’ve ever lived to an episode of Gilmore Girls and it’s such a nice feeling.”
But don't mistake the small town feel as being provincial. It is coupled with entrepreneurship and creative energy that gives Bellefonte a small town/big city thumbprint you can't find anywhere else.
“It not only has a small-town charm, but it also has an urban vibe,” says Mark Dello Stritto, founder of Bellefonte.com & Loaded Creative. He recently relocated his family from Benner Township to downtown Bellefonte. “I love how the grit, grunge and blue-collar bronze is married to the creative spirit in Bellefonte. You get to rub shoulders with people from all walks of life and take in the sights and sounds from tranquil Spring Creek to the train that runs through town every day. It's an architectural powerhouse with legit historical presence.”
Within the past few years, there has been a surge of energy in Bellefonte. There has been an influx of town residents volunteering in the community and serving on committees. The Waterfront Project opened in 2016 and has become a recreation destination for both area residents and visitors. BelleKey (Bellefonte’s Main Street program) has seen 20 businesses in the past two years. Art is playing a larger role in Bellefonte, and the creative community is booming. New projects — from installations to sidewalk art to the yarn bombing — bring life to the downtown streets.
There has never been a better time to discover, or rediscover, or just plain enjoy Bellefonte. With a full calendar of events, and a bounty of fun (see our bucket list to get started), you are well on your way to making Bellefonte your favorite small town with a distinctly urban vibe.
You don't want to miss all the fun that Bellefonte has planned in 2018!
First Sunday: On the first Sunday of each month, downtown Bellefonte businesses join forces, opening their doors to create a local shopping- and arts-centric event. Started by the Bellefonte Art Museum seven years ago, each month has its own unique features, but expect discounts, free gifts and that classic Bellefonte fun vibe from over 30 local businesses. For more information, check out Bellefonte.com.
Chalk the Walk: Stay tuned for more details about this event sponsored by BelleKey, which will invite families and businesses to enter a sidewalk chalk art contest held in downtown.
Bellefonte Art Museum: In June and July, their tenth anniversary summer project, "An Imagination Celebration" will feature interactive art activities in all the galleries at the museum and in partnership with several arts organizations in Happy Valley. The events activities, designed for ages 2-102, challenge your imagination and stimulate creative juices! During the ‘Summer Project’ months of June and July, the museum will be open Thursday through Sunday, welcoming families, friends and visitors. Each gallery activity will be influenced by an internationally known artist offering an activity that is fun and creative. Join in and challenge yourself!
The Central PA Tasting Trail, June 17: Come out to Talleyrand Park on Sunday, June 17 to experience sips, samples, and shopping at the 2nd annual Summer Craft Beverage Expo, brought to you by the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail.
The Bellefonte Intervalley Chamber of Commerce annual croquet tournament on July 29 is a hidden gem (with the option to dress in Victorian gear!)
Summer Sounds in the Gazebo: Since 1981, Summer Sounds in the Gazebo have been offering the perfect end to the summer weekend. Enjoy nine free concerts every Sunday from June to August at 7 p.m. They run about an hour (to 8 p.m.). Musical styles include folk, pop, rock, and jazz. Lawn chairs or blankets are suggested.
Bellefonte Cruise, June 15-16: It's the 30th anniversary of the Bellefonte Cruise! Held every Father's Day, it includes an open cruise, a sock hop, all-vehicle show, parade of high performance and classic show cars, motorcycle poker run, and lots more.
Arts and Crafts Fair, August 10-11: Round out the festival season with this downtown celebration. The Annual Bellefonte Arts and Crafts Festival celebrates creativity, offering a fun arts and crafts haven for everyone. Enjoy arts, crafts and more from talented vendors from near and far. Bring along the kids for numerous fun activities and games that will be sure to make memories. This year the Arts and Crafts Fair will be held in downtown Bellefonte while Talleyrand Park undergoes some construction.
Experience Bellefonte with these insider favorites!
- Book a relaxing weekend in one of the historic district's Victorian Bed & Breakfasts.
- Take a selfie with the ducks at Talleyrand Park.
- Do the Waterfront Walk. Grabbing a donut from Dam Donuts, a coffee from Cool Beans, or bringing your own breakfast to enjoy in the park is a double win.
- Make your own burger at State Burger Co.
- Follow the Historic Walking Tour map and wander around the historic district in the summer.
- Book your ticket with the Santa Express this winter with the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society. (They also offer speeder train rides during the Bellefonte Cruise for only a buck!)
- Try a mini-tasting trail tour. Good Intent Cider, Big Spring Spirits and Bella Vino Wine Bar (formerly Wine & Cafe on the Park) are all downtown and Robin Hood is a quick ride up Bishop Street. Talleyrand Tavern only carries PA beer which is really cool.
- Hang out for drinks and catch live music at Big Spring Spirits and Good Intent Cider. Both have an atmosphere that nods to Bellefonte’s industrial past, but both could be straight out of a larger city.
- Order pizza from Pizza Mia! or Hofbrau. Hofbrau wing night is especially great.
- Try Vodka Sauce or meatballs (or anything) from the Blonde Bistro.
- Meet friends at The Governor's Pub
- Spend a lazy Saturday antique shopping at the Plaza, Iron Star Trading Company, Victorian House Antiques, the Great Mish Mosh or McCoy’s CAAT.
- Discover the curated clothing collection at Helen Foxx & Co.
- Rent a kayak from Tussey Mountain Outfitters and float down Spring Creek.
- Hike Spring Creek Canyon.
- Order your favorite takeout and watch the sunset while enjoying Summer Sounds in the Gazebo. It will make for a perfect summer evening.
- Wandering around the Match Factory/Philatelic Society. The building is a hidden gem.
- Check out the Underground Railroad exhibit at the Bellefonte Arts Museum for a sobering reminder of the importance of this town before and after the Civil War.
- Try a new ice cream flavor at Plumb’s Drugs soda fountain.
- Meet a friend for breakfast at the Waffle Shop. You can't go wrong.
- Taste the best Italian food around, hands down, at Mamma Lucrezia’s.
- Fly fish in one of the best trout streams in the country: Spring Creek.