York, Pennsylvania is just 92 miles north of Washington, DC. The city was founded in 1741 by settlers from Philadelphia and named after the British city of York. It lays claim to being the USA’s first capital, as the Continental Congress first drafted the Articles of Confederation there. York County makes for a great getaway for outdoor lovers, beer enthusiasts, foodies and history buffs. Here are tips to enjoy a fun, delicious and action-packed weekend!
Friday Night in York
York, home to around 40,000 people, has an abundance of great restaurants, cafes and breweries. The town’s heritage is heavily influenced by Germans, so you will find a wealth of delicious pretzels and beer in the area. There are 21 breweries in York County, and no matter your palate, you’re likely to discover a new brew you will love.
Kickoff Friday night in York with a Fun and Delicious Beer Tasting
York County is becoming a beer Mecca of the mid-Atlantic. If you want to learn a lot about beer history during non-COVID-19 times, take a brewery tour with York County Ale Trail. They offer two different walking tours as well as a brew bus tour. The tour typically includes a tasting tray of four 5 oz pours at three different breweries. Glenn Smith, who launched the York County Ale Trail in 2018 is a practicing lawyer in his other profession.
We toured two breweries on a special private tour with Glenn and were enamored with his knowledge of beer history as well as how delicious many of the beers we tried are. Glenn also guides patrons through the proper way to experience a beer tasting. If you cannot take a tour with York County Ale Trail, we highly recommend visiting Old Forge Brewing Company and Collusion breweries in downtown York! (Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, York County Ale Trail is not currently running tours).
Old Forge Brewing Company
Old Forge Brewing Company was founded in 2008. Using local ingredients, they brew great beers and have a quality kitchen. We recommend swinging in for a tasting tray and trying their Shepard’s pie empanadas. The Shepard’s pie empanadas are a pastry filled with beef, mashed potatoes, and veggies that were perfectly prepared and so delicious dipped in warm brown gravy! They’re a tasty accompaniment to a great beer tasting.
For our tasting tray, we tried Hopstash IPA, Slack Tub Stout, Oktoberfest and Blood Orange Gose. Their Oktoberfest beer is a perfect balance of malt and hops, and goes down smooth. It’s a beer you could happily drink a giant mass of at a beer festival. Their Blood Orange Gose is unique – refreshing, tart and not overly sweet. Beer tastings come down to personal preference. But when the pours are just 5 oz, we recommend trying some new things because you may discover a new gem for your palate!
Collusion Tap Works
On a Friday night in York, PA, why not pop into another great brewery! Collusion Tap Works fits the bill. Try their Paper Chaser, a dry-hopped Kolsch, a German-style pilsner that originated in Cologne, Germany. I enjoyed it more than some of the Kolsch’s I’ve drunk in Germany. Their Super Soma, a fruited sour is delightfully is tart, refreshing and tasty. Bell enjoys sour beers more than I do, but we both loved that one. The highlight of my tasting at Collusion was their Screamer, a 10% abv Imperial Milk Stout. It’s a wonderfully robust and delicious brew packed with flavor!
Dinner at Left Bank York
After a fun beer tasting, sit down for a lovely meal on an outdoor terrace in downtown York, PA. On the weekend York has closed off part of George Street to allow restaurants to have patio space. Left Bank York has previously won the Silver Spoon Award for best fine dining in York. During COVID times, they have expanded outdoor seating to enjoy delicious meals and drinks al fresco. The atmosphere on weekends is great because you can hear live music in the background.
Left Bank York has an extensive cocktail list. I enjoyed their Dark & Stormy cocktail and Bell had an Old Fashioned. Both are refreshing on a warm evening. Order their chicken n’ waffles appetizer to start – the fried chicken is wonderful – crispy on the outside and juicy inside. Served atop a waffle, drizzled with maple syrup, it is the perfect blend of savory and sweet.
I enjoyed their sautéed ostrich steak. It is a treat you do not often see on menus. Bell ordered the seasonal seafood as a main, which was cooked nicely, but not as flavorful as the ostrich steak. We split a beet and kale side, which is lovely if you enjoy beets like we do.
Portions are not overwhelming, and the desserts are excellent so we highly recommend at least splitting one. Their vanilla bean creme brûlée is fantastic. Their Left Bank candy bar is also tasty. It’s a brownie with peanut butter mousse, caramel, chocolate sorbet and caramel popcorn. If you want to try something different, go for the candy bar. But for fans of creme brulee, like us, it’s the perfect way to end an elegant meal!
Saturday in York County
Breakfast at York Central Market
You have to check out York Central Market, and Saturday morning is a perfect time! York Central Market dates to 1888 and was designed by architect John A Dempwolf. The spacious two-story brick building designed in Romanesque Revival serves as the town’s public market. Saturday mornings have a steady flow of patrons, but are not overrun with huge crowds. So the vibe is laid back and merchants are friendly.
Grab a delicious coffee and check out the stalls to see what piques your interest. We bought some delicious fresh beets and squash to cook after we returned home. It’s York, so grab some tasty fresh baked pretzels from Foltz’s as a snack! Then order breakfast from the Corner Cabinet. Their Mediterranean omelet hits the spot to start your day.
Stand-up Paddle Board Lesson or Kayak the Susquehanna River
Along the shores of the Susquehanna River, Shank’s Mare Outfitters is housed in a historic general store dating back to the 1880’s. They specialize in the sales and rentals of fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking and cross country skiing gear. We love kayaking and the Susquehanna River is definitely a great place for it. We had never tried stand-up paddleboarding and decided to try something new.
Josh is an excellent guide and teacher. He’s very knowledgable, caring and a great motivator to get you standing on the board. Bell frequently does yoga and was a natural standing on the paddleboard. Even though she had never done it before, she did not fall off.
It is much easier to keep your balance on the board while on your knees. I was able to stand on the board but could not keep my balance and fell off. Don’t eat too much right before going out there! Otherwise, you may struggle to get back on the board and decide to end your lesson early. Speaking from experience! But as it has been a hot summer, I haven’t been exercising much and didn’t go out in the best shape. I was happy the board was tethered to my foot and Josh assisted me in getting back on.
*On weekends, be sure to book a kayak or paddleboarding lesson in advance as Shank’s Mare is busy. We witnessed walk-ins get turned away due to lack of availability. During the week, you will likely be fine walking in without a reservation, as the river is much quieter with activity then. Stand-up paddleboard lessons cost $50 per person for a two hour lesson.
Picnic Lunch on the Susquehanna River
The shores of the picturesque Susquehanna River are lovely for a picnic. Saturdays in summer buzz with the steady, but not overrun flow of boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddleboarders. It’s the perfect backdrop to enjoy over tasty nibbles. A picturesque picnic is romantic AND safe in COVID times because it can just be the two of you. Another great thing is that you set the pace – take as long or as little time as you want. Eat as little or as much as you wish! And of course, this is especially economical for families. If it’s very hot, be sure to find a picnic spot under a shady tree!
Susquehanna Heritage Center and Pontoon Tour of the Susquehanna River
Shoot for the 3:15pm pontoon tour of the beautiful Susquehanna River. The National Park Service sponsors the tour and because it is still a pilot it’s currently free! Sarah was a fantastic guide, discussing hundreds of years of history along the river, including significant events that took place during the US Civil War. Be sure to book the boat tour in advance on their website!
Afterward, spend a little time at the Susquehanna Heritage Center. There are some fantastic pieces of art on display among the great exhibit on the history of the area and the Susquehanna people. Take a short hike up the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail if time permits. At the top of the hill, there’s a small cemetery shaded by tall trees with beautiful views of the valley.
Green rolling hills dot the shores alongside the Susquehanna River. The top of Highpoint Overlook offers a stunning vista of the river, Wrightsville and a dramatic landscape for many miles. If someone took you there blindfolded, without knowing where you were, you might think you were in Ireland! I got a nostalgic feeling for the rolling hills of central Ireland there. Consider going up around sunset, after dinner, especially if it’s a very hot day. The temperatures were scorching midday but cooled off enough in the evening to make it more enjoyable. The pinks and purples that lit up the sky are strikingly beautiful there.
Dinner at Burning Bridge Tavern or John Wright Restaurant
Enjoy your Saturday evening dinner in Wrightsville. For casual American dining, with tasty frozen cocktails and live music, head to Burning Bridge Tavern. For a wider range of sit down entrees, head to John Wright Restaurant. John Wright Restaurant is typically open for lunch, but they’ve shortened their hours due to Covid-19. We were meant to have lunch there and opted for a picnic instead.
Burning Bridge Tavern is a bustling brick-lined restaurant with a local early 1900’s pub atmosphere. With expanded outdoor seating and live music, it’s a fun place to spend Saturday night. During our visit, there was a great country band and line dancing. Enjoy a delicious frozen cocktail over your meal. We highly recommend the crab pretzel at Burning Bridge Tavern. It is a delicious and generous mix of crab meat and cheese atop a large fresh-baked pretzel. At just $8.95 it is a banging deal!
John Wright Restaurant offers dining in a restored warehouse right alongside the Susquehanna River. Their Four Seasons Dining Room, a timbered structure enclosed by glass on three sides, offers great views of the river from any seat. The building previously housed a silk mill. Entrees include lobster manicotti, hickory-smoked ribeye, seafood gumbo and jumbo lump crab cake.
Sunday: Bike the York County Heritage Trail
Outdoor enthusiasts can make their Sunday morning all about biking in York County. Pennsylvania has around 93 rail-trails, which are paths built along railway lines. Pennsylvania rail-trails cover a total of 1,063 miles. The York County Heritage Trail covers 21 miles from York to New Freedom, PA. Enjoy picturesque sites, including the weekend passing of the historic North Central Railway line. Which you can also ride on weekends! The trail is packed with history, including Hanover Junction, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Breakfast at New Freedom Rail Trail Cafe
Start the day with breakfast at New Freedom Rail Trail Cafe. It is housed in the historic New Freedom Train Station, originally built in the 1860’s. If available, grab a seat outside with a view of the rail tracks. They serve a variety of tasty homemade items like breakfast wraps, sandwiches and desserts. We opted for tasty breakfast wraps, which are the perfect amount of food before bike riding. If you have a late breakfast or early lunch at New Freedom Cafe, you can watch the historic Northern Central Railway pass by your table!
Northern Central Railway
The historic Northern Central Railway runs along the tracks of York County Heritage Trail. You can book a seat on the 1860’s steam train on weekends. It is a recreation of the train that Abraham Lincoln was on when he passed through Hanover Junction to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Whistle Stop Bike Shop
During normal times, you can rent bikes in York. But at the moment you will have to bring your own. Big thanks to Ed and Kaye at Whistle Stop Bike Shop for loaning us two beautiful new bicycles for the day. Swing by their shop if you’re looking for a bike or need any parts or repair. They will allow you to test ride a bike if you are interested in purchasing one!
Address: 2 E Franklin St, New Freedom, PA 17349
Stop in Glen Rock and Have Lunch at Glen Rock Mill Inn
Glen Rock is a cute town with lovely murals. If you need some water or a snack, there is a convenience store right off the York County Heritage Trail.
The Glen Rock Mill Inn offers elegant dining and boutique accommodation in a historic former mill. It is a unique farm to table experience, as much of the vegetables, herbs and other ingredients come from their own Tulsi Fields Farm. This is the most romantic restaurant in York County, right along the York County Heritage Trail.
We ordered their cantaloupe and crab bisque, served cold, along with a salad to start lunch. The cantaloupe and crab bisque was perfectly refreshing, interesting and delicious. After biking many miles in 90-degree temperatures it really hits the spot! Their Hawaiian chicken sandwich, topped with grilled pineapple and melted provolone, was so tender and flavorful. It was the best chicken sandwich we have eaten in a long time. The wild boar tacos were a little on the small side, and did not stand out as much, but were still flavorful.
If you arrive at the restaurant on a bicycle, without a lock, like we did, Glen Rock Mill Inn has their guests covered. Their friendly and knowledgable owner Brendan happily loaned us two bike locks. Many guests who stay at the inn go for bike rides, so they’re well prepared.
Unfortunately, during COVID-19, the inn and indoor dining is currently closed. But their terrace is a wonderful place to grab a meal Friday – Sunday.
Bike to Historic Hanover Junction
Hanover Junction is a picturesque rest stop on the York County Heritage Rail Trail. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there is a lovely garden of flowers and information documenting its history.
Hanover Junction was an important railroad intersection linking the Northern Central and Hanover-Gettysburg railways. It contributed to the economic prosperity of the area by playing a significant role in the shipment of commercial and agricultural products. During wartime, it played a critical role as a military supply and communications hub.
During the US Civil War, the Confederates sought to destroy the logistical support system of the Union Army. So they targeted Hanover Junction for its railroads and telegraph connections. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stopped in Hanover Junction en route to delivering the Gettysburg address.
Today the historic Northern Central Railway runs from New Freedom to Hanover Junction. You can book a seat on the 1860’s steam train on weekends. Wave to train passengers as they pass by from your bike!
Coffee & Dessert in York
There are several great cafes in York, PA. Two we especially recommend are Molly’s Courtyard Cafe and the Green Bean Roasting Company.
Molly’s Courtyard Cafe is conveniently located in downtown York, right next to York Central Market. They have a large selection of espresso-based drinks, smoothies, light bites and desserts. Their iced coffees hit the spot in summer. We also highly recommend their almond croissants, which are delicious.
The Green Bean Roasting Company is another great cafe in York. In fact, it’s the #1 rated cafe in York on Tripadvisor. We popped in for frozen coffees and grabbed some cookies to eat later. Both were delicious. Their frozen coffees are far better than Starbucks!
York Ice Cream
As it was summer and Bell loves ice cream we enjoyed ice cream at two York small businesses. Sweet Willows has a charming outdoor area to enjoy a cone. For peanut butter loves, they have several PB flavor options. For dairy-free folk, there are some great options at both these spots.
The Village Coffee and Cream is well worth getting off highway I-83 to get coffee, ice cream, or an affogato. We also picked up some of their coffee beans to enjoy more of the trip home with us. If you have lactose issues, I highly recommend their vegan almond joy ice cream. It’s delicious on its own or in an affogato, with a shot of espresso!
York, PA Hotels
Wyndham Garden York
We stayed at Wyndham Garden York. Our room was spacious, comfortable and quiet. Rooms have large flat-screen TVs, Keurig machines and comfy mattresses for a restful sleep. There is both an indoor and outdoor pool, fitness center and conference facilities. The hotel also features on-site dining and a bar at Fenderz Grill and Pub. Their convenient location near I-83 means it also a short drive to Hershey, Harrisburg, Gettysburg and Baltimore. Downtown York is around a 15-minute drive from Wyndham Garden York.
Heritage Hills Resort
Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center is another popular option. Many of the rooms overlook their driving range and putting green. Their on-site restaurant has an excellent craft beer selection, with some good dishes. The outdoor terrace at Avenue Ale House and Pizza Loft has a lovely view of the golf course too. The terrace is right next to the 18th green.
Recap on a Weekend in York County and More on Pennsylvania
There is a lot to experience in York County, PA! Outdoor lovers, foodies, beer lovers and history enthusiasts are well covered with a variety of activities. With 21 breweries, York is becoming a beer Mecca of the mid-Atlantic states!
If you travel to the area with kids, they will love Chocolate World in nearby Hershey. Read our article on how to spend 2 days in Hershey & Harrisburg, PA.
If you enjoy history, you should plan to visit nearby Gettysburg, which we have also covered with an itinerary! Follow the path of Lincoln from Hanover Junction to Gettysburg to learn more about the US Civil War. Adams County produces wonderful ciders too!
Disclosure: We thank the Explore York tourism board for hosting us, allowing us to write this extensive article. All photos and experiences discussed here are our own. Also, this article may contain affiliate links.