Monday, August 15, 2022
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Crafting the Happy Valley Experience for First-Timers

My wife and I drove down to Washington, D.C. on Friday afternoon for a long scheduled fun weekend with our daughter. On Saturday evening, we had a rooftop cookout at our daughter’s apartment building for her and a few of her friends. Yes, it’s come to that – the old boomer parents regaling their millennial child and her buddies with stories of yore. OK, her mother did no regaling. And I did my best to keep my regaling to a minimum in an effort not to embarrass our wonderful daughter.

As we sat eating our hamburgers, gazing over the edge of the balcony at the Washington Monument and Capitol Building in the distance, the topic of conversation moved to where everyone grew up. While discussing hometowns in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, one of our daughter’s friends revealed that she had never been to State College. Being nothing if not unabashed tourism supporters for our fine valley, the gauntlet was thrown down and the beginnings of a trip were planned to cross this destination off her bucket list. 

As the timing of what will ultimately be a weekend trip was being hashed out, an even more important topic arose: where should our daughter take this never-been-there-before friend to give her the true Happy Valley experience? What are the must-see and must-do adventures that newbie millennials should have so when they leave our wonderful rural utopia they can intelligently explain to their peers exactly how and why it’s so wonderful, rural and utopia-like? And to do it with the heartfelt emotion of someone who has really experienced it rather than just being a mere reader of cheap tourist pamphlets. 

It was with this purpose in mind that the group created the following list of 10 things any first-time-visiting millennial must have in Happy Valley. Most of which are good choices for anyone of any age. 

1. Jo Hays Vista. If at all possible drive, the newbie to Happy Valley using Route 26. Since this group will be coming from the western and southern D.C. beltway area, it works perfectly as the shortest route to State College (both distance and time) is to take the “back roads” through Cowans Gap State Park, Shade Gap (and the “Shadow of Death”), Orbisonia, Shirleysburg, Mt. Union, Huntingdon, and on to State College on Route 26. This means the last two hours of their drive will be almost completely on rural two-lane roads, and the newbie’s introduction to Happy Valley will be the Jo Hays Vista atop Tussey Mountain. The vista provides the best driveable scenic view of our area and, after spending two hours on back roads, it’s the perfect introduction to Happy Valley.

2. Climb Mount Nittany. Once you’ve enjoyed the view from one vista, driven down into the valley and stretched your legs from the trip, what better way to get some fresh air and your blood flowing than take a hike? Mount Nittany is the primary geographic symbol of Happy Valley, and the hike up to the Mike Lynch Overlook is a great way to spend an hour or two, get a good workout and see the overhead view of the eastern portion of State College, Beaver Stadium and campus.

3. Beaver Stadium. When you come down from Mount Nittany, it’s a short drive over to the second-largest stadium in the nation, Beaver Stadium. Sure, it’s an impressive site when it’s filled with 106,572 screaming blue-and-white clad fans, but in some ways it’s an even more impressive structure when you can peacefully walk around the outside and take in the odd beauty in the amalgamation of all that steel and concrete. Chances are good your newbie friend will never have seen anything that large. 

4. Berkey Creamery. After a tour around the stadium, it’s a quick walk down Curtin Road to the “Creamery” for some delicious ice cream. The Creamery has been in existence for over 150 years, is a world leader in dairy production and food science, and has had some of the biggest names in the ice cream business — Baskin-Robbins, Haagen-Dazs, and Ben & Jerry’s among others – take their legendary short course in ice cream production. Every newbie deserves a scoop of Death by Chocolate! 

5. The Nittany Lion Shrine. Continuing that westward walk one-half mile down Curtin Road will bring you to the remains of a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone. In 1942, sculptor Heinz Warneke crafted that block of limestone into the Nittany Lion Shrine, which has long been the symbol for not only the university’s athletic teams, but is an important part of the legacy of every Penn State student anywhere. It has been there for 70 years, is the most photographed spot on campus, and is a selfie opportunity for any newbie regardless of their college affiliation.

6 & 7. Rapid Transit and Family Clothesline. After touring campus, it’s time to take your newbie downtown. Everyone has their favorite places to get Happy Valley and Penn State souvenirs, and our millennials decided that their newbie should be taken, at minimum, to these two stores. Rapid Transit, well-known for its outstanding customer service and ability to satisfy any sports-oriented need – especially footwear – displays more merchandise in their space than is comprehensible. Every square foot of wall and floor is utilized. And don’t forget the downstairs! On the other end of town, Family Clothesline has grown over the decades from a small basement space, gradually taking over storefront after storefront, and now commands over 10,000 square feet along East College Avenue. With their own in-house printing, if there is a T-shirt your newbie wants, you can probably find it here. 

8 & 9. Phyrst and Champs. After all these stops it might be getting late and time to relax a bit. In the nine blocks of downtown State College between College Avenue and Beaver Avenue from Atherton Street to Sowers Street, there are more than 20 places to get a drink. Since this is a millennial newbie who is getting a tour, it means she is old enough to go into one of these fine drinking establishments. As with souvenirs, everyone has their favorite places to go when a good time is to be had. Our group decided the Phyrst and Champs provided the best flavor of what Happy Valley nightlife means. As a former manager at the Phyrst (whose picture may still be up on a wall there!), I’m partial to the basement bar with the picnic table atmosphere. And if Champs is good enough for the Jonas Brothers, well, it should be great for a newbie.

10. Original Waffle Shop. After a long day and night of “touristing,” a good night’s sleep should be followed by nourishment. And our group decided the best place to take a newbie for morning joe is the Original Waffle Shop. In our case, The Original Waffle Shop West to be specific. Bacon, bacon and more bacon. Pancakes, eggs, coffee, and of course, waffles. Starting a newbie’s day there gives the best kickoff one can get.

Now, as boomer parents our list might have been slightly different, but we’re just grateful that our millennial daughter wants to bring her friends to Happy Valley and our home! As the Beverly Hillbillies said, “Y’all come back now, ya hear!”