Scranton – Hazleton – Mahanoy City: A Taste of the Coal Regions of PA

An Unlikely Tourist Itinerary: Scranton – Hazleton – Mahanoy City

Scranton

For someone who was born in Wilkes-Barre (me) you would think they would have visited Scranton at some point.  Nope.  And I figured I may as well hit it on this trip and include some other places that are pretty far removed from any tourism itinerary.

The outside of the Downtown Deli in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The outside of the Downtown Deli in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.

This time of the year the autumn colors in the mountains are beautiful and the local convention and visitors bureau is promoting that, rightly so, because it is so worth seeing.  Scranton has at least been advertising and sending a message to prospective visitors to come and visit.

Lots of great little independent shops and restaurants are in Scranton.  Enjoy them - they are treasures to be found.
Lots of great little independent shops and restaurants are in Scranton. Enjoy them – they are treasures to be found.

I could critique the marketing but this isn’t the venue for that.  They’re trying and trying hard.  There is a shopping mall downtown and the city really was quite lively – something I didn’t expect. We ate at the Downtown Deli & Eatery which is in the heart of downtown.

Loads of interesting historic buildings can be found in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Loads of interesting historic buildings can be found in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The city positions itself as The City Electric but after visiting I could relate its historical past to the current experience.  But what a great place to visit and explore.  I wish we had eaten at Sal’s, which is a little local pizza joint that I’m positive has incredible pizza even though I didn’t go in.  It’s the type of place you travel to find.

Downtown Scranton has a mix of old and new in the downtown and it is very pleasant and walkable.
Downtown Scranton has a mix of old and new in the downtown and it is very pleasant and walkable.

Hazleton

the next stop down the line was Hazleton.  This is a city I’ve been to many times. My grandparents are buried here and lived here.  I remember it as a child as being a bit worn but with incredible people.  The one thing I was desperate to do was to eat a piece of Hazleton cold pizza.  It’s something you can’t find anywhere else.   We rode our bicycles from West Hazleton into the city and around.  Couldn’t find a pizza place really and the town was even more beat down than I remembered.

It is great just meandering downtown streets anywhere, but this was a scene in downtown Hazleton, Pennylvania that was really cool.
It is great just meandering downtown streets anywhere, but this was a scene in downtown Hazleton, Pennylvania that was really cool.

The city has attracted a lot of Hispanic immigrants and there was a lot of controversy about it.  I always thought it strange since the city was built by mostly German immigrants, my great grandparents included.  The appearance of the downtown area was very run down and almost seedy in spots.  I felt safe though.  It’s the kind of city you would love to help. It has great history and was once a great Pennsylvania city and a stop here is worth seeing what it has become and what it continues to do to stay alive.

Downtown Hazleton is a bit rough and worn but there are plenty of places to explore for anyone but particularly urban explorers.
Downtown Hazleton is a bit rough and worn but there are plenty of places to explore for anyone but particularly urban explorers.

There appeared to be some great Hispanic restaurants but we didn’t stay for lunch. I never got my pizza – partially because it was so surprising to see what Hazleton has become.  It will continue to evolve and I hope at some point will work on its visual blight and lack of retail and entertainment downtown.  It is a great American story as a melting pot and that story could be told just by walking around if it was done right.

The region itself, as promoted by the Luzerne County convention and visitors bureau, is well presented for what there is.  So, if you’re more interested in what is really on the tourist track, you can find a lot more here.  Most people don’t visit downtown Hazleton when coming to the area.

Mahanoy City

a bit further south of Hazleton off the expressway is a small town called Mahanoy City.  It is part of Schuylkill County where there are plenty of other things to do and see though this is what we chose.  There isn’t anything here in Mahanoy City to draw tourists other than seeing an authentic coal mining town that has seen a population decline for a while.  My great great grandparents lived here and so I had to stop and visit the historical society.  The people couldn’t have been more helpful – something about the people in this part of the country makes them very honest and friendly and helpful I think.

Mahanoy City has seen better days but is still a great place to pull off the expressway and explore.  This is the main street (Centre Street)  in downtown Mahanoy City.
Mahanoy City has seen better days but is still a great place to pull off the expressway and explore. This is the main street (Centre Street) in downtown Mahanoy City.

Mahanoy City at one time, in the early part of the 19th century, had more bats per capita than any other town in America.  So why not capitalize on it with an authentic bar crawl?  Or historical markers on the oldest bars?   The town is well kept and has quite a bit of residential housing still in it but in need of upgrading.  It really could be a tourist destination if done right. At the moment, it’s a nice town to visit to experience what it once was though there isn’t much in terms of shopping but it is real and authentic with wonderful people.

One of the residential streets in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.
One of the residential streets in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

There are plenty of towns in this region worth visiting.  I would love to see them all. But even more, I would love to see one or two of them work on attracting tourists by developing a scene and “product” that would attract people.  All the elements are there for some of these towns and cities to become a great tourism draw.  These towns are in three different counties with different tourism promotion oversight: Lackawana, Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties.  All three counties have attractions worth seeing and spending time exploring those counties.

 

RV Road Trip Note:

This is part of the series of blog posts on a fourteen day road trip from St. Petersburg, Florida to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania with stops along the way north and south with no real planned itinerary.  We did this trip in our 30 foot class A motorhome in late July/early August with two bicycles strapped to the back.  We traveled here from the Poconos and came down the expressway to Scranton, then Hazleton and then Mahanoy City before making our way to Gettysburg.

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