LITITZ, Pennsylvania — If you’ve been to Lewisburg, you already know the charms of a ‘Coolest Small Town’ recipient. Here’s another to put on your travel list — about six hours north and east of Charleston.
I first discovered the little town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, while randomly surfing online for interesting destinations on YouTube. A video came up seemingly out of nowhere, and I immediately took notice because I liked what I saw.
The travelogue depicted the town of 9,385 residents, eight miles north of Lancaster, as a picturesque village with amazing architecture, loads of history, enticing boutiques and a vibrant food scene. Put all this together, and you’ll end up seeing why Budget Travel named Lititz “America’s Coolest Small Town” in 2013.
On the trek east for a short visit, I expected to see some old buildings. After all, Lititz dates back to 1742 when Count Nicholas Zinzendorf and a group of beleaguered Moravians left Czechoslovakia to seek religious freedom in Pennsylvania and settled in the east central area of the state.
Twenty-four years later, the all-Moravian community was named Lititz after a Bohemian Castle near the village of Kunvald that harbored the persecuted religious dissenters.
For a contemporary glimpse of what life was like for the early settlers, visit the 1792 Johannes Mueller House at 145 E. Main Street where guided tours cover the household items, furnishings and tools used by wool dyer Mueller as part of his trade.
My own first look at Lititz came as a shock from the modern and contemporary rather than the historic and traditional. After driving through some beautiful Lancaster County farmland, I pulled into the parking lot of the Hotel Rock Lititz, located about a mile north of town.
Sited on the 96-acre Rock Lititz campus, the hotel serves both the general public as well as the design and tech crews who plan and create mega live events for rock tour giants like U2, Madonna, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake.
The campus has also served as the creative think tank for half time shows, big festivals, Broadway touring shows, televised awards shows and other live events — virtually anything live and mega-sized.
The hotel plays on the live event theme starting at the front desk where vintage speakers line the back wall, and, in the lobby, a lighting grid from a past Red Hot Chili Peppers tour hangs over the billiard table. Elsewhere, artificial grass that once appeared on Justin Timberlake’s concert stage and “grew” throughout his performance is part of the lobby décor.
In the guest rooms, custom wallpaper is a mélange of images from a collection of access passes to hundreds of concerts, and road cases — once used to transport equipment and gear on tours — have been repurposed as desktops and sliding doors. The boutique hotel sports Per Diem, a trendy bar, restaurant and swimming pool, and the campus provides additional opportunities for guests like yoga, a bouldering wall, obstacle course, bike rentals, brewery tastings and more. For more information, phone 717-925-(ROCK) 7625 or www.hotelrocklititz.com.
In town, I found Lititz to be a blend of quaint and upscale sophistication. Quaint starts at the Wilbur Chocolate Store at 45 N. Broad, stocked with dozens of different chocolate and candy items. There, visitors can see museum-style items like chocolate molds, tins and porcelain chocolate pots and can also watch confectioners in action making hand-fabricated chocolates behind plate glass windows.
When leaving, they’re given a complimentary package of Wilbur buds, the company’s answer to Hershey kisses. The recipe for the buds, named for their resemblance to a flower bud, has remained the same since they were first introduced back in 1894.
Just across the street, the huge Wilbur candy factory since has morphed into a trendy mix of condos, a boutique hotel and the stylish Blackworth Live Fire Grill.
Along two of the town’s main thoroughfares, Main and Broad Streets, over 50 specialty boutiques entice shoppers inside for a look around. Not one known for his love of frequenting such places, I must admit I succumbed to curiosity while walking by Renewal Kombucha.
The shop features fermented, non-alcoholic beverages full of probiotics and antioxidants, available in cups, flights and growlers. I managed to sample the butterfly pea flower and lavender, two of the more exotic flavors on hand.
Next door, the Savory Gourmet also pulled me inside after I saw some of the exotic meats listed on signs on the windows. Always an adventurous eater, I was amazed to see exotics like camel, jack lope, kangaroo, yak and python in the deli cases next to more common meats like duck, rabbit and quail.
Owner Bill McManus even posts a serving temperature chart on the wall in case you’re wondering how much and how long to cook things. He has another poster that tries to describe what the exotic meats taste like, and it’s not always chicken.
Another establishment that drew me in was the Zum Ancker Alley Shoppes, housed in the former Lititz Record Express newspaper building. Filled with creative works by area artists, the gallery displays some related treasures from its newspaper past — like black and white photos that go back to 1942, a typesetter’s desk, an advertising plate maker and copies of editions from as early as 1918.
Want a break and a chance to relax? Lititz Spring Park is a long, narrow strip of tree-lined tranquility and a swift flowing creek that’s home to a large gathering of ducks. They seem to like flying upstream, then landing in the swift current that carries back to their starting point.
Don’t leave town without a look at the Moravian Church Square, a complex of buildings that include the Church, Single Sisters House, Single Brothers House, the architecturally stunning Corpse House — where the dead were kept until burial — and Linden Hall, the oldest, continuously operating boarding and day school for girls in the nation.
Just across Main Street, The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery was founded in 1861, which gives it the title “America’s first commercial pretzel enterprise.” A guided tour shows how pretzels were made in the old days with antique equipment and methodology. The tour also gives visitors a chance to twist their own pretzels and leave with a packet of freshly baked Sturgis pretzels.
If you’d like to learn more about the town’s history, a visit to the Lititz Historical Center and Museum is a must. On the way out, walk through the beautiful gardens out back for some horticultural ideas.
For more information, go to www.lititzpa.com.
For places to Dine, the Bulls Head Public House, 14 E. Main St., is not only charming it also won the title “Best Beer Bar” in Penn. five times. Both indoor and outdoor seating is available, and the cuisine is creatively prepared and runs the gamut from pub fare to Chicken Tikka Masala, one of the most popular dishes. Phone 717-626-2115 or bullsheadpublichouse.com.
Tomato Pie Café, 23 N. Broad St., features its namesake, the owner’s family recipe made with seasoned red tomatoes baked in a flaky pie crust and covered with a rich cheesy topping. Pizza it’s not! Vegan friendly and health-oriented, the restaurant prepares a tasty menu that includes burgers, sandwiches and more for omnivore and carnivore patrons. Phone 717-627-1762 or www.tomatopiecafe.net.