Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in PA, and as an owner/operator for five years in MN. She currently homesteads in MN.
What's so great about Lancaster County, PA?
And what can I do there?
I live only about an hour away from Lancaster County, so we try to get out there at least once a month to visit our favorite places and to see what’s new.
Lots of people know that there are huge shopping outlets in Lancaster, and most people also know that Amish people live there. If you get a chance to visit the region, I would recommend doing a couple of what I consider to be important, that are a bit off the beaten path: Eat the food at a small, family run restaurant with real Amish cooking, take a buggy ride, visit the antique shops, and aimlessly drive around the countryside.
There's so much to do in Lancaster I'll probably never see it all, no matter how often I visit. There are so many small shops, family restaurants, farm produce stands, Amish house tours, antique shops, craft shops, quilt makers, and countless neat places to buy things like cart shafts, wagon wheels, pocket knives, horse harnesses, and farm implements. Adventure abounds!
Here's an overview of my latest trip to Lancaster County.
Take a Ride in a Horse-Drawn Buggy
While driving around Lancaster County, you're bound to see a few horse-drawn buggies driven by Amish folk. And if you find yourself wondering, "What would it be like to ride in one of those things?", well then, you're in luck!
There are at least half a dozen buggy ride businesses in Lancaster County. Ride times range from 15 minutes to over an hour. Some rides will even take you to Amish farms and local Amish businesses, where you can see Amish products and crafts being made. You might see a cheese maker, a soapmaker, a farmer, or a quilter - or maybe all four and more. You'll be given an opportunity to purchase some of their products, as well.
Some buggy rides will just take you on a slow-paced, relaxing, scenic tour of the countryside, leaving you to consider a simpler time and, perhaps, a better way of life.
Buggy rides generally cost between $10 and $20 for adult tickets, and anywhere from $5 to $10 for a child ticket (prices observed in 2012).
Family Cupboard, Lancaster PA
The Food - Family Cupboard
The Family Cupboard Restaurant and Buffet is always our first stop in Lancaster. Located between two corn fields and a buggy ride booth on Route 340, also known as Old Philadelphia Pike, Family Cupboard has all sorts of real country food.
Their food is in my opinion the most delicious and flavorful you can get anywhere in the region. It is so good, I get mad at myself for not having a bigger stomach when I get full and can’t eat anymore! This food tastes real, and it feels real in my belly. And by that I mean I can tell it’s not loaded with flavor enhancers, and that it is fresh and the meat is local.
It seems to me that a lot of times when you go out for a reasonably priced meal, there is something wrong with it: maybe the chicken doesn't seem quite right, or the beef is “flavored” with MSG and half of it is some kind of powdered corn product.
Not at the Family Cupboard. They have real Amish and Mennonite cooks just making real, honest, good food. And that’s why I love it.
A lunch or breakfast buffet for two generally costs $25, and that includes a twenty percent tip. You can see (some) of what I ate during my last visit in the picture: brussels sprouts, stuffing with gravy, roasted chicken, sausage and black bean stew, macaroni and cheese, and a salad. The mac and cheese is real cream with real cheese on real homemade noodles. I normally hate Brussels sprouts; or at least, I used to, until I learned to eat them fresh. The frozen ones my mother used to try to feed me were so bitter and gross; for me, the only way to eat them is fresh. And at the Family Cupboard, fresh seems to be the only way to make food.
The Family Cupboard also offers homemade soups. Some of my favorites are the chicken corn chowder, potato soup, and traditional chicken noodle soup with homemade noodles.
For dessert, we always get either pistachio pudding, bread pudding, or, of course, the famous sho-fly pie. They also have a selection of other desserts including different puddings, fruit pies, and cakes.
Family Cupboard is just one of many amazing, family-run restaurants serving traditional foods in Amish country.
Visit a Petting Zoo
And meet some farm animals!
There's no shortage of small, friendly petting zoos in Lancaster. I've seen them full of children and adults alike.
I mean, come on, who doesn't love a cute little miniature donkey? Everyone knows they're adorable, but did you know that they make good training animals for young children learning to drive horses and mules, that they're intelligent and docile, and that they are often used to pull small carts and other small farm implements?
Lancaster County's petting zoos are all free to enter; at least, the half dozen or so that I've visited are free. One or two quarters buys you a handful of sweet feed from a vending machine, and subsequently earns you some new furry friends.
Petting zoos are a great way to interact with farm animals, especially for children. And even a farm girl like me (also a full-grown adult, but probably a child at heart), who has her own sheep, horses, cattle, chickens and hogs to look after, loves a good petting zoo.
Petting zoos can also be a great way to meet and interact with Amish and Mennonite people, if you're looking to do so. And when you do, you can ask them about more things to do in Lancaster that are lesser known!
Local Groceries - Fruit, Vegetables, Meats, Dry Goods, Honey and More!
There are more local markets and grocery stores in Lancaster County than I've had the chance to explore. My favorite is Kauffman's.
Kauffman's is a fruit farm, and they also have a little market store where you can purchase their deliciously-fresh orchard fruits, local produce, dry goods, baking and cooking supplies, meats, and more. What gets me interested in their goods like brown sugar, grits, hominy, whole wheat flour, baker's chocolate, pancake mix, and oatmeal is the lack of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. This stuff is the real deal, and I swear it makes a difference. (The prices are very reasonable, too, often lower than at my local big name grocery store even though the products at Kauffman's are higher quality.)
The little market also offers a wide range of honey (which I always eye enviously, with designs on making mead). The honey display features a glass door bee hive, where you can watch the worker bees and try to spot the queen. If you like raw honey, or prefer to purchase honey with the comb, Kauffman's is the place to go in Lancaster County.
Kauffman's is also famous for their meats. We always buy a pound or two of link sausage and spicy beef sticks (basically a thin beef hot dog). When we can we pick up some delicious truly pork chops, and I buy a few pounds of lard for soapmaking.
All that said, there's one product I insist on purchasing above the others: sweet apple cider. This is the cider I use to make my hard cider with, and it is just perfect fermented or not. My cider making experiments with different brands of sweet cider have all led me right back to Kauffman's. What makes their cider so good is the wide variety of apples that they grow, many of them historic varieties that have been used to produce awesome cider for hundreds of years. Kauffman's has hit on what tastes like the perfect blend of different apple varieties in their cider, and I'm pretty sure I won't find anything better until I start making cider from my own apples.
Cheers to Kauffman's!
Take a Scenic Driving Tour on Your Own
In Lancaster county all roads lead to "Rome," so to speak. What I mean is that once you realize there are basically four highways (Route 30, Route 340, Route 10, and Route 23), you can drive aimlessly through the farmlands and country sides of Lancaster County without getting lost.
Using a GPS helps, too.
I recommend driving around because you can get a feel for the Amish way of life, if you're interested. Depending on the season, if you're driving during daylight hours you might see a team of eight or more mules pulling a huge tiller through a used corn field, an Amish woman hoeing in her garden, rows and rows of field corn and sweet corn growing, dairy cows grazing, young draft horses with their mothers, Amish children riding bikes and scooters, or a horse-drawn wagon driven by young Amish men harvesting pumpkins. I especially love seeing the horses at work.
Driving in Lancaster
I love that you can still see small tobacco crops growing alongside corn in Lancaster.
AUNTBEANIE on October 16, 2018:
Looking forward to seeing all of this in about a week. Can you tell me how far the Hershey candy factory if from Lancaster?
Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on November 22, 2015:
I've never been to Lancaster County, so I really appreciate the tour and information. It's a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing and congrats on HOTD honors!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on November 22, 2015:
Rachel, congrats on another HOTD! I've been to Lancaster County a long time ago. It's beautiful in the fall season. I believe I've been to the restaurant, but I don't remember visiting the petting zoo. Thanks for sharing this lovely hub on Amish county PA.
Donna Herron from USA on November 22, 2015:
I've always wanted to visit Lancaster County, but haven't quite made it there (yet). Thanks for sharing the highlights of activities and things to see. I'd love to see some of the quilts and other handmade items available in Amish country. Congrats on your HOTD!
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on November 22, 2015:
Congratulations on the HOTD Rachel. Haven't been to Amish Country in many years but I do have fond memories of my visit. It's certainly a unique and beautiful area. Perhaps we'll get there in the near future now that you have rekindled my interest.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from from PA, now homesteading in MN on August 25, 2012:
Tammy - I'm really glad you enjoyed the Hub, and that it reminded you of home. I'm sure North Carolina is beautiful, too. Thanks for commenting!
Tammy from North Carolina on August 25, 2012:
It is always a pleasure to meet other Hubbers from Pennsylvania. I was raised in Somerset County, directly across the street where the plane crashed on 9-11. I miss the food, maple syrup, apple cider, and the mountain air. I love your hub. It feels like home.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from from PA, now homesteading in MN on August 22, 2012:
Hi Dolores! I haven't eaten at Cloisters - I'll have to give it a try. Thanks for commenting, glad you liked the article. I love Lancaster.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on August 22, 2012:
Hi, Farmer Rachel - I love Lancaster County and visit it once a year. We usually go to Ephrata and stop in the Menonite Store and eat at Cloisters. Also enjoy stopping in Carson's in the Cornfields. It is a beautiful place! Your pictures are so pretty!