From mansion museums to miniature horse farms, Lancaster County is full of nearly hidden gems that satisfy a visitor’s demand to see something truly unique to this area.
Friends and relatives who live outside of Pennsylvania often come to visit Lancaster County. I regularly take on the mantle of unofficial county ambassador and tour guide, trying to show off the highlights of what we have to offer. I have accumulated a list of stops that are quintessentially Lancaster County, which, at the same time, may be a bit off the radar to the average tourist. I thought I would share a couple, just in case you are pressed into service as a tour guide this summer.
Wright’s Ferry Mansion
I only recently discovered Wright’s Ferry Mansion, a true hidden gem of historical importance near the Susquehanna River in Columbia. The circa-1738 home of Susanna Wright, a Quaker who was one of the first English inhabitants of Lancaster County, remains in perfect, near-original condition on a part of the 100-acre tract originally deeded to her family from William Penn. Most of this property would later be divided into lots to form Columbia in the newly founded county named after the Wrights’ home of Lancashire, England.
Over the years, through the philanthropic efforts of owners, the home has been outfitted with a collection of antiques rivaling any museum collection. Visitors will see items like Susanna’s silver cup she brought as a child from her native England, a circa-1600s traveler’s sundial made in France, and a Philadelphian tall case clock during an informative, guided tour. Susanna’s sophisticated yet simple taste is seen throughout the house. This is a must-see stop for any American history buffs or those interested in antiques and design.
38 S. 2nd St., Columbia, discoverlancaster.com/directory/wrights-ferry-mansion
Once a staple in all of America, diners have become few and far between over the past couple of decades. Eateries where locals gather on a daily basis are a part of American history and small-town tradition, which Hinkle’s Restaurant in Columbia keeps alive. After more than 100 years in operation, Hinkle’s looked to be just another part of history until Don and Becky Murphy stepped in to keep the restaurant’s doors open in 2017.
While the pharmacy part of the institution has been relegated to the history books, a new soda fountain lends a nostalgic air to the eatery that specializes in American comfort food. Hinkle’s keeps local history alive by serving the shifter – a ham-and-cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and a sweet pickle on white bread – which was a staple of Pennsylvania Railroad workers when Columbia was a bustling railroad town. Another popular item is the in-house-made chicken croquettes, which we all know are a prized Lancaster County tradition. There’s also an expansive gift shop.
261 Locust St., Columbia, hinklesrestaurant.com
Fetish Brewing Company
Years ago, I relied on an almost hidden database of Lancaster County brewery knowledge. I would shuttle friends to a second-floor taproom in a barn or a carved-out corner of a defunct department store to find the area’s freshest brews. I even knew where to find the Fetish Brewing Company’s OG city garage before they moved to Lititz. Now, every Lancaster brewery is common knowledge, but I still love to show off Fetish as one of the county’s best-kept secrets, especially because their location in Rock Lititz’s Pod 2 is so cool!
Fetish serves small-batch, meticulously crafted beers in a space where tunes are spun on wax within the sprawling rock n’ roll complex of Rock Lititz’s Pod 2. The bar area is industrial-cozy and the lobby-style seating area is perfect for groups with kids. They serve some snacks, but the best time to visit is when a local food truck is parked outside. Try Ghost Pepper, the beer that started it all.
201 Rock Lititz Blvd., Lititz, fetishbrewing.com
Who can resist the fuzzy face of an alpaca? Because they are so loveable, produce high-quality fiber and are environmentally friendly, the South American camelid mammals became popular a couple decades ago with ranch and farm owners. Kevin and Sue Zurin, owners of Eastland Alpacas, have been sharing their love of alpacas for more than 25 years.
Every fall, Eastland Alpacas hosts a multi-weekend open house, usually in November. In 2022, the open house allowed visitors to mingle with more than 100 alpacas, including new babies, observe obstacle courses and even feed the animals. Kids enjoyed wagon and barrel train rides, and even a stilt-walking balloon artist. The newly expanded Farm Store Boutique sells products like socks, gloves, hats, sweaters and stuffed animals that are made from alpaca fibers. There is even alpaca yarn! Throughout the rest of the year the store and tours are available by appointment only.
2089 Risser Mill Rd., Mount Joy, eastlandalpacas.com
Lapp Valley Farm
Chocolate marshmallow is my favorite flavor of ice cream and Lapp Valley Farm is hands down the best maker of this flavor, IMHO. It is loaded with marshmallow creme. I like to take guests to the original farm location in New Holland where respectful visitors can observe the working Plain farm and get up close to the cows that produce the milk for this wonderful ice cream.
Now, there’s a new alternative to the farm – Lapp Valley Farm Creamery & Café opened last summer along the Old Philadelphia Pike near Intercourse. This location, which is part of Discover Lancaster’s new “cow-to-cone” Ice Cream Trail, can host busloads of visitors and goes beyond ice cream by operating a fast-food grill. Emma’s Gourmet Popcorn is located right next door, making this a one-stop visit for some of Lancaster County’s most delectable treats.
244 Mentzer Rd., New Holland (farm) and 4040 Old Philadelphia Pike, Gordonville (shop/grill), discoverlancaster.com/directory/lapp-valley-farm-creamery
The Li’l Country Store & Miniature Horse Farm
Taking the back roads southwest from Gordonville toward Strasburg provides beautiful views of Lancaster County’s farming community. A 15-minute drive takes me to my go-to spot for “Amish Country” souvenirs, the Li’l Country Store. I find the quality and selection of books, home décor and locally made products here among the best of its kind. You’ll also find treats such as homemade ice cream and root beer here. The store is owned and operated by Henry and Linda Stoltzfus; most of the wood products on site have been handcrafted by Henry.
Don’t miss the miniature horse farm. Kids and adults alike love to pet and interact with the horses who appreciate nose rubs and treats. When I was there in late May, a few foals had joined the crew. The family also offers one-hour miniature horse workshops, plus cart and saddle rides Monday through Saturday for a fee.
264 Paradise Lane, Ronks, lancasterminihorses.com