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North Hills Monthly

Happy Valley Still Hopping During Summer Months

Jun 01, 2017 02:25PM ● By Vanessa Orr

The Arboretum at Penn State

You might think that there’s not much happening in a college town when summer rolls around. Most of the students are gone, and without the crowds, things are a little quieter. But at the Penn State campus in State College, PA, the action is just heating up.

The Happy Valley Music Fest (formerly Summer’s Best Music Fest) will take place on June 2-3, and it’s a great, inexpensive way to enjoy local, regional and national music acts, as well as the camaraderie that occurs when thousands of people pour into downtown streets. For only $10 on Friday, visitors can enjoy listening to The Spin Doctors, Velveeta, Sirsy, and Spider Kelly; $20 on Saturday gets you into 12 shows, including the Bastard Bearded Irishmen, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Marah, The Commonheart and more. 

I got the opportunity to go to the festival last year, and it was a wonderful way to hear live music while immersing myself in the town’s energy. Even if one band wasn’t to my liking, I could just meander a little way up the street and listen to another—and it didn’t hurt that there were two brew pubs on-site so that I could quench my thirst while I wandered between performances. While I was expecting a lot of younger people in the audience, I was surprised by how many families and older folks (like me) were in attendance—you would have hardly known that you were in a college town, except for all of the Nittany Lion gear on display.

If you’d like a break from the crowds, I highly recommend a stop at two of Penn State’s quieter locales—the Palmer Museum of Art, and the Arboretum at Penn State. Though quite different, both give the opportunity for reflection among both natural and man-made beauty.

The Palmer Museum of Art boasts an eclectic collection ranging from Peruvian ceramics to Italian Renaissance painting to modern American photography. Its 11 galleries, as well as an outdoor sculpture garden, boast something for every taste—there are also nine rotating exhibits each year so you can see something new every time. There is no cost to visit, so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon without spending money, and it’s easy to find—just look for the building that features two large bronze lion paws at the entrance, which were created by Pittsburgh sculptor Paul Bowden.

Speaking of felines, I was greeted at the Arboretum at Penn State by Scout, a black-and-white cat who accompanied me on my walk to the Joel N. Myers sundial, where I attempted, unsuccessfully, to read the time. Despite the fact that the arboretum is within walking distance of 75,000 people, it’s easy to relax among the roughly 30 acres of botanic gardens set among 340 acres dedicated to fostering an understanding of the natural world. While the Children’s Garden was alive with the laughter of lots of playing kids, other areas, like the Oasis Garden and Rose & Fragrance Garden were practically Zen-like in their tranquility.

If you can bear to leave this flowering nirvana, another great nature stop is Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park, located 18 miles east of campus in Centre Hall, PA. I enjoyed the bus tour that wound through 1,600 acres of forest and fields—especially when we stopped at the timber wolf habitat where several large and stealthy animals silently appeared at the edge of the fence in answer to our guide’s call. The Wildlife Park was originally created as a sanctuary for a mountain lion that was taken from a private home; today, it houses a number of wild and domesticated animals, including elk, deer, black bear, bobcats, bison, wild mustangs and Texas Longhorn cattle. 

While on the property, I highly recommend taking the tour of Penn’s Cave, the only cave in Pennsylvania on the National Register of Historic Places. A guided boat tour takes you through the half-mile long limestone cavern, which was first opened to the public in 1885. Our guide, Taylor, was extremely knowledgeable about the cave and shared some fascinating facts along our route, including how many gallons of water flow through the country’s only all-water cave (11 million) and how long it takes a stalagmite to grow (one inch in 100 years is considered fast!) Make sure you take a coat, though; the cave stays a steady 52 degrees all year long. 

While the State College area is a lot of fun when the students are all in town, it’s also a great place to visit when there fewer people around. Check out to learn about many other attractions in the area; to get more details about the ones listed in this article, see below.

Happy Valley Music Fest:, 814-238-7004

Palmer Museum of Art:, 814-865-7672  

*Museum is closed for maintenance through Sept. 4, 2017

Arboretum at Penn State:, 814-865-9118

Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park:, 814-364-1664