Why Bethlehem Rocks

I just found out that the 2024 National N Scale Convention is going to be in Bethlehem. I wanted to pull together a few things from my time in town to show off what’s so awesome about the area.

The Legacy of Bethlehem Steel

First, the obvious thing. Bethlehem is home to the remains of Bethlehem Steel in the form of “Steelstacks” and the National Museum of Industrial History. These are very cool things to check out. It’s amazing seeing what they’ve become from what they were after the closure of the plant.

Here’s how it looked back in 2007, from a series of photos I took with my friend Sean.

And here it is ten years later.

The main Bethlehem Steel plant has been converted into a very accessible tourist attraction, mall and casino. The less well know portions of the plant that aren’t alongside the river, are still hubs of industrial action, with a collection of huge distribution centers and a few remaining manufacturing facilities.


Bethlehem, and adjoining Allentown. has some fantastic railfanning. It sits astride Norfolk Southern’s mainline between the New York area and Harrisburg. The area is home to Allentown Yard, NS’s major classification yard for the region. While Allentown used to have a hump before the arrival of PSR, it’s still a busy facility. There are also a number of interesting secondary mainlines, branch lines and short lines worth checking out.

Here’s a sampling of some of the things I’ve seen in the area over the past few years.

There is much to be said about the railfan adventures that can be had in the area, and here are a few of my own experiences:

And if you’d like to see lots of photos, and a great overall map of the area, check it out on the very cool RailfanAtlas.com website.

History Beyond Beth Steel

The Bethlehem area is full of awesome railroad history. I first learned about it all thanks to Big Mike Bednar, a national treasure and font of knowledge about the area. The best way to learn about all of the amazing things that used to be in the Lehigh Valley is to work your way through the appropriate John Pechulis Media collections. I’d recommend starting with the Railfanning with the Bednars series, where Big Mike narrates his escapades in the area (and beyond) with his brothers, pop, and friends.

I’d like to recommend this playlist for your enjoyment.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/embed?listType=playlist&list=PLQLDpMSkJkggEDXDeG_LaoKDYF9lEnm2q[/embedyt]



I have described Bethlehem as a “tasty city” where we go railfanning between meals. Lets start with breakfast.

First, Vallos Bakery. Vallos has been around since the stone age, or so I believe, for good reason. Every trip to Bethlehem starts with a visit to pickup some of their incredible donuts. A friend once dated a girl who worked there while he was in college and he would get up ridiculously early every morning to drive her to work in exchange for one. If getting a college student out of bed before 6am isn’t enough to sell you on them, here are some photos.

With donuts in hand, I must recommend heading to The Joint for coffee. I love hitting cool coffee shops up when I travel, but The Joint has something I had never had anywhere else: Bourbon Barrel Aged Espresso. I don’t think there’s anything in existence that better fits my tastes than THAT! I’m sure everything else is good, but that’s as far as I ever get.

Lunch time? Well, lets talk about a Lehigh Valley institution: Yocco’s Hot Dogs. I think Yoccos gets mentioned in every Big Mike video, for good reason. I’ll be honest. I don’t think it’s “amazing”. But I do know that when you’re in a place, you eat the stuff from that place, and when you’re in the Lehigh Valley, you better go to Yoccos. And don’t you dare forget you’re in the pierogi belt, make sure to get some with your dogs.

After you’ve checked that box, it’s time to get into the good stuff. I’d recommend hitting up Aqui Es: A Taste of Mexico. A taqueria in Bethlehem? Yes. Because it was ranked the #3 taco spot in America. Is it really? Probably not, but you know what it is? Damn delicious. Go. With an empty stomach. And oh yeah, you can get a side of corn nuggets along with your tacos. Hell yes.

Dinner time? Well, I can think of three options. If you want to follow “What Would Big Mike Do?”, then you’d go to My Place in Bath (it’s a little outside town). The pizza is solid and approved by a pizza snob friend, but it’s the Lehigh Valley Style Cheesesteak that’s worth checking out. As much of a cheesesteak purist as I am, this variation gets a pass because the valley is basically a far suburb of Philly. It’s a regular cheesesteak with some red sauce (marinara) and pickles.

If you want something a little more formal, I cannot recommend Mama Nina’s Foccacheria enough. If you love red sauce Italian food, you’re going to lose your mind. Their sauce is incredible, their portions are huge, and they have two of the best appetizers I’ve ever had: Mozzarella Bella (big flat mozzarella sticks) and balsamic calamari (calamari tossed in balsamic vinegar). Their garlic knots are also incredible and will tempt you to make the mistake of filling up on them.

If you like something actually formal, there’s the Apollo Grill, a delicious place that has routinely been crowned the best restaurant in (some geographic area here).

Now, what are you going to do after dinner? Well, there are a bunch of options. First, you can always go see what’s going on trackside, but if things are dry, there are plenty of good options. The first is just walking around Main Sreet. This is where Mama Nina’s is located, along with a bunch of other fun stops like Fagely’s Brew Works, the Franklin Hill Vineyards tasting room, and a few other fun finds.


If you want something a bit more adventurous, I highly enjoyed the Bookstore Speakeasy. It’s a speakeasy with awesome cocktails and live music. And, finally, one of the best reuses of a railroad station is the former CNJ station turned  bar: The Wooden Match, who’s tagline is “Beer, Meat and Cigars”. You can even sit outside on the platform, or the now unused tracks, which is very weird considering the first time I saw the building it had a set of CP Rail SD40-2s sitting outside.