Harrisburg, PA

The Waterfront Capital

Photos Courtesy of: Alan Wycheck

Set on the banks of the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg is the heart of Pennsylvania. This capital city lies in the Great Valley of the eastern foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, which is characterized by craggy terrain and thick deciduous forests. On top of the scenic benefits of the area, the old style architecture, economic strength, and sophisticated culture make this one of the choice metropolitan areas in America. History blends with high technology in Harrisburg, where locals enjoy affordable living, the cultural influence of major universities, and the amenities and lifestyle of the big city without many of its drawbacks.

Ten miles to the west in Carlisle, the pace slows down a bit. About 18,000 people live in this charming borough, where the low-key atmosphere takes its cue from the area's gently rolling hills, rural landscape, and historical sites.

Carlisle is historically famous as the place where George Washington decided to put his army's first arsenal and school.

Carlisle provides a balanced environment, giving residents access to both fast-paced city life and more relaxed country living.

The Pennsylvania capitol building in Harrisburg stands out as a highlight to this waterfront city, bringing over 100,000 tourists a year to marvel at the 272-foot dome. Harrisburg and Carlisle prosper from tourism.

It is a mainstay of the area's economic foundation along with the education system, the government, and high tech companies.

There's more to Harrisburg and Carlisle than business though, and locals also know how to have fun. The Susquehanna River plays a large role in recreation, especially during the summer, and boating and fishing are two major draws. Residents can relive the area's history as a ferry outpost by taking a cruise on the Pride of the Susquehanna paddlewheeler, chugging around City Island on the Miniature Railroad, or taking a romantic carriage ride as the sun goes down. With all it has going for it, it's no surprise that Money magazine ranked the area as one of the top ten Best Places to Live in the Northeast.

Harrisburg, PA At-A-Glance

Population: 62,000

Avg. July high: 86

Avg. January low: 23

Avg. Annual Precipitation: 39

Avg. Annual Snowfall: 34

Closest Big City: 100 miles to Philadelphia

Health Care: 6 hospitals with 820 beds

Cost of Living: About the same as the national average

Housing Costs: 160,000


The Capital Region is located in the lower Susquehanna area, near the Piedmont Plateau. While the coastal area is often characterized by very hot temperatures, the summers in Harrisburg and Carlisle are actually quite mild. The area experiences its warmest weather toward the end of July, with highs of 86 and average lows of 65 degrees, making it a good time of year to be near the water and enjoy those cool breezes. Pleasant weather lingers rather far into autumn, with October daytime temperatures reaching into the 60s. As the days cool, the brisk air and richly colored autumn foliage make for great walks in the woods.

January has average lows of 21 and highs of 35. The yearly 37 inches of snow is generous enough to make winter sports enjoyable without snowing residents in.

Springtime weather is very friendly, with highs of 61 and lows of 41.

Precipitation averages 40 inches spaced fairly evenly throughout the year, although with a bit more rain in spring and early summer. Winds average close to ten miles per hour from the northwest in the spring before settling down to six miles per hour from the west in the summer.

Art & Culture

Harrisburg and Carlisle are set along the green shores and lovely waters of the Susquehanna River. Money magazine ranked this area among the top ten best places to live in the Northeast.

visual and performing arts, residents and visitors of Harrisburg enjoy a broad cultural landscape.

Music is especially notable here, as evidenced by the Harrisburg Opera Association. In addition to its top-notch opera performances, the Association offers free concerts at the Harrisburg Reservoir Park and provides school children with the opportunity to take part in productions.

The Alumni Chorale of Lebanon Valley College is deemed by many to be the best in central Pennsylvania, having performed in New York, Washington DC, and other cities. Additional musical performances include the Market Square Concerts for chamber music, the Harrisburg Symphony Association, and the Hershey Symphony Orchestra. The Harrisburg Community Theatre, the Hershey Theatre, and the Allenbury Resort Inn and Playhouse also host a variety of performing arts events.

For painting and sculpture, visit the Art Association of Harrisburg, dedicated to the promotion of the visual arts since 1926. Six exhibits are offered each year, along with workshops by some of the top artists in the world. At the association's sales gallery visitors can purchase art from local and nationally renowned artists.

For a glimpse of local history, visit the John Harris/Simon Cameron Mansion, located on the Harrisburg waterfront. One of the country's foremost military history collections is found at the U.S. Army Military Institute in Carlisle. There are also many museums in the area, including the unique new National Civil War Museum.

Harrisburg and Carlisle have plenty to keep locals engaged.

City Recreation

Photos Courtesy of: Alan Wycheck

The highlight of Harrisburg's Parks Improvement Program is its 63-acre City Island. The island offers all sorts of unique attractions, such as a miniature railroad, Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat, horse-drawn carriages, and a riverside village park. It also has impressive resources for recreation, like championship miniature water golf, batting cages, game arcades, marinas, and a beach. Visitors should be sure to catch minor league baseball games with the Harrisburg Senators at Riverside Stadium.

City Island is just one of over two dozen parks and playgrounds that make Harrisburg one of the greenest cities in Pennsylvania. The parks offer everything from shady picnic grounds and swimming pools to softball fields and tennis courts.

Dauphin County has its own set of parks, including Lykens Glen Park and Wiconisco Creek Park, which has a 14-target archery skills trail, ball fields, and playground equipment. Other county park areas include the Wildwood Lake Sanctuary, a wetland only a few minutes from downtown Harrisburg, and Fort Hunter Park and Museum, a 37-acre park with a 19th century museum.

Carlisle locals have access to recreation at the numerous state parks in the area. Little Buffalo and Kings Gap State Parks are just two of many in the region, and residents can fish and camp or otherwise explore the pristine wilderness. There are also two state forests within ten miles of Carlisle. Winter brings another set of activities, including favorites such as cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling.

Over a million visitors attend Harrisburg's more than 200 special events each year. From the oldest inland waterfront festival in the nation and the July 4th weekend American Musicfest to concerts, athletic competitions, and more, there's always something happening in Harrisburg and Carlisle.

For golf lovers, the area is filled with top rated courses. Among them are the Harrisburg Felicita Golf Course and Resort, the Dauphin Highlands Golf Course, and the Sportsman's Golf Course.

Less than an hour away is the Penn National Golf Course, which features two 18-hole championship courses that have won accolades from Golf Digest magazine.

In winter, City Island is covered with millions of lights for the Harrisburg Holiday Winterfest, making the city a beautiful sight to behold.


Little Buffalo and Kings Gap state parks are just two of many parks in the region that offer outdoor adventuring in pristine wilderness settings.

Harrisburg and Carlisle together provide more than two-dozen schools for thousands of students in their jurisdiction. The district boasts a low student-to-teacher ratio. Expenditure per pupil also ranks very highly, and it is no surprise that Carlisle's schools are ranked at the top of the state.

Those seeking an alternative to public education need look no farther than the area's private schools. There are two-dozen private institutions in a ten mile radius of downtown.

As befits a state capital, the Harrisburg area boasts an impressive string of first-class colleges and universities. Near Harrisburg is Penn State Harrisburg, enrolling both undergraduate and graduate students, and part of the Pennsylvania State University system. Other institutions include Temple University at Harrisburg and the Harrisburg Area Community College, a multi-campus facility with thousands of students in Harrisburg, Lancaster, and Lebanon.

Dickinson College in Carlisle is one of the original fifteen colonial colleges, founded in 1773. With an enrollment of nearly 2,000 and a low student-faculty ratio, Dickinson offers a first-rate liberal arts education. Another excellent school here is Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, ranked in the top ten public universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report. The thousands of students at Shippensburg are offered nearly 50 undergraduate and more than 20 graduate programs.

Housing & Cost of Living

Business in this region is booming, and Entrepreneur magazine recently ranked Harrisburg among the 30 Best Cities for Small Business.

The general cost of living in this metropolitan is quite reasonable. Harrisburg and surrounding areas boast overall expenses about 5-10% below the national average, which is an unusually low figure for a metropolitan area. Child care costs in this city vary depending on the age of the child. Parents will annually pay around $5,000 for a four-year-old child at an accredited center and more for infants. Locals enjoy all the amenities of a big city and yet pay reasonable prices.

Although there is a large difference between average prices in Harrisburg and Carlisle, both are well below the national average.

Harrisburg homes average around $115,000, with many options both above and below this price. Carlisle homes are more expensive, though still very affordable, averaging about $176,000. With the wide variety of styles and prices available here, home buyers are sure to find a home that fits both their taste and their pocketbook.

Crime & Safety

This area ranked in Money magazine 's top ten best places to live in the Northeast, and the low crime rates are a major reason. Although the overall crime rate in Harrisburg is higher than the national average, the violent crime rate is less than one-half the national average.

Also, Carlisle's overall and violent crime rates fall well below the national average.

The Harrisburg Bureau of Police is among the most advanced law enforcement agencies in the nation. With a ratio of officers to citizens that is consistently among the best in the state, crime in Harrisburg has declined significantly in the last decade.

As the county seat for Cumberland County, Carlisle is home to five police forces. The effectiveness of the police presence and the continuing community involvement makes for a safe, comfortable place to live.

Earning a Living

The Rockville Bridge just north of this Pennsylvania town was built in 1901 and is still the longest stone arch bridge in the world...

Entrepreneur magazine ranked the Harrisburg capital region as one of the top ten in the northeast in their 30 Best Cities for Small Business article. The area also ranks highly for those seeking employment, and the unemployment rate is one of the lowest of any metropolitan area in Pennsylvania. It is currently about half of national average unemployment rates.

County wide, the median family incomes are some of the highest in the nation and the state.

Military and government facilities rank among the top employers in the area. The largest business employers here include Electronic Data Systems, which has thousands of employees, and AMP Inc., one of the world's leading suppliers of electrical devices. Other companies include Hershey Foods, Pennsylvania Blue Shield, Capital Blue Cross, and Penn State University.

Penn State contributes more than $13 billion to the entire state annually.

Always an important commercial center and distribution point, the region has seen recent expansion. The engines driving growth are trucking, distribution, and a solid transportation infrastructure. The diversified economy provides added insurance.

Even if one sector experiences a downturn, the overall economy is strong enough to forge ahead, sustaining the consistent growth that this area enjoys.

Health Care

Locals can rest assured their health care needs will be met. With four community hospitals between Harrisburg and Carlisle and hundreds of beds, this metro area's residents are taken care of. In addition to the primary care facilities of Harrisburg Hospital and Harrisburg State Hospital, the city also has more than half a dozen special care hospitals including the Edgewater Psychiatric Center, Harrisburg Birth and Women's Center, and the Memorial Eye Institute.

There are numerous other health care facilities in the greater Harrisburg area and surrounding four counties. Penn State's Hershey Medical Center has hundreds of beds; Geisinger Health System, is a touch larger; and HealthAmerica has been cited twice for Best Practices by Medicare.

Seniors have access to nearly three-dozen assisted, independent, and congregate care living centers in the metro area, as well as a plethora of senior centers.