I told my girlfriend I wanted a South Street cheesesteak. In the end, I found myself feasting on the incredible produce of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens.

I’d heard about Philadelphia’s South Street and its eclectic stores like Condom Kingdom, seen the kitschy boulevard on It’s Always Sunny, and been told to visit Jim’s for the best cheesesteak in Philly. South Street is the next neighborhood over from Society Hill’s eighteenth-century cobblestone, but barhopping hipsters and melancholy punkers seem oblivious to the fact that Benjamin Franklin is resting just a few blocks north.

My stop at the Magic Gardens, though, was an accident. I saw the chalkboard sign on South and had to check it out.


1. From this view, the Gardens have a subtle, charming entrance. Directly off of South Broad Street, with William Penn and City Hall still in view, South Street is a mix of hip storefronts and apartments. Photo: jecobo


2. A quick turn to the side of the entrance shows a sprawling labyrinth waiting to be explored. Photo: jecobo


3. One of Zagar's many murals found throughout Philadelphia. Photo: plutor


4. Zagar spent 14 years on the Magic Gardens. It might take that long to discover every one if its secrets. Photo: krooooop


5. Although visitors can't quite climb to the third story of the garden, it's clear from below that the artist worked meticulously in every corner. Photo: contortyourself


6. One of the garden's many inhabitants. Photo: contortyourself


7. Zagar said his goal was to transform Philadelphia into a living labyrinth where the environment mimics the art lying within each of its inhabitants. Photo: tonythemisfit


8. Hundreds of years from now, Philadelphia and the world will look nothing as it does now, but the Magic Gardens will never change -- how will we see it then? Photo: chriszak


9. Inspired heavily by mural art native to Mexico City, much of the inside of the gardens offers tribute to Mexican and Aztec iconography. Photo: Joe Brent


10. Art is, as these stairs read, "the automatic impulse." Photo: Kevin Burkett


10. More than simply a museum or exhibit to be viewed from a distance, the garden invites every guest to interact both mentally and physically with the space around them. Photo: jecobo


11. If you're ever in Philadelphia, don't miss the opportunity to see this one-of-a-kind landmark. As Zagar has said, "Art is the center of the real world, and Philadelphia is the center of the art world." Photo: contortyourself


12. Myself, in a moment of zen in the Magic Garden. Not long after this picture was taken, I roamed back to find Isaiah himself, sitting, smiling at the world.

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