Travel Guide: Pittsburgh

A friend went on vacation to Pittsburgh. Since they didn’t know the region, I offered to pull together some hot spots and pro tips. I considered the vast array of cultural, social, and natural attractions Pittsburgh has to offer. Then, I winnowed down the options to a carefully curated selection, as seen below. I sent my list to Special Correspondent Ellen to make sure I had chosen wisely. Ellen confirmed that my list was a good sampling, though she inquired as to why I’d put together weeks of activities for someone spending only a weekend there. Because there’s just too much fun to be had there, Ellen.

Public transportation

Buses require exact change, unless you want them to keep your money. You pay getting on the bus if you’re going into Downtown and you pay getting off the bus if you’re heading away from Downtown. Riding Downtown – all six blocks – is free. Thankfully, you can also ask the bus driver when you get on whether he wants your money now or later.

Squirrel Hill:

Frick Park includes a playground, as well as miles of trails. Some of them lead to:

Frick Nature Conservatory; while it’s technically it’s part of the park, this part has a welcome center and has cooler trails. I’m not sure exactly why, but it was definitely a field trip destination.

Afterward, stop by Rita’s Italian Ices. Pittsburgh isn’t known for its kosher food, but the ices and gelato here are kosher and delicious. There are branches all over the country, but the chain started in Pennsylvania, so I’m consider it a cultural delicacy.

If you’re really loving loving the public parks in a city go to Schenley Park too. Like Frick, but further west. Schenley also leads into the neighborhood of

Oakland:

The Nationality Rooms of the University of Pittsburgh has a different room for each language they teach; the rooms are decorated in the style of that country or region and tours are fun.

Across the street is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The building is awesome, the books are better. Andrew Carnegie poured a fortune into the building – the floors are made of marble so precious that Italy ran out of it – and it shows. If you’ve ever wanted to see what the restricted reference area in the New York Public Library’s main branch is like, you should check out the Carnegie – it’s stacks are exactly the same but open to the public and with a circulating collection.

It’ll probably be raining, so it’s a good thing that you can walk into the Carnegie Museum of Natural History from the library. Inside are: Dinosaurs! Gems! More natural history than you can shake a stick at! Dinosaurs!

The modern wing of the museum is actually the Carnegie Museum of Art – I think it’s as good as the Met but on a smaller scale – it’s got a little bit of everything.

Across a bridge, you can find Phipps Conservatory which is filled, top to bottom, with flowers, cacti, bonsai, and more flora – inside and outside.

Downtown:

Market Square has free lunchtime concerts on Wednesday and a farmer’s market on Thursday. They used to put out rocking chairs on Fridays but they reconfigured the square a while back so they might have stopped that.

It’s right by PPG Plaza, where the plaza turns into a fountain, which you’re welcome to run through. Shoes always required. Sometimes closed for maintenance.

Walk to the end of the city, and you’re in Point State Park. The park includes the Blockhouse – part of Fort Pitt, it predates the USA -, enough green space to run an ultimate frisbee game, and The Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where Pittsburgh’s three rivers – Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio – meet and there’s a giant fountain that’s on for most of the summer. It’s a nice place to sit and watch the rivers while eating lunch.

If you want to be like George Washington you can ride down Mt Washington on a horse. If you want to be like a Pittsburgher you can take the Incline instead. It’s a trolley that goes straight up the mountain. Then you walk around the top of Mt Washington to take in the view and ride back down.

Biking

If you can borrow bikes and are up for the hills, you can ride the Jail Trail from Squirrel Hill to Downtown. It’s flat – part of the rails to trails program – along the river. It goes past the jail but as far as I know, it hasn’t been used in any escape attempts.

If you’re not up for biking in the city, you can always go out to one of the nearby state parks. I think Moraine State Park has bikes, and it definitely has boating, geese, and a herd of deer.

Outside the city, and not accessible via public transportation are more not-to-be-missed opportunities:

Tour Ed Mines: You haven’t been to Pittsburgh till you’ve been in a coal mine. This one is non-operational, so it won’t give you black lung.

Triple B Farms: where you can pick berries and pet a goat. Fun for the whole family.

Carrie Furnace, a furnace at a former steel mill. It’s been cleaned up in the past few years and the site is now used as an alternate location for events and clubs. Very hip among the younger generation, though the old generation doesn’t feel the need to connect with the furnace’s legacy of smoke and pollution nor are they interested in hanging out in an abandoned and still decrepit factory.

Pittsburgh: where there’s too much to do to stay for less than a lifetime.

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