Did you know that my hometown of Pittsburgh is one of the best vacation destinations in America? True story. The Travel Channel just called us “one of the hippest city in the America.” National Geographic Traveler and USA Today have also raved about da Burgh in the past couple years.
This Labor Day weekend I’m thinking of all the people who ask me what they should do in Pittsburgh when they swing by for a weekend away, a layover, or even a potential play to relocate.
Most people who are not from Pittsburgh will say that you have to go to Primanti’s which is short for Primanti Bros. Because they put coleslaw and french fries on sandwiches and this is supposed to be our primary contribution to humanity or something. I speak for more Pittsburghers than you’d expect when I say the food just isn’t that great. It’s fine, just nothing special. It would be like someone saying, “Oh, you’re coming to Atlanta? You HAVE to try Coca-Cola while you’re here.”
If you really want great food we have some options, and I’m sure I don’t even know half the great spots. I can mention a few but really I like to ask people what atmosphere they’re in the mood for.
Want the view? Get up on Mount Washington. You can ride the incline as well. If you’re really going to do Pittsburgh right the first time you need to go to Point State Park and sit by the fountain where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio.
Want a cruise? Jump on the Gateway Clipper ships at Station Square which is at the base of the incline. Station Square has lots of options too.
Feeling posh? Check out Shadyside which is as close to our impersonation of Manhattan (at least that posh part) as we can do.
Feeling cray? The party’s always on in the Southside where there are approximately 374 bars per city block. If you want to see the calmer end of Southside (pronounced Sow-Side because much of our city sounds functionally illiterate) then get up around 26th street or Hot Metal Bridge. Then you can say you visited the Southside without a) getting tattooed by a streaker, b) being licked by a live reptile slithering about the shoulders of a clubgoer, or c) sidestepping puke. I make it sound really crazy, but I love it and live close by. It’s only super wild after midnight.
And why are we so hip? Well, stare at too many Pittsburghers in most parts of the city and you won’t get a “hippest place in America” vibe, but we do have the Warhol Museum, lots of love for the arts, and a sweet cultural district with great shows year round. Theaters like Heinz Hall, the Benedum, the O’Reilly Theater and more all produce top notch entertainment. Our Mattress Factory (contemporary art museum) also creates lots of buzz.
Speaking of culture, we’ve got gobs of museums and a rich history as one of the oldest settled regions in North America. It helps when past residents included people like Andrew Carnegie and many other early American millionaires/patrons of the arts. Many visitors enjoy Phipps Conservatory or the National Aviary.
Oakland is college world with Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University right there. Everyone should visit the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt. Schenley Park is nearby too, our folksier version of Central Park.
Of course Pittsburgh also has sports. LOTS of sports. Our most popular team worldwide is the Pittsburgh Steelers who play in an ugly stadium called Heinz Field. But our other big teams play in a couple of the best sporting venues in all of America. PNC Park is consistently called America’s best ballpark and the Consol Energy Center is a state of the art arena where the Penguins hold rink. That last one is also where the biggest entertainers perform these days.
I haven’t even mentioned PPG Place, Market Square, the Toonseum and so many other spots. One of the best aspects of Pittsburgh is how you can see so much without having to travel dozens of miles on foot. Stroll down Penn Avenue or Liberty or Grant and see what a small big city looks and feels like.
Bet you didn’t know how much Pittsburgh has going on. It’s a great place you should get to sometime.