While many people still visualize Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to be an old steel city, the hilly town has certainly changed a lot in the last 30-40 years. My first impressions when arriving were that the lit up hillsides, public art, modern architecture, colorful bridges, scenic rivers, diverse restaurants and lively club scene made Pittsburgh seem a lot more eclectic and trendy than industrial. If you’re visiting Pittsburgh, here is a guide to help you navigate the best the city has to offer based on your preferences.
For a mix of history and food
Visit the Strip District. The area was home to many industrial innovations (it’s where Andrew Carnegie began doing business in the iron and steel industry) as well as a once booming produce industry, a legacy that can still be tasted through ethnic food shops, cafes, markets, and restaurants. Use Penn Avenue as your main focal point, and veer off as necessary. Make sure to stop in the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. for traditional Italian groceries and natural alternatives to processed cheeses, sauces, soups, and meats, as well as Mon Aimee Chocolat for unique varieties of organic and artisanal chocolate. For those who love vino, Dreadnought Wines offers glasses and accessories as well as specialty wines and educational classes, like “Cooking with Wine” and “High Brows and Low Brows- Can You Taste the Difference?”. A stop in Penzeys Spices is a delight for the nose as visitors can walk around and sniff the many herbs and seasonings out on display, as well as ask questions about the products and get free recipes. Want to educate yourself on the city’s history and culture? A visit to Senator John Heinz History Center allows you to explore Pittsburgh’s past and present through six floors of exhibits on local sports, companies, heroes, innovations, artifacts, and more. My favorite parts were sitting in an old-fashioned trolley and walking through a life-sized replication of a traditional early-1900’s home.
Shadyside is home to myriad non-chain boutiques and upscale shopping in a quiet neighborhood. Use Walnut Street or Ellsworth Avenue as your focal point, and from there you can branch off as you wish. Some of my favorite stores to browse included Ten Toes for shoes, Francesca’s Collections for clothing, Feathers for housewares, Gardell Designs for handmade jewelry, and S.W. Randall Toys for a fun trip down memory lane.
Visit the Andy Warhol Museum, one of the four Carnegie Museums in the city. While it’s $20 to get in ($10 for students), you’ll get the chance to view over 8,000 pieces and installations by the artist, who was a Pittsburgh native, as well as his film and video work.
Another unique art museum worth checking out is The Mattress Factory, which features contemporary “room sized works called installations”. The unusual art is created by in-house artists participating in the museum’s residency program.
You can also take a stroll down Ellsworth Avenue in the Shadyside area where many galleries are located, including Aspire Auctions, Gallerie Chiz, Maser Galleries, Mendelson Gallery, and Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery.
For those who like street art, Pittsburgh is filled with beautiful graffiti works. A walk around almost any of the urban areas, like the Strip District (pictured), Downtown, or South Side, will guarantee a free look at some of the city’s most colorful and creative outdoor masterpieces.
Head over to South Side, which is where you will find an array of clubs, bars, ethnic restaurants, eclectic coffee shops, art galleries, theatres, and funky stores. Visit The Exchange for vintage records, City Theatre for live performances, and The Zenith for vegeterian food, antiques, and an art gallery all under one roof. There’s also a really quirky coffeeshop called The Beehive Coffeehouse & Dessertery that has a hippie vibe and features speciality teas, pinball machines, delicious sandwiches, and a lively bar at night. For those who want something upscale with a large, interesting menu, Ibiza Spanish Tapas and Wine Bar is a great pick, with dim lighting, indoor and outdoor seating (in the winter they have a heated awning up), a knowledgable and friendly staff, and a huge menu of tapas as well as main courses. I would highly recommend the shrimp couscous, the pork chop topped with spinach and goat cheese, and the small plate of grilled scallops with mango sauce (pictured). For something a bit more low key, Mario’s South Side Saloon offers a fun atmosphere and delicious bar food.
If you go 1 mile east of South Side, you’ll hit Station Square, another trendy area with shopping, dining, and nightlife. For those who want to dance, Buckhead Saloon hosts live DJ’s on Fridays and Saturdays and is usually packed with a young, energetic crowd. They also serve bar food and delicious pizza by the slice for when those beer munchies hit.
A ride on the old-fashioned trolley at Duquesne Incline on West Carson Street makes for a unique way to see the entire city. The ride mimicks a similar route that was a coal hoist from about 1854 or earlier. For $4.50 round trip per adult, you will be taken up one of the very steep hills overlooking Pittsburgh to the top observation deck. There is a mini museum with historical facts and photographs as well as telescopes to get a close up view. The trolley runs until 12:45 AM, so it can be a good idea to go once during the day and once at night to see the city’s two different personalities.
There is also a 22-mile coastal walk called the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that allows you to experience the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. It’s also an excellent way to view the skyline and bridges from an array of focal points.
If you’re hungry or if it’s a little too chilly to be outside, stop at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 and ask for a table near the window. The restaurant sits right on the water and gives great views of the skyline, hillside, Points State Park, bridges, and Heinz Field, especially at night when the city is all lit up. The venue is owned by former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bette and is a trendy restaurant with the feel of a sports bar. Side note: They serve the most amazing Spinach and Artichoke dip I’ve ever had as they add prosciutto and serve it with warm pita bread triangles.
The Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District mentioned above is also home to the Sports Museum. Here you will be able to learn about big name sports in Pittsburgh like football, hockey, and baseball, as well as lesser known athletics like marbles, bridge, ballroom dancing, and competitive eating. Moreover, because Pittsburgh is home to three major league sports teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), and the Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB), it can be a fun experience to go to a live game. Click here for team information and schedules.