Getting Started with Pittsburgh
Ok, I’ll admit it - Pittsburgh has never been on my travel list. I’d estimate that of the handful of times I have thought about Pittsburgh in my life, I was likely actually thinking of Philadelphia about half of the time (mea culpa).
I got to spend four days in Pittsburgh recently, and I’m ready to eat my words.
I thought I was relatively familiar with Pennsylvania, having spent a decent amount of time in Gettsysburg and Harrisburg growing up. Pittsburgh is a different kind of ‘burgh. The city’s roots as a steel and coal-mining town is evident throughout, giving the city a kind of startling industrial beauty. Tucked in the crook of three major rivers, Pittsburgh’s 446 (!) bridges play an important role in the character and daily life of the city. The major bridges haloing downtown are painted a jeweled yellow, providing a captivating contrast against the deep greens of the hills and blues of the rivers. There is a lot more to discover in Pittsburgh, but here are a couple recommendations to get you started.
Take a walk.
Downtown Pittsburgh is a mix of retro and modern architecture that will continually catch you off guard - check out this self-guided walking tour for a great introduction to the city.
If you find yourself craving green space, make time to wander Point State Park. The Point State Park fountain will defy your expectation of fountains, shooting 150 feet into the air with an impressively large circumference. The fountain is a perfect place to enjoy lunch a la carte, followed by a walk along the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.
If you’re ok with crowds, time your visit to coincide with the Three Rivers Art Festival and Pridefest, two city-wide celebrations in June. For those with, er, different tastes, there’s always the Picklesburgh Festival.
Have a drink.
A pretty basic activity in any city, grabbing a beer is 12 thousand times more exciting at Church Brew Works. It’s exactly how it sounds - originally a church built in 1902, this space has been lovingly refurbished to play host to both sinners and saints on a Friday night.
If you’re looking for a cocktail, moody (and constantly busy) Tako is a great spot. Though their claim to fame is the octopus taco, the real star is the margarita menu - particularly the coconut margarita, which incorporates real coconut milk for a drink that is silky without the sickeningly-sick taste of artificial coconut flavoring.
Food and more food
Tako’s sister restaurants Meat & Potatoes and Butcher in the Rye, all within a block of each other, are well worth a visit. Between the three, there isn’t a disappointing meal or weak drink in sight. Bae Bae’s Kitchen is a tiny establishment serving up huge portions of Korean fusion and an overdose of Insta-worthy decor, while Emporio specializes in meatballs and I really think that’s all I need to say about that.
For dessert, lunch, or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, the Milkshake Factory is a safe space for adults to indulge their childhood fantasies of eating ice cream every day. With a wide range of high-quality flavor combinations, it would seem easy to overdo it on the sugar here - but each flavor is delicately balanced against a thick, creamy base. There’s no faux-sugar aftertaste in the Birthday Cake concoction; seasonal favorite Lemon Meringue Pie is refreshing, not puckery. Plus, it’s a delight to see businessmen and women wandering in here after work and nonchalantly ordering milkshakes rather than a happy-hour cocktail.
Pittsburgh manages to cram an impressive number of museums, theaters, and galleries into a compact space. Classics include the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial and Museum, and the Frick; funkier options include the Mattress Factory, Randyland, Photo Antiquities, and the Center for Post-Natural History. Many smaller galleries offer free walking tours and open nights.
What are your Pittsburgh recommendations?