A Weekend Guide to Pittsburgh
Today's the day I FINALLY share a weekend guide to Pittsburgh, after our amazing long weekend trip last month. It was the perfect road trip destination: plenty of fun things to do, lots of delicious food, and just far enough. Since we were saving for our house last year and before that a wedding, we put off on taking lots of trips. It was mostly weekend explorations and one big trip each year: Belize for our honeymoon and Los Angeles and San Diego last summer. I decided that 2017 will be the unofficial year of trips, big and small. Our first small trip was a long weekend in Pittsburgh and it was the perfect start.
Pittsburgh is an absolutely perfect destination for a long weekend road trip from the East Coast. It was a five hour drive from our home in Central New Jersey, driving west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I wouldn’t say it’s the most thrilling drive (so many cows! So many tunnels!) but there was very little traffic and plenty of Starbucks at rest stops.
Besides being close, it’s definitely different than the cities I’m used to. Pittsburgh is not a booming metropolis; it’s a former industrial city slowly and surely building itself back up, one neighborhood at a time. Each neighborhood has a slightly different feel: from the farmer’s market and warehouses of the Strip district to the hipster bars and restaurants of Lawrenceville to the bustling city life near University of Pittsburgh. All the neighborhoods feel like their own little town with plenty of spots to visit in each. Pittsburgh is also very driveable and it takes no time at all to cross over from one side of the river to another. Very refreshing and different from gridlocked New Jersey!
What We Did
The markets at the Strip District
When we arrived in Pittsburgh, we immediately headed to grab a sandwich at Primanti’s since basically everyone said we should. My giant food and drinks post is coming up tomorrow! Grabbing a bite at Primanti’s put us in the Strip District, a section of the city that has lots of old warehouses. They’ve mostly been converted into shops and restaurants. Since we were there on a Saturday, there was a lot of hustle and bustle as people shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables and Pittsburgh Steelers gear. Most of the stores were selling sports gear and other cheap clothing items but there was a really pretty dried flower shop that was fun to explore. There are quite a few restaurants and bars in this area but they were very crowded. We returned on Monday to grab breakfast at Pamela’s P&G Diner (another Pittsburgh must), buy some teeny donuts from Peace, Love, and Little Donuts, and have an iced coffee at 21st Street Coffee and Tea.
The Andy Warhol Museum
Visiting this museum has been on my list for twelve years now, ever since my modern and contemporary art class in college. This is one of the largest museums in the world dedicated to one artist. Andy Warhol was native to Pittsburgh before moving to New York City. Each floor of the museum tells about a different period of his life along with the corresponding artwork. The collection is astounding with his famous pop art advertising to installations to screen tests. I worried that Nick would be bored but he thought is was just as exciting as I did. They also have a small bar and snack area on the first floor. You can grab a drink and sit on a reproduction of one of Warhol’s studio sofas!
This bicycle shop/memorial to all things bike-related is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was a little tricky to find since Google Maps doesn’t pinpoint the address correctly and it’s in a nondescript warehouse and office building area. Bicycle Heaven is technically a retail shop where you can come buy a new bike, get parts and accessories for your bike, or get your bike repaired. It is also the greatest shrine to bicycles and bicycling you will ever see. I must have taken over 100 pictures there alone! You wander through the maze of rooms and there is everything from rows of shiny banana seat bikes to the bikes used in the movie Super 8 to a mountain of old bicycle tires. It’s so hard to describe but this is definitely one of the must-sees from our trip!
Another artsy, weird, and wonderful stop in Pittsburgh is this garden installation of found items. Located in the Mexican War streets neighborhood, it’s the home and creation of artist Randy Gibson. It is QUITE the experience: it’s bold, bright, and beautiful. I feel like if I lived closer, I could visit every day and find something new. It’s open every day, rain or shine. If you’re familiar with the Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, Randyland is very similar!
Located in Schenley Park, just steps from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh, this botanical garden is the perfect weekend escape. It’s right in Schenley Park which has lots of walking trails and parks to enjoy. This was the only place we had trouble finding a place to park (we probably should have tried to get one of Pittsburgh’s driver-less Ubers!). However, if you head over towards the University of Pittsburgh, there are several inexpensive (at least to our city standards!) garages on campus that are within walking range. Visiting Phipps was one of the most relaxing experiences of the whole trip. We wandered through the humid greenhouse enjoying the different flower exhibits. There was a whole slew of beautiful orchids and desert oasis of succulents and cacti. One of my favorites was the Garden Railroad, a model train system that traveled through a reproduction of famous places in Pittsburgh. I would say that the Phipps is the best place to spend a Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh
One of the most iconic markers of the Pittsburgh skyline is the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus. I’ll admit that I didn’t really do much research about this building before we headed over there. All I read was that it looked like Hogwarts on the inside! Yes, it does indeed look like Hogwarts inside but there are also classrooms on the first floor called the Nationality Rooms, each representing a country in their design. We could have spent more time exploring but there were a bunch of tours (that we didn’t join) so we just popped in a few rooms and went on our way.
Shopping in Lawrenceville
One of our favorite neighborhoods was Lawrenceville. It’s an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and shopping with a side of yoga studio and barber shop thrown in. It was like a small town in a big city. Nick and I found that most of the restaurants and shopping recommended to us were in that neighborhood. We spent Sunday morning doing a little shopping up and down the main street in Lawrenceville, Butler Street. There were quite a few favorite stores that I wish were closer. Wildcard has many items from local artists and lots of great Pittsburgh-centric items. Von Walter and Funk is a perfect mix of gorgeous antiques for entertaining and unique gift items. I didn’t take any pictures but I am in love with that store. I also loved Pavement which had some brands that I love like Splendid mixed with others that I never heard of but instantly loved.
The Duquesne Incline
If you do one thing in Pittsburgh, it has to be the Duquesne Incline. We left this activity for our last day because we were worried it might be crowded. That turned out to be an awesome decision because it was just us and about ten other people. The incline is an old-fashioned funicular or cable car that travels up the side of Mount Washington. The trip costs $5 round trip for adults and it is seriously the best money you’ll spend on your trip. You slowly ascend and when you read the top, you can head out to the observatory deck. That’s when you’ll get the most beautiful panoramic views of the city. I could have stayed up there all day.
To wrap it all up...
Pittsburgh pluses are that there is plenty to do, funky and fun neighborhoods, and its easy to get around. There were plenty of things we’d like to do if/when we return. We also felt like we didn’t need to rush around like you do in a lot of cities. It was mostly easy to find parking for our car and we could navigate the city streets fairly easily. If there were any negatives to our trip, it was that Pittsburgh might be a bit too laid back for my East Coast self. It’s probably a little more “midwestern” than I’m used to. Many restaurants and bars closed early on weekends, around 3, or didn’t open until 5. We had to Google before going anywhere just so that we didn’t drive all the way over only to find that it was closed. We also found that restaurants were pretty crowded and we were shocked to find out that reservations were still a big thing there. We’re so used to places that don’t take them in Philly! That just means that before you go, you’ll need to make some plans!
If you’re on the east coast and looking for a long weekend getaway, take a look at Pittsburgh!
(If you’re not convinced yet, tomorrow I share where we ate and drank in the steel city!)