When I tell people I went to Pittsburgh, the response is always the same: Why? The answer is quite simple. It was to be the weekend of Hurricane Irene in NYC and my friend and I had not stocked up on any water or food. Almost everything was sold out so we figured hey – let’s just leave town. We looked on Google maps and picked the nearest city out of the storm’s path, rented a car online, and immediately left Manhattan to go pick it up in Newark. A couple hours later, we were on the road to Pittsburgh. Hurray for random, spontaneous trips!
Knowing practically nothing about the city, we still managed to have a blast. Despite the negative comments I hear from people when I mention Pittsburgh, it’s actually filled with lots of fun things to do (and it’s not bad looking, either). So whether you’re there on business or pleasure, or really for no reason at all like me, here are my recommendations for what to do in Pittsburgh:
Wander through the South Side. The eclectic bohemian neighborhood of Pittsburgh is also one of the best places to go out. The main street, East Carson Street, is lined with shops, restaurants and bars but you’re just as likely to spot groups of hippies sitting on the ground, playing instruments. Explore the South Side Slopes, a very steep residential neighborhood where you’ll find that some parts are accessible only by public staircase.
Visit the Strip District. Once home to Pittsburgh’s mills and factories, the Strip District is now filled with specialty shops, restaurants, night clubs and bars. Locals flock to the mile-long stretch along the Allegheny River on weekends in the summer, when it transforms into a bustling street market offering a mix of ethnic eats, local food and shopping. Go early if you plan to drive – because it’s a popular destination, parking can be tough. Also, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center is located right at the entrance to The Strip if you’re interested in learning about the city’s history. neighborhsinthestrip.com.
Andy Warhol Museum – This museum on the North Shore (across from downtown) houses seven floors devoted to the pop art legacy, who grew up in Pittsburgh. It’s a great destination for a rainy day. Or stop by on any Friday night, when admission is half price, there’s a cash bar and the museum stays open until 10PM. 117 Sandusky Street, warhol.org.
The Mattress Factory – About a mile from the Andy Warhol Museum is this lesser known contemporary art museum. It’s definitely a unique place to visit, particularly because all of the exhibits are “room-sized” and created on site by artists from around the world (like James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama). The Mattress Factory hosts artists for a year as part of their residency program, completely supporting them while they live in the museum and dedicate their time to creating new work. 500 Sampsonia Way, mattress.org.
Ride the Duqesne Incline. For the best view of the city, you’ll have to ride a century-old cable car 400 ft to the top. It only costs $5 round trip for adults. 1197 West Carson Street, duquesneincline.org.
Kayak Pittsburgh. The bridges are one of the best sights in Pittsburgh, and what better way to see them (and the skyline) but from the water? It’s affordable to rent a kayak from Kayak Pittsburgh in the summer (about $13 per hour) and makes for a great outdoor activity. Just don’t forget sunscreen. Multiple locations, kayakpittsburgh.org.
Explore Oakland. Stroll through the picturesque campuses of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh and you’ll feel like you’re back in college. The Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History are also located here.
So there you have it – Pittsburgh in a nutshell. I should probably also add that this is a city of crazed sports fans, so when there’s a game you can bet everyone will be watching. I stayed at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, where I could actually see into Heinz Field, home to the Steelers, from my room. But I’m really not into sports so this wasn’t too important for me!