Pittsburgh travel advice?
June 10, 2012 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Pittsburgh travel advice?

I'm planning a short weekend getaway to Pittsburgh later this month. Just wondering if anyone can recommend any things to do while we're there?

We are a couple in our 30s with a baby under one year of age. We're attending a Pirates game one day, but are looking for other activities for the rest of the trip. We like long walks, bookstores, and good cheap food... any recommendations for restaurants/street food/coffee shops or specific neighbourhoods that are good for long strolls? Any other attractions? We're not really in the mood for museums for this trip - basically just need a change of scenery for a few days. We will be staying downtown.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
posted by barnoley to Travel & Transportation around Pittsburgh, PA (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Yay! Great choice. Go down to The Strip, it's the food district, Primanti Brothers is down there if you want the famous sandwich, plenty of stuff on the street to nom on too. Theres am outpost of the Smithsonian there. Its as interesting as any Smithsonian. Shadyside is a lovely area with shopping and cafes. I'm planning a trip to Kennywood. A charming, old-style amusement park. The Mexican War Streets have beautiful old homes to look at. Also there are cherry trees so while you're looking at Tiffany glass, you can munch a handful.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 PM on June 10, 2012

The only decent bookstore which sells new books is U Pitt's.
posted by brujita at 6:12 PM on June 10, 2012

Yes, hit the Strip. Eat at Primanti Brothers and DeLuca's.
posted by Silvertree at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2012

Best answer: If you haven't already, you might check out these two pieces in the New York Times about weekend trips to Pittsburgh.

Two great walks from downtown:

(1) to the Strip District, for breakfast and people-watching and browsing. On Saturday mornings, it's basically a weekly street festival. Walk all the way down on Penn Ave., and get coffee at either 21st Street Coffee (best coffee), or La Prima Espresso (more iconic experience). Breakfast at Pamela's, whose thin pancakes are sort of like deep-fried crepes. The new Public Market is fun, too. On your way back to downtown, take your one-year-old into Wholey's Fish Market; she'll love seeing all the tanks teeming with swimming fish.

(2) Walk south on Smithfield Street and across the Smithfield Street Bridge. As you walk across, you'll see the Monongahela Incline climbing up and down Mount Washington. (Look back for great views of downtown.) Once you reach the opposite bank, you'll pass Station Square; I find it overall lame, but there is a Bessemer-furnace-as-fountain-centerpiece that might be worth checking out, if you're interested in an artifact of the city's steel-making history. And of course 1-year-olds love fountains ... not wisely, but too well ... so there's that to consider. From there, head to the base of the Incline, and ride it up! At the top, there are gorgeous views of the city. And ice cream.

Probably more of a drive from downtown (will you have a car?) is Schenley Plaza in Oakland, which I mention because of the carousel and the large grassy area where there will almost always be lots of kids running around. The Main Branch of the Carnegie Library is there, too, which is old and beautiful and might be a good rest stop. And in general, although you don't want to see the museums there, which are the main tourist attraction you'll see mentioned in guidebooks, Oakland also has a couple of good bookstores (not as many as formerly, sadly) and lots of restaurants and coffee shops. A great walking neighborhood.

There are so many great walking neighborhoods, though! Squirrel Hill (more family-oriented -- library, movie theater, playgrounds, restaurants, coffee shops, more tart frozen yogurt places than strictly necessary), Shadyside (expensive chain stores and boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops), South Side (bars, restaurants, coffee shops, at least one used bookstore), Lawrenceville (coffee, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques).

If you know what dates you'll be going, there might be more specific attractions we'd know about.

One of the many great things about Pittsburgh is that, true to its moniker Kidsburgh, your family will be welcome pretty much everywhere, not just specifically "kid-friendly" venues like a ballpark. I've never encountered an intimidating atmosphere yet; I've carried a one-year-old in an Ergo through a Victorian mansion-now-museum and received only delighted looks and comments. It's a baby-lovin' town.
posted by palliser at 6:58 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't miss Phipps.
posted by meinvt at 7:07 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work directly across the street from PNC park. There is a lovely walking/bike trail along the river, you could go for a walk before or after the game. It passes under the Clemente bridge, not hard to find at all. You can take bread and feed the abundant geese that hang out along the trail.
posted by miaou at 7:37 PM on June 10, 2012

Don't miss Phipps.

Yes, Phipps is right across a short, pedestrian-friendly bridge from Schenley Plaza, and it's a very large, spectacular conservatory. They have a really great cafe, too.
posted by palliser at 7:41 PM on June 10, 2012

I am incredibly homesick
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 PM on June 10, 2012

There are a ton of buses that run between Oakland and downtown (61, 67, 69...), so getting to Schenley Plaza and Phipps isn't hard even without a car.
posted by janewman at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2012

If you eat meat, Tessaro's makes a stellar hamburger.
posted by brujita at 9:06 PM on June 10, 2012

Be aware that Pgh travel is dominated by massive traffic reroutes during the summer, and this has a larger impact on us than most US cities, because of our reliance on major bridges and tunnels, and the restrictions imposed by the mountainous hills within the city borders.

A trip that you/your GPs/Google Maps expect to take 20 minutes can become 60 suddenly. There's really no way to help you plan around it, as a newcomer, but be forewarned so you don't waste your daylight hours lost in a traffic jam.

Also, don't rely strictly on your reading a printed map. Many are simply wrong, depicting intersections between roads 50' apart in elevation, and Pittsburgh without a GPS can be daunting for newcomers.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:37 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might try a Just Ducky tour of Pittsburgh - I've never been on it myself, but have seen people go by in the "boat" and they seem like they are having fun. I also saw some Segway tours downtown.

The Gateway Clipper is a lot of fun in the summer. Just check the theme of the cruise beforehand - I had one unfortunate misread where I thought I was going on a relaxing Friday evening cruise and it turned out to be a huge dance party with everyone dressed to the nines. . .except me and my friends.

For books/cheap eats/strolls you will be going to the Schenley Park area, as others have mentioned. If you park near the Cathedral of Learning you can walk to Phipps Conservatory, Schenley Park, CMU, Pitt, the Carnegie Museums. You might also want to check out Craig Street which is also in easy walking distance. I believe there are still one or two small bookstores there, as well as a number of cheap eats and several coffee shops. LuLu's Noodles is my favorite place to eat there - relatively inexpensive, great atmosphere, and decent pan-Asian food.

If you head up Forbes Avenue one neighborhood to the east you'll come to Squirrel Hill. You can park at a garage at the intersection of Forbes and Murray and walk up and down those streets - tons of things to see, eat (more ice cream than you can shake a cone at), coffee galore, a small movie theater and some quirky stores. If you walk on Murray away from the main business district, you'll find streets filled with cool houses to check out.

Feel free to message me if you have any questions.
posted by sherlockt at 12:09 AM on June 11, 2012

Oh! Point Breeze and the Frick. It's an awesome old house and garden.

Frick Art & Historical Center.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on June 11, 2012

Pittsburgh is awesome! Squirrel Hill/Shadyside are must visits for strolling and looking at amazing residential architecture.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:29 AM on June 11, 2012

If you go to Squirrel Hill, on Murray Ave, you've got Mineo's for pizza or Kazansky's for corned beef/deli.

There used to be a bunch of kosher bakeries there as well, and they used to make a little egg shaped cake called a Gem. I have not seen these in decades and would kill for a recipe/line on, where I could get them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:46 AM on June 11, 2012

Definitely do a "Ducky Tour", you can get tickets and board in Station Square (across the Smithfield bridge from downtown.) The Ducky Tour is a tour of the city in an amphibious personnel carrier, I think they're actually old retired repainted military vehicles, but the tour goes through the city and then actually drives into the rivers. Very fun and a great introduction to the city.

There are "river trails" which are city-maintained bike and jogging trails running along the rivers, and numerous bike rental spots where you could probably find one with a baby carrier attached.

If you go to the Strip, I STRONGLY suggest Chicken Latino, the most under-rated / little known authentic Peruvian rotisseri chicken spot in the city. When I moved here we wanderin in randomly (when Pamela's had a 20 foot line out the door) and I make sure to make a trip now at least once a month.

During the day, walking down Carson St. in the Southside is really cool too, its actually the longest strip of the bars in the country (87 bars in one neighborhood.) Really nice outdoor cafes / restaurants / shops / etc. (most of the nice bars make good food as well.) But be outta there by 7pm if you don't want to be swarmed by drunk college students.
posted by el_yucateco at 8:39 AM on June 11, 2012

Oh, theres also the Carnegie Science Center over by the sports stadiums, I had fond memories of my parents taking me there when I was a kid. Close by is the casino if you want to try a hand of blackjack.

In the summer theres always events / festivals / concerts nearly every weekend, so do some research closer to the date and see whats going on! You just missed the Pgh Arts Fest the last 2 weeks, but I'm sure there'll be something else in the works. July 4th is always a fun free night of entertainment downtown.
posted by el_yucateco at 8:41 AM on June 11, 2012

If you are staying downtown, there is a long leisurely path along the river (on the North part of downtown) starting at the Point. Cross any of the bridges (Rachel Carson, Andy Warhol, etc) and there is another very long trail on the North Shore. Definitely the Strip!
posted by amicamentis at 8:59 AM on June 11, 2012

Love Pittsburgh. Check out The Warhol Museum, maybe the Mattress Factory. Take the incline up Mount Washington for the beautiful view of the whole city, rivers n' all. Walk one of the major bridges at night during a game when the whole city's all lit up, it's pretty.

For food, I've not been in a while but last I checked Yo Rita (hipster taqueria on the South Side with good cocktails) and Salt of the Earth (somewhat upscale, dabbling with molecular gastronomy a little) were good, and some would argue you're not allowed to visit Pittsburgh without having some greasy ass pancakes at Pamela's Diner and a frywich with some guzzled local beer at Primanti Brothers (the Strip location is more famous but as a hint the Oakland one is usually way less busy and the staff is much, much nicer). Phipps Conservatory and the Carnegie or Frick Museums can be nice. Visit The Cathedral of Learning maybe too, hoping some of the international classrooms are open. And yeah, for the whole "walk down a bustling market area" thing check out the Strip in the morning, lots of ethnic food shops and whatnot.

I used to love the South Side as the biker bar-ish part of town late at night, but the last time I visited it seemed depressed and ghosttown-ish, alas. Also, there used to be an old soda fountain shop and an awesome old arthouse theater around town, but I couldn't remember where they were or what their names are to visit last time either...

And it might not be true anymore as again it's been years, but I remember how surprisingly great the symphony and the ballet were say, 10 years ago. Really excellent, edgy programs.
posted by ifjuly at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would have to second/third/nth Pamela's for breakfast, but my favorites there are the side orders of lyonnaise potatoes. Definitely visit Phipps if you can, and Dave and Andy's ice cream isn't too far away from there, certainly walkable.

We have an awesome zoo, too.

I just got an email from my from-Squirrel-Hill lurker-boyfriend:

"Tell Ruthless that Kazansky's is gone! Sadface."

posted by alynnk at 11:45 AM on June 11, 2012

Currently in Pittsburgh, and 2ยข here... I actually wouldn't recommend Salt of the Earth. I've found it to be quite mediocre, in fact. The nicest "upscale" restaurant I'd recommend would be Spoon. (warning... music on that site)

And if you only have ONE experience in Pittsburgh, I'd wholeheartedly endorse the Church Brew Works. If people come to visit, and can only experience one thing, I always make that one thing the Church Brew Works. It's unique, the food is good enough, and the beer is amazing. But you have to see it in person to really understand what it's like there. It's sacrelicious.
posted by indiebass at 11:57 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot Piccolo Forno, which is in vaguely the same newly hipsterish area as Salt IIRC. I remember being very surprised at the quality of some of the food given the very low-key atmosphere and very reasonable prices. We had dishes full of boar and rabbit that I can still taste right now, mm.

This is going to sound weird but the chocolate shop in the Strip, Mon Aimee Chocolat, is kinda remarkable. They're a little snooty inside at times (and they don't allow photographs, which is a shame because I think if people knew what it was like inside they'd be more inclined to visit), but if you like artisanal chocolate from all over the place, it's a great little browsing spot.

And I get Salt detractors--the flavors are quite mild, I have noticed, so keep that in mind, and they sous vide just about everything from what I could tell watching them (that's the coolest part, eating at the bar and watching the line) so if you're not down with uniform texture that's a deterrant too.
posted by ifjuly at 12:03 PM on June 11, 2012

If the weather is inhospitable (too hot or too wet), definitely hit the Children's Museum! There are lovely areas for wee ones, a Mister Rogers exhibit, and it's just great in general. We'll be in town in a few weeks, and I'm really looking forward to taking our kids there.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2012

Response by poster: These are such great suggestions! Thank you so so so much. It's so helpful to get personal recommendations instead of just relying on online travel guides.
posted by barnoley at 9:07 AM on June 12, 2012

alynnk: "I would have to second/third/nth Pamela's for breakfast, but my favorites there are the side orders of lyonnaise potatoes. "

While they're great, the line is disproportionately long. Cafe Raymond 1 block away has equally amazing breakfasts with no wait. They serve a more Euro-centric breakfast, so the meat & potatoes Yinzers don't pile up 40 deep to get in.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:16 AM on June 12, 2012

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