When I meet someone who’s not from my home state, I tell them, “I’m from Pennsylvania.” The east coast people tend to ask how close to Philly I am, while everyone else asks if I live near Pittsburgh. Until recently, my answer was that I’d never been there, as it’s on the other end of the state. I grew up in Luzerne County (eastern Pennsylvania) and can drive from there to the George Washington Bridge and back before I can get to Pittsburgh. I’ve always been curious, so for the first weekend of the New Year, I finally explored Pittsburgh. Lonely Planet served as a guide for what I would do there and there were enough sights and activities to easily fill a day.
I started off at the Duquesne Incline with the idea that I would ride one incline in the light and the other in the dark. The Duquesne is not operated by Port Authority and rides must be paid for in cash. When you get to the top, there are some exhibits as well as an observation deck with excellent views.
My next destination was the Heinz History Center, which is on the southwestern border of the strip district. With seven floors (five open to visitors), you can easily spend a day there. Admission for an adult is $16. AAA will get you $1 off, but student admission is only $6.50.
The Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War 1754-1763, From Slavery to Freedom, Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation and We Can Do It: WWII were my personal favorites. I went through the museum in two hours, but you can easily turn that into three or four, depending on how fast you read and how varied your interests are.
From the museum, I walked to Penn Ave and through the strip district. There’s plenty of shopping there and different restaurants as well. Pittsburgh Popcorn Co is located on the corner of 21st Street and Spring Way. They have new flavors every week and offer samples. I bought a bag of cinnamon toast, which nobody else that was in front of me seemed interested in. Oh well, their loss, because it was delicious!
For lunch, I went to Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria, near the Gateway subway stop and then visited Fort Pitt Museum. Although the Heinz History Center is much more extensive, the area around Fort Pitt is great for walking and photo ops. At Fort Pitt, you can learn about the natives of Pittsburgh as well as how the 2nd largest city in Pennsylvania got its name. It was not named after Brad!
I don’t believe that a visit to any city is complete without using some form or public transportation. I finally used the underground in Philadelphia last summer and since Fort Pitt is near the Gateway station, I boarded the train there and took it across the Monongahela River to the Station Square stop. The stops between Gateway and First Avenue are part of a Free Zone, but I had to pay since I was crossing the river to Station Square. Like the Los Angeles Metro, you buy a card, add value and tap when you enter the train. Before arriving at the First Avenue station, the train ascends above ground, so you get to see the river as it crosses.
From Station Square, it’s a short walk to the Monongahela Incline. It was dark by this time and the ride ($2.50 one-way, but only $1 extra if you make the return trip within three hours) only took a minute or two, just like the Duquesne. There’s an observation deck outside the upper station, where I took some excellent photos of the city at night.
After collecting my car, I headed to I Tea Cafe (Taiwanese) for dinner. They have one of my recent favorites (salt and pepper chicken) with different flavor options. I chose seaweed and also got French fries (something I don’t associate with Taiwan) of the same flavor as well as bubble tea. Everything was excellent and I had room for dessert, so I ordered glass jelly and homemade coconut toast. They are separate on the menu but go very well together. Try it!
Most decent sized cities have at least a bakery or two that sells French macarons. I found Gaby et Jules on Yelp and stopped there to get a box of six. They have the standard flavors as well as ones I’d either rarely or never seen before. I got Nutella and salted caramel, which most places sell, but also tried Bailey’s Irish Cream and white chocolate basil.
After spending my first full day in Pennsylvania’s second city, I can understand why it’s been voted the most livable city in America multiple times. It has professional sports teams, world-class museums, a great food scene, more than ten colleges, and universities yet does not feel overwhelming. Furthermore, my favorite bands usually stopped in Pittsburgh when they went on tour! Like most major cities, parking is an issue in the center, but unlike other cities with subways, you can ride theirs for free in the most congested areas. Pittsburgh has some great architecture along their ample waterfront, but it’s the inclines that really allow the visitor to fully appreciate it.
Isn’t it great when we can discover new and exciting places within our home state? I’m from Michigan and I’m constantly finding new towns to visit!
I always found myself defending Detroit (and Cleveland). I like both cities. Have you been to PA?
I’ve driven through a few times on the way to NYC and DC, but I’ve never visited any cities in PA. Huge fan of The Office though! 😉
Well, there’s plenty to see. I have 13 posts on my home state https://imayroam.com/category/pennsylvania/
Funny how we can travel the world but not visit the places on our doorstep. We’re all guilty of it, but sometimes it’s good to explore closer to home 🙂
I guess that’s because u think u can see the “close to home” stuff anytime?
I have a preconception that they don’t have good Asian foods on the East Coast. Good to know they do 🙂 And I have always wanted to go there and take the Flashdance tour – seeing the sights from the movie… Cheezy, but could be cool, but not as cool as the funicular.
Rob, I don’t really consider Pitt “east coast” but most of the east coast cities have great Chinatowns.
Yes more local travel is awesome!!
I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I’m a native New Yorker who’s been to 30 states and never seen Buffalo! So i can totally identify with your feelings.
I totally agree about public transportation. Always a good idea if you can!
If they have a subway I try to use it. If it’s only a bus I don’t bother since I know how to drive.
Excellent article! I am doing something similar. I’ve lived in Maryland my entire life and never really explored it. It’s great to see people realize that they don’t need to travel to other side of the world to experience wonderful new places. Looking forward to read more of your articles.
Thanks! I have other Pennsylvania articles as well as several NYC ones. Let me know what u think.
Cinnamon toast and coconut toast? Never heard of either but they do sound quite delicious.
Sounds like a really chill, fun vacation – it’s not top of my destinations in the US to visit, but it’s good to have the background info in case the opportunity ever comes up!
Pennsylvania is on my bucket list. I will definitely visit Pittsburg. Thank you for the tips.
It’s funny how we travel yet we don’t visit the beautiful places right on our very own doorstep im the worst for this, I have only ever been to New York in America but I would love to venture somewhere as beautiful as this x
Exciting post but strange places with true and perfect audience to visit. Hopefully someday I will.
36 years is a long time. I grew up in Dubai and left it 15 years ago (havnt gone back though) But from I read about the place and have seen on TV it has changed beyond recognition.
I never been to America but posts like this make me feel like to plan a trip 🙂 You did/see quite a lot in one day! That is how I travel as well. Spending all day out wondering and taste everything I can 🙂 Thanks for Sharing! Great post!
I don’t know much about the American cities because i have never traveled there. I like the view from the top of the hill, from there the city doesn’t look that big. I would love to try the white chocolate basil macaroon. I bet that tasted special.
I never been to the US, hope one day! Pittsburg seems like an amazing city to visit, the architecture is very beautiful! Food photos look mouth watering, I’d love to try the Napolitan Pizza as I am a huge fan of Italian food 😉
It’s a great place with nice interesting stuff to do. I should go there someday too. It was really nice to explore places.
Great photos! I really enjoyed your photography 🙂 It looks like an amazing city to visit, hope i’ll have the chance to do so one day
Awesome post.I live in Cape Town- South Africa, 20 minutes away from Table mountain which is one of the 7 wonders of the world..and guess what?….Ive visited is twice only 🙂
I had NO idea there was that much to do in Pittsburgh!! How wonderful 🙂 Totally made me want to visit! Thanks for sharing – and great photos!
That cute little train makes me think of Harry Potter lol
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The Clash of Empires Museum looks amazing I would love to visit as I love history. Those macaroons look good too!
Wow! These photos are just incredible! It looks like a very interesting place to visit! On my bucket list!
Every single pic is amazing, love to visit there.
It sounds so funny that we explore the entire world but couldn’t get time to explore the places near our vicinity! Glad to know that you got a time to enjoy in Pittsburgh. I’ll be visiting Pittsburgh soon as part of exploring all the 50 states on my bucket list! Have pinned your post for my reference!
Beautiful! I bet it feels great that you finally gave this city a chance, and I’m sure it exceeded your expectations as well! I love that you always go for the food after a good tour around places that will introduce you to a city, like their museum. That pizza got me craving for a slice or two. I’d love to try those french macarons as well!
This makes me want to visit. The pictures and all the advantages.
Last year, I had the very great privilege of living in the state of Pennsylvania where my girlfriend was attending Uni. And while there, I definitely got the impression that many locals preferred to head Philly and consequently, Pittsburgh often goes overlooked. Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear from your article that there is more than enough to interest backpackers while your photos certain indicate a place with a lot of character
What a great guide and great photos. Love the approach of experiencing a place closer to home, looks like you had a great time!
You sure had a great time in Pittsburgh. I am particularly interested in the Duquesne Incline.It looks so intriguing.There are so many things to do and see in Pittsburgh, I am sure there never was a dull moment.
Well, I learnt something new reading your post… I didn’t actually realise Pittsburgh was in Pennsylvania haha! Anyways, it looks like an interesting place to visit and when I eventually make it to the States I’ll be sure to check it out!
It’s 5 hours from where I grew up, so it might as well be another state lol
I always think that most people tend to undervalue traveling at their home country (or state, when we’re talking about continental sized countries). One can always find amazing new things in a day trip from home. You just have to keep your eyes and mind open. BTW, that pizza looks great 😉
I’m a Pennsylvanian myself. I personally like Pittsburgh as far as big cities go (and I hate cities lol). I recently went to lancaster and hated it lol. Pittsburgh to me is such a great place to visit, they have so many sights there vs other cities I have been to.