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.