I grew up in Buffalo, New York and for me, Pittsburgh was just another Rust Belt city stagnating after the heady steel boom (at the turn of the 20th century, Pittsburgh was producing about half the nation's steel). Admittedly, Pittsburgh was not high on my list of must-visit tourist destinations. I'm happy to report that after a business trip in early October 'forced' me to spend some time here, I have new found respect for the Steel City. It turns out that Pittsburgh is a vibrant destination with great food, shops, architecture, parks, and more. Here are ten reasons not to underestimate the Power of Pittsburgh.
1. Cathedral of Learning
The University of Pittsburgh is home to the second largest academic building in the world. I arrived in Pittsburgh on a Sunday and decided to take a stroll through the Pitt campus to help fight my jetlag. I was soon looking up at an Art Deco behemoth soaring about 40 stories above me. I wandered around, looking up and admiring the architecture from all sides. I came around to one of the side entrances and tentatively pulled on the door. It couldn't be open to the public, could it? The door gave way and in I went. The inside of the Cathedral of Learning (as the tower is affectionately called) looked like, well, a church. Vaulted ceilings, uncomfortable wooden benches, and ornate stained glass windows added atmosphere to the interior. I was even able to take the antique Art Deco elevator to the top floors and work my way down the staircase. Many of the offices were closed and locked but there were still some vantage points where I could look out and take in sweeping views of the city.
2. Fall Fest at Pitt
Just outside the Catedral of Learning, Fall Fest was in full swing at Pitt. Walk the Moon had taken the stage and I stood for a while listening to their upbeat hits. I love a college town and Pittsburgh is certainly that at its core.
3. Double Wide
I don't recommend going on a diet before a visit to Pittsburgh. There is lots of great food in Pittsburgh and it's served in copious amounts. I went to dinner with some colleagues at Double Wide, a BBQ joint that set-up shop in an old gas station. I ordered one of the homemade TV dinners that came with two types of BBQ meat and sauce of my choice plus four sides. Roll me home!
4. Butcher and the Rye
For a more refined experience, try Butcher and the Rye downtown. The food was well-prepared and there was a great cocktail and craft beer menu. I also got to sit next to a dancing bear. How often can you say that about a dining experience?
5. Twinkling Lights from Mt Washington
Pittsburgh is surprisingly picturesque with a distinctive skyline and countless bridges spanning the three rivers that runs through the city. After dinner, the friends I was with drove me up the to the top of Mt. Washington to check out the twinkling lights of the city. I hear that it's also great during the day with a funicular to take people to the top.
6. Pamela's Diner
Pamela's Diner is a Pittsburgh institution and a few locations have popped up in the city. One of my friends suggested that I must go to the location in Shadyside (where I was staying) for breakfast and try their lyonnaise potatoes. Another friend had an even better suggestion...go to the location in The Strip district on Sunday morning and then explore the various markets lining this iconic revitalized neighborhood (it's an old warehouse district essentially). Good call. Thanks to my jetlag, I got to Pamela's pretty early and was able to score a seat at the counter while the line snaked out the door for a table. I tried the chocolate banana hot cakes and a side of lyonnaise potatoes. So filling and good!
7. Shopping in the Strip
The Strip district in Pittsburgh has undergone a bit of a renaissance. Many of the old warehouses and factories have been converted into a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars. I had a stroll past the many outlets proudly selling Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins gear (the people of Pittsburgh love their sports teams!), sampled flavored coffees at the Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange, explored the local flea market, and tasted craft beer from the East End Brewing Company in the Pittsburgh Public Market. This neighborhood has such a vibrant feel. I know where I'm coming next time I'm in town and need to do a bit of shopping.
8. Point State Park
I visited Pittsburgh in early October but the sun was shining and temperatures were warm during my visit. It was like a fine summer's day and thus the perfect time for a Sunday stroll through Point State Park. I parked my car nearby in downtown and picked my way through the snarled overpasses and highways to get to the park. Fortunately, there are pedestrian access paths the whole way. Point State Park is situated at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. I looked out over Three Rivers Stadium where the Steelers play and admired the geyser-like fountain at the very tip of the park. It was an idyllic scene.
9. Three Rivers Heritage Trail
I set off from Point State Park to explore the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that runs along the Allegheny River. I really appreciated the opportunity to see all the iconic bridges of Pittsburgh up close. I wonder how much steel went into making all these bridges and how much steel was transported across during Pittsburgh's industrial heyday.
10. Phipps Botanical Gardens and Conservatory
I rounded out my visit to Pittsburgh with a trip back to the University of Pittsburgh campus. The Phipps Botanical Gardens and Conservatory provided a much needed respite from the intense sun and warmth of the day. I cooled off with a tour through the greenhouses. The conservatory features a wide way of exotic flora. There was a Chihuly exhibit on when I visited so I found intricate glass creations peeking out at me along the way. This was just another fantastic spot in what turned out to be a really enjoyable visit to a city that is frankly underrated.
I left thinking: Don't underestimate the power of Pittsburgh!