steel city: pittsburgh, pa
January 3, 2017
Steeped in history and marked by a profound cultural landscape, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a unique city with plenty of treasures, no matter what floats your proverbial boat. Situated on the Allegheny Plateau, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers converge to form the Ohio River, the City of Bridges has lots to offer, whether you are an avid sports fan, an art aficionado, a foodie, an industrial enthusiast, or simply a city lover.
Driving from the airport, you will be struck by railroad overpasses and tunnels that speak to Steel City’s industrial heyday, before emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which welcomes you with an unsurpassable view of the city. The initial feeling of awe resonates with you as you walk around downtown, over the yellow, steel bridges, and around the city. Young professionals line the streets at lunchtime, wandering around market square for a coffee at Nicholas Coffee Co. or a Kombucha across the street. Everyone is so friendly in true Midwestern fashion, they will let you know where to get the best sandwich (Bluebird just outside of the square is my pick), what’s going on in town that evening, or how to get back to your hotel when you’ve walked around in circles one too many times.
Crossing the Sixth Street Bridge (also known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge – have I mentioned they like their sports?) will bring you to the North Shore neighborhood, where the ballpark sits on the river. While that’s hard to miss, the Andy Warhol Museum is not, and is absolutely worth visiting—a true window into the life of a fascinating creative and the circumstances of his time can be garnered, and for me a whole new appreciation for the artist himself.
Not too far, another museum may pique your interest, and for good reason—the name alone speaks to its uniqueness, and if you are looking for something different it will NOT disappoint. The Mattress Factory consists of several buildings, with varying rotating exhibitions in interesting spaces—and also many selfie spots for your snapchat, or whatever. In any case, it’s a cool spot to check out and definitely worth a visit.
The Carnegie Museum of Art is perhaps Pittsburgh’s most impressive (at least for an art history enthusiast such as myself), located in the Oakland neighborhood amongst all of the college students. It’s a beautiful building with a great collection, but even more important is that it’s just a few blocks from Primanti Bros, which you absolutely must visit when in Pittsburgh. Famous for its sandwiches with French fries inside, this is a quintessential Pitt stop (get it? sorry, I had to) that you really, really should not miss. If you want to order like a local, ask for the fried egg. Just thinking about it now makes me want to get in my car and start driving. So yes—go there.
Another of the city’s coolest up and coming neighborhoods is the Strip District. Whether you’re looking for a good authentic Mexican market (hit up Reyna Foods, or Casa Reyna restaurant next door), an amazing breakfast (Pamela’s is the talk of the town for a reason), or a good brew (the BeerHive has got you covered), Penn Ave has everything you could possibly want, without all the frills. The neighborhood is certainly mid-gentrification, but its rich cultural fabric remains tightly woven.
Finally, when in Pittsburgh, try to get over to the funicular for a ride with a view. Skip the Monongahela and take the Duquesne incline to avoid the touristy feel, and grab a good bite to eat at the top at the aptly named Grandview Saloon. There you can enjoy some tasty food and drinks with a view of the rivers that’s pretty easy on the eyes before you head back down the mountainside.
Whatever brings you to Pittsburgh, make sure to take a few days to explore. I know I never expected to find all that I did, and I can definitely attest it’s a city full of very hidden gems—but once you do find them, just be warned—you may never want to leave.