13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best

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When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.

And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.

1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore

So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.

2// Riversides Galore

Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.

3// Market Square & PPG Plaza

Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!

Awesome, I tell you.
Awesome, I tell you.

4// It’s Bikeable

There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)

5// Kennywood

Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.

The swings are from the 80s and they're STILL fun.
The swings are from the 80s and they’re STILL fun.

6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback

So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.

7// The T

If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.

8// It’s Kind Of Hipster

Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.

Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.
Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.

9// Primanti Brothers

Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.

10// The Southside

The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.

[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]

Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.
Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.

11// The View From Mount Washington

If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.

12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares

Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.

13// Green Things

Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?

The Phipps Conservatory has a "green" visitors center, too!
The Phipps Conservatory has a “green” visitors center, too!

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Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?

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35 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best”

  1. I only visited Pittsburgh for a conference, and was only there for a three days at that, so I didn’t get to see very much of the city. BUT, what I did see, I was surprised to find I found incredibly charming. It’s true you don’t hear much about Pittsburgh, and when you do, it’s generally not great, but I thought it had a lot of character and when I returned home, I told Tony that we definitely have to visit one day.

    I’m so bummed that all our meals were organized for the conference I attended. I REALLY wanted to vsiit Primanti Brothers, but didn’t get the chance. I guess that’s just another reason to visit again one day!

    1. It’s definitely a great place to visit! The only thing lacking in my opinion is a hostel for young people, and if I wasn’t so busy leaving the US all the time, then I’d be trying to make that happen right now. Primanti Brothers is absolutely a must-eat… too bad you didn’t think to bribe one of the assistants to go fetch you one hehe.

      Make your plans for your return! And if they’re in January 2014, then let me know, and I’d love to show you around / have another excuse to eat more Primanti Brothers. 🙂

  2. Wow, did this make me miss Pittsburgh, Sally! My additions would be: (1) the Grand Concourse, the restaurant located in the original 1901 Pittsburgh & Lake Erie train station, on the river with great views of the city. It’s perhaps overpriced and overcrowded with tourists now (I really don’t know), but I remember it in its early days, as its renovation was completed in the early 1980s. I read that it’s now recognized as a true urban renewal success story, which is pretty cool. (2) Heinz Hall, one of the northeast US’s glamorous “movie palaces” that survived with all of its grandeur intact (and improved upon) from its 1927 origins. And outside of Pittsburgh a bit, there’s McConnell’s Mill state park with its great hiking trails and scenic views, and Moraine State Park, with swimming in summer and beautiful fall foliage a few months later. And of course, your parents’ house makes my list too (I’ve always loved its tudor exterior and stone side porch!), for sentimental as well as aesthetic reasons. Wish we could see you this holiday season, but perhaps in 2014 when we’re taking our own jaunt around the world!

    1. Nice contributions. The Grand Concourse really is spectacular, and just as spectacularly expensive. I’d definitely recommend taking a look inside, but eating there is a pricey endeavor. Heinz Hall is also beautiful, I think I missed all the places that people with money go to, hah! Just two more examples of Pittsburgh doing an awesome job of holding onto history during renovations and improvements.

      And my parents’ home, of course… I almost put my mom on the list! Haha!

      Yes, hopefully we will get a chance to see each other in 2014. I’m so excited for your family! It’ll be such an awesome experience!

  3. You forgot #14: the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra! How many cities the size of Pittsburgh have an orchestra of that calibre? (Answer: none)

  4. I totally share your Pittsburgh love! I grew up not very far away (near Youngstown, Ohio), and I have some great memories from Pittsburgh. I always tell people that it’s a severely underrated U.S. city!

    1. It really is! And it keeps getting better, it’s unbelievable. I wish I wanted to settle down already, but I can’t fight myself on that one.

      Hopefully a few more people give Pittsburgh a chance in the travel community; new businesses are opening all the time and there are probably hundreds of “off the beaten track” things to do. Someone just has to find them. 🙂

  5. Wow! Pittsburgh looks and sounds awesome! I have so many places to visit in the USA, not sure I’d ever have enough time… seriously.

    1. I know that feeling very well… if you do ever get the chance, though, Pittsburgh is SO worth a visit, if not for the delicious noms around every corner. But maybe you’re not as obsessed with food as I am… still worth it! Hahaha

    1. I never fell in love with the cultural district for some reason, but I can see why a lot of people did. The history/arts/vibe there is cool. Maybe my love for that area is still yet to come, though… 🙂

  6. So, I didn’t actually know anything about Pittsburgh because I’m an ignorant Brit but now you’ve made me want to visit it. 😀

    1. That’s not true! Anyone on the West coast of the USA and plenty of other people don’t know about Pittsburgh, either. It’s kind of a secret gem of the East coast.

    1. Oh I love any excuse to talk about my lovely hometown, I don’t know why I hadn’t already written this post! Honestly Pittsburgh is a gem for travelers, I hope you get the chance to visit sometime. And if you do, you’ll have to send me a message so I can give you another 13 reasons Pittsburgh is the best! 🙂

  7. I feel the same way about my hometown, Philadelphia. Going away certainly made my heart grow fonder, and in the last twenty years the city has progressed a lot.

    1. I do love Philly, though I’ve only been a couple times! It has such a cool vibe. I almost transferred to Temple after my freshman year elsewhere.

      But then I decided to stick to Pittsburgh and I can’t say I regret it. 🙂

  8. I can relate to this a lot. My hometown of Buffalo is very similar to Pittsburgh, and the more I stay away, the fonder I get of it. Plus, it has also been getting super cool lately. I’m in town visiting for the holidays and I went to a bar tonight where they served me a drink with a sprig of thyme in it. So hipster!
    And, yes, Primanti Brothers is the best. I only went to Pittsburgh a few times and that was a long time ago, but who can forget a sandwich with fries IN IT? No one can.

    1. If anyone can forget they ate a sandwich that had fries in it, then I venture to say they are either soulless or missing a substantial portion of their taste buds.

      And who knows what wonders await me during my upcoming visit to Pittsburgh, but perhaps I’ll be as lucky as you and also find some thyme in my alcohol. If not, then I guess I’ll have to make a trip to Buffalo… can’t drink without fancy plants in my cup… that would just be unsophisticated.

  9. I live in NYC and have never been to Pittsburg. But I do LOVE a good amusement park that serves french fries and gravy, so I think I’m sold! Gotta check out this city in 2014.

    1. Oh Kennywood is pure gold, even without those french fries. I hope you get out here, because it’s absolutely worth the drive! Even Wiz Khalifa thinks so. (see: Black & Yellow on YouTube haha)

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