Author’s note: Pittsburghers by way of their triple river birthright are as fervent about their opinions as they are about the holy trinity of their sports teams. The following list is a collection of suggestions and is in no way definitive. I implore my yinzer brethren to keep their black-and-yellow britches on.
1. Shop and Eat the Strip
The Strip District is a half-mile stretch of ethnic markets, coffee shops, food stalls and counterfeit sports paraphernalia. Standouts include Pennsylvania Macaroni Company for imported cheese, Wholey’s for fresh seafood, Reyna Foods for homemade tortillas and Parma for hot dudes that make from scratch sausage. You can fly solo or take a food tour with Burgh Bits and Bites. In the spring and summer walk the extra block to buy a banh mi sandwich from Lucy Sheets. A transplant from Hue, Vietnam, her version of the Vietnamese staple is cheap, authentic and smack- your-own-mother good.
2. Meet a Penguin
Who doesn’t want to pet a penguin? For $40 you can book a private penguin encounter at the National Aviary. If your heart doesn’t explode from the initial onslaught of cute you are invited to watch them eat and then defecate at the astounding velocity of three times a minute. The penguin I met was named Elvis and like his philandering namesake he has swagger and difficulty committing to a single mate.
3. Boatgate a home game
A floating alternative to a traditional tailgate, boatgating has found a happy home in sports-loving Pittsburgh. Both PNC Park and Heinz Field, home respectively to the Pirates and six-time Super Bowl champion the Steelers, are located on the banks of the three rivers making it convenient for fans to drop anchor and party on. If cheering the former I recommend doing so in an eyepatch and tri-cornered hat. If you aren’t lucky enough to own a boat or know someone who does you can charter your own booze cruise through Pittsburgh Water Limo..
4. Hike or Bike the Great Allegheny Passage
This 150-mile multi-use trail built on the bones of disused train tracks connects the City of Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD. Blessedly free of motorized vehicles and crowds the trail begins in the heart of the city at Point State Park, eventually curving its way past Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater and the Eastern Continental Divide. In the fall months stop off at the Lucky Dog Cafe in Confluence for a next level pumpkin White Russian. The autumnal dude abides.
5. Take a Moonlight Trail Ride at Rolling Hills Ranch
Twenty minutes west of the city, Rolling Hills Ranch offers moonlight horseback rides on their private trails. After getting in some giddy up, a hayride takes you to a fireside BBQ where you can wrap up in a blanket and settle in for some stargazing. The website makes no promises but planning this date seems like a pretty foolproof path to getting laid.
6. Visit the Cathedral of Learning
Hogwarts is real. The University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning is the second tallest gothic building in the world and its commons room, half an acre wide and four stories high has been called one of the “great architectural fantasies of the 20th century.” The stone room looks uncannily like the great levitating candle hall of Hogwart’s and once inside you can’t help but stand in gobsmacked open-mouth wonder. Guests can also tour the famous Nationality Rooms, a collection of 29 spaces forged by and dedicated to the various nations that have helped define the cultural landscape of the city. Beyond architecture, the 40th-floor balcony is home to a pair of nesting pigeon-slaying Peregrine falcons named and E2 and Dorothy. Totally metal.
7. Attend Anthrocon
Every summer Pittsburgh plays host to the world’s largest furry convention, replete with novice and veteran fursuit dance competitions. This year’s theme is Viking Invasion and traditional Scandinavian longboats are rumored to be making their way across the Allegheny River carrying folks in full dragon regalia. No further incentive necessary.
8. Craft Beer Tour
Blame it on the blue collars that built it, Pittsburgh is a drinking town. Unsurprisingly the city has a large collection of craft breweries that honor our illustrious history of boozing. In Lawrenceville, the Church Brew Works crafts award-winning beer under the towering arches of a deconsecrated Catholic Church. You can continue the revelry at nearby Hop Farm Brewing Co. and Roundabout Brewery. Voodoo Brewery, recently opened in Homestead is dog and veteran friendly and decorated with chalk art by local artists. The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company, a Kickstarter funded coalition have made a home in up and coming Braddock. PA Brew Tours will create a custom itinerary for you and yours and graciously serve as both guide and designated driver.
9. Duquesne Incline
The Pope of Trash himself, director John Waters described Pittsburgh as having the most cinematic entrance of any city. While the view from the Fort Pitt Tunnels is extraordinary in its own right, to get a full 360 degrees of the fair steel city you have to go up, like 400 vertical feet up by way of the Duquesne Incline. Originally steam powered the century old incline takes visitors to the top of Mount Washington, formerly Coal Hill, in classic turn of the century wooden cars.
10. Carrie Blast Furnaces
Andrew Carnegie and his prolific bank roll may have funded two of the cities finest art museums, the Carnegie and the Warhol respectively, but his last-standing industrial blast furnaces offer an unexpected avenue to experience art in the steel city. Built in the early 20th century the Carrie Blast Furnaces once produced more that 1,000 tons of iron a day. Abandoned for half a century, the site became ground zero for underground artists and a haunting example of the post-industrial landscape. In 1997 a band of local guerilla artists spent the better part of a year illegally erecting a sculpture with salvaged materials from the furnace site. The resulting work, known as the Carrie Deer, is a 40-foot stag head constructed using only hand tools. The deer, meant to be a temporary piece has now been structurally repaired and the Carrie furnaces named a National Historic Landmark. Today, legal sections of the site have been offered up to artists to create new work. The Carrie Furnaces serve as a rusted reminder of Pittsburgh’s past and a testament to the spirit of resurrection that marks its present. Rivers of Steel offers Urban Art and Graffiti Workshop tours and photo safaris through the Carrie Furnaces.