My wife and I just got back from spending 4 days exploring Pittsburgh. The city holds a special place in my heart because I grew up nearby. I had never had the chance to show her around and COVID-19 is on the decline, so I planned a vacation to the Steel City. To make things manageable, I spread what I consider to be the core attractions of the city over four days. The locations of each are on the map below. Part of the fun of this trip was that almost all of the museums have been renovated since I was last in Pittsburgh, so I was also experiencing exhibits for the first time.
There are some things that we did not do, but are worth mentioning and are in section of their own at the end with some ideas about what could be swapped out.
Day 1: Strip District elsewhere
Day 2: North Shore
Day 3: Oakland
Day 4: North Shore and Mountains
Heinz History Center
This eclectic museum has been reworked since I last visited in Junior High. One of the big additions is the entire set of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I saw the set on TV, been on the rides at Kennywood and Idlewild, and have seen the puppets, but I have never seen the scale of the set. As a yinzer, this was probably the coolest thing that I saw on the entire trip.
The one downside of the renovated museum is that there is an abundance of stuff on pre-industrial revolution Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh sports, but less about making steel, Kennywood, and the rebirth of the city than I expected. What it really needs is a massive timeline of the history of the city by decade.
I had no idea what the National Aviary was going to be like. The last time I went I was in elementary school and I only had faint memories of visiting. My partner likes birds, so she found visiting one of the few stand-alone aviaries in the country to be exciting. The zoo was small, but interesting. It was the second closest I had ever gotten to a Bald Eagle in my life. In the outdoor section, they had an Andean Condor who spread its wings for us. Sadly, when we visited, the wetland exhibit was closed for repairs, so we did not get the chance to see everything.
Over the past year, I have been researching and writing about the 19th century orientalist diorama Lion Attacking a Dromedary. The display was removed in 2020 for a variety of good reasons explained in the article. I thought that I would not get a chance to see it in person again. However, since then, they surrounded the display in a curtain and allow people to see it if they want to. This allowed me to get the pictures I needed for the Wikipedia article’s expansion.
On our last day, we were wiped out from seeing museums and driving in the city. That made for a perfect mountain day. Ohiopyle is a bit over an hour from Pittsburgh by car and is worth the trek out. The falls are the crown jewel of the park, but the views of the Laurel Highlands along the way there are breathtaking on their own. The small town of Ohiopyle is a pedal and paddle town that services tourists biking the Great Allegany Passage, people rafting the Yough, and people hiking the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. It is a cool outdoorsy town. Even if you just drive to the state park, get a cup of iced cream, see the falls, and leave, it is worth the hour drive.
Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium — The Pittsburgh Zoo is very good, but it was much too hot when we visited. If you are relying on public transportation, the Zoo might be a good replacement for the mountain day.
PNC Park, Heinz Field, and PPG Paints Arena — Besides the Buccos being terrible and the other sports being out of season, I am not a big sports person. If you are, they are worth going to. PNC Park is probably the best baseball park that I have ever been to and is far too nice for a team that rarely gets to .500.
Falling Water and Kentuck Knob — It might be worth cutting the Science Center, doing the Warhol Museum on Day 2, and going to Falling Water or Kentuck Knob as a part of the mountain day. Both Frank Lloyd Wright houses are beautiful and are on great pieces of land.
Kennywood — It was very hot when we were in town, but Kennywood is the best amusement park in the area. The wooden coasters have a significant following and the boardwalk fries are well known.