When you only have three full days to enjoy a place during a long weekend and the cost of flying for three days just doesn't seem worth it, the requirement should be simple: find a city within a reasonable driving distance from where you are. Sounds easy enough, but with most cities from Toronto being at least an 8 hour drive away, it's not. When we realized Pittsburgh is just a 5-hour drive from the Toronto area (and within a similar distance to major American cities including New York, Washington, DC and Chicago), we had to go and check this city out for ourselves. And the results? We fell over heels! Here’s why:
The most beautiful scenic view we've ever seen on an incline? That honour goes to the view atop Notre Dame de Paris. The second prettiest? Well, that has to be got to be Pittsburgh's Dusquesne Incline, providing gorgeous views of the city's skyline from the top of Mt. Washington.
But the gorgeous views of the city isn’t the only thing Pittsburgh has going for it in the “Sights” department. The city is also home to a number of incredible museums, including two of our favourites:
The Andy Warhol Museum
Who isn’t enamoured with this pop art icon? The museum is home to some of Warhol’s most famous paintings and pieces, including his Campbell’s Soup Cans, portraits of celebrities, and films, which include a really adorable home video Warhol shot of the Kennedy kids (John and Caroline) playing on the beach in Montauk.
Famous works of art notwithstanding, the museum is also a fascinating glimpse into Warhol’s personal life. Apparently a big pack rat, the Andy Warhol Museum actually houses boxes upon boxes of things he just couldn’t part with (movie stubs, papers, party invitations, you name it!). Hoarders rejoice. You and Warhol totally have some things in common!
There is also a pretty generous amount of Andy Warhol’s, ahem, taxidermy collection. Yup. You read right. Dead.stuffed.animals. Dibs on the Dalmation in the event the museum ever wants to get rid of it!
Mattress Factory Museum
Turns out we weren't the only ones super excited to walk into Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots” exhibit. A little girl who couldn’t have been older than two could not contain her delight. And can you blame her? The exhibit is a total mind blow, tugging at your emotional and sensory senses. And for a two year old, it’s a glow in the dark room full of awesomeness.
Polka dotted rooms aside, this contemporary art museum is home to a variety of other interesting and beautiful exhibitions, many of which are chosen into residency programs from around the world.
But wait! There’s more! After you’re done exploring all the great exhibits the museum has to offer, make sure to take a stroll around the neighbourhood. Directly beside the Mattress Factory is a home that immediately caught my attention. Brown and covered in poetry, the home is painted by writer Huang Xiang as a way of celebrating the freedom to write openly, something he was arrested for in his native China. Other incredible homes painted in murals line the streets and this eclectic neighbourhood appears to be home to exiled writers and artists. For more information about this amazing initiative, check out: http://www.sampsoniaway.org/
Fraley’s Robot Repair
Holy crow, you guys. We stumbled upon this ridiculously adorable Robot Repair Shop innocently enough walking back to the hotel. And when our eyes locked on what was in front of us, it’s like we were transformed back into childhood! There is a sign on the storefront that says the owners are away on vacation. As you peer inside the shop, you notice a handful of robots in various state of repair, including one insanely cute robot peering from a back door! We couldn’t contain the giddiness while snapping away pictures and just about skipped all the way back to the hotel after witnessing this shop.
Upon further investigation, you realized the Robot Repair Shop is a public art instillation by local artist Toby Atticus Fraley, part ofProject Pop Up Pittsburgh. Another incredible art initiative brought to you by the fine folks of Pittsburgh. A little disappointing that it’s not the real E.T. type of deal, we know, but if you’re looking to get a quick glimpse back into the magical world that was your childhood, this is a must see.
Don’t just stop here, though. Pittsburgh has a dozen more incredible museums for all tastes and sizes. For more information on our two favourite museums in North America (yup!) and other fantastic ones that are must visits in Pittsburgh, go here: http://www.visitpittsburgh.com/essentials/family-fun/
We can’t discuss Pittsburgh without discussing its love of sports! Only the best hockey player to ever play in the NHL and his team call Pittsburgh their home; Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Obviously!
The Pittsburgh folks are also really into their NFL Steelers. You only need to walk down to the Strip District and see sports memorabilia stores at every corner to notice that.
Pittsburgh’s baseball team, thePirates are also a beloved staple. They call the beautiful PNC Park home, and three massive statues erected around the park honour the city’s four baseball heroes; Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski.
Not sure yet if this was a curse or a blessing, but the first thing we stumbled upon while walking out of our hotel was a Saks Fifth Avenue closing sale. Which means the whole store was on sale. At least 50% off. Oh boy!
Downtown Pittsburgh is also home to a Macy’s and Brooks Brothers, and if you’re looking for some of the best vintage, look no further than the city’s Shadyside neighbourhood. Stores upon stores of total cuteness. Our favourites include: Eons Fashion Antique and Hey Betty!
If you’re looking for some great mall finds (and how can you not be with the sales tax at ZERO percent for most clothing!), head down to Ross Park Mall, just a speck outside of the city.
Because you’re thinking Pittsburgh could not possibly get better. And then it does! We came across a number of delicious restaurants, coffee shops and delicacies. Here’s a taste (get it?):
Meat and Potatoes
This gastropub in the city’s Cultural District is simply delicious and the place you need to go to if you’re looking for one of Pittsburgh’s hottest restaurants. Though Meat and Potatoes appears to have a set menu, they also incorporate daily specials. Bonus for any Canadians looking for some comfort food? They serve Poutine, you guys! So good that we’ll even forgive our waitress for telling the table next to us that Poutine is a ‘French’ dish…
This homey diner located in the city’s Strip district can count us alongside Mr. President as big fans of their pancakes! With so many breakfast options to choose from – between the lyonnaise potatoes or strawberry hotcakes, the corn beef hash and eggs or banana nut pancakes – you might as well give up the internal battle within and order both the savoury and sweet!
Make sure to get there early on weekends as it seems like half of Pittsburgh wants to eat their breakfast there, too!
Andy’s Sushi Bar
Not much to say about this place except that it’s the best vegeterian sushi we've ever had! And we had sushi in Tokyo. With real wasabi and all.
And while you’re waiting for Andy’s ridiculously delicious sushi, while he makes it fresh in front of you, make sure to check out Wholey’s Fish Market, where Andy’s sushi stand is located. During the Lenten season especially, it’s what a Catholic’s dreams are made of .
The Leaf and Bean
We stumbled upon this place while exploring Pittsburgh’s strip distric and must have walked by it about five times before getting the courage to finally walk inside. The eclectic outside of the establishment is just as intriguing as it is intimidating. And had it not been for the sign that said ‘Coffee’ and the Pittsburgh Penguins game blasting from the speakers on the outside, we probably wouldn’t have had the courage to follow the gentleman who looked like he belonged in a biker gang inside…
And boy, are we so glad we did! This Coffee and Cigar place is absolutely magical! Upon first entry, it’s almost as if you’re transformed into some sort of tropical paradise, if a tropical paradise catered to those with funky, eclectic tastes. Vintage chackies, fishing nets, seashells and motorcycles line the walls and ceilings, and patrons have the options of sitting down on patio furniture or vintage dentist chairs. As we looked around and meekly asked if we could take some photos, the incredibly welcoming barista behind the bar nodded enthusiastically and made me the best Americano we’ve ever had in…uh…America!
If there’s one establishment to relax and get lost in, this is 100 percent in! Cannot wait to come back!
Because going to Pittsburgh and not stopping in to a Primanti Bros. restaurant should be some sort of crime. Sure, it’s a bit bizzare to be eating french fries inside a sandwich, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s just like ordering fries on the side. But more delicious! Just do it.
Where to stay
We had a fantastic stay at the historic Omni William Penn and with their spacious rooms, friendly customer services and hot apple cider in the lobby (!), we highly recommend it.
How to get there
Being only a 5 hour drive from Toronto, we recommend foregoing the $500+ flight fare and instead log onto google maps, print out the directions and go!
For more information
Visit Pittsburgh has an abundance of information about the city and were total saviours when it came to helping me plan mine. Go visit their friendly and resourceful site right now.
All in all, an amazing weekend in an incredibly beautiful and eclectic city that we can't wait to go back to!