Pittsburgh: Guide to the City

Ah, Pittsburgh, the Steel City! When most people think of Pennsylvania, they think of visiting Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Pittsburgh is more known for its contributions to the steel industry and its many buildings and universities named after steel tycoon and American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

So why Pittsburgh? It’s embarrassing, really. In 2016, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks were playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. While I was planning out my East Coast trip, these two teams were duking it out on the ice, so I thought, “Hey, it’d be hilarious to be in Pittsburgh after the Sharks took the Cup.” Surprise, surprise, the Sharks did not win the Cup. That didn’t stop me from sporting my Sharks gear proudly…while I was back in my Airbnb. Known in the 70s as the “City of Champions”, hockey isn’t the only big sport in town, with the Steelers and the Pirates also calling Pittsburgh home. With the recent success of their NFL and NHL teams, sports has a strong hold on this otherwise sleepy town.

Was the trip worth it? So-so. It really depends on what you’re looking for in a trip. I had a decent time, but I definitely would’ve shortened my stay. Pittsburgh can be interesting, but you can see most things in 2-3 days. It’s an industrial-type town and not exactly a vacation destination, but it does have some great museums.

All About Pittsburgh!

(click for more info)

Weather

The weather was hot and muggy pretty much the whole time I was there. If you don’t like humidity, don’t go during the summer months like I did. If you do, make sure you bring a water bottle with you as you’re out and about. You’ll sweat a lot from the heat, and even more if you bike, so make sure you stay hydrated!

Mosquitos ARE a thing around dusk, so plan accordingly. When there is no breeze, I tended to hide indoors when dusk fell. If there was a slight breeze, it was relatively safe from those bloodsuckers.

Speaking of breezes, wondering if the place you stay at needs AC? It’d probably make your stay a lot more comfortable, but not absolutely necessary. I grew up without AC so I’m used to sleeping without the AC (and that’s how I slept during this trip). A piece of cardboard as a hand fan was sufficient for me.

Where I stayed

Airbnb! If you’re unfamiliar with this company, it’s an alternative to the traditional hotel and is basically like a cross between a homestay and a hotel. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can rent a room with a family or an entire place to yourself. Because I try to travel on an inexpensive budget, I tend to stay in hostels or in an Airbnb home. Want to check it out? Use this link here to get some free credits to get you started, and check out my tips on how to select a good Airbnb.

I also like Airbnb because it allows me to get to know someone new in the city I’m visiting. Since I’m often a solo traveler, I like having someone to chat with during parts of the day, especially since this person is likely an expert and willing to give you great tips on what to see and eat. It also lets you get a peek at how a local family lives in the area.

In Pittsburgh, I stayed with a really nice woman named Maria on her urban farm called Healcrest Urban Farm. During my stay, I got some great advice from her about things to see and eat, as well as just chat about daily life. I also got to explore the small farm, which I loved because as you know, me and food 🙂

Transportation

Arrival and departure

I got to Pittsburgh via Southwest Airlines.

Around the City

Available Methods of Transportation:
(*main method I used)

  • Public transit – bus
  • Bike*HealthyRide PGH (bike sharing)
  • Lyft (ride sharing)

I used all three of these methods of transportation in Pittsburgh, but biking was my favorite. It allowed me to see a lot of the city with the least expensive price tag. Biking through a city allows you to take a look at the neighborhood in the area and a nice leisurely pace. I will say though that Pittsburgh is not completely flat, so depending on where you’re going, you could be biking uphill, which is miserable because it’s can get steep. I would recommend checking with Google Maps’ biking option since it usually tells you how much incline/decline you’d be facing.

Also, while Pittsburgh does have the option to bike, some drivers still did not like it when I rode my bike and honked at me. To deal with this issue, I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with biking rules of the state and be vigilant. Ride on streets that have designated bike lanes when available. Depending on where you go, there could be bike paths that show you more of the city than you could see by riding through with a car. There are three options for HealthyRide:

I was here for a week, and because I was unfamiliar with the area, I opted to get the Deluxe membership to allow me to freely explore without worrying too much about time. I canceled my membership after my week in Pittsburgh, which subjected me to a $6 administrative fee (because I canceled before 3 months), but $26 for a week’s worth of bike rides whenever I wanted was still a great deal. All it took was 7 60-min rides or 13 30-min rides to make the cost worth it. Even if I just took rides to meals, that’s 6 rides per day (to and from), making the cost worth it within about 2 days. Also, I don’t know about you, but I always eat too much on vacations, so riding a bike around was a great way to exercise and keep in shape!

HealthyRide only allows you to see specific parts of the city, in the sense that there are only bike stations along a certain route. That being said, these stations are along most of the popular parts of the city you’d want to see, or at least walking distance to your destination. From what I heard, they’re planning to add more stations around the city, so possibly by the time you visit, they’ll be everywhere! I would recommend purchasing your pass before getting to Pittsburgh and to download the app on your phone. The kiosks at the station are dysfunctional, so it’s best to handle the registration prior to arriving. The app will allow you to see all the stations, and whether or not there are bikes available at those specific stations. The program is super easy to use:

  1. Pick an available bike
  2. Enter your phone number (that you used to register an account) and click OK
  3. The bike will unlock, and you can pull it out of the station.
  4. Keep an eye out for the time you have the bike (30 or 60 minutes, depending on what you chose)
  5. Adjust the bike seat and do a quick test of the brakes to make sure they work!
  6. Off you go! Make sure you know the biking rules of the road before you bike so you can keep yourself safe!
  7. When you arrive at your destination station, find an empty rack and slide your bike. Make sure it clicks and you hear a beep from the machine to ensure the system registers the return. This part might be a bit annoying at first when you haven’t gotten the hang of it. It may take a little muscle to click the bike in, but it shouldn’t be super difficult.

Lyft is available in Pittsburgh and is like Lyft in any other city. All the drivers I met were very friendly and helpful, and I never had to wait too long for a ride when I needed one. I tended to use this option when I need to travel from or to a travel destination like the airport or a bus terminal. I also used it when I was lazy or I didn’t want to ride in the dark. New to Lyft and want to try it out? Just download the app and use the code TABLEJUSTFORONE for free $15 Lyft credits!

The bus system here is called the Port Authority of Alleghany. Like any other bus system, you should carry the exact amount since the driver doesn’t give change. It’s $2.75 per ride, or $7 for a day pass. When I visited Pittsburgh, there was also the annoying bit about zones. Depending on how many zones you were traveling through, your ticket could cost more or less. Additionally, transfers are not free; it costs an extra $1 to transfer. Good news is, it looks like they’ve eliminated zones at the beginning of 2017. Transfer fees are still applicable, but the zone charging has since been abolished since I visited. Even so, I found that the buses don’t come super often, so I prefer to biking around.

Attractions/sights

Heinz History Center

This is definitely my favorite attraction out of all the things I saw in Pittsburgh. As a history buff, I had a great time learning about the history of ketchup and the entrepreneurial journey of Henry J. Heinz. This museum is run in collaboration with the Smithsonian in D.C., so you know it’s got some great stuff.

Frick Park 

An oasis in the concrete jungle of Pittsburgh. With 644 acres of park land, you’d never know you were still in the city while walking through here.

Carnegie Museums of Art and of Natural History

These two museums are connected to each other, so they make viewing both very convenient if you feel like having a museum day. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has one of the largest collections of dinosaur displays in the United States and is home to the Star Spangled Dinosaur, Dippy (Diplodocus carnegii).

Pittsburgh Bridges

Bridges are plentiful in Pittsburgh, 446 to be exact! With that many, Pittsburgh’s other nickname is the City of Bridges, so you have to take a stroll across one of them at some point! Not all of them are pedestrian bridges, so if you would like to take a walk, I suggest checking out the Three Sisters. These three bridges downtown are the 6th Street, 7th Street, and 9th Street bridges, also known as the Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol, and Rachel Carson bridges, respectively, to honor important Pittsburgh residents. Walking over the bridge also takes you towards the Andy Warhol Museum, in case you felt like seeing more museums!

Duquesne Incline

This historic inclined cable car system (formerly steam powered!) was once used to shuttle cargo and passengers up and down Mount Washington. Now, it serves a historical landmark and fun tourist attraction. I highly recommend going during sunrise or sunset so you can see the gorgeous color changes in the sky. I got there a little earlier than sun and sat for a really long time to get that lovely photo you see at the top of this page. The cost of a ride is the same as taking bus and I believe they’re cash only, so plan accordingly!

Southside Works Exposed

This outdoor event is a fun summer gathering filled with food trucks, booze, and live music. I’m not sure it happens every year, but it seems to be getting more popular, so I would suggest checking here for dates. This event reminded me of home in the Bay Area with Off the Grid events, but a little less crowded. It’s a great event to go to if you feel like having a more low-key evening.

Notable Neighborhoods

The Strip District

My favorite neighborhood to visit was definitely the Strip District. This area is super old-school Italian with some great eateries. Out of all the places I saw, this area was definitely the liveliest.

Downtown

This area is also nice to explore, but nowhere near as interesting as the Strip District.

Lawrenceville

If you’re into boutique shopping, I would recommend checking out Lawrenceville. I only stopped by this area for breakfast, but I do remember it being very cutesy.

Eateries

täkō

By far, tako was my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh. tako is a modern fusion restaurant with some great twists on your traditional taco. I recommend the guac and chip and their tako (octopus) tacos. So good!

S&D Polish Deli

I’ve never eaten Polish food prior to visiting Pittsburgh, but I loved every bite at this small joint. Apparently, there is a large Polish population in Pennsylvania, and this Pittsburgh establishment found inside a grocery store serves up some comforting carb-laden Polish cuisine. I recommend the combo plates so you can try a little of everything.

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina

The foodie scene has reached Pittsburgh and arrived in the form of Argentinian food. Gaucho was incredibly crowded when I went around 6PM, and the line was already starting to get a little long. Not an amazing place and a little pricey, but definitely a fun atmosphere.

P&G Pamela’s Diner

There are a couple of these restaurants around town; I went specifically to the one in Squirrel Hill. Great greasy breakfast food with a really cute diner atmosphere. I had the Pamela’s Famous Crepe Hotcakes and their famous Lyonnaise potatoes. Both delicious but super fatty so be warned! Also, cash only.

Rita’s Italian Ice

If you feel like custardy ice cream, get it here! This franchise has branched out to California, but I still enjoyed getting a cold sweet treat on a hot day.

Sichuan Gourmet 

Decent Chinese restaurant specializing in Sichuan cuisine. Big portions at a pretty good price. Be prepared to have your mouth numbed!

La Gourmandine

Standard French bakery I found in Lawrenceville. Cute and good for a quick breakfast–it was grab and go for me.