When the sun shines in Pittsburgh
Apart from being the home to my mother's family and some of the best pita bread I've ever eaten in my entire life, this part of the USA is one that has always slipped under the Australian travellers radar.
Traditionally known as the steel city, Pittsburgh's industrial roots in steel fabrication has hung like a grey cloud over a town that has much more to offer than tours of old mills. Rich in culture, culinary traditions and the arts, the state of Pennsylvania boasts some of America's greatest historical landmarks. Now, truth be told, if you had two weeks to spend in the USA, I would probably suggest a few of the big cities before recommending Pittsburgh as a holiday destination. But if you've ever planned to do a great American road trip or vacation that spans out over a month, missing out on the great state of Pennsylvania - well, that’s just crazy talk.
My first few experiences on the East Coast involved Christmas, snow and a whole lot of cold. In certain moments, I could not begin to fathom what summer might feel like in this part of the world... just imagine going outlet shopping in 3 tops, two jackets, two pairs of pants, 3 pairs of socks, and boots one size too big so that my socks had some room. When I finally went back to spend a few weeks taking in the summer sunshine, I fell in love with Pittsburgh all over again, as though I had never been before. I can't begin to describe how much this city changes from month to month. This part of America has four true seasons, and I guess I never truly knew Pittsburgh until I saw all her faces.
Foodie, outdoorsy, artsy and just plain fun, here are some of my favourite things to do when the sun shines down on Pittsburgh.
1. Farmers Markets for every kind of appetite
Almost every day during the height of Pittsburgh's summer, you'll find a farmers market or three in every district. From Downtown to the suburbs, there's nothing that Burgh folks love more than somewhere to buy local produce and artisan products.
2. Art and food festivals that shut down entire neighbourhoods
Aside from daily farmer's market, you'll also find some pretty special events that happen in the warmer months annually. For as long my family has owned a bakery in Pittsburgh, they have been regular stall holders at food festivals all over the city. The McKeesport International Village has been running since 1960 and celebrates Pittsburgh's multicultural communities with food, music, art stalls and live shows. This was by far one of my favourites as I got to try so many new things, but my favourite: delicious Croatian honey cakes and Swedish apple dumplings with ice-cream. If you're serious about checking out these festivals, then you cannot forget to include the Shady Side Art Festival, and Jam on Walnut.
3. Treat yourself at the ball game
I've watched baseball games at three of America's most iconic stadiums - New York City's Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Fenway Park in Boston home of the Red Sox, and of course, PNC Park where the Pittsburgh Pirates live. While I don't consider myself much of a sports fan, I know how lucky I am to have experienced games in these stadiums. Truth is, you don't need to be much of a baseball fan to have fun at a Pirates game. The tickets are accessible, well priced, and well worth it - especially if you're from out of town because the view of the city and skyline is simply spectacular. Don't forget to eat hot dogs with Heinz Ketchup... you'll be hard pressed to find any other brand of ketchup served in Pittsburgh. (Images courtesy of Visit Pittsburgh)
4. Visit Andy Warhol
Pittsburgh is the birthplace of Andy Warhol, the artist who trail blazed the pop art movement in the US and beyond. Proud as punch, this town has honoured the artist by commemorating his life's work across 7 floors with over 8000 works. The Warhol is in Downtown and is one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. While no photos were allowed in the gallery space, I snapped what I could in public areas and made a mental note to share that the coffee served in the Warhol cafe was possibly the best I ever had in Pittsburgh... reason enough to visit? I think so.
5. The road trip to visit Falling Water... and a roadside diner stop along the way
One of the things that irked me about my winter stay in Pittsburgh is that loads of the outdoorsy attractions shut down and reopen during Spring. On my last visit, I made it a mission to take full advantage of the fact that we weren't snowed in and make time to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. If you're going to make the trip out, I highly recommend booking a tour of the house prior to getting there, and possibly packing a picnic basket to enjoy on the grounds. Unless you just want to stop in at a road side diner on the way...
6. The ever flourishing art scene
There's no shortage of displays of creativity in the old Steel City. Thanks to the crew at Visit Pittsburgh, Kevin and I checked out exhibitions in places I had never thought to visit before. The Mattress Factory has been in operation since the 70's and is an incredible place to check out what's going on in the local art scene featuring installations from established and emerging artists.
7. Breakfast and brunch at Pamela’s
There's no reason why you can't eat at Pamela's Diner all year round, but there's something to be said for throwing on a tank top and shorts, stepping out into the warm sunshine and having brunch at one of Pittsburghs best known brunch spots. On our last visit, we sampled a little sweet and a little savoury. The prices are amazing, and the offering is huge.. check out the menu and come ready to eat. Pure bliss!
8. Theme parks for the soul
Another set of attractions that are open for summer are the theme parks! Sandcastle is the town's favourite water park and is a must if you feel the urge to swim and get some summery sunshine (you won't find any beaches here folks.) The next big one that's a must see is Kennywood - it's one of the USA's oldest theme parks founded in 1898. It's also home to the best funnel cakes I've ever tried! The best part is that both parks are within 25 minutes of the city, so you don't need to trek for hours . (Images courtesy of Visit Pittsburgh)
9. Take it the view in high places
Pittsburgh has one of the most memorable skylines you'll ever see, and the best place to take it all in on a beautiful warm day? Mount Washington, because when you're done you can take the famous incline down to station square. There are three rivers that run through this part of the state; Allegheny, Monogohela, and Ohio. The convergence point of these three rivers is exactly where it's founders decided to build the town. Three rivers also means many bridges - the most bridges in the world in fact! With a whopping 446 in total, Pittsburgh trumps Venice Italy by a mighty three.
9. No sales tax on clothing, so do all your shopping here
As an Australian shopper in the US, there's nothing more annoying than reading the price tag, and paying more at the counter. That's because the tax on clothing varies from state to state so it's not quoted until it's time to pay. In Pittsburgh, you pay the price on the ticket and that's that! Unless you're purchasing sporting equipment or evening wear - they're the exception. Either way, get your shop on...beats paying more for the same pair of jeans in the next state.
10. Home to the greatest cake America ever baked
Ok this is serious. While I will be posting a list of things you need to eat during your travels in Pittsburgh, this needed to be featured in this list. Why? Because it's the best cake America ever baked, thats why. And we all know how I feel about cake. Prantl's Bakery serves up what they like to call the burnt almond torte, and it is one of the most delicious desserts I've ever tasted. It all begins with a fluffy sponge cake - moist and sweet, delicious vanilla custard and fresh cream in the layers. The outer cake is frosted with a firm buttercream, then generously coated with roasted sugared almonds. This cake will change your life.