Things to Love in Pittsburgh

Downtown Pittsburgh from the Incline

Pittsburgh. It gets a bad rap. Dreary depressed steel town, polluted, down-at-the-heels. All the images I had in my head before I moved here, so I can hardly blame anyone for expecting the worst of a city that’s seen plenty of bad press. However, I am now on my second trip through as a Pittsburgh resident and this time around I have taken time to stop and smell the roses (or pierogies). For potential transplants, visitors, and those who are thinking of escaping the Steel City, here’s my ever-growing list of great Pittsburgh sights, food, and reasons to come, stay, and live in my adopted hometown:

  • Beautiful affordable housing. As an older city, Pittsburgh is filled with glorious homes from eras past just waiting for the taking. We live in a townhouse built in 1890 with beautiful mantles and spend less than $500 a month total in rent. Where else could you find that? My last apartment? Located in a historic mansion with panoramic views of the city skyline and a gorgeous wrought-iron spiral staircase to the bedroom. Cost: $375/month.
  • The Steelers. I have never been much of a sports fan. In fact, I have avoided organized athletics for most of my life. But in Pittsburgh, everyone loves the home team, proud winners of *SIX* Superbowls. Find a bar, grab a Yuengling, and root for the black and gold- even the dance clubs show the game when its on. I’ll be the girl shouting “SQUISH HIM!” at the defensive line.
  • Saturday mornings in the Strip District. Hit up the Farmer’s Market for fresh, local produce and baked goods, then wander down to finish the rest of your shopping at the collection of ethnic groceries, butchers, cheese and chocolate shops, floral vendors, etc. There are plenty of options for lunch or coffee and great small shops with pottery, antiques, and other gift items (or do as I do and treat yourself to something for the house).
  • Summertime at the Point. Currently under renovation, the park at the Point is the spot downtown where the famous three rivers meet. The fountain runs til after dark and the crowd lounges around, reading books, eating lunch, chasing kids, or watching the boats on the rivers. I have spent many pleasant hours with a book in hand and mist from the fountain blowing across my sunburned cheeks at the Point- and you should too.
  • Style queen that I am, you have to love a city that fashion forgot. Go to the store in your flannel sheep pajama bottoms. Not only will no one care- it’s likely that someone will toss you a compliment. Bad hair day? It’ll never be the worst hair you’ll run into. Trust me. Be unpretentious and feel yourself relax.
  • Feed your brain. There are two things Pittsburgh has in abundance- hospitals and some of the best universities anywhere. Get admitted to one and you can take classes at any of the others. The best campus in town, hands down, goes to Chatham University, located in a beautifully landscaped arboretum, with dorms and a student center created from historic mansions.
  • Primanti Brothers. These sandwich shops make the most amazing concoctions, which baffled and amazed my 80-something grandmother on her first visit. She still raves to her pals in Tennessee about the sandwiches- with the fries and coleslaw tossed right between the bread. Try it once and you’ll crave it every time you’re still out after 2 am.
  • St. Anthony’s. The faithful and the curious will both find something to love in this remote chapel filled with the largest collection of holy relics in one place outside of the Vatican. See the skulls of saints, talk to the nuns who give regular tours, and visit the gift shop across the street, where the kind lady behind the counter once gave me some nectarines from her lunch with my purchase. 

These are only some of the great finds I’ve stumbled across so far. I’ll be updating with new sites and tastes and benefits to the Burgh. I’ve lived in major cities, suburbs, and small towns, but I keep coming back. Nowhere is like Pittsburgh. I guarantee it.  

Additions (2010):

  • Shopping Local: A friend of mine who moved here from a “big city” stumbled around for a few weeks and finally asked, “Where are the chain stores?” I pointed him up McKnight Rd. toward the mall and over to over-priced Shadyside. The rest of the city? Remarkably free of big brand names, in favor of small locally-owned boutiques, coffee houses and restaurants. Even the New York Times covered my favorite neighborhood for shopping local: Lawrenceville.  
  • I admit it. I don’t bike. I don’t even know how. But everyone else here is doing it. The buses have racks, there are bike lanes in many neighborhoods and citywide bike plan, and the weekly group rides end up at some bars I may have been to, ahem, once or twice. You can even build your own bike FOR FREE. And you can bike to DC, if you so desire.
  • Get Creative: The longer I hang around Pittsburgh, the more amazed I am by the wealth of creative folks here. The readings at Gist Street have filled some of my favorite Friday nights with amazing authors. City of Asylum  is changing the world and changing the North Side, one writer and house poem at a time. The Typewriter Girls do their own thing and collaborate with some amazing cabaret types. I tend to spend my time doing writerly things, but there are also museums, music, theatre, drag queens and kings, street carnivals, and more.


Filed under Links, Lists, Pittsburgh

9 responses to “Things to Love in Pittsburgh

  1. Pingback: Coming soon to Eleanor’s « Eleanor’s Trousers

  2. I haven’t lived in the Burgh now for over 25 years. I have my grandmother and uncles/aunts and some cousins there. Your post brought back memories I had forgotten. And even though I love living in Nh, I do miss the burgh!!!

  3. Always good to hear from Pittsburgh ex-pats. Glad to know I touched on home for you… come visit!

  4. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I loved living in Pittsburgh growing up. Of all the cities I’ve lived in (and there were a few) it was my favorite. Squirrel Hill will always have a special place in my heart, and so will Jim Leyland’s Pirates. Though, now Jim Leyland’s TIGERS rule my sports world–how coincidental, hey?

    But, on a more practical note, I wasn’t aware that housing was so affordable. I’ve thought about returning to Pittsburgh after I graduate, but I thought rent was expensive. What neighborhoods would you recommend/avoid?

    • I’m a loyal Lawrenceville girl (walkable, bars & restaurants, funky, young-ish, and not college kid crazy a la Oakland and the South Side). I will confess that rents in the area have risen now that the new Children’s Hospital is open, but you can still find townhouses in the $600 range.

      Other nice spots? The Mexican War Streets on the North Side have really jazzed up/ gentrified and are walking distance into downtown.

      Bloomfield is right next to Lawrenceville and slightly more affordable (depending on how close it is to the new children’s hospital).

      Regent Square is family friendly and affordable, plus has great park access. Highland Park is yuppie family friendly.

      Greenfield is also affordable and right over the bridge from your dear Squirrel Hill. I lived there for two years and found it really convenient (albeit a little short on social life).

      As to avoid, it all depends on what you’re looking to avoid. Parts of Homewood are a bit run down. East Liberty is 50/50- really nice renovations and cruddy, waiting-to-be-renovated. I like to avoid chain stores and pompous people, so I avoid Shadyside like the plague. I also like to avoid drunken frat boys and bad public transit, so I never go to the Southside.

      Pittsburgh City Living has started a site listing lots of the neighborhoods at If you really start browsing, let me know and I’ll be glad to give you the one-on-one heads up about certain areas.

  5. kellybdelaney

    “proud winners of five Superbowls”

    ahem, that’s *six* Super Bowls. 😉

  6. I about choked when I saw a townhome and $500 in rent. That’s a small fraction of what our mortgage is for a 2 bedroom condo. Sigh.

    Another lovely thing about people from Pittsburgh? They’re darn loyal. There’s a huge Steelers following here in Chicago and a number of bars that show all their games.

    And finally? If I were to ever live in Pittsburgh, I’d get along just fine, because I could always enjoy watching my Cardinals when they come to beat up on your Pirates. =)

  7. I’ve only been to Pittsburgh once, but while I was there, I had a salad topped with FRIES. And they told me that was normal! Pittsburgh gets my vote.

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