Pittsburgh is one of those cities that sneaks up on you and surprises you. We have visited many rust belt cities. Jason even lived a couple years in Cleveland. We feel Pittsburgh has its own unique characteristics that sets it apart from the others though. Making it more endearing to our heart too, was that Pittsburgh was our first official stop on our nomad adventure.
Now, we didn’t get to spend a ton of time in the city like some of our other stops. We drove our brand-new RV from Jason’s parents in rural Ohio about 2 hours SE to Columbus to pick up our Toad which had been wired up for towing. After a quick lesson, we were set loose and white-knuckled driving to our campground just outside of Pittsburgh. We had to be close to a major airport so I could fly out on a work trip. And we made it, and without damaging anything, so that was a success in our book! Regardless of our limited time, our visit to Pittsburgh was one of the most enjoyable that we’ve had since hitting the road.
Follow this guide for a perfect summer day in Pittsburgh.
We drove straight into the city’s Strip District, which is filled with historical warehouses. It is a hip but still gritty (in a good way) area of town. We also happened upon an “Open Streets Pittsburgh” day which put one of those Google self-driving test cars through its paces. We had to stop and watch it for a second as it did its best to maneuver through the street closures.
It was a beautiful, sunny July morning and the streets were filled with people of all ages, walking, running, and riding bikes. It was summer, and everyone was definitely feeling it. No one was immune from the cheerful vibe everywhere. Those warehouses are now home to old school grocers and food vendors which made the whole area look, feel, and smell like an open-air market. All of the retail stores were also open and selling their goods on the streets. Seeing Steeler merch and “Yinz” printed everywhere was a constant reminder of being away from home. Restaurants had brunch specials. We were hungry so we popped into Café Raymond for a bite. We weren’t disappointed. More lovely than the food was the 60 something double date sitting next to us. Maybe sensing our own overflowing excitement about being on our first adventure, they started up a conversation with us. Like most Buckeyes, it was quickly sussed out that they too were OSU alumns and fans. Jason can always find them; it doesn’t matter where we are. They described their well-loved, long-standing, every-Saturday-in-the-fall tradition of coming into the Strip District, getting fresh cold cuts, cheeses, and bread. They’d make Italian subs at home before watching the Bucks play and explained how we should get some too. Quickly it became obvious that we had left German settled western OH and were now in a region well-known for its Italian heritage. After this sweet, warm welcome to the city, they wished us safe travels on our adventure and we were on our way.
We headed to the Monongahela Incline – seriously, say that five times fast. It was built in 1870 and is the oldest operating funicular in the US. For $2.50 you can ride the same rail that those who settled on Mt. Washington and the surrounding steep hills did in order to get to their industrial jobs in the city. It is a popular tourist attraction, so expect lines on the weekends. Despite the crowd and with some patience, we eventually got on with some young locals who were transporting their bikes (probably from Open Streets) back home. They immediately started asking us questions about ourselves and giving advice on what we should do in the city. Jason and I looked at each other in disbelief, because we haven’t really ever encountered anyone so friendly to us on public transportation – especially locals who have to wait to accommodate tourists to get home. The views from the top of Mt. Washington were awesome of the city and great for pictures. We also took their advice and walked around the neighborhood, which definitely still has a working-class charm about it. We eventually made our way to their recommendation, The Summit (a home turned cocktail bar), for a drink. This was a great pitstop to relax the feet a bit.
As we had been enjoying those amazing views of the city, we had been looking down at Point State Park, or The Point, so made our way there next to see it up close for ourselves. The park is actually 36 acres in downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which form the Ohio River. It is a beautiful park and was full of people sunbathing, picnicking, and doing any other kind of sunny summer activity you could think of. The park does create a physical concrete point out into the rivers that you can walk around. In the center of the point is a pretty fountain that sprays water up to 150 feet. It’s well worth your time to experience a stroll through this park.
Our last stop was to PPG Place, just a few blocks from The Point. Although technically only an office park, it is a uniquely gorgeous glass complex with the hallmark being a 40-story glass building. It is One PPG Place and is certainly one of the highlights of Pittsburgh’s skyline. Art was everywhere and seeing the clouds’ reflection dancing off all of the buildings’ glass was stunning. It makes for another great picture spot. In that area is also a Primanti Bros. Restaurant, which is a local tradition. We split one of their massive French fry filled sandwiches and an ice cold beer. We sat at the bar and another young local couple chatted us up, which was a poignant end to the day. Everywhere we went, locals were so friendly and welcoming. It was just the reassurance that we needed to start our exciting, but big and daunting, fulltime travel adventure.
So, trust us on this one. Go visit Pittsburgh. Whether you follow our guide or not, there’s no doubt you’ll have a great time just like we did!