Okay, I’ll admit I didn’t have a list of ten excellent reasons when I signed up for a travel writers’ meeting in Pennsylvania’s second-largest city. I did look forward to visiting the Warhol Museum – and seeing whatever else Pittsburgh had done to earn the title of “Birthplace of Pop Art.” Quite a lot, as it turns out.
1. Museums. The Warhol Museum was everything I imagined, housing memorabilia of Warhol’s early life and significant representations of his work, including some of the wacky movies he made with such pop icons as John Waters and Divine. The museum is one of a group of four under the Carnegie umbrella; the others are the Carnegie Museum of Art (the world’s first art museum, opened in 1895), the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Science Center. The Mattress Factory Art Museum had some eye-popping exhibits; my favorite was Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room.” Though I didn’t enter the Children’s Museum, the photogenic dinosaur outside should entice plenty of young visitors.
2. Station Square. This 52-acre shopping, dining and entertainment complex is the city’s most popular tourist attraction. In addition to the Sheraton Hotel, where I stayed during my Pittsburgh sojourn, the complex encompasses 65 stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. I found the location very convenient, as I was literally steps away from several of the attractions I wanted to see. The closest was the Fountain at Bessemer Court, which sends hundreds of multi-colored jets flying into the air to the sound of music. At Station Square, it’s possible to book a boat ride, take a horse and carriage ride or take a Segway in Paradise tour. Nearby are the historic cable cars known as “Inclines.”
3. Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines. Whenever it’s possible to ride a cable car up to a scenic position, I do it. My choice was the Duquesne Incline, which was built in 1877 and faces the Ohio River. At a height of 400 feet, the views were dramatic, and my camera, along with others around me, was busy at work.
4. The Ducky Tour. I’ve done these amphibious tours before, but the Pittsburgh version, at about an hour and twenty minutes, was the most fun. The guides were knowledgeable, they allowed a couple of kids to “drive,” and seeing the city from the river gave an interesting perspective on the famous landmarks.
5. Bridges. Among Pittsburgh’s several titles is “City of Bridges.” With 446 bridges, it is the world’s record holder for bridges with piers within city limits – beating out Venice, Italy by three. The best-known bridges are those called The Three Sisters: the Andy Warhol Bridge, the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the Rachel Carson Bridge, all named for Pittsburgh natives.
6. Fun Facts. When I visit a city for the first time, I like to pick up the kind of trivia that adds to my sense of place. I learned that in addition to Warhol, Clemente and Carson, Pittsburgh boasts many famous sons and daughters, including David O. Selznick (producer of Gone with the Wind), Gene Kelly, actor Jeff Goldblum, comedian Dennis Miller, Ron Paul (yes, that Ron Paul) and dozens of sports figures. Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”), who has such a close association with the city, was actually born 40 miles away in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The Ferris wheel was invented in Pittsburgh, the Big Mac was created here, as was the Clark Bar.
At more than 300,000 square feet, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the world’s largest “green” building. Once upon a time, the air in industrial Pittsburgh was so toxic and so black that street lamps had to be turned on early in the day; today it’s a place where major “green” efforts are underway. For example, since March 2009, the city has reduced carbon dioxide by 3,929,876 pounds per year. Many movies have been filmed in Pittsburgh, including The Silence of the Lambs (the Allegheny jail), Flashdance, The Dark Knight, Inspector Gadget and Wonder Boys.
7. History. Reminders of the city’s industrial past – Pittsburgh is known as “Steel City – remain. Foremost is the Frick Art & Historical Center, which was once the home of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick and his wife, Adelaide. The house is a veritable time capsule of the Gilded Age, the only remnant of what was once known as Millionaires Row. The Frick collections include decorative arts, early Renaissance paintings and early 18th century French paintings. Outside, in the Car and Carriage Museum section of the property is fine collection of vintage carriages and antique cars, including Howard Heinz’s 1898 Panhard (said to be the first car in Pittsburgh) and Henry Clay Frick’s 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost touring car.Exterior of the Phipps Tropical Forest Conservatory
8. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Showcasing Nature at her most beautiful are 19 indoor and outdoor gardens and exhibits that take your breath away every time you turn a corner. Current exhibits include Tropical Forest India, a summer flower show and a butterfly forest. Best of all, Phipps is one of America’s “greenest” gardens. Underway is a project known as the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), designed to treat and reuse all water captured on site and to generate all its own energy; when completed (May 23), this will be one of the greenest buildings on Earth.
9. The Sports Connection. PNC Park, which opened in 2001, is home to the Pittsburgh Pirates and a great venue for concerts as well as sporting events. The design and dramatic backdrop of the city’s downtown make it one of the city’s many photo ops. (I snapped a few shots when I passed the park during my Ducky tour.) The guide pointed out that in 1971, the old ball park had been the site of the first-ever World Series night game.
Heinz Field, home of the Steelers was named by the famous Heinz company, which paid the franchise $57 million for the privilege. At 27 feet tall and 96 feet wide, the field’s Sony JumboTron is the biggest in the NFL.
10. Food, Glorious Food. Pittsburgh is a true foodie city. Though I enjoyed several exceptional meals here, one that stands out is the Primanti Brothers Cheese Steak – not to be confused with the Philly Cheese Steak. The Primanti version is more robust, a real belly-buster, though not necessarily the greatest “steak.” It is messy and fun to eat, with the meat, melted provolone cheese, French fries, cole slaw and sliced tomato, all stuffed between soft, sliced Italian bread. The Primanti restaurant I went to is located on The Strip, home to ethnic food of every persuasion. I walked most of this district and finished my well-balanced meal with an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae, at another Strip icon, Klavon’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor.
Bonus Reason: Going to Pittsburgh made it easy to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, located in Laurel Highlands, about 90 miles away. More serendipity: Kentuck Knob, which is known as the “child of Fallingwater,” is only 10 miles from the more famous home, so I was able to bliss out on Frank Lloyd Wright.
For more reasons to visit Steel City, check out the Visit Pittsburgh website and request a visitors guide.