Pittsburgh: Recreation


A logical starting place for a tour of Pittsburgh is downtown at Point State Park, where a 150-foot fountain symbolizes the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. Located within the park is the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, the only remaining structure of Fort Pitt. Throughout the Golden Triangle, Pittsburgh's downtown area, sightseers can observe turn-of-the-century skyscrapers and other architecturally interesting modern and historic buildings, such as Pennsylvania Station, the Frick Building, the Union Trust Building, and the Omni William Penn Hotel. Among the city's most famous structures are the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, completed in 1888 and connected by the "Bridge of Sighs." In Oakland, the architectural jewel of Pitt's campus is the Cathedral of Learning, which looks like a cross between a French Gothic church and a skyscraper.

The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh is the centerpiece of Pittsburghs Civic Center.
The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh is the centerpiece of Pittsburgh's Civic Center.
This 42-story building houses 24 Nationality Classrooms designed by artists and architects from the nations represented. The cathedral was designed by Charles Zeller Klauder, as was adjacent Heinz Chapel. A more recent attraction is the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, which houses a comprehensive archive of America's early 20th century push to progress.

South of downtown Pittsburgh, across the Monongahela, is Mount Washington, formerly called Coal Hill, from which a spectacular view of the city is provided by means of cable car rides on the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines. The Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore offers many scientific curiosities including a planetarium, an OmniMax theater, and a claustrophobia-inducing tour of a World War II submarine. In Oakland at the entrance to Schenley Park, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens encloses more than two acres of floral exhibits, including a Butterfly Forest with 300 living chrysalises and butterflies at any given time. The conservatory opened a Welcome Center on March 31, 2005, a 10,885 square foot entrance with a shop and a café. Completion of the Welcome Center marked the completion of a $36.6 million expansion plan for Phipps.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium display more than 4,000 animals representing 475 species in naturalistic habitats over its 77 acres in hilly Highland Park. Part of the facility, Kids Kingdom is considered to be among the nation's top three children's zoos. The crown jewel is the $17.4 million PPG Aquarium that opened in June 2000. The 45,000 square foot aquarium houses a two-story Amazon Rainforest Exhibit around a 100,000 gallon tank with sharks, other fish, and simulated coral, recreating a diverse ecosystem.

The National Aviary on the North Side has about 600 birds in various simulated habitats. It offers close encounters with large birds of prey, and walk-through Wetlands of the Americas and Tropical Rain Forest exhibits, among many other activities. Kennywood Park, touted as "America's Favorite Traditional Amusement Park" and "the Roller Coaster Capital of the World," is in West Mifflin, 10 miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh. Kennywood was established in 1898 and offers a range of rides from vintage wooden roller coasters to the new Phantom's Revenge, with a 230 foot drop and reaching speeds of about 85 miles per hour, one of the fastest coasters in the world. Sandcastle Waterpark is Kennywood's sister park across the Monongahela in Homestead; same-day passes to use both parks are available.

The famous Frank Lloyd Wright house built over a waterfall, Fallingwater, is only about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. An offbeat way to see Pittsburgh sights is to embark upon a World War II amphibious vehicle and take in a Just Ducky tour. For those who prefer a larger vessel, the Gateway Clipper Fleet is a collection of riverboats offering tourists a view of the city from the water while they enjoy fine dining, dancing, and entertainment. Once docked back in Station Square, visitors can enjoy more dining and shopping there in the old railroad station turned office building, mall, and nightlife center. Behind the new Hard Rock Café in Station Square's latest extension, Bessemer Court, is the "Dancing Waters" 130-foot high water jet display synchronized with lighting and music.

Arts and Culture

The Pittsburgh community is strongly supportive of the visual and performing arts. Heinz Hall, internationally acclaimed for its outstanding acoustics, is home to the renowned Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and it also presents Broadway shows and other performances. One street over from Heinz Hall in the Golden Triangle's Cultural District is the Benedum Center, a $42 million dollar renovation of the old Stanley Theater in response to demand on Heinz Hall for performing space and time. Benedum Center is now home for Pittsburgh Ballet, Opera, Dance Council, and Civic Light Opera. Also located in the Cultural District are the Byham, O'Reilly, and Harris theaters, the former two being rebuilt vaudeville venues and the latter being leased by Pittsburgh Filmmakers Institute. Near the theaters in the Cultural District is Wood Street Galleries, which promotes multi-disciplinary artists and provides space and equipment to smaller arts organizations; the galleries also share office space with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which oversees arts matters in the city.

The Post-Gazette Pavillion at Star Lake, about 40 miles southwest of the city; Hartwood Acres in the north suburbs; and the Chevrolet (formerly I.C. Light) outdoor amphitheater in Station Square are the main venues for rock concerts or other large outdoor events. Pittsburgh's River City Brass Band performs at various locations from September through May. Pittsburgh Theater groups and acting companies include the Pittsburgh Playhouse, City Theatre, the Gemini Theater, Pittsburgh International Children's Theater, Civic Light Opera, PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Public Theater, South Park Theatre, and Kuntu Repertory Theater. The universities have their own acting venues; Carnegie Mellon's drama department produces musicals and dramas at its Purnell Center for the Arts while Pitt's troupers perform at the Stephen Foster Memorial Theater. The Mattress Factory on the North Side is a unique combination of working and living space for artists, museum, gallery, and performance space.

To fulfill his dream of bringing together the disciplines of art, music, literature, and science, Andrew Carnegie gave the city The Carnegie, a building constructed in two styles—Italian Renaissance and Beaux Arts—with an elaborate foyer that Carnegie is said to have insisted cost more than a throne room. Another Oakland landmark, The Carnegie houses the Museum of Natural History on one side and the Museum of Art on the other, as well as the main branch of the Carnegie Library with a separate side street entrance around the corner at the other end of this vast edifice. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History boasts one of the best dinosaur collections of any museum in the world, with the first T. rex ever discovered and the third largest fossil collection. Its 10,000 or so items and specimens on display are not even one percent of its entire collections. The Carnegie Museum of Art's permanent collections includes outstanding pieces of impressionist art such as Monet's Water Lilies, as well as American paintings and artifacts and changing exhibitions of exciting new art from around the world. Also housed within The Carnegie is the Hall of Music, which regularly presents entertainment by locally and internationally known performers. On the North Side is the Andy Warhol Museum, the Children's Museum, and Carnegie Science Center. In the east end is the Frick Art and Historical Center with a museum, shop, and café, and the Henry Clay Frick mansion, Clayton.

In the Strip District bordering downtown is the Heinz Regional History Center, devoted to the heritage of western Pennsylvania. Other attractions of note in the area are the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington; the Western Pennsylvania Model railroad Museum in Gibsonia; and Old Economy Village, created in 1824 by the Harmony Society, a group similar to the Amish who settled here to escape religious persecution in Germany. Also of interest are the Allegheny Cemetery Historical Society, the Alle-Kiski Historical Society, the Center for American Music at the Stephen C. Foster Memorial at the University of Pittsburgh, Braddock's Field Historical Society, the Depreciation Lands Museum, the George Westinghouse Museum, the Kerr Museum, the Rachel Carson Homestead, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, the University Art Gallery at Pitt, and the circa 1785 Neville House.

Festivals and Holidays

Locals start the New Year off with a family-oriented First Night celebration. An eight dollar charge admits one to various buildings and theaters all over downtown to enjoy live drama, music, dance, comedy, puppets, and more, while outside there is a parade followed by fireworks at midnight. Come spring, even the non-Irish enjoy the St. Patrick's day parade and subsequent Bourbon Street-like party in downtown Pittsburgh in March. In April is the Pittsburgh International Science and Technology festival. May brings the Pittsburgh Folk Festival and the International Children's Festival.

The rivers, parks, entertainment centers, and neighborhoods of Pittsburgh are host to a wide variety of fairs and festivals throughout the year. The most ambitious of all of them is the 17-day extravaganza known as the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Held in June, it offers arts and crafts, free concerts, food, and children's activities. Also in June is the Mellon Jazz Festival, the Pennsylvania Microbrewers Fest, and in the neighboring county to the north one can visit the Butler County Rodeo and Big Butler Fair. From late May to mid-August the Stephen Foster Memorial Theater presents the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. The Three Rivers Regatta, held in July in the waters around Point State Park, celebrates the industrial and recreational importance of the city's rivers. The Pittsburgh Blues Festival is held every July to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. July also sees the Wings over Pittsburgh air show, which features the USAF Thunderbirds and showcases a Stealth bomber. Beginning in 2005, the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament in late June will highlight how the area's rivers have been cleaned up enough, allowing previously endangered species return. The Greater Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival is held in the Laurel Highlands resort area in August, as are two Shadyside Arts Festivals and the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival. Labor Day weekend is time for another breath-taking fireworks display. The holiday season starts in late November with Light Up Night and free parking, carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, ice skating at PPG Plaza, hot apple cider and other old fashioned holiday experiences for the season.

Sports for the Spectator

Pittsburghers have long been ardent sports fans. The city is home to three major sports teams; black and gold is worn by its baseball, football, and ice hockey teams, making Pittsburgh the only city in the United States to have all their major sports teams in the same colors. The National League's Pittsburgh Pirates play in the new PNC Park from April to October. The National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers, four-time Super Bowl champions, use Heinz Field as their battle ground. The National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins, owned by legendary center Mario Lemieux who led them to back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early 1990s, play from September to April at the Mellon Arena. Pro soccer offers the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, whose Falconi Field is actually in nearby Washington, Pennsylvania.

College sports are very much alive at the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. The Pitt Panthers have men's teams in football, basketball, wrestling, cross country, swimming and diving, soccer, baseball, and track and field, and women's teams in basketball, cross country and track, gymnastics, volleyball, softball, swimming and diving, and tennis. The Panthers are a Big East team that has been a national contender in football and basketball of late. Panthers Football is played at Heinz Field, while other sports are played on the university campus at Petersen Events Center or the Fitzgerald Field House. The Duquesne Dukes teams compete at their uptown A.J. Palumbo facility. Harness track racing is offered at the Meadows in Washington County.

Sports for the Participant

Every season offers a variety of choices for the sports-minded in the Pittsburgh area. The rivers and many parks provide cycling and running paths, and water sports such as swimming, rowing, whitewater rafting, skiing, and fishing. The surrounding hilly country offers recreational opportunities to campers, hikers, and spelunkers, and within a two-hour drive of the city are 10 ski resorts and numerous cross country ski and snowmobile trails, as well as 800,000 acres of game land to entice hunters. Much work was done through the Rails to Trails program in the 1990s and today Pittsburgh enjoys a 17-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail system and other trails in the area such as the Montour Trail in Robinson Township. The Montour Trail is currently about 40 miles long and will eventually connect Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Although running is a popular activity in the area, the city has had trouble financing its Pittsburgh Marathon, a 26.2-mile race that attracted the top distance runners in the world, finally shutting down the race for good in 2003. Another popular event (also cancelled due to financial woes, but reinstated in 2003) is the Great Race, a ten kilometer foot race in late September that attracts world-class competition—Mayor Tom Murphy has run every Great Race since the first one in 1976.

Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation Department (CitiParks) operates many other educational and sports and fitness activities year-round, including aquatics, bicycling, tennis, senior games, lawn bowling, ice skating, and BIG League sports, a collection of baseball and softball leagues and tournaments. Another popular sport is golf; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists over 150 golf courses in the greater Pittsburgh area, and the PGA Senior Championships are held every June in nearby Verona. Golf Digest magazine ranked Pittsburgh the fourth best urban area for golfers.

Shopping and Dining

The Golden Triangle's eleven square blocks house major department stores and a myriad of specialty stores and boutiques. PPG Place, a stunning multi-block structure rendered entirely in glass, contains 20 specialty stores and restaurants. One Oxford Center features five levels of restaurants and upscale shops. Fifth Avenue Place has a mix of specialty shops on its first floor and a fast food court with one fine dining restaurant, Caffe Amante, adjacent to it. A popular destination is across the Smithfield Street Bridge from downtown in Station Square, original site of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad headquarters, which has been restored and now has more than 50 shops; more than 25 restaurants, bars, comedy clubs, and nightclubs; a Sheraton hotel; Hard Rock Café; the dock for the Gateway Clipper Fleet; and access to the Monongahela Incline cable car up to Mt. Washington, where several fine dining establishments take advantage of the spectacular view to accompany the cuisine.

Pittsburgh's many neighborhoods each have their own shopping district with its own unique character. The Strip District has grown from being the city's warehouse center for fresh meat, fish, produce, and ethnic delicacies to include restaurants and entertainment complexes, of which a newer development is the Boardwalk, an enormous nightclub that floats on the Allegheny River. Squirrel Hill and Shadyside neighborhoods are both reminiscent of Greenwich Village with its unique boutiques and art shops. The Bloomfield neighborhood is known as Pittsburgh's Little Italy. For micro-brew aficionados, visits to the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville and the Penn Brewery in Troy Hill are a must. At the Pittsburgh International Airport, travelers can find good food and duty free shopping in over 100 outlets at the Airside Mall. The largest shopping malls in the suburban areas are Century III and the Galleria in the south, Ross Park Mall in North Hills, Monroeville Mall and the huge new Waterfront development in Homestead to the east; farther east is the brand new Pittsburgh Mills Mall in Frazer Township.

Visitor Information: Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitor's Bureau, 4 Gateway Center, Pittsburgh PA 15222; telephone (412)281-7711; toll-free (800)359-0758. Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, One Station Square, Suite 450, Pittsburgh PA 15219; telephone (412)471-5808