Presenting ‘Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA’ according to Laura of Willful and Wildhearted.
The “Whereabouts” series is now taking guests! Have a location to share? Pitch your idea here.
They say you don’t appreciate where you’re from until you leave. When I moved to Chicago in 2007 to attend university, I was a bit of a snob. Aside from my painfully obvious love of my city’s sports, I wasn’t too proud to be from Pittsburgh. It was too small, too mediocre, too boring. I was embarrassed that people made fun of it and called it dirty or other less than desirable attributes. As I got older I began to realize nowhere in the world holds a candle to Pittsburgh. I mean, c’mon. The cringe-worthy local dialect is literally studied by linguist specialists as it’s so fascinating.
Most Americans know Pittsburgh struggled with economic turmoil following the collapse of the nation’s steel industry. The Pittsburgh I grew up in wasn’t fancy. It was a blue-collar, working class culture with citizens dedicated to building it back up. As my 28th birthday approaches, and nearly a decade after moving away, I can honestly say I’m proud of its turnaround. In fact, I’m even prouder to call this mysteriously quirky city tucked within the western Appalachian Mountains my home. Here’s a list of my top 5 favorite things to do in my peculiar and special hometown:
1. Hitch a ride up to the top of Mt. Washington
Pittsburgh’s skyline has been revered as being one of the best in the United States. Once known for being the poster child for America’s steel mill industry, this unique rustbelt town is quickly transitioning back into the spotlight. For less than $5 USD, locals and visitors alike can hop on a funicular to the top of Mt. Washington, a 450-foot hill overlooking the revitalized town.
2. Eat your way into a mind expansion
Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene is where some of the city’s most creative humans in town are doing big things. While there are plenty of local businesses to choose from, my favorite would have to be Conflict Kitchen. True to its name, the roadside food truck only serves customers fare from countries in which the United States is currently in conflict.
Yeah, it’s a little crazy, right? However, the owner’s goal was to create a space that brings polarizing rhetoric to a halt while spreading public awareness. Each meal comes wrapped in paper that featuring information regarding the featured country. So far, the kitchen has served food from Afghanistan, Venezuela, North Korea and Palestine and currently serves Iranian dishes. Each time a new country and cuisine is introduced, the entire language signage, decor and vibe of the food stand changes. Only in Pittsburgh!
Update: As of March 2017, Conflict Kitchen has been permanently closed.
3. Drink in a church
I’m pretty sure Pittsburgh is the only city in America where one can enjoy a fresh, locally-brewed beer in a restored Roman Catholic Church called Church Brew Works. While there have been a few changes made, most of the pillars and all of the original stained glass are still in place. It doesn’t feel sacrilegious, though – all of the pews have been replaced with chairs and the organ pipes have been replaced with a distillery.
Where? 3525 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15201
4. Check out the booming arts district
Pittsburgh is a wonderful place for creatives to thrive mainly because the arts have been strongly woven into the city’s fabric. One of the ‘burgh’s most well-known artistic souls is Andy Warhol, and us locals have a lot of respect for him.
There are a number of art museums and spaces throughout town, but my two favorites are The Andy Warhol Museum and The Mattress Factory. Oddly enough, the latter does not feature any bedding, but rather showcases some of the world’s finest artists (including my favorite – Yayoi Kusuma!)
Where? The Andy Warhol Museum is at 117 Sandusky Street and The Mattress Factory is at 500 Sampsonia Way.
5. Catch a sports game
If there’s one thing you must know about Pittsburgh natives is that we take our city’s sports very seriously. We’re known for traveling across the nation just to cheer our home town on during a single game and I take great pride when sports commentators point this out on a regular basis.
Can you blame us, though? The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Penguins just clinched their fourth Stanley Cup since 1991 this past June. The Pittsburgh Pirates are slowly improving. For a long time, our sports teams were one of the only reasons we could be truly prideful of our city. While that’s obviously changed, the love of our hometown heroes hasn’t. Should you find yourself in town during a home game, don’t miss out. The energy is unmatched and the fan loyalty will either make you angry* or warm your heart.
*Apologies in advance for anyone from Baltimore or Cleveland.
- One of the cooler things you can do in town is dine at Duncan St. Dinners. Chefs Kendyl Ryan and Dan Rodriguez open their home bi-monthly for five-course locally-sourced meals. The duo teams up with Joe Bacharach who perfectly pairs the food with delicious beverages. I’m totally biased because Kendyl is a good friend and it’s cool to see her doing such an awesome thing.
- Kick back and have a fresh cider at Arsenal Cider House. Its Civil War-era inspired and a sweet place to chill out with your friends one afternoon.
- I really recommend stopping by Randyland. The quirky three-flat is truly a sight to behold. It’s someone’s house (Randy, of course) so remember to be respectful. Randy has transformed a once-dilapidated neighborhood into a psychedelic burst of happiness. He’s helped inspire street art in the area and has contributed to a number of community gardens and works hard to turn empty lots into public parks.
- I recommend walking inside the Cathedral of Learning. It’s the library for the University of Pittsburgh students, but to outsiders it’ll feel like you’re walking onto the set of Harry Potter. I’m not kidding.
- If you want a true taste of Pittsburgh, be sure to pop in to Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall, traditional Pittsburgh-style haunt is the best place in town to get a pierogi. Pittsburgh’s roots are strongly tied to Poland and locals’ dedication to the Polish comfort food is one-of-a-kind.
- No trip to Pittsburgh is worth it without stopping by the infamous Primanti Brothers. The chain has been featured on a variety of television shows for being one of the most ridiculous creations in America. Watch this video to see for yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Nalin is a 27-year-old who has been living and working abroad since 2013. While participating in a travel writing program in Lima, Peru, she instantly became interested in the prospect of traveling long-term. After a series of setbacks in the USA, she decided to pack herbags and teach English in Seoul, Korea – an adventure that has led her to Auckland, New Zealand! She hopes to inspire others who are interested in this lifestyle – anything is possible. Featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and Thought Catalog, her collective of travel-related chronicles are at Willful and Wildhearted. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest too.