Although I grew up just a few miles West of Pittsburgh, I rarely ventured into the city when I was young. Perhaps it was fear of driving in the "big city" but more than likely it was more about my empty wallet as a teenager. I joined the Navy at age 20 and never returned home to live. However, over the past decade or so, my business trips to the Steel City became increasingly frequent, and I chose to attend Robert Morris University in pursuit of my doctorate.
The 1970's city of Pittsburgh that I experienced as a kid is long gone and replaced with a modern urban design. The pollution extensively eliminated thanks to an economy now fueled by world-class technology and healthcare organizations benefiting from an incredibly well-educated population living in a relatively low-cost region of the country. During the difficult years post steel production, Pittsburgh admirably continued to promote its educational institutions operating in its boundaries. Today, the city boastfully touts the research achievements of Carnegie Melon, Pitt, Duquesne, Carlow, Chatham, and Robert Morris Universities.
With its origins deriving from global immigrants in search of manufacturing jobs, it's understandable that the city today still includes multiple distinct neighborhoods which nestle together to create the greater Pittsburgh. Lawrenceville, by example, promotes an artistic community packed with fashionable restaurants and galleries. Shadyside is a well known residential neighborhood with excellent shopping and exciting nightlife. Oakland serves as the home to both Carnegie Melon and the University of Pittsburgh. In recent visits to the city, I enjoyed staying at the new Oaklander Hotel (Marriott Autograph Collection) which opened in 2019. The hotel provides excellent access to all parts of the city and an attractive neighborhood to stroll through, which includes some exciting must-sees.
The Cathedral of Learning is one of the sights that you might want to check out on your walk through Oakland. You positively won't miss this incredible University of Pittsburgh landmark, as its the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere and the second tallest University building in the world. Construction on the building started in 1926 and commenced with its dedication in June of 1937. Although labeled a Cathedral, the building serves the University of Pittsburgh as a gathering place for socialization and continued studies. Inside the building, you will find 30 Nationality Rooms which honor the diverse cultural patchwork that contributed to the growth of Pittsburgh. Several community groups serve as ambassadors to the countries represented in the Cathedral of Learning and work with the associated governments to preserve the authenticity and support the conservation of the rooms themselves. The history of this incredible building is fascinating and even if you don't plan on visiting, it's worth learning more about...
Within a couple of blocks of the Cathedral of Learning, you will notice the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. Dedicated in 1910, this historic landmark proudly functions as the largest monument in the country that honors all branches of military veterans and service personnel. Before your visit, you can learn more about its history at:
The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is another must see if you are spending the day in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. The garden touts itself as a green oasis in the middle of the city. Since 1893, the Phipps has provided visitors possibilities to observe and discover renown botanical and agricultural displays and practices. Situated in Schenley Park, the botanicals are part of a 15-acre complex that includes a 124 room glasshouse. With its exceptional beauty, the Phipps also presents an unbelievable backdrop for many wedding and special events. You can learn more about this Pittsburgh organization at https://www.phipps.conservatory.org.
If you happen to have a bit more time on your hands while you are visiting the City of Champions, I highly recommend a drive out to Mill Run, PA to see the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater. Built originally as a weekend home for the Kaufmann family who owned the Kaufmann department store in Pittsburgh, Fallingwater has become possibly the most iconic and important home in the history of American architecture. The property is now held and operated by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Although tours are available all day, the early morning sessions are a bit more inclusive and allow for some indoor photography.
For lunch, I recommend heading over to Station Square to check out the Grand Concourse. Operating inside a train station built in 1901, this restaurant provides impressive views across the river to the downtown section of Pittsburgh, and some wonderful meal choices. If you only have time for a quick bite and perhaps a cocktail, I suggest checking out the Gandy Dancer Saloon situated adjacent to the main dining space inside the Grand Concourse. The restaurant is part of the Landry's chain, which includes other notable dining choices such as Morton's Steakhouse and Charley's Crab. Landry's does have a pretty good rewards program that allows you to accumulate points which you can cash in for free food at their various locations.
For dinner, I have two favorites in Pittsburgh. The first is Alla Famiglia located at 804 E. Warrington Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15210. I know that recommending an Italian restaurant seems odd, as there are so many great ones around the country, but believe me when I tell you this one is special. The restaurant resides in a gritty neighborhood that is working through a significant revival. The classic Italian fare and exceptional customer service will make you think about making a second reservation if you are in town for more than one night. Reservations are essential! If you are a fan of veal, you are in luck. Alla Famiglia prepares veal numerous ways, and you will not be dissatisfied with your selection.
My second choice might seem a bit unusual as well, as it's a seafood restaurant in a city that was once known for its polluted rivers. Having lived near the ocean for the past 30 years, I recognize and enjoy fresh seafood. Located on top of Mount Washington, which overlooks the city skyline, the Monterrey Bay Fish Grotto will deliver on not only spectacular dining but also some of the best possible views of Pittsburgh. Located on the top floors of a building, the Grotto offers a multi-floor establishment including lounges and dining rooms each with an unmistakable character and picturesque views of the city. The scallops are so well prepared and likely the best I have ever tasted. The side dishes are incredible and large enough to share. I suggest getting to the restaurant early and enjoying a cocktail in the lower floor lounge before heading to your table. Reservations are a must!
1411 Grandview Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15211
Phone: (412) 481-4414
The photos below are from a recent visit and do not adequately display the panoramic view.
You can almost see the three rivers coming together at the point in this photo - they include the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio!