Pittsburgh: My Top Six Things to Do in the Steel City
My first trip to Pittsburgh was a surprise, and when presented with tickets at the airport that stated our destination, my initial reaction was “Pittsburgh?!?”. Now having visited the Steel City, I adore it. Located at the confluence of the Ohio, Alleghany, and Monogahela Rivers, and dominated by Mt. Washington in the south, the setting of the city of Pittsburgh, is, in itself, spectacular. Let me introduce you to six destinations in and around the city that you and your family will love to explore.
The Place Where Pittsburgh Began
Point State Park is located where the Ohio, Alleghany, and Monogahela Rivers meet and where the oldest structure in Pittsburgh is located. The first thing to do is snap a selfie in front of the gigantic fountain, like we did, with incredible views of the city behind you. Once you’re done, head on over to the adjacent Fort Pitt Museum. The area now known as Pittsburgh was originally under French control, and Fort Duquesne was constructed on this site to protect the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers. In 1755, the British unsuccessfully tried to take the fort, and in the process, the commanding general was killed. His aide-de-camp, George Washington, was left to coordinate the British retreat. Yes, the George Washington, who actually received his first military experience in the British army. After all, he was British at the time! The French eventually realized they were outnumbered and destroyed the fort. From 1759 to 1761, the British constructed a new fort and called it Fort Pitt. Named by General Forbes and General Washington (the latter got a promotion), “Pittsburgh” actually means the “city of Pitt”, who was the British p
rime minister at the time. In 1777, after the American Revolutionary War, the new U.S. Army took over Fort Pitt as its western headquarters. However, by 1792, the fort had deteriorated, and therefore, was abandoned. Local citizens used its remnants to construct homes, and the army built a new fort in what is now downtown Pittsburgh. The only part of Fort Pitt that remains is a small brick blockhouse, constructed in 1764, that is the oldest structure in Western Pennsylvania. However, visitors can enjoy the large Fort Pitt Museum, which features interactive, family friendly exhibits about the fort, the Seven Years War, and life on the Western frontier in the 18th century. Check out their website for living history events, guided tours, and even brewery nights!
The Best View in Pittsburgh
By night or by day, the view of the city of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington is extraordinary. In fact, the view of the city from Mt. Washington was named by USA Weekend as the “most beautiful vista in America” and the “best urban vista”. Although you can drive up the small mountain (which is really a hill), my favorite way to make the ascent is to take the Duquesne Incline. The incline is similar to a funicular and dates all the way back to 1877. However, don’t worry; it was refurbished in 1964 and redesigned to bring tourists up to an observation deck at the top. The original Duquesne Incline was steam powered and was one of four transports built to haul freight, horses, wagons, and passengers up to the residential area at the top of what was then called Coal Hill, which was otherwise inaccessible. Today, the Duquesne Incline is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city because it allows tourists to experience a piece of history and to see the incredible views of the “Golden Triangle” of downtown Pittsburgh.
Where You Can See Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Famous Ketchup
“Won’t you be my neighbor?” We all grew up with the heartwarming show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”, and during my visit to Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, I was overjoyed to take in the largest collection of items from the beloved TV program. The exhibit includes the set of Mister Rogers’ entryway and living room, King Friday XIII’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree, Mr. McFeely’s ‘Speedy Delivery’ tricycle, a variety of items from the ‘Neighborhood of Make Believe’, and, most exciting for me, the trolley! You might be asking yourself why this exhibit is located in Pittsburgh? Although the show was originally broadcast for three seasons in Canada, Fred Rogers moved it to WQED in Pittsburgh and began to produce and distribute the show from the Steel City. “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” began airing in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes, with the final ones on the air in 2001. At the height of its popularity, 80% of households tuned in to watch Fred Rogers! Even today, his messages of kindness, patience, honesty, and the love of learning continue to resonate and are, perhaps, more important than ever.
However, there’s a lot more to see at the Heinz History Center than just Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood! Perhaps, the most obvious exhibit to check out is the namesake of the museum. Did you know that the H. J. Heinz Company began in a suburb of Pittsburgh when eight year old Henry John Heinz began selling produce from his mother’s garden? The company was founded in 1869, and although Heinz is most known for its ketchup, its first product was actually John Heinz’s mother’s recipe for horseradish, which was produced in their basement. The company went bankrupt in 1875, but a year later, Heinz founded a new company and focused on the production of ketchup and, later, “57 varieties” (actually 60) of other products. The Heinz History Center in downtown Pittsburgh has a fascinating permanent exhibit about the history of the company and its products, as well as the largest collection of Heinz artifacts in its archives. The entrance to the exhibit features a 11 foot tall ketchup bottle made up of more than 400 individual bottles! Alongside this gigantic condiment are 100 historical bottles that show how Heinz products and their packaging have evolved over time. I was fascinated to learn so much that I never knew about the company. Henry John Heinz pioneered the technological and sanitation procedures to prevent bacterial contamination of foods and lobbied Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Heinz was praised as a humanitarian and a model employer who was truly concerned for the safety and well being of his employees. He provided them with free medical care, recreational facilities such as swimming pools and gyms, and educational opportunities such as libraries, concerts, and lectures. During the Great Depression, Heinz helped to boost employment and improve the nutrition of families with the production of ready to eat soups and baby food, and during World War II, Heinz took a leading role in providing the blockaded United Kingdom with food. After the war, the company acquired the well known Ore Ida and Star Kist Tuna brands, and in the exhibit, you can see a life-size costume of Charlie the Tuna. How fun! Today, Heinz sells over 5,700 different products in over 200 countries around the globe! The world headquarters of Heinz has been in Pittsburgh since 1890, and the company’s familiar black logo is the keystone, the same as the motto of Pennsylvania (the Keystone State). However, the Heinz History Center focuses on all 250 years of Pittsburgh’s history, not just the company itself. Check out their website to see all of the exhibits on display.
Amusement Rides and History in One Location
I’m usually not one for rides, but Kennywood is one of only two amusement parks in the United States that have been designated a National Historic Landmark. As a history buff with a husband who likes adrenaline rushes, how could we not visit?! The park first opened in 1898, at the end of a trolley line which transported visitors from nearby Pittsburgh and its suburbs. By 1901, Kennywood had its first roller coaster and a carousel, casino, swimming pool, bandstand, and dance pavilion. Today, the park features two wooden roller coasters (Jack Rabbit and Racer) built in 1920 and 1927, as well as several modern coasters. Kennywood also contains many rides that date back to the very beginnings of its history. They include the Merry Go Round (1927), the Whip (1919), the Turtle (1927), and the Auto Race (1930). One of the most curious and nostalgic attractions is Noah’s Ark (1936), which allows visitors to walk into a dark, moving ark that recreates Noah’s supposed attempt to bring animals aboard. Old-time special effects are included, of course! My favorite ride was the Kangaroo (1962), in which visitors ride in cars that move along a track. When the cars go over the single, steep hill, they bounce off, simulating a flying sensation and giving the ride its name. The leap of the Kangaroo was enough of a thrill for me, while my adventure-seeking husband enjoyed the more exhilarating rides and coasters. Kennywood is a treat for the entire family, whether you’re a history buff like me or a thrill-seeker like my husband. Now, on to something more artistic . . .
Architectural Brilliance in a Setting of Natural Splendor
Designed in 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is an architecturally stunning and aesthetically pleasing home set above a naturally occurring waterfall in rural Pennsylvania, fairly close to the city of Pittsburgh. Knowing that I love history and peaking into the homes of others (legally, of course!), my husband surprised me by taking me there. The home is built over the waterfall, to allow its former occupants, the Kaufmann family, and its current visitors to enjoy the views. Touring the residence is an absolute delight because it’s designed organically so that the house not only naturally blends in with the forest landscape but also smoothly incorporates elements of the outside on the inside of the home. It’s no wonder that Smithsonian Magazine put Fallingwater on its “Life List of 28 Places to Visit Before You Die” and that the American Institute of Architects named it the “best all-time work of American Architecture” in 2007. With praise like that, how can you not visit?! Ok, let’s get “moving” to our final destination.
Ride and Learn About Historic Trolleys Near Pittsburgh
‘All Aboard!’ for a ride on a historic trolley at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. We boarded the trolley from a vintage interurban trolley-line waiting station that was moved to the museum and restored to give riders an authentic experience of the 1880’s. Upon hearing the whistle and the conductor calling, Greg and I climbed aboard one of the museum’s restored electric streetcars for a four mile round trip journey. Part of the ride included a stop at the Trolley Display Building where the tour guide took us through a fascinating look at a selection of the 45 different cars in the museum’s collection. What makes a streetcar different from a trolley? How can you tell the difference between a city car, a suburban car, and an interurban car? How did the design and function of trolleys change over time? You’ll find out the answers to these questions and more while viewing historic trolleys from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Next, it was back on board for the remainder of the journey, which finished at the Visitor Center. There, we watched a short video introducing the era of trolleys and wandered through various exhibits about how trolleys improved the daily lives of everyday people, how trolleys work, and why the trolley era ended. There are also find some interactive parts of the museum specifically designed for children. Whether you’re an actual child, a child at heart, or just someone who’s looking to experience a piece of the past, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum makes for a thoroughly enjoyable half-day trip from Pittsburgh.
Click in the name of any of the locations below to be taken to more specific directions.
Point State Park and the Fort Pitt Museum are located at 601 Commonwealth Place in Pittsburgh.
Parking for the Duquesne Incline is located on West Carson Street in Pittsburgh. Click on the name for specific directions.
The Heinz History Center is located at1212 Smallman Street in Pittsburgh.
Kennywood Park is located at 4800 Kennywood Boulevard in West Mifflin, PA.
Fallingwater is located at 1491 Mill Run Road in Mill Run, PA.
The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is located at 1 Museum Road in Washington, PA.