05 July 2007

Pittsburgh kicks ass

I just spent half a day or so in Pittsburgh with the kids. I had visited once or twice before many years ago, and always liked it. Being a river town, with steep hills I always thought of it as a kind of sister city to Cincinnati.

In the past I travelled their very short subway/light rail, line, and basically checked-out the "downtown" area. This time however, we visited the University area, Oakland, and then spent an enjoyable evening in Southside. We ended up the evening with a trip up the Duquesne Incline.

I was impressed on several levels. First, the people were down to earth, regular and freindly. Oakland is home to several universities, and the campus buildings interact with the city life much better than UC does in our Clifton neighborhood. Also, the civic buildings are very impressive. These proud buildings made me feel that these people had civic pride and love of their city.

Southside is a kinda working class, Over-the-Rhine or Northside type neighborhood, that seems to have embraced it's destiny. I know nothing at all about this neighborhood. But the streets, the ethnic churches,and brick rowhouses tell you where you are. It was chock full of people on a Sunday evening. I saw many young families in Southside. I also saw lots of active storefronts and renovated houses. I saw some buildings that needed maintenance, but never saw one totally vacant building, like you will find all over parts of Cincinnati.

Overall, Pittsburgh kicks Cincinnati's ass in that the University area is better, the civic structures are better, and the streetlife and nightlife are better. Add on top of that, the steeper, and taller hills, 3 rivers, 15 bridges, and many tunnels and intense rail traffic, and you have one great city.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Then why don't you move there? I've been there myself and still think Cincy's better.

Brendan said...

Pittsburgh is a great city, but in one area it really is sorely lacking: It's one of the oldest cities (demographically speaking) in America. I have family there. They are always astounded, when they visit Cinci, how young it is in comparison.

Go to a park, the Mall, the store in Pittsburgh - all gray heads. Nothing wrong with that, but the lack of a good mix gives the place a very tired, stern feel. Not a lot of creativity or dynamism.

There are exceptions, of course - the area around Pitt and CMU, and other spots. But young families are few and far between.

(And Anonymous - as usual - you're a coward.)

Mike said...

Well, my post was an observation after just one 24 hour visit. Of course I am generalizing and I do think I saw the best of the city in Oakland and Southside.

I didn't include in my post some negatives that I also saw. For example, I stopped at one restaurant in the northeast of the city (I can't think of the name of the neighborhood right now) and the entire place was full of the most unhealthy and overweight people I have ever seen. This chain restaurant was all over Pittsburgh by the way (Eatin' Park)

Mike said...

Well the New York Times had a great article this week on travel destination Pittsburgh, with emphasis on all the things for kids to do.
http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/07/27/travel/escapes/27kids.html?ref=travel
An excerpt:

PITTSBURGH is a perfect example of a 19th-century American city that has reinvented itself for the 21st century. The famous three rivers — Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio — once lined with steel mills, now sparkle next to biking and jogging paths. Gilded-age industrialists made so much money in the city that there is still plenty around to finance several world-class museums. Rundown ethnic enclaves like the South Side and the Strip district now hum with cool shops, great restaurants and loads of places to hang out.

Children are among the prime beneficiaries of this rebirth. Baseball, dinosaurs, science, pink flamingoes or Pop Art, Pittsburgh has it all covered. Yes, the downtown is still a bit drab and empty at night, and true, the best kids’ stuff is scattered around, so you’re likely to need a car. But if you still think of Pittsburgh as a place you’d only visit if you absolutely had to, you and your family are in for a very pleasant surprise.

Must-Do Museums

Andrew Carnegie had one thing in common with the average elementary school child: he loved dinosaurs. He saw to it that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the Oakland section (4400 Forbes Avenue, 412-662-3131; www.carnegiemnh.org, $10 for adults, $6 for ages 3 to 18) has one of the top dinosaur bone collections in the world. Though a remodeling and expansion of Dinosaur Hall will keep much of the exhibition closed until November, some of the more impressive skeletons remain on view. Also fascinating are the minerals and gems collection and the ancient Egyptian hall with a 30-foot royal funerary boat.

It’s a two-minute hop by car from the museum to the lovely, soothing acres and greenhouses of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1 Shenley Drive, 412-622-6914; www.phipps.conservatory.org; $12.50 for adults, $11.50 for ages 2 to 18).

The sprawling Carnegie Science Center (1 Allegheny Avenue, 412-237-3400; www.carnegiesciencecenter.org; $14 for adults, $10 for children 3 to 12,) in the North Side neighborhood across from downtown is a smorgasbord of science, sports, history and high-tech entertainment. The planetarium is top notch, the Miniature Railroad and Village is a charming evocation of the dawn of the 20th century, and SportsWorks is a kind of interactive gym display where kids can rock climb, race and test their coordination in a game of optical-illusion miniature golf.

With toddlers or early grade schoolers in tow, your best museum bet may be the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (10 Children’s Way, 412-322-5058; www.pittsburghkids.org; $9 for adults, $8 for children 2 to 18), where children are encouraged to splash, play in mud, take stuff apart, thread mazes and throw themselves into art projects. Fans of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” will flip for the replica of the set of the TV program, which was produced in Oakland, complete with porch swing and sweater.

If anyone in the family has the slightest interest in birds, budget at least an hour for the National Aviary (700 Arch Street, 412-323-7235; www.aviary.org; $9 for adults, $7.50 for children 2 to 12) a five-minute park stroll from the Children’s Museum. The tropical conservatories where pink flamingoes, scarlet ibis, whistling ducks and huge Victoria-crowned pigeons fly free are truly magical. Try to time your visit for hours when children may feed the birds.

Warhol and Pirates

What do Andy Warhol and the Pittsburgh Pirates have in common? Well, in Pittsburgh they’re practically neighbors, installed on the scenic North Side in two of the coolest buildings in town. Even if the Pirates are not at home, make sure to check out PNC Park (115 Federal Street, 800-289-2827; www.pirates.com) overlooking the Allegheny River and the multiple bridges to downtown.

From the stadium you can pick up the North Shore Trail and stroll past sculptures, fountains, joggers, ducks and sun-bathers to the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky Street, 412-237-8300; www.warhol.org; $12 for adults, $8 for students and children 3 to 18). On weekends, kids can try their hand at making silk screens or buttons at the studio workshop. Buy gallery time for yourself with a promise of something from the gift shop or a sweet from the underground cafe. Or better yet, a kayak ride on the river; there’s a rental service just steps from the stadium (412-969-9090, www.kayakpittsburgh.org; $14 for the first hour solo, $20 for a tandem).

Outdoor Adventures

The rivers and rails that made Pittsburgh an industrial hub now support a network of trails that make it a terrific city for walking, biking or in-line skating. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail, though still under construction in places, parallels the city’s rivers for some 37 miles of great urban scenery. One family-friendly stretch along the Monongahela is the 3.5-mile long Eliza Furnace Trail (named for a blast furnace) that starts at the edge of downtown under the Smithfield Street Bridge. If you’re more ambitious, rent bikes at Golden Triangle Bike n Blade (600 First Avenue, 412-600-0675; $8 an hour, $30 a day) and get directions on how to connect with the completed sections of Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile biking-walking trail.

While Mount Washington may not rank with the Rockies or the Smokies, it does have a terrific view of the Pittsburgh skyline, the perfect excuse for children of all ages to ride one of the old-fashioned funiculars: the Monongahela Incline (412-442-2000, www.portauthority.org) and the Duquesne Incline (412-381-1665, www.incline.pghfree.net) that inch up the sheer hillside from Carson Street.

A sure favorite for kids is one of Pittsburgh’s amusement parks. Sandcastle Waterpark (www.sandcastlewaterpark.com, 1000 Sandcastle Drive, 412-462-6666; admission is $24.95 and $12.95 for those under 46 inches). It has waterslides, wave pools and inner tubes bobbing on a cooling river. Nearby, Kennywood Park (4800 Kennywood Boulevard, West Mifflin; 412-461-0500, www.kennywood.com; $31 for adults, under 46 inches $19) is a traditional amusement with an assortment of new and vintage roller coasters as well as a Kiddieland for tots who might not be ready for the Exterminator.

Eating and Drinking

The original Primanti Brothers restaurant (46 18th Street, 412-263-2142) is a great lunch place in the heart of the Strip District, a neighborhood hard by downtown that bustles on weekends with food shops, street vendors, novelty shops, cafes and bars. Try the cheese steak ($5.69), chili fries ($2.99) or the sirloin strip sandwich ($6.49). It may not be health food, but children love it.

Atria’s Restaurant & Tavern (103 Federal Street, 412-322-1850) puts you right at the gate of PNC Park and just steps from the Warhol Museum. Don’t worry about the “& tavern” part; there’s a kids’ menu with standards like grilled cheese ($2.99) and chicken tenders ($3.99). The regular menu covers the gamut from baked rigatoni ($11.99) to ribeye ($20.99).

If you’re up on Mount Washington and in the mood for Chinese food, Golden Palace (206 Shiloh Street, 412-481-8500) would be a good choice for lunch or dinner. There are no views from the dining room, but Hunan standards like General Tso’s chicken ($8.95) and a seafood combination with jumbo shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops and black mushrooms ($13.95) are fresh and consistently well-prepared. You can adjust the spiciness level on a scale from 1 to 10, so everyone in the family will be happy.

Where to Stay

Holiday Inn Select University Center (100 Lytton Avenue, 412-682-6200; www.ichotelsgroup.com; starting at $169) is a good choice in Oakland, a leafy upscale neighborhood just east of downtown that houses two universities, the Carnegie complex and the Phipps garden. There’s an indoor pool. During the summer it has a family package that includes a double room and two tickets to Kennywood ($149) or Sandcastle Waterpark ($139).

The Doubletree Hotel Pittsburgh City Center (1 Bigelow Square, 412-281-5800; http://doubletree.hilton.com; starting at $149) offers good value for a central downtown location and has a pool. On check-in during the summer months, children 3 to 12 receive sling backpacks, mini-binoculars, Hacky Sacks, activity books, crayons and other goodies on an eco-friendly theme.

The Sheraton at Station Square (300 West Station Square Drive, 412-261-2000; www.starwoodhotels.com; starting at $199) has a choice location adjoining Station Square and overlooking the Monongahela River. The lively South Side restaurant scene is a few blocks away. North-facing rooms have a view of the river and downtown, and there’s an indoor pool.