Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh is not always the first city people think of when it comes to a tourist destination. In fact, the first memory I have of hearing of Pittsburgh is when Sally Field throws a tantrum in the movie Soapdish because her married boyfriend leaves her to go back to his wife in Pittsburgh. “PITTSBURGH!” she screams. “Does that tell you anything about my appeal?”
But in fact Pittsburgh is a delightful city full of great art, great food, and even great beauty, if you know where to look for it. Join me for 24 hours in Pittsburgh and I guarantee you’ll learn to love the city too.
24 Hours in Pittsburgh
Where to Stay?
I suggest staying right in Downtown Pittsburgh because you’ll be right in the middle of the action and easily able to walk to many of the fine restaurants and attractions. That’s why I recommend staying at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Pittsburgh. The staff is extremely friendly, the price was perfect given the amazing location, and a free breakfast buffet was included every morning. I would definitely stay here again the next time I am in Pittsburgh.
24 Hours in Pittsburgh
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Pittsburgh is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Pittsburgh
Morning: Andy Warhol Museum
I believe it might be against Pennsylvania state law to visit Pittsburgh without setting foot inside the Andy Warhol Museum. After all, Andy Warhol is one of Pittsburgh’s most famous children, so it’s a sign of respect to the city if you go pay him tribute. And for those who don’t think of themselves as museum lovers, I assure you that Andy Warhol is in no way your typical artist. If you’re looking for a place to start on your journey of becoming an art lover, this is it!
I don’t want to spoil all the museum’s secrets, but I do want to spoil…
Three Fun Facts: Andy Warhol Museum
1) What’s the Andy Warhol/Pittsburgh Connection?
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh to a family of immigrants from Slovakia. (Apparently they weren’t ethnically Slovak? But the complicated ins and out of Slovakian heritage seem outside the scope of this blog post.) Warhol was from a large working-class family, and he was the only one of his siblings to go to college. Boy, did that bet pay off for the family!
Warhol’s family remains very involved in the museum to this day. In fact, I was even able to take a free docent group that day given by…one of Warhol’s nephews! He even showed us one of his photos of him and his famous uncle. I can’t guarantee that an actual Warhol will be there when you visit, but I’m sure your tour will be almost as interesting.
2) What is Warhol Most Famous For?
Andy Warhol is famous for his silkscreen paintings of American icons from Campbell’s soup cans to movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. At the Andy Warhol Museum, you can see some of his other works depicting different celebrities. I had no idea he’d ever done paintings of Judy Garland or the Birth of Venus, just to name a few.
Warhol was never ashamed to earn an honest penny, so he also did works on commission. This series on famous athletes was ordered by a wealthy fan of both sports and pop art. (Yes, that is a very young OJ Simpson second from the left.)
Warhol’s work raises questions about high vs low art, commercialism, beauty, and acceptance, but it’s also just a lot of fun to look at. My favorite part of the museum is a room full of silver balloons that bop around freely and hit you. Some people say this isn’t art, but I say if someone else made it and it made you smile, then it is art. Life’s too short to be a sourpuss.
3) What Are the Hidden Gems of the Museum?
My favorite section of the museum is dedicated to Warhol’s early work. Warhol was an extremely prolific artist, to say the least, so you can find a lot of his work in other museums, but this is the stuff you really need to come to the Andy Warhol Museum to see.
Before Warhol hit it big in the New York art scene, he was a successful artist for commercials, and his pieces for fashion and shoe companies are just stunning. According to the docent notes, Warhol really wanted to be accepted by the fine art community in New York but many of the artists were too homophobic to accept him.
Later in life, Warhol was embraced as a pioneer of Pop Art by the art community, and later in his life he did collaborations with enthusiastic young artists, as you can see from this elephant he made with Keith Haring. The late Warhols are just as interesting and surprising as the early Warhols in their own way. There’s so much more to Andy Warhol than just soup cans.
24 Hours in Pittsburgh
Afternoon: Heinz History Center
I was a little confused when I read that the Heinz History Center is one of the most popular attractions in Pittsburgh because who wants to spend all day looking at the history of ketchup? But in fact, this is a museum dedicated to the entire history of Pittsburgh, and the history of the Heinz Corporation is merely a small part of that. Don’t believe me? Allow me to prove it to you with…
Approximately Top 5: Heinz History Center
Before we head to the Ketchup History Center, we need to fuel up! And what more appropriate lunch could there be than Burgatory! After all nothing goes better with Heinz Ketchup than a burger. (Heinz is definitely not paying me to say any of this, which is good because I plan on continuing to make merciless fun of them.)
Burgatory is a local chain, but we want the North Shore location for the purposes of this itinerary. You can see they have a lot of fun with the “purgatory” theme, right down to the little plastic pitchforks holding your burger together. And you can tell it’s local because the slogan on the website is, “Yinz are starvin’ for burgers n’at,” which is pure Pittsburgh lingo.
If it’s your first time, I suggest the Standard Burger. Mine had a very tasty medium-rare cook and a lusciously buttery bun. Why are hamburgers always so comforting and satisfying? The world may never know.
2) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Now that we are fed, it’s time to learn our ketchup history at the Heinz History Center. But the most famous exhibit is the section on famous Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Most of the neighborhoods have the distinction of not being fictional…but everyone who stops by here really wants to see the set from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, which was filmed in Pittsburgh.
I came prepared because when I was a little girl, I got a signed autograph from Mr. Rogers, and he used my actual name when responding to me. I was so excited that Mr. Rogers knew who I was!! So I saved that photo for all these years and I brought it to the Mr. Rogers exhibit here in Pittsburgh so I could get my photo taken with it.
It was easy to find other tourists who wanted to take my picture and everyone was excited to see Mr. Rogers’s autograph. Someone who worked at the museum said they should even have an event where people bring in Mr. Rogers memorabilia. That’s me! Starting trends wherever I go!
3) Ketchup History
I know I kept joking about this being the Ketchup History Center, but there actually is an exhibit on the history of the Heinz company, and it’s pretty interesting. I didn’t know that Heinz started as a horseradish company. I also didn’t know that in the earlier days of the company the Heinz advertising used the image of a young woman in a white cap to sell the products.
They wanted to send the image of someone very clean making the sauces. I guess it’s good they didn’t use a real worker because the white cap would be covered in ketchup and she would look like she had just murdered someone.
Heinz products were really popular in the olden times because cooking took such a long time that they were considered real time savers. They even offered Heinz products at the World’s Fair. If you visited their booth, they’d give you a little pickle pin. Some of these pickles are on display at the Ketchup History Center–definitely the coolest part of the Heinz exhibit.
4) Entrepreneurs of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has been home to a surprising number of inventors and entrepreneurs. The most famous, of course, is steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, of “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” fame. I think legally at least one tenth of all buildings in Pittsburgh need to have the name Carnegie or a reference to steel somewhere on it. And where do you think the name Pittsburgh Steelers came from?
But another famous inventor was George Westinghouse, who was an innovator in the use of alternating current. He had a bitter rivalry over electricity with Thomas Edison that led to the invention of the electric chair. (Edison does not come across very well in the Ketchup History Museum’s display on the section. But then, Pittsburgh was Westinghouse’s town, so that’s to be expected.)
5) Martin Delany
Pittsburgh was a stop on the Underground Railroad, so the History Center has a good section dedicated to abolitionism in the city. But I was most interested in the display on Martin Delany, a man who wore many hats. Delany was one of the first black men accepted to Harvard Med School, but he was forced to withdraw because white students protested. I know people complain about college protesters nowadays, but it does seem to me that they are protesting better things than they were in the 1850s.
Delany was a prominent abolitionist, he published an African American newspaper called The Mystery, he worked as both a doctor and a judge, and he was a member of the Young Men’s Literary and Moral Reform Society. Just reading that list makes me feel like an incredibly unaccomplished person. Like, I was super proud of myself because I managed to get a photo of Mr. Rogers all the way from NYC to Pittsburgh.
24 Hour Tip
Take the stairs to find a few little hidden messages about Pittsburgh. My favorite was that the 99th step is dedicated to Barbara Feldon, a Pittsburghian who is best known for playing Agent 99 on the TV series Get Smart.
24 Hour Treasure: Duquesne Incline
You simply can’t spend 24 hours in Pittsburgh without experiencing the Duquesne Incline. (Pittsburgh was originally named Fort Duquesne when it was controlled by the French. Then the British won it and named it after their Prime Minister Pitt. Dunking on the French is simply de rigueur.)
The best part of the Duquesne Incline is getting to ride up it on an old-fashioned cable car. You need exact change, but there are change machines in the ticket office that will change any bill that’s a 20 or less, so no worries. Once you get to the top, you can enjoy a little museum exhibit about the history of the incline and the cable car. Then you get to experience amazing views like these:
See! Don’t let anyone tell you that Pittsburgh isn’t a pretty city!
24 Hours in Pittsburgh
Evening: Dinner at Altius
Since we’ve reached such a great height, why not have dinner at Altius? We’ve learned that Pittsburgh is beautiful, and now we’re going to experience the heights of Pittsburgh fine dining. I mean heights literally because Altius is at the top of the Duquesne Incline, so we’ll have great views of the entire city! It’s a popular restaurant, so your table might not be ready immediately, but that just means you can chillax at the bar with a scrumptious cocktail.
Altius seemed to have a special way with seafood, so I began with this stunning plate of oysters. It came with four sauces: a little Tabasco bottle, cocktail sauce, beet and horseradish sauce, and a light apple mignonette. It was so fun to mix and match the oysters with the sauce! I wished there had been more oysters so none of the sauces would have gone to waste, though the oysters were delicious enough that they didn’t need any sauce.
Ready for more seafood? Well, this dish has four kinds of seafood: Line caught grouper with rich lobster toast, sweet scallops, and briny mussels. It was amazing having four different kinds of seafood, each with a distinct flavor. Yet somehow it all came together so beautifully.
I apologize for how blurry the photo is. I was just so excited about the seafood!
And this beauty was my perfectly seasonal chocolate shell filled with pumpkin curd. (I visited Pittsburgh in the fall.) This is an exciting dessert to eat because the waiter poured a warm caramel sauce on top and the whole thing melted like the world’s tastiest science experiment. It was so decadent and luscious that even the table sitting next to me asked me about it. (I told them to order it without delay.)
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Pittsburgh!
What would you do with 24 hours in Pittsburgh? Is Pittsburgh underrated in terms on both beauty and food, yes or yes? And what sorts of exhibits would you find in a Ketchup History Center? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Pittsburgh.