Editor’s note: TravelQ, a series that documents travel through the eyes of stylish queers, returns this week with a new feature by Caroline and Erin, web designers, freelance photographers and writers for the travel blog Authentic Asheville.
Pittsburgh has been on the lips of several of our friends for years and we finally got the chance to check it out for ourselves. Just as promised, it was fun, funky, had lots of great outdoor space for walking and riding bikes as well as tons of excellent places to eat.
We timed our visit with Pittsburgh Pride and had an awesome experience. We’re already wondering when we can return.
Best Place to Stay
Holiday Inn Express & Suites-Pittsburgh North Shore | 228 Federal Street
We stayed in a room up on the seventh floor with a good view of the city. From our window we could see the skyline as well as the river. We were also steps away from the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium and within walking distance to great attractions and places to eat. Though the beds are super comfy, be sure to get moving in time for the complimentary hot breakfast and coffee!
Best Things To Do
Bicycle Heaven | 1800 Prebble & Columbus Avenue
This is a museum (the largest of its kind in the world), bike store, bike rental and bike repair shop all in one. There are almost 4,000 bikes in here; everything from new to vintage. There’s even some rare bikes such as the Bowden Spacelander which is the first fiberglass bike made. If you love to ride or have a love for other people’s collections, you’re not going to want to miss out on this place. It’s one of a kind.
Randyland | 1501 Arch Street
In the Central Northside neighborhood is a magnificently painted house named Randyland. Everything you see from house, to fence, to doll heads is hand painted by Randy himself. He repurposes garbage and found objects to create a truly unique experience for his guests. We checked it out mid-morning, when the neighborhood was nice and quiet. We didn’t get to meet Randy but you could feel his colorful energy from down the street! Tip: It’s free!
Mattress Factory | 500 Sampsonia Way
Just down the street from Randyland is the Mattress Factory. It’s described as a “contemporary art museum and experimental lab.” In other words, it’s a whole lot of fun. There are permanent installations as well as rotating exhibitions. We particularly enjoyed Floor 2, which was intentionally dark as well as Floor 3 which housed works by Yayoi Kusama.
Carnegie Museum of Art | 4400 Forbes Avenue
Put the CMOA on your list if you’re headed to Pittsburgh. Drop-in tours, lectures, rotating exhibits and world class art, this museum is a must-do for everyone from the most adoring art fans to those just looking for a fun place to Instagram. (We fell in love with the rainbow colored stairway near the entrance.)
Carnegie Museum of Natural History | 4400 Forbes Avenue
Ever wanted to touch a meteorite? Or a stalactite? You can at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It’s one of the best natural history museums in the country. Our favorite exhibit was the gem and mineral collection. It’s simply stunning. There are crystals and rocks of the most incredible colors and formations. We spent a lot more time in the museum than we thought we would because there were so many interesting things to see and touch. Save at least a couple hours for this place. The museum also has an adult-only After Dark night at the museum so be sure to see if that’s on the calendar when you’re in town.
Duquesne Incline | 1220 Grandview Avenue
The incline was built in 1877 and was in operation until 1962. It started to fall into disrepair but local townspeople pooled money together to save it and it reopened in 1964. It continues to be one of the top tourist attractions in the city. The ride to the top is short, but the view is exceptional! You can see the entire city from up there including Point State Park! Bring exact cash or a Port Authority bus pass/ticket because they don’t give change. ($5.00 round trip or $2.50 one way).
Andy Warhol Museum | 117 Sandusky Street
Informative, interactive (you can make your own screen test and have it sent to your email), and just plain fun, this museum was one of the things we were looking forward to the most! There are seven floors as well as the underground for you to explore and there are works from all phases of his life. It’s quite the collection. In addition, the museum hosts various events including TQ Live! (which is a night of queer performances that includes dance, poetry, comedy, music, fantasies, etc.) as well as talks and tours.
Walk the Bridges | Location varies
Pittsburgh is the city of bridges. And for good reason! They’re everywhere. Many of them are pedestrian and bike friendly so get out there and explore on foot! It’s a great way to see the city. Several are also painted black and gold, the city’s official colors and many are made from locally produced steel.
Get out on the Riverfront Trail (Part of Three Rivers Park)| Location varies
We spent an hour running along this trail one afternoon and had a blast. It’s mostly flat with a couple gentle rolling hills and true to its name, makes it way along the river. There’s a good bit of shade so even in the heat of the sun you can stay cool. Not into running, no worries, there are bike rentals scattered throughout the city. Some of the bikes are even painted in cool colors. The bikes are $2 for 30 minutes! The section of trail we explored is part of a city wide system, Three Rivers Park, comprised of 23 individual destinations and a combination of public and private land.
Go See a Game | Location varies
This is a sports town and the locals take their teams very seriously. If you get the chance to go to a game, do it! You can choose from the Pirates (baseball), Penguins (ice hockey) or the Steelers (football).
Best Places to Eat
The Cafe Carnegie | 4400 Forbes Ave
This is the perfect place to get your tummy full before, during or after a day at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. We made a delicious lunch of the sea scallops with morel mushrooms, deviled eggs, and a shrimp roll (on house made bread!). The food was fresh, tasty and served quickly. It left us perfectly full and ready to explore the museum.
The Commoner | 458 Strawberry Way
I started the night with the Love is Love cocktail. It’s made with Absolut Vodka, Leblon Cachaça, Blue Curaçao, Pineapple Gomme, Key Lime and Pink Himalayan Sea Salt and comes served with an umbrella. My favorite part though was that for every drink sold, a dollar goes to the Allies for Health and Wellbeing. If that’s not enough to make you want to head their way, take note that their namesake salad, The Commoner, was the perfect bite of early summer (pickled strawberries, cucumber, blueberry, feta, candied walnuts and frisée tossed a pink peppercorn vinaigrette). Their Eleven Oaks Wagyu Burger was also top notch. In addition, the service was outstanding. If Rachael is working, see if you can request her. You won’t be disappointed as all of her recommendations were on point.
El Lugar | Nova Place, 100 South Commons
Every single thing we tasted at El Lugar was amazing. Everything. The chips are crispy, salty and come with some of the best guacamole we’ve ever had. The corn tortillas are made on site and are a thicker, chunkier version of what you might be used to. We tried the fish and shrimp tacos, chopped salad, and street style asparagus. We left not one morsel on our plates. Oh and be sure to save room for the rich chocolate pudding!
Station | 4744 Liberty Avenue
Oh wow. Station. This was a meal to remember. For starters, the drinks were delicious: we had an the Oaxaca Old Fashioned which was made with mezcal and served with an ice cube sphere and a Negroni that was served with the most unique foam! Both were exceptional. The food itself was nothing short of show stopping. We ordered the roasted carrot salad, chicken liver pate’ (light as air), tender asparagus with morel mushrooms, perfectly seared hanger steak, and house made rigatoni with carrot tops and miso! If you are in Pittsburgh, this is a must-dine.
Whitfield | Ace Hotel, Pittsburgh 120 South Whitfield
The space is super inviting. It’s a combination between being in a Wes Anderson movie and a hipster Instagram feed. In other words, it’s cool. And the food is great, too. We went all out when we were there and ordered the bacon jam toast (do it), half a dozen oysters, the spring salad with tender sweet beets, tender pike in a mushroom broth with chimichurri (oh my gooooooodness!) and the spicy green salad. Get a drink at the bar before you sit down for a meal and make your way into the old school gym. (The hotel used to be home to the YMCA they’ve left a ping pong table in there.)
Union Standard | Union Trust Building, 524 William Penn Place
We started lunch with bourbon, beer and warm potato bread. The potato bread is topped with sesame seeds and coarse sea salt and served with a side of cultured butter and pearl onion/apricot jam. We also snacked on the sea scallops which were perfectly seared and served with greens, carrots, croutons, cucumber, pea shoots and tossed with a vinaigrette dressing. We were still hungry so we also ordered the cauliflower schnitzel sandwich (perfectly crunchy) and the fried chicken salad. Both were excellent. The restaurant is spread out over two floors and it’s beautiful so take a walk around and explore the space.
If Pittsburgh isn’t on your list of places to visit, we recommend adding it! We found it easy to be ourselves in this city and are eager to return. One thing to note is that the driving can be a little tricky since there are so many tunnels, one way streets and bridges. Give yourself a little bit of extra time if you have a dinner reservation or consider taking an Uber. Curious and want to learn more? Visit Pittsburgh’s website and start planning your trip!
About the authors: Caroline and Erin are freelance web designers, photographers and writers for the travel blog Authentic Asheville. When they’re not on the road, they hang their hats in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow their adventures on Instagram at @e.mcgrady + @carolineperdue + @authenticasheville