Exploring Pittsburgh: a beginner’s guide

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Alexandre Kaspar | Photo Staff Credit: Alexandre Kaspar | Photo Staff

Pittsburgh may seem like a strange, fearsome place where the locals order french fries on their salads and where black and yellow “Stillers” paraphernalia cover every inch of store windows. But despite its regional quirks and sometimes unintelligible dialect, Pittsburgh is actually a manageable city, easily broken down into smaller neighborhoods, each with its own diverse set of attractions. From shoe shopping to museum hopping to ice cream tasting, Pittsburgh has a destination for your every whim — if you know where to look.


The hulking metal bridges that stretch over the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh’s Downtown probably most closely reflect what you already know about the Steel City. But hidden among the vestiges of Pittsburgh’s industrial past is the Cultural District, home to a few must-see gems.

Among the Cultural District’s offerings are the Benedum Center, where Broadway musicals often make their Pittsburgh stop; the O’Reilly Theater, where Pittsburgh Public Theater puts on its acclaimed (and student-discounted) plays; and the Byham Theater, where students can see everything from musicals to dance troupes to comedians. At Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, music-loving students can dress up for the evening and enjoy the sounds of an excellent orchestra.

While not technically in Downtown, a quick hop across the Allegheny takes you to the North Shore, home of the Andy Warhol Museum, which features an extensive collection of the Pittsburgh-born artist’s work, and the New Hazlett Theater, a great place to take in offbeat plays and performances. But be warned: Most Pittsburgh buses stop running after midnight or 1 a.m., so plan your trip wisely.

Strip District

The Strip District is one of Pittsburgh’s busiest and most eclectic neighborhoods. Running for half a mile along Liberty Avenue, Penn Avenue, and Smallman Street, the Strip is crowded with upscale boutiques, family-owned businesses, sidewalk vendors — and people, on any nice weekend day. Check out Costume World for an awesome get-up this Halloween, stop by Mon Aimee Chocolat for an in-store mug of cocoa or a candy bar to go, or pick up hard-to-find Asian groceries at Lotus Foods. If you’re in a spontaneous mood, stop by one of the sidewalk stalls for a funny hat, or go native and buy a Steelers T-shirt.

The South Side

Lined with shops ranging from Urban Outfitters and American Eagle to White House Black Market, the South Side is an ideal destination for the casual weekend shopper or the desperate last-minute gift seeker. While it’s a haven for shoppers, the South Side is also popular among movie-theater goers or students seeking a rare off-campus meal at restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory. For the over-21 crowd, South Side is one of the most popular nightlife areas in town, with tons of bars and clubs.


Only steps from campus, Oakland is an easy walk down Forbes Avenue into the epicenter of Pittsburgh’s college life. This bustling strip of Forbes is just as vibrant after dark as it is at high noon: Joe Mama’s, Fuel and Fuddle, and Mad Mex are among the local restaurants that offer tasty half-price food after 11 p.m. on week nights.

Cheap food is not the only attraction that Oakland has to offer. A trip to the Carnegie Museum of Art or the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is the perfect cure for a lazy Saturday; plus, admission is free with your student ID. And, of course, Oakland is home to our neighbor, the University of Pittsburgh, and on-campus destinations like the magnificent 42-floor Cathedral of Learning.

Squirrel Hill

A favorite among students because of the convenient trip — a short ride on any 61 bus — Squirrel Hill is a charming neighborhood with tons of restaurants, shopping, and residential areas. On warm days, in particular, there’s no better place to be than Squirrel Hill. With Rita’s Italian Ice, Cold Stone Creamery, and Baskin-Robbins all within a few blocks of each other, it’s the perfect place to cool off.

If you’re interested in thrifting, check out Avalon, an upscale used-clothing store with lots of little treasures. Want to take in a movie? The Manor Theatre showcases a mix of indie films, big-budget blockbusters, and Oscar contenders. And to satisfy your appetite, there’s Pamela’s Diner, which has one of the best breakfasts in town.


Many students call Shadyside their home, whether they live there or just frequent its coffee shops and bars. Shadyside is a popular neighborhood that’s just a short walk from campus. In the midst of residential streets, its main drag of shops is on Walnut Street. Attractions include upscale stores — American Apparel, Banana Republic, Sephora, and the Apple Store — and excellent restaurants, including Girasole and Eden.

Want to beat the heat, but in the mood for something a little classier than Baskin-Robbins? Try Mercurio’s, Shadyside’s gelato-and-pizza joint. And if you need groceries, Giant Eagle’s Market District is a short bus ride away. Shadyside is a great neighborhood to spend an afternoon, whether you’re shopping or just admiring its beautiful homes.

East Liberty

This up-and-coming neighborhood borders Shadyside and Friendship. Its main landmark is the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, a Gothic-style church built in the early 1930s. Featuring shopping hotspots like Trader Joe’s and Target, East Liberty is becoming a destination neighborhood for many locals.

The area is also home to many fantastic restaurants, including Abay and Tana, the only two Ethiopian restaurants in Western Pennsylvania; BRGR, a burger joint with open air seating upstairs; and Plum, an Asian-fusion restaurant. The neighborhood is also becoming a hub for live music, with popular clubs including Shadow Lounge, AVA Lounge, and the newly-opened 6119.


The “Little Italy” of Pittsburgh, Bloomfield is situated north of Shadyside. In addition to the excellent bakeries and Italian restaurants in Bloomfield, the neighborhood is home to a number of art galleries that participate in the Penn Avenue Art Walk that happens every first Friday of the month in Bloomfield and Friendship, an adjacent neighborhood. Friendship is similar to Bloomfield, with a number of beautiful old homes that have been converted into apartments.