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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

Downtown

The Updated Guide to Downtown Pittsburgh

Home to world-class performances, champion sports teams and award- winning dining, downtown Pittsburgh offers a perfect spot for a fun day or night out on the town. It’s also a breathtaking place to explore the great outdoors, with kayaking, boating, and riverfront trails that offer unparalleled scenic vistas. Visitors, impressed by ever-friendly Pittsburghers, greenspaces and safe streets, find that Downtown offers something to everyone who ventures into its “Golden Triangle.”

For a tour of town, consider climbing aboard a WWII amphibious vehicle with Just Ducky Tours to roam both the streets and rivers, or join a historic walking tour with Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Visitors can charter a trolley (think: Mr. Rogers, also a Pittsburgher) or tour the city by bike, an exceptional and green way to see the sights. The Riverfront Trails are hard to beat and offer direct access to urban biking, boating, kayaking, fishing, and scenic walks. Find out more about trails, bike racks, and the ins and outs of biking in Pittsburgh at Bike Pittsburgh. Download your downtown map here: and search places to go here.  Check out urban hikes with Venture Outdoors.

Arts and Culture
Pittsburgh’s Cultural District is home to the country’s most spectacular scenes for the visual and performing arts, showcased in major theaters from the the classic Heinz Hall to the Michael Graves- designed O'Reilly Theater.  Night life teems with world-class galleries, an internationally-renowned Pittsburgh Symphony, and everything in between: an evening with a contemporary dance troupe, opera, free outdoor jazz concerts, an art opening by a local painter, or the latest play at a homegrown theater such as Bricolage Theater Company or barebones productions.  There’s good reason why Pittsburgh was named tops in its size for arts and cultural  attractions by American Style magazine.

Monthly Gallery Crawls turn downtown into an arts playground, attracting thousands to tour both local and international art venues such as Wood Street Galleries, SPACE Gallery, and 707 Gallery.   Find film festivals, indie or foreign films at the Harris Theater on Liberty Avenue, one of Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ showcases.  In June downtown is transformed by Three Rivers Arts Festival, with free outdoor concerts, an artists marketplace, rows of food booths, and visual and performing arts exhibits.

In 2009, Pittsburgh will boast the new, modern August Wilson Center for African American Culture.  And, with the construction of the Northshore Connector, the under-river tunnel for the T, you will be able to scoot across to the Northside.

With multiple arts and cultural offerings every night, visitors can take their pick.  Check out Pop Filter every week for Pop City recommendations.

Wine and Dine
Theater goers can choose from a range of pre-show grazing at restaurants such as Palomino in Four Gateway Plaza, Italian at Palazzo Ristorante or Bravo Franco, rooftop dining at Six Penn Kitchen, Tambellini Seventh Street Restaurant, Grille on Seventh, or upscale Portuguese Café Zao. For authentic, international dining, try Christo’s (Greek) or Lemongrass Café (Cambodian and Chinese), both on Sixth Street, or the lunch buffet at Sree’s (Indian) on Liberty and Smithfield.  A new Italian addition is Mia Cucina at 711 Penn and noteworthy French food may be found at Palate Bistro on Sixth, across from Heinz Hall.

Near the stunning convention center, the largest green convention center in the world, check out the popular Tonic Bar and Grill and Sonoma Grille for their contemporary American cuisine.  Near Eighth and Penn, sample tapas at an outdoor table at the Latin-hot Seviche, or walk to the corner at Nine on Nine (Ninth and Penn) to experience trendy cuisine or their intimate side-bar. Impress your clients: the business class networks over fine dining at the Carlton (One Mellon Center), Ruth’s Chris Steak House (PPG/Market Square), Capital Grille (Wood Street) or Morton’s (Cultural District), Cafe Euro (US Steel Bldg.), or seafood at McCormick and Schmick’s (Wood Street).

Lunch crowds have it made, with many get-it-and-go places.  Au Bon Pain opened two downtown locations, Breugger’s has three, and Moe’s Southwest Grill recently located on Forbes Avenue. On a fair day, the garage-style windows are open to Market Square--and the place is packed. Pizza and sandwich shops abound on both Wood and Smithfield streets, from Zorba’s to Quiznos. MixStirs serves the health-conscious in both Market Square and on Grant Street.   Deli food and to-go specialties are found at Rosebud, the boutique grocery in the Encore Building at 100 Seventh - this crisp designer market serves the growing crowd of downtown dwellers, with produce and other household necessities on the shelves.

Drinks, particularly the late-night variety, are found at Bossa Nova, Palomino, Olive or Twist.  The Cabaret at Theater Square combines it all: late night cabaret with drinks and dinner, all in one classy and fun venue. After your event at Mellon Arena, cross the street to the highly-regarded Steelhead Brasserie & Wine Bar for a late-night nip.

You can also find coffee on just about every corner, including the standard Starbuck’s – three within spitting distance of one another. The most popular, in the Omni William Penn, is in an inviting space that spills out into an opulent lobby with ample seating. It’s the business meeting spot downtown. Cool Beans Cafe and Crazy Mocha have  multiple locations throughout downtown. Nicholas Coffee Company in Market Square has a wide selection of coffee and teas at their new coffee bar, and Dunkin' Donuts recently joined Market Square’s revival.

If you are seeking a downtown gay bar, head to Liberty Avenue: Pegasus Lounge at 818 Liberty Avenue (downstairs), or down the street to the 941 Saloon or Images Bar (965 Liberty).

Parks and Shopping
In the summer, downtown’s clean streets and greenspaces are in full swing. While the Three Rivers Arts Festival takes downtown by storm in June, the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta celebrates the Fourth of July with spectacular boat displays, aquatic shows and races, including the Anything That Floats extravaganza.  Recently renovated Point State Park is the place to be for fireworks on the Fourth, or paddle upstream in a kayak and enjoy the sky display from the confluence.

During the warmer months, Market Square is a great spot for people- watching from an outdoor cafés nestled around this cobblestone square. Visitors can settle in with coffee from long-time favorite Nicholas Coffee Company or command a monster sandwich in true Pittsburgh style from Primanti Brothers.  For a bit of history, order a fish sandwich at the legendary Original  Oyster or enjoy the historic ambience at the 1902 Landmark Tavern.  As the sun sets, sip a happy-hour fruit martini at Buon Giorgno.  Market Square also offers lunchtime action at their summer concert series and the Farmers Market, in Market Square every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Happily, Market Square has seen some recent upgrades: cleaner streets, fewer noisy buses, and shade trees and beautiful plantings by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to soften the cityscape of both Market Square and the adjacent PPG Plaza.  

PPG Plaza, named for the glass-clad towers designed by Philip Johnson, is the corporate headquarters for PPG Industries aka Pittsburgh Plate Glass. In PPG itself are a range of first and second floor retailers such as Serendipity Accessories Boutique, and the PPG Wintergarden hosts rotating exhibits.  A granite obelisk marks the PPG plaza center, which sports fair-weather outdoor seating, a fountain, and food vending. Come winter, this plaza becomes a fabulous outdoor skating rink larger than New York’s Rockefeller Plaza rink.  

Mellon Square in between Smithfield and William Penn Way offers a sweet green oasis with public art and ample seating. It's in the midst of the centrally-located shopping stretch along Smithfield Street with Brooks Brothers, Joseph Banks, Saks Fifth Avenue, Burlington Coat Factory, and Macy’s, along with the wonderfully old-fashioned toy store, SW Randall’s Toyes and Giftes.

Upscale retail and clothiers plus a food court are found in the Shops at One Oxford Centre, in the postmodern tower at the corner of Grant and Fourth. At Fifth Avenue Place, a skyscraper at the corner of Fifth and Liberty, boutique and clothing stores await along with a busy food court.  Further down Liberty Avenue, check out Chick Downtown for the absolute latest in women’s apparel, and Specialty Luggage for a good selection plus custom-made bags. Joseph Orlando, a men's store, is also on Liberty while Larrimor's, just rated Gold Standard in the September '08 issue of Esquire, is also a popular stop in the Union Trust Building for the fashion-savvy guy.

Where to stay
Arriving by car is simple with major roads in four directions. Arrive by plane and you will land in one of the world’s top airports with a short 20-minute cab ride to downtown and a world-class view as you exit the Ft. Pitt tunnel. And by train, a quick walk from the Amtrak Station and you’re in the heart of the business district. Clean, safe, ADA –accessible buses and light rail provide all the transportation you need and inexpensive parking garages are plentiful.  Pittsburgh’s compact downtown is most easily explored on foot.

For hotel accommodations, old elegance meets Starbuck’s at the Omni William Penn, located in the business district. A long-time favorite, this hotel includes a tap room, bagel shop, full restaurant, spa, and high tea in the gilded Terrace Room. Other business district hotels include the newly refurbished Doubletree and the Marriott. The beautifully renovated Renaissance Hotel, with an in-house wine bar, is centrally located to PNC Park and the Cultural District. There’s also the Westin on 10th Street and the new Courtyard by Marriott in a renovated building on Penn Avenue, both adjacent to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Visit for the day, a weekend or more. With so many attractions in such a unique setting, Downtown Pittsburgh is a great place to be. For more info about Downtown visit the soon to be updated Pop City:
- Moving Guide
- Investing Guide


Bicycles copyright Tracy Certo
Other photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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