Did you book any Megabus tickets to Pittsburgh back when they went on sale in March? We got four tickets round-trip (for only $8.50!) and just got back from a family daytrip to Pittsburgh. Our bus left Columbus on Saturday at 8:55am and made it to Pittsburgh at 12:45pm. Not a bad ride. The bus ride was pleasant, despite being pretty full. It stopped once about half way through for about 20 minutes. It was nice not having to worry about watching the road and traffic. The free Wi-Fi and outlets on the bus is nice too. If you’ve never traveled to Pittsburgh by road, it is pretty impressive when you enter the Fort Pitt Tunnel and come out the other side to see the city with its gold bridges, rivers and tall buildings right in front of you. When we originally planned this trip, we just picked a date. So it was a nice surprise to find out that we picked a weekend when the Three Rivers Arts Festival was going on and when there would be a nice fireworks display.
Because we were only staying until Sunday at 3:30pm, we packed light (two backpacks and a diaper bag). Arriving at 1pm meant we had a couple of hours before we could check into the hotel. We had booked a hotel downtown about a week in advance using Priceline’s Name Your Own Price Feature. It took a couple of tries to get a bid accepted, but we did get a room at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel for only $109 a night. (Plus taxes and fees brought the price up to about $132). The hotel had a wonderful view of the city and the riverfront/baseball stadium. We were able to see the baseball stadium and watch most of the fireworks that were going off from a barge on the riverfront (and also some from the tops of buildings!) from our King-sized room on the 16th floor. Getting a travel crib for our 1 year old was not a problem. The hotel is undergoing renovations right now, with plans to add a pool. There was no free breakfast included nor was there a mini-fridge in the room. But for a basic room, right in the middle of downtown, with great views and free internet, it was a great price.
The Megabus lets you off at 10th Street and Penn Ave, underneath Pittsburgh’s Convention Center. The street cuts under the Convention Center, connecting the riverfront area and downtown. There is a pretty walkway the length of the street with a waterfall on each side. Quite a few adults and kids riding bikes and scooters along the path. Loud, cool, breezy and fun.
Our first order of business was finding a place to eat lunch. We had asked CU’ers a couple of months ago for some fun things to do in Pittsburgh and you guys provided some great food options! We walked along Penn Avenue to get to the Primanti Bros in the Strip District. It wasn’t too bad of a walk. With all of our gear and carrying two kids most of the time, it was a bit hot. The walk was somewhat shaded, went under some (active and very loud) train tracks, a few empty storefronts, then into the Strip District where there was quite a lot of activity. Most stores had stuff spilling out onto the sidewalks – some even extended over and covered the sidewalks. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday afternoon, but there were lots of people out.
Primanti Bros had a line. It moved pretty fast. The place is open 24 hours and is cash only. The inside reminded us of Plank’s Cafe on Parsons, or The Thurman Cafe. Lots of woodwork, older, lots of history. The menu was on the wall, sandwiches come with fries and coleslaw on them. A woman came around with a tray of baklava for $1 a piece, we took one and it was light and tasty. Smart idea because I’m sure we would not have been getting those after we ate the huge sandwiches! We ordered a colossal fish sandwich and the roast beef. Since the sandwiches are stuffed with fries and coleslaw, those two sandwiches were enough to feed all four of us. They are served on wax paper and the drinks came out in Styrofoam cups.
After lunch, we headed back downtown to check into the hotel. We walked over to the river to walk along the path. There were a few people biking and a couple of others walking, but we mostly had it to ourselves. They have a lot of activity on their river – people boating, kayaking, tour boats. The path was nice and mostly shaded. Once we got back downtown, the sun was out in full force and we needed to pop into a Starbucks to cool off and take a break.
Many of the streets through the areas we were walking are much narrower than in Columbus. [What do you think about our street width?] They were mostly only one lane each way plus one parking lane. It was nice. It felt a lot more accessible to pedestrians. There certainly were a lot of people out and it seemed that there were tents set up and roads closed for festivals in several areas.
We checked into the hotel at about 3:30pm. There was a line but it moved fast. Dumped off the two backpacks and rearranged our diaper bag and headed back out to walk around the Three River Arts Festival for a bit. It is a huge free festival, lasting from June 3 through the 12, with many of the cultural institutions participating and 280 artists from all over showcasing their works. Several artists from Columbus participated. Anne Holman was there with her jewelry designs and she also won a Juror’s Choice Award. Check out her beautiful booth and view of the festival as seen from the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown! [photos courtesy Anne Holman Jewelry Design]
We walked across the Fort Pitt Bridge to take a ride on the Duquesne Incline. For only being $4.50 round trip per adult (our kids were free since they are under five), it was a great excursion for us and our little train enthusiast. If we had been sans kids, there are several very romantic restaurants at the top of the incline to dine. The Duquesne buildings offer lots of historical information to read and the views of the city are amazing. We went at about 5:30 in the evening, but I’m sure the views would be equally stunning later in the evening when the city is all lit up. For people who are walking, the Duquesne Incline is a bit of a hike from downtown (about 35 minutes each way) and some of the sidewalk is missing the curbs, making it very close to the road.
After we walked back into downtown, we were ready to find a place for dinner. The Original Oyster House was a place that was also recommended so we headed there. It is located in Market Square area of downtown Pittsburgh that has recently had some renovations done. There is a large round plaza in the middle and there are quite a few tables and chairs for people to eat outside. The Original Oyster House is “Pittsburgh’s Oldest Bar and Restaurant.” It was also cash only, a little more trouble this time because this area suffers from the same problems as downtown Columbus – stores close early even though there are quite a few people around. The only ATMs were for PNC Bank, whose headquarters are right there and they were located in secure areas that took a little trouble to access. Anyway, cash was gotten and we went inside for dinner.
The Original Oyster House is a pretty small place, with a narrow bar along one side and tables and chairs along the other. They had a few tables outside, but it was hot and we wanted to sit inside to cool down. After waiting about ten minutes, we got a table and placed our orders. One Maryland Style Crabcake platter with green beans and onion rings ($7.80) plus a side of coleslaw ($1.30), one Chicken Tenders platter with green beans and fries ($5.90) and one Fish Boat with onion rings and fries ($7.50). The crabcakes were big and dense, and very good. Green beans were in a little cup with a butter sauce. Coleslaw was creamy and delicious. The fish with the Fish Boat was a little disappointing, seemed like it was fillets out of the freezer. The onion rings were tasty and looked like they were breaded in-house. Fries were a larger style and crisp. Even though the place was slammed and had only one waitress, she was attentive and nice. The place is all tile floors and walls and Miss America pageant photos decorated the walls. It was a fun place to eat dinner and had a nice vibe.
After dinner we spotted a large water feature in the middle of the PPG Place, so we headed over there. Our nearly four year old son loved it! There were quite a few other kids playing in the water and the water patterns were really fun to watch and went pretty high. He had quite a fun time. There are a couple of dinosaur sculptures in the plaza as well. We probably spent about 30 minutes there and then headed back to the hotel to settle in for the night. About 10pm, the fireworks show started (which was a surprise to us!) and lasted for about an hour. It was pretty spectacular and fun to watch from our room.
Our morning checkout time wasn’t until 12pm, so we decided to go get breakfast and then stop back by the hotel to pickup our bags before heading to the Carnegie Science Center. Pamela’s Diner looked like a great place to go, but we didn’t feel like trekking all of the way over to the Strip District again, so we turned to Google Maps to find some other options closeby. It wasn’t turning up much besides pricey hotel and fancy brunch spots, so we were heading to Dunkin Donuts. After a quick stop into CVS for supplies, we spotted a little diner called Cherries Diner that was serving breakfast (they recently started Sunday service). It looked busy so we popped in there for a more local experience. It was decent for the usual breakfast food. The special Cherry Bomb Pancake ($4.00) was a regular pancake folded over with a few canned pie filling cherries inside and whipped cream on it. Walker ordered an Early Bird Special ($5.50) with two eggs, sausage, home fries and a pancake. Added a slice of french toast ($2.00) which was a nice size and tasty. The place was packed the whole time. Staff was friendly, although seemed a bit overwhelmed since I ordered a side of bacon that I never received. But for $17 for all four of us, it was good. Then it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags, check out, and head to the Carnegie Science Center.
The walk to The Carnegie Science Center over the Fort Duquesne Bridge was more pleasant than the walk over the Fort Pitt Bridge. Fort Pitt Bridge was just a walkway next to the bridge while Fort Duquesne Bridge had a nicer, wider path next to it to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. After crossing the bridge, you can walk along a nice path next to the riverfront and it takes you past Del Monte’s buildings and Heinz Stadium. Admission to The Carnegie Science Center was free thanks to our COSI membership and the reciprocal membership benefits program. Otherwise, it would have been $17.95 per adult and $9.95 for children 3-12.
It’s a fun science center. There are four levels of places to explore. Currently they have a Miniature Railroad and Village model railroad set up that is really big and very detailed. It’s pretty cool and included some historical aspects of Pittsburgh like Luna Park. There is even a Thomas train zooming around in case you have a family member that loves Thomas. We also enjoyed the SeaScape and roboworld exhibits.
To get back downtown we walked past Heinz Stadium and past PNC Park where the Pirates play. There was a game going on so there was a lot of energy in the area. It did make me love how open Huntington Park is here – PNC Park’s field was only viewable from the entrance gates and then once you got on the bridge you could view the whole park. Which was a nice view, but it is neat how you can actually walk up and watch the game at Huntington Park. The 6th Street Bridge was closed for the game so it was pretty cool to walk around on it to get back to downtown.
We stopped in a little pizza place called Giovanni’s Pizza Pasta and ordered four slices of pepperoni and a side salad and three drinks ($21) for dine-in. It was really tasty pizza with a sweeter sauce and small round pepperonis. Slices were thinner and cut in triangles.
After lunch it was about time to get on board Megabus for our ride home. We got back over to the stop about 30 minutes early and there was a line. It was nice that the busstop is under the Convention Center in case of inclement weather, although there were no seats. However, the sidewalks were clean. The bus home was a double-decker and we were able to get seats together on the top level. It made the ride home feel especially neat because you can’t really view the road. The ceiling is also windows so you can view the sky. The bus also had a seating option on the first level with four seats facing each other with a table in between them.
Impressions: Pittsburgh was a fun city with lots going on and lots to do. Although it was pretty hot and sunny at times, there were quite a few parks located around the downtown area and they had seats. There were several water features to play in. They have a light rail line and a new section called the North Shore Connector Project is under construction, expected to be complete in Spring 2012. The buses are colorful. If we make it back when the kids are still small, we’ll probably take the time to figure out the bus system. The city feels accessible and fun. There are some empty storefronts and some parking lots, but it feels pretty dense and filled in. It was hard walking around in hot weather with backpacks and carrying young children. But it was fun and we’ll be back. Getting such low fares on Megabus was hard to beat (plus not worrying about driving and parking and paying for parking was great) and we’d like to go back to visit Fallingwater and some of the other museums. For a total spend of about $275 for four people, it was a great quick weekend getaway.