I'm getting ready to head to Pittsburgh at the end of the month and have started planning my trip with my Mom - which reminded me - I still haven't shared my LAST trip from Pittsburgh in June 2017.
My husband and I spent the day in Pittsburgh, leading up to the Tom Petty concert. Unknowingly, that was the last time we would ever see Tom. Thinking of that makes me sad, but I don't want to be sad about it because that day was INCREDIBLE!
We spent a lot of time exploring museums and exhibitions - taking in as many cultural things as we could and we ate many tasty things along the way. Take a look at our AWESOME trip below!
I grew up in Wheeling, WV, which [contrary to what this Google Maps image says] is 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh - so I've been to Pittsburgh A LOT. Many of my field trips growing up were in Pittsburgh. Later on, I started shopping in Pittsburgh malls [Hello Robinson Mall and no sales tax] and going to concerts at Post Gazette Pavilion [the first place I saw Tom Petty play - I've also seen Journey there.]
BUT I hadn't spent A TON of time in Pittsburgh as an adult other than a few trips during college break visits [Club Zoo anyone? haha] - so when Carl and I were getting ready to go to the Tom Petty concert, we decided to spend the entire day exploring [outside of The Strip and outside of going to Primanti's - which is where everyone goes. It IS cool, but I've been there SO many times - it was beyond time to branch out.]
Pittsburgh is truly one of my favorite cities in the world. It has EVERYTHING. The Arts, Culture, History, Unique Neighborhoods, Museums, Galleries, Shows, Concerts, Food, Drinks, Nightlife, an Amusement Park, Great Sports & it's on the water! If it wasn't so cold there in the winter, I probably would have wanted to move there after college and actually, one of the reasons I love Charlotte so much is because it reminds me of Pittsburgh, just a smaller, less historical version of it in the South.
We started the day in the Mexican War Streets area at The Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum and experimental lab. It cost more than I expected [$20/person] but it was totally worth it! The museum itself is split into three different buildings and has an incredible permanent collection!
My favorites were the mirrored rooms by Yayoi Kusama, the James Turrell pieces and the craziest exhibition I've ever experienced by Dennis Maher [more on that later.] Kusama's piece was just a black box on the outside. You had to put on shoe protector slippers you see doctors wearing and then, you opened the door to see THIS.
When we went in, there was another couple in there and they left pretty much as soon as we came in which is why I don't think they saw the next part. Those mirrored walls weren't all walls - there was a set of hidden doors that led to another room that looked like THIS.
Carl and I spent quite some time in this last room [and got a little silly with the pictures.] It was just such a surreal experience. I'm not always good about reading the information or description by the artist, I really wish I had for this piece because I really liked it. [I go back and forth with that...should I read it to know the artist's intent...or should I not read it as to not have their intent placed on me, altering my experience of their piece?]
One of the annex's for the museum is the craziest thing I've ever seen. It's three stories of intricately displayed doll houses and bird cages and architectural salvage pieces. The first floor started off very magical and whimsical completely cluttered with toys, wooden bobbles, gadgets & gizmos a plenty and more that you climbed over and around and ducked underneath.
But, with each floor it started getting creepier [because there was also an eery, etherial soundtrack playing and video projections] and I felt like I was inside of a serial killer's weird obsessive lair - it felt very A like. Even with that said, it was one of the best exhibits I've ever seen and I don't think I'll ever forget it. You can see a bit of it here, but these pictures don't do it ANY justice.
Next we headed to Randyland, [which is artist Randy Gilson's home & backyard] just down the street from the annex at The Mattress Factory. I had never heard of this place before, but apparently it is a Pittsburgh landmark. Again - one of the craziest, coolest and quirkiest places I've ever been. I'm a Minimalist and I definitely appreciate Minimal design but I also REALLY love whacky & eclectic. It's just SO FUN!
As soon as we got there, we met Randy and he was so nice and friendly and welcomed us in immediately, asking us where we were visiting from. Everywhere you looked there was something bright and colorful and magical.
One of the Penguins was there filming a commercial for a local children's hospital, so we didn't stay long because we didn't want to be in the way - but it was SO cool and I highly recommend visiting!
We had multiple lunch and coffee spots on our list, but hadn't quite decided on where to go. When we saw that Commonplace Coffee was just down the street we decided to go there AND Franktuary's food truck was parked outside - which was one of the restaurants on our list - so it saved us a trip!
I ordered the DownUnder [New Zealand grass fed beef] NY style with spicy mustard and sauerkraut from Franktuary and an iced chai latte from Commonplace. Both were SO good!
Whenever I travel I like to look up organizations or cultural centers that are championing the arts & education in some way - probably because I'm passionate about both topics and probably because my dream is to start a school - so it's kind of like a research project for me.
City of Asylum was one of the places I found that was doing just that! Take a look at what they have written on their about page...
After lunch & coffee we made our way to what I thought were the City of Asylum houses. We parked our car along the Allegheny Commons Park West and walked up W North Avenue and landed in their headquarters somewhat confused. A woman there directed us back to exactly where we had just come from!
The artist residency houses are literally right next door to the main building for The Mattress Factory but in the opposite direction of the annex, so we didn't walk by them earlier in the day and completely missed them!
[They're all relatively close but if you've never driven in Pittsburgh it's kind of a difficult city to drive / park in. The streets are very dense and can get very narrow. There are a lot of one way streets and parallel parking for days. Between all of that and walking back and forth from the car, this little trek set us back about 30-40 minutes - but it was a nice walk and we took a bunch of pictures of the buildings on that street - so it was worth it.]
So, if you want to go to the headquarters / book store - that is on W North Avenue, BUT if you want to see the residency houses, they are on Sampsonia Way right next door to The Mattress Factory.
House Poem by writer Huang Xiang was the main house that I wanted to see. Huang's work was completely repressed in China, so when he came to Pittsburgh and joined the program he celebrated his freedom by literally painting his work on his house.
His story is SO inspiring to me! Oftentimes people can be too scared to be an artist, too scared to express themselves or explore the artist within for fear of what people might say, but there are places in this world where people hide their art for fear of being jailed or worse. It makes me sad, but it also makes me incredibly grateful to be in this country and to have the freedom of expression that I have.
For that reason alone - if not for yourself - share your art on behalf of those who can't.
Before heading off to some Pittsburgh parks, we made a pitstop at The Children's Museum to see a bit of Paula Scher's work. The woman is a design legend and after watching her feature episode on Netflix's Abstract and learning that she had quite a bit of work in Pittsburgh, I knew I had to see at least one!
I didn't need to go inside or anything - I just wanted to spend a few minutes admiring the signage she had designed for them. So I pulled over on the side of the road, put my hazards on and walked to the entrance of the museum to take in the signage and snap some photos. [Don't worry - Carl was in the car in case we needed to move it.]
When you're a designer, the things on your To-See list can be some not-so-typical "tourist" attractions - but I love hunting down these treasures. Design plays such a HUGE part in our daily lives but you often don't notice it unless it's doing something wrong, which is why I like to give great design the attention it deserves - even if only for a few minutes.
If you haven't heard of Paula, I highly recommend watching her episode of Abstract - she's been working in design and art for decades! I especially love her early album art covers and the giant maps that she paints!
Carl is a BIG baseball fan so I wanted him to at least see PNC Park. We parked near it and then walked down to the North Shore Riverfront Park to see The Water Steps - a really cool water sculpture!
It was a nice summer day so there were a lot of Moms & kids playing in the fountain. I always feel a little out of place when I stumble into these situations. We don't have kids yet, but I still have a little kid in me and LOVE doing little kid things like playing in water fountains, roller skating, trampolining, playing with interactive exhibits, swinging, ball pits, bouncy houses, etc. but feel weird partaking in these activities in front of adults.
That's one of the things I'm looking forward to when we have kids - being able to participate in these activities without judging eyes...but I digress.
After walking through the fountain barefoot, we rented some bikes to ride into Point State Park. The bike rental process was a bit of a snafu at first, but we figured it out and were on our way. Pittsburgh has A LOT of parks and trails and bike paths and they even have kayaking and boat tours! We didn't kayak that day, but it's on my bucket list for sure!
We rode our bikes across the bridge and over into the park making our way to the famous fountain and The Point where the three rivers converge. The Monongahela & The Allegheny merge to form The Ohio River which then goes on to form the Western border of West Virginia where Wheeling is directly on the river and in my Mom's backyard.
We made our way back, carefully avoiding the edge of the path and falling into the river [I seriously thought that was going to happen a couple of times...] At this point it was around 4PM and there was a Pirates game at 7PM but the traffic around PNC Park was already getting really crazy!
Next we headed to Sharpsburg, a little town just north of Pittsburgh that I had never been to, to visit Dancing Gnome Brewery. We came for the name but stayed for the beer. The place was really cute, had beautiful branding and the beer was really good!
I don't remember what we got but they were so good we each had two. After a while, we decided to start heading Downtown to find some parking and grab some food before the concert.
Again, we had a lot of places on our food list, but after parking the car at PPG Paints Arena, we just wanted to walk and find something that wouldn't cost us an arm and a leg. We were starving at this point but also being picky so we walked for quite some time before running into some locals that were carrying some delicious looking burgers.
They directed us to BRGR where the burgers did NOT disappoint. [This was obviously pre-transitioning to veganism.] I also ordered some onion rings that were AMAZING. The portions were large so by the time we were done we were both SO stuffed!
At this point, we were running late to the concert so we hurried up and paid and made our way back to the arena. [If we had known how close tako was to us - we would have gone there since it was on our list.]
Joe Walsh opened up for Tom and was already playing as we made our way to our seats. He is obviously a legend, but every time he opened his mouth to talk we couldn't understand a single syllable he was saying! He would say something, the entire arena would erupt into laughter and Carl and I would look at each other completely confused over what he had just said. But when he sang - crystal clear - it was the strangest thing!
Then Tom came on.
Whenever Tom plays, I am the happiest version of me. Hearing him Live is like nothing else and attending his concerts is just the BEST. Tom Petty fans - and I don't mean people who just like his music - but TRUE Tom Petty fans who LOVE him AND his music are just the best people to be around!
They are SO happy, just dancing and singing and loving on each other and having an incredible time together - especially if it's outside! There's just something about being under the stars with a bunch of classic rock hippies listening to Tom LIVE that can never be recreated. In fact, one of the top moments of my life was when...well let me preface this with - I don't smoke - BUT... when I heard the first few notes of Even The Losers, I lit a cigarette and looked up at the moon so that I could literally be doing that as Tom sang, "and we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon."
Most meta moment of my life.
Anyway - back to THIS concert. Unfortunately, he didn't play my favorite song The Waiting, but he played so many amazing songs starting off with Rockin' Around with You and Wildflowers, You Got Lucky, Mary Jane's Last Dance, Learning to Fly, Yer So Bad, Refugee, You Wreck Me and finally ending with American Girl. I'm pretty sure that's the second time I've heard him close with American Girl.
I'm SO glad I promised myself that when Tom was touring I would see him. I broke that promise a couple of times in college when he was doing the Summer Festival Circuit and then toured in Europe, but I caught the last two tours. Every time I went to spend the $200+ on the tickets, something I had no business doing while we're working to pay off our debt, I cringed a little - but I've never regretted it!
Once the concert was over, it probably took us an hour just to get out of the parking lot, where I bought what my Mom would disappointedly call a "Hot T-Shirt" for $5! It looks practically identical to the tour shirts and it is my most favorite T-Shirt to sleep in - I will treasure it forever!
I'm just SO grateful Tom got to celebrate 40 years of making music and that I got to see him one last time - and in Pittsburgh of all places! I will love him forever!
So, there you have it - that was our 14 hour day [10Am - Midnight] in Pittsburgh! We did A LOT in a short amount of time, but that's because there's just SO much to do in Pittsburgh! I'm looking forward to many more trips in the future - with the first one coming up at the end of this month!
For that trip, I'm going with my Mom and we'll be revisiting Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens - a place I haven't been to in at least a decade. We'll also be focusing on healthy vegan places for food, drinks and snacks. I found THIS incredible website that lists out all of the vegan places in Pittsburgh and I'm incredibly envious and wish that one, we had this many places in Charlotte and two, that we had a website like this listing them out!
Anyway, I really enjoyed sharing this trip with you and can't wait to share the next! Have you been to Pittsburgh before? Where do you love to go? I'd love to know - share them below!
Love & Blessings,
The Strip [Mentioned]
Club Zoo [Mentioned - Closed now]
Kayak Rental [Mentioned]
PPG Paints Arena - Concerts