Operating strictly on a shoestring budget? You’ve come to exactly the right city. Budget living is practically a religion in some quarters of Pittsburgh, where a night on the town can be enjoyed for as little as $20, and a day exploring the urban jungle can be had for almost nothing at all.
For budget sightseeing, Oakland is more or less your best bet. Take a free, self-guided tour of the Nationality Classrooms (412/624-6000) inside Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning (Corner of 5th Ave. and Bigelow Blvd.). After exploring Schenley Park, stroll the length of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on the North Shore, which has lately turned into something of an outdoor sculpture garden.
Other freebie sights abound, from the ruins of the historic Forbes Field on the University of Pittsburgh campus to the University Art Gallery in the Student Union. Off-campus, the lovely and peaceful Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve is perfect for hiking or birdwatching; the August Wilson Center for African American Culture offers a wide-ranging schedule of educational and performance programs throughout the city; and the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden has a large collection of plants meant to recreate the experience of a stroll through the Holy Land.
Due to its dead-broke student population, Oakland is replete with restaurants serving half-priced food after 11 p.m. Try Fuel and Fuddle for American pub-grub, or Mad Mex for huge and toothsome burritos. Sree’s Indian Food (in Squirrel Hill, Downtown, and on the CMU campus) serves up massive $4–5 plates of authentic Indian food.
You know what they say about pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s still good. Bloomfield’s Pizza Italia (4512 Liberty Ave.), however, serves a surprisingly toothsome pie for less than $7, tax included (large, cheese only). It’s takeout only, but trust me: It’s worth it.
Pittsburgh simply abounds with cheap nightlife options and great dive bars; some of the most popular include Gooski’s (3117 Brereton St., 412/681-1658) on Polish Hill, the South Side’s Dee’s Café (1316 E. Carson St., 412/431-1314), and Jack’s Bar (1117 E. Carson St., 412/431-3644). On Thursdays, the budget beer crowd heads to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (4412 Liberty Ave., 412/682-8611) in Bloomfield for Dollar Night, when a wide selection of obscure imports and microbrews go for just $1.10.
Some South Side taverns even offer live music for nothing more than the cost of a cheap pint. At The Smiling Moose (1306 E. Carson St., 412/431-4668), vicious punk and metal bands whip the small pub into a frenzy every weekend (and occasionally on weekdays). Down the street at Piper’s Pub (1828 E. Carson St., 412/381-3977), traditional Irish duos or trios can be found tucked into the bar’s front corner most weekends.
If you’d prefer to mix with the college crowd, head to Peter’s Pub (116 Oakland Ave., 412/681-7465) in Oakland, where a deejay, a dance floor—and, if you’re lucky, a swarm of comely youngsters—can be found upstairs. There’s no cover charge.
For shoestring-budget souvenir shopping, make the scene on Penn Avenue in the Strip District, where everything from fake Steelers T-shirts to Peruvian finger puppets are for sale. Try to go on a Saturday morning, when the sidewalks are jam-packed with vendors.
During the summer season, free movies are screened outdoors in seven different parks, including Schenley Park in Oakland, Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville, and Grandview Park in Mount Washington. For movie listings and times, check Cinema in the Park (412/422-6426).
The most obvious free recreation activity in Pittsburgh—and probably the most popular—would have to be walking, jogging, or just generally goofing around in one of the many city parks. Yet slightly more arresting activities can be experienced for just a small amount of cash.
Kayak Pittsburgh (412/969-9090), for instance, offers a fantastic way to experience the city from a duck’s-eye view, assuming you’re willing to part with $15 or so. Canoes, kayaks, and even hydrobikes can be rented by the hour. Grab a Venture Outdoors newsletter while you’re there; the organization sponsors all manner of unusual outdoor activities and classes throughout the year.
To tour Pittsburgh via bicycle, visit Friends of the Riverfront (33 Terminal Way, off E. Carson St., 412/488-0212). There, you can sign up for the free Dasani Blue Bikes Program; trail riders can pedal the company’s bicycles gratis along the paths lining the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.
Excerpted from the First and Second Editions of Moon Pittsburgh.