While the city of Pittsburgh is technically a collection of 91 distinct neighborhoods spread out over 55 square miles, most areas of interest can be found close to Downtown and the East End.
Pittsburgh’s Downtown, also known as the Golden Triangle, essentially acts as one large financial district. Efforts to persuade city dwellers to live here have largely failed, which is why the area becomes devoid of almost all activity outside of the normal nine-to-five business hours. Recently, however, the local arts community has had a substantial impact in Downtown; installation and visual art galleries are opening at a surprisingly rapid clip. The area’s Cultural District, which offers Broadway-style entertainment and the occasional concert, is also a draw. Aside from the grandeur of Point State Park, however, Downtown is essentially utilitarian; this is where you’ll find the bus and train stations, and probably your hotel.
Pittsburgh’s international district begins on the northeastern border of Downtown, just south of the Allegheny River on 11th Street, and runs all the way to 33rd Street, where Lawrenceville begins. The Strip, an industrial area filled with warehouses and loft buildings, plays two separate but important roles in the life of the city. During the day, the area is visited largely for its produce dealers, ethnic restaurants, and Asian grocery stores. But once night falls, clubgoers fill the district’s bars and dance clubs in full force. Saturday morning is the time to see the Strip at its best.
Sometimes referred to as Pennsylvania’s third-largest “Downtown,” Oakland is the city’s main East End neighborhood and home to numerous institutions of higher learning, including Carnegie Mellon University (www.cmu.edu ) and the University of Pittsburgh (www.pitt.edu ). Oakland acts as the city’s cultural nucleus, and, like most university districts, it boasts a bounty of ethnic restaurants and cafés, as well as plenty of places for outdoor rest and relaxation. Oakland’s main commercial arteries are the parallel Forbes and 5th Avenues, but for a quainter shopping experience, try Craig Street, which intersects Forbes and 5th Avenues near the art museum.
The South Side, one of Pittsburgh’s most eclectic and interesting areas, stretches along the Monongahela River from Station Square (Carson St. at the Smithfield Street Bridge, www.stationsquare.com ) to SouthSide Works (445 S. 27th St., 412/481-8800, www.southsideworks.com ), a former steel mill turned shopping mall. The area known as the South Side Flats is where most visitors find themselves; East Carson Street, also known as the country’s longest uninterrupted stretch of bars, runs the length of the district. Vintage clothing stores, antique shops, art galleries, and ethnic eateries can all be found on East Carson Street. South Side Slopes (www.southsideslopes.org )—a steep hill, really, rises south of East Carson Street and offers some of the city’s best views.
Sitting atop the city’s South Side and generally known as Pittsburgh’s most tourist-friendly neighborhood, Mount Washington exists in the mind of the average Pittsburgher for two reasons only: the breathtaking views along Grandview Avenue, which every visitor to the city should see, and the expensive eateries of Restaurant Row, which are technically located in the little-known district of Duquesne Heights.
Lying just across the Allegheny River from Downtown, the North Side was originally an independent city known as Allegheny; it was annexed to the City of Pittsburgh in 1907. The North Side is where you’ll find the decidedly upscale Mexican War Streets (412/323-9030, www.mexicanwarstreets.org ), as well as the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St., 412/237-8300, www.warhol.org ) and the world-class Mattress Factory museum (500 Sampsonia Way, 412/231-3169, www.mattress.org ). Sports fans will find the Pirates and Steelers battling it out on their respective fields here. A word of warning: Much of the area north of the Andy Warhol Museum shouldn’t be explored after dark.
Often called Pittsburgh’s Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, Shadyside, just east of Oakland, is now one of the city’s most prestigious and image-conscious neighborhoods. Walnut Street forms the area’s commercial core; here you’ll find both big-name and boutique shopping and a near-steady stream of pedestrian traffic. Running parallel to Walnut Street is Ellsworth Avenue, where most of Shadyside’s better bars and restaurants can be found. Shadyside residents tend to be liberal, affluent, and arts-minded; the area is also known as being particularly queer-friendly.
Squirrel Hill has one of the largest Jewish communities in the mid-Atlantic region. The neighborhood begins at the eastern end of Carnegie Mellon University (www.cmu.edu ) and is sandwiched comfortably between Schenley Park and Frick Park. Its two major thoroughfares, Forbes Avenue and Murray Avenue, offer grocers, movie theaters, synagogues, and kosher eateries.
On the opposite side of Frick Park, Point Breeze and the small district of Regent Square are Squirrel Hill’s somewhat upscale neighbors to the east. Although largely residential, both areas have decent-sized commercial strips. Simply explore the length of Penn Avenue in between 5th and Braddock Avenues to see what Point Breeze has to offer. In Regent Square, South Braddock Avenue is the main drag.
Also known as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, the East End neighborhood of Bloomfield took its name from the flowers that once grew wild in the area. Today, Bloomfield is both a tightly knit residential community as well as a popular shopping district where parking meters are hand-painted to resemble the Italian flag. Liberty Avenue, the neighborhood’s heart and soul, is home to a charming medley of boutiques, cafés, grocery stores, and restaurants.
Lawrenceville, one of Pittsburgh’s largest neighborhoods, stretches along the river from the Strip District to Morningside. The neighborhood is still largely working class, although a recent influx of gay and lesbian residents, art galleries, and boutiques along the main drag of Butler Street has been raising Lawrenceville’s profile considerably.