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North Hills Monthly

A Staycation Doesn’t Have to Mean Staying at Home

Jun 30, 2018 11:45AM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

Paddle boarding with SurfSUP

By Kathleen Ganster

There are many reasons to choose a staycation—to save money, to get to know your own hometown or as an opportunity to entertain out-of-town guests. According to many locals, the Greater Pittsburgh area is a great place to explore. 

Shawn Betts and her husband, Ken, plan on staying close to home in West Deer Township for a variety of reasons. “We are saving up for my big 50th birthday—a trip to Hawaii next year,” she said. 

While the Betts also plan on catching up on some projects around the house, it isn’t only practical reasons keeping them in town. “We have some date nights planned, including Pirates’ games, a Just Ducky Tour, Kennywood and checking out all of the community days and carnivals in and around the city,” Betts said.

There are plenty of festivals, community days and carnivals to be had: the next few months will include the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, Picklesburgh, EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, and the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, among others.

VisitPittsburgh, the official tourism promotion agency for Allegheny County, is dedicated to showcasing the area for leisure and business travelers. One feature that they tout is the over 90 local city neighborhoods. Taking advantage of the unique neighborhoods may involve participating in events such as Bloomfield Little Italy Days, the annual Arts Festival in Shadyside or a tour through Deutschtown. 

Jackie Harper of Forest Hills often stays in town with her husband, exploring local roads and venues in their antique Corvette. As a local tour guide, she loves giving advice and recommendations. 

“I do love the Duquesne Incline, of course. Phipps Conservatory is a must. Heinz Chapel a definite. Of course, the Cathedral of Learning and the museums,” she enthused. “West End Overlook is de rigueur, and a food tour of one of our neighborhoods is a great way to get just a bit more intimate with the city.” Harper provides tours through various local organizations including Rivers of Steel, the Duquesne Incline and Burgh Bits and Bites. 

For those looking for resources, Harper suggests chatting with locals. “Talking to the wonderfully friendly people at any of the attractions you might visit will provide heaps of ideas,” she said. “When I'm at the incline, where a lot of out-of-towers are apt to show up, I'm constantly chatting with folks giving advice, directions and recommendations.”

Food tours are fun, as is visiting other unique food spots, such as Smallman Galley and Federal Galley, two incubators for local chefs; Apteka, which is known for its vegan pierogis; the famous Primanti Brothers; the new Food Truck Park in Millvale, or one of the many craft breweries or distilleries. 

While it might be easy to overlook the well-known spots like the Duquesne Incline, there are often aspects that locals may not know or see. For example, groups of 10 or more at the Incline can have a free, behind-the-scenes tour by a well-trained guide like Harper. 

Other sights that might seem obvious but are often overlooked include these suggested by the VisitPittsburgh staff: a PNC Park tour combined with a baseball game; crafts at Contemporary Craft; blowing glass at the Pittsburgh Glass Center; bowling at Arsenal Lanes in Lawrenceville; and visiting world-class museums including the Warhol and Mattress Factory, as well as some lesser-known sites such as the Bayernhof Museum or the Rachel Carson Homestead. The over-21 crowd can also take part in the Carnegie Science Center’s 21+ nights held each month.  

Culture buffs also have it made for a Pittsburgh staycation. 

“I'm a Cultural District maven myself, attending the symphony, ballet, theater, and CLO, all sans husband, who is only game for performances at Christmastime,” said Harper. “Pittsburgh makes it easy to do this alone.  I feel perfectly safe driving into town, parking, taking myself to dinner and enjoying the performance of the evening—people-watching with a glass of wine at intermission.”

For the more active, staycation activities can include hiking along the thousands of trails in the parks, biking the Great Allegheny Passage, or climbing one of the more than 700 sets of neighborhood stairs. There are many opportunities to try a new sport such as kayaking on North Park Lake with a boat from Venture Outdoors (located onsite at North Park) or embarking on a paddleboard eco-tour.

“Our two most popular eco-tours are Moraine State Park or Allegheny Island—what I call the Island of Oakmont,” Ian Smith, owner of SurfSUP Adventures, said. A Natrona Heights resident himself, Smith enjoys paddle boarding on the local lakes and rivers in addition to participating in organized tours. SurfSUP also offers whitewater paddle boarding and river surfing. 

“We provide all the equipment and the tours include a lesson, so they are good for any skill level,” Smith said.