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North Hills Monthly

From Jimmy Stewart to Holiday Shopping: Great Escapes Close to Home

Oct 29, 2020 07:51PM ● By Terri Marshall

Indiana County

Let’s face it: 2020 has upended life as we know it. With many of us working remotely, parents doubling as teachers and uncertainty around every bend, the need to escape has never been greater. 

Unfortunately, our escape options remain limited. With many international destinations closed to Americans and continuously evolving quarantine requirements across the country, staying close to home has emerged as one of the top travel trends this year. Fortunately, there are plenty of unique experiences right in our own backyards. These destinations will give you that much-needed change of scenery while keeping you close to home. 

Laurel Highlands Delivers Fresh Air & a Pour Tour

Spanning 3,000 square miles across Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, the Laurel Highlands offers an escape into nature. Breathe in the fresh air as you bike along the Great Allegheny Passage. Hike through the colorful fall foliage in one of the area’s eight state parks. Or, if meandering along backroads makes you happy, explore Somerset County where 10 picturesque covered bridges dot the bucolic landscape. 

For those of us who miss collecting passport stamps, the Laurel Highlands Port Tour Part 2.0 lends a hand. This passport-based, self-guided tour takes you through local breweries, wineries, distilleries and even a meadery. Imbibe in the flavorful spirits of southwestern Pennsylvania, get to know the stories of the people behind these tasty beverages and collect those coveted passport stamps along the way. When you’re done, cash in your sticker collection for must-have Laurel Highlands Pour Tour collectibles.

“An escape to the Laurel Highlands is ideal for anyone living in the North Hills area of Pittsburgh. We are a great destination to get away without having to go far away,” said Anna Weltz, director of Public Relations & Community Outreach for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “You’ll have the opportunity to explore, get some fresh air and make a new memory.”

It's a Wonderful Life in Indiana, PA

Located in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains just one hour east of Pittsburgh, life moves a little more slowly in Indiana, PA. This quaint small-town welcomes everyone with tree-lined streets, stately Victorian homes and mom-and-pop eateries. It’s the kind of town that celebrates its residents—especially hometown hero, Jimmy Stewart. 

A life-sized statue of Stewart stands on the Indiana County Courthouse lawn. Throughout downtown, you’ll find many of the places important to his childhood, including his elementary school, the steps of his first home and the Stewart family’s church. Don’t be surprised to hear Stewart’s voice at the downtown crosswalks where he welcomes you to town through recorded messages timed to play when the “walk” signal flashes. To delve deeper, visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. You’ll learn all kinds of fun facts to dazzle your friends and family while watching the museum’s film, The Making of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Speaking of a wonderful life, there’s no better event to kick off the holiday season than Indiana’s It’s a Wonderful Life Festival in late November. Downtown IRMC Park will showcase a massive Christmas tree and Santa Claus will arrive on schedule (albeit behind plexiglass). The store windows of downtown shops will be decorated with holiday themes and everyone will be of good cheer.

While you’re in town, add the Mytrysak Family Tree Farm to your itinerary, where you can choose from over 10,000 trees to get your holiday home decorating started. Family fun weekends begin November 28-29 with tractor wagon rides, a kids’ corner, concessions and Santa. 

“Come for a stayover. Our hotels are following all of the CDC guidelines and offering great deals,” says Denise Liggett, executive director of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau. “An overnight stay gives you the opportunity to really embrace all the holiday spirit we have to offer.”

Shop Til You Drop in Mercer County

Once you’ve caught that holiday spirit, you’ll need to start your holiday shopping. A short, easy drive from Pittsburgh, the Grove City Premium Outlets in Mercer County deliver an open-air shopping experience with more than 120 of the hottest brand names stores including Coach, Kate Spade New York, J. Crew and North Face. From Nov. 2 through Dec. 30, the mall has instituted special holiday hours of 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. If you’re up for braving the Black Friday crowds (socially distanced and masked, of course) the Outlet opens at 6 a.m.  

Be sure to check out local stores, too. Opened in 1886, Reyers Shoe Store stocks more than 100,000 pairs of brand name shoes in hard-to-find sizes. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a stop at Daffin’s—one of the world’s largest candy stores and home to Chocolate Kingdom, where you’ll find a 400-pound chocolate turtle, a 125-pound chocolate reindeer and a 75-pound chocolate frog.

Crowned with turrets and filled with architectural treasures, the Richardsonian Romanesque style Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa in Sharon provides a luxurious retreat for relaxation at the end of a busy shopping day.

“Start a new tradition and visit Mercer County for the holiday season,” says Carmen J. Aiello II, vice president of marketing  for VisitMercerCountyPA. “For a complete list of shops, attractions, overnight accommodations, wineries and dining options in Mercer County, visit our website: www.visitmercercountypa.com.