I designed our walk of downtown to start at the Omni William Penn Hotel, where we were staying, but the necessity of pulling out of the parking lot there (and finding a less crowded one) got us off course. Nevertheless, these directions should work for anyone else. Take the subway to the Steel Plaza stop, and then take the Grant Street exit from US Steel Tower.
Across the street is the Omni William Penn Hotel, a historic landmark. Go inside and see the elegant lobby. If you already need refreshment, have a drink in the bar while you people-watch through the window. Or you can sit on the lobby balcony and have a great dessert from the restaurant. When you exit the building, turn right on Grant Street, but not before you look up at the top of the next building. I’m not sure what it is, but it is incredibly ornate with an elaborate filigree overlay—a Gilded Age building, no doubt.
Proceed several blocks on Grant, and take time to walk all around the Allegheny
Courthouse and Jail built by H. H. Richardson and exemplifying his Richardsonian
Romanesque style. Be sure to get a photo of his replica of the Venetian Bridge of Sighs.
Then turn right on Fourth Avenue and walk to Smithfield Street to see Kaufmann’s
Department Store and the Kaufmann clock, a cherished local landmark and a scene of yesteryear that you’ll find reproduced with watercolors in city galleries.
After another block on Fourth, turn right onto Wood and then left onto Forbes to find
Market Square, and if you need a bite here, try one of Primanti Brothers' Italian-meats sandwiches ($5), the ones with the fries and the coleslaw on the bread. Other choices abound, such as The Oyster House (since 1870) and Landmark (or "1902")
You may find a stage set up in the center of the square and perhaps a large crowd, like the one I found wearin’ the green near St. Patrick’s Day. If you don’t like being squashed, come back later. The square is frequently quiet and always quaint with its brick-and-gaslight look.
From Market Square, walk toward the glass tower for a glimpse of PPG Place. Find PPG
Wintergarden to see if there is a display inside, and then sit a while at a table (in warm weather) and watch kids playing in the fountain or skating on the ice rink. This is a good place to start reading blue landmark signs shaped like this one.
You’ll find landmarks for "the first this" and "the oldest that" if you stop for those blue-and-gold signs. Some of them pertain to early steelworkers' unionizing efforts.
A short walk west on Fifth will take you to Liberty Avenue. Turn left and walk all the way to Gateway Center Visitors’ Information booth on your left. If you don’t need to stop here, then note the subway stop and continue walking all the way to Fort Pitt Bridge and follow the signs to the right of the bridge to Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park. Take a look at the excavation of old Fort Pitt, and see the Blockhouse, oldest house in Allegheny County, even if you don’t want to tour the Museum. Then follow the path to the river, and look left and right to get your bearings--so many rivers can be confusing!
You’ll see two inclines across the Monongahela to your left. (For those, take the subway
to Station Square some other time.) Turn right and walk along the quay up the Allegheny River. You’ll see Heinz Stadium and Carnegie Science Center across the water on the Northside. (Yes, that’s a submarine docked there on the Ohio River! You can tour it when you go to the Science Center.)
When you see steps up, take them and follow the walk back to the Hilton. We’ll skip
Liberty Avenue for now, since you will walk the rest of it many times in your jaunts around the Golden Triangle. For now, walk past the Hilton on Liberty, and looking straight ahead, you’ll see Fifth Avenue Place straddling the street. Go around it to the left to get on Penn Avenue, and walk up Penn all the way to Tenth Street.
This will take you through the Cultural District, starting on Sixth Street, and if you look right and left down all the side streets and on Penn, you’ll see all the theaters: Heinz Hall (symphony), the Byham (musicals), the Pittsburgh Public (O’Reilly--plays), Benedum Center (opera), and a few smaller ones. Look for the Byham and the Renaissance Hotel to your left down Sixth St; Heinz Hall will be on your right. These are all restored landmarks that deserve a visit, even a tour. That bridge at the end of Sixth Street (left) is the Roberto Clemente Bridge, and the Seventh Street Bridge is also an interesting one. These will take you to the Northside (just for future reference.)
Before you get to Seventh Street, you’ll see the O’Reilly, a new state-of-the-art theater on your left with the Box Office at Theater Square just another door further along Penn. At Seventh, look right for the Benedum (the opera theater) and left for Katz Plaza, where you may be able to enjoy an outdoor lunchtime concert. Take a look at the lobby of the Benedum, another multi-million-dollar renovation project, and note the blue-and-gold sign across from it on Seventh Street, where The Pittsburgh Agreement was signed declaring the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. After all that, rest a while at Katz Plaza. These seats have got to be comfortable as a beanbag!
Yes, they recall a theme of television Evening News: "The eyes of Pittsburgh are upon you!" The 25-foot bronze fountain makes a restful sound as water trickles down it step-by-step.
You have only three more blocks on Penn. You’ll note details of buildings that have been restored, and you may want to return at night to see the new lighting project for the Cultural District along Penn. At tenth, the Convention Center will be on your left and the Westin Hotel on your right. (If you walked toward the Convention Center, you would see the Heinz Regional History Center to the right on Smallman Street, but you can just remember that and turn right instead and walk to Liberty.) A left onto Liberty and a right onto Grant will take you back to your subway stop at Steel Plaza, but note the Fishmarket Restaurant behind the Westin and the Amtrak Station across the Street. Inside, the station itself isn’t much of an architectural gem, but the upper floors house swank residential units in a landmark setting.
Not tired yet? You can always turn right on Liberty and walk down to Wood Street to another subway stop or proceed to the Gateway Center stop you passed on your way to Point State Park. Down that way is the restored Harris Theater, where you’ll find a foreign or art film that may be hard to see if you live in a small town. A few small bare-bones theaters and exhibition galleries are also along the way.
Take along a map. To find a simple one that includes many downtown landmarks, click
You’ll find downtown Pittsburgh a joy to walk. At night, you won’t see much neon, and in spite of its modern infrastructure, much of the city appears to be frozen in time at about the turn of the last century or a little later. Trolleys have been replaced by a very clean subway, and arts organizations have stuffed every nook and cranny with interesting details.