Get Away From It All... In the Square

Okay, we know that gas prices now are a real pain in the pump — especially with the summer travel season just around the corner. So if you canceled that family outing to the shore or cabin during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, we've got a budget-minded travel tip on a visit to one of the trendiest destinations around — Downtown Pittsburgh.

These days, just about any time you open a newspaper or magazine or turn on the TV or Internet, Pittsburgh is picking up another accolade, from the nation's most livable city to the safest place for pedestrians to get around town. And we couldn't agree more. Which is why we're posting a few ideas on how to plan a little Downtown Weekend Getaway — this weekend or any other.

Of course, we think every journey should start in this blog's favorite Downtown spot — Market Square. After you lace up those walking shoes, you might want to make a fast pit stop at Bruegger's Bagels or Dunkin Donuts to load up on the calories you'll need to burn as you discover the ins and outs of Downtown. And for some extra energy, stop by Nicholas Coffee and order one of their freshly brewed specialty java drinks. Now that your tank is full — at prices far below what OPEC charges — it's time to get this weekend jaunt on the road.

By now you know that the Square is the historic heart of the city.  While we're talking about history, there's no better way to explore many of the city's wonders than on a self-guided Pittsburgh History & Landmarks walking tour or the Art In Public Places walk, sponsored by the Office of Public Art. Whatever direction you take, you'll discover some of the oldest buildings and the coolest art you'll find outside of a museum. In the case of inclemnet weather, stop into the Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park. At only $5 you won't even miss the fuel perks!

With a chunk of art, architecture and history smarts under your belt, you might want to relax with a bit of a shopping spree. We suggest that you head back to where this all started, where you could spend nearly a whole day — and a little bit of cash — at the shops in and around the Square. From the oh-so-hip stylings at Serendipity to the well-heeled footware at the Nettleton Shop, the Square is fast becoming a shopper's oasis. For the coolest looks in sunglasses and other accessories, stop in at WEAR and Heinz-Healy's for casual men's wear. And just around the corner, on tony Fifth Avenue, there's even more at Larrimor's and the newly opened Joseph A. Banks stores.

If you don't know where to go or what to do, a weekend Downtown could seem long.  Fortunately, you've got us as your secreate weapon!  After all that shopping you might want to give your credit card a break, so why not enjoy the city from a different point of view. We think one of the best ways to make a splash Downtown is to dip your oar in one of Pittsburgh three rivers in a kayak. To put your best Lewis and Clark navigation skills to the test, Kayak Pittsburgh rents one and two person craft May through October. We certainly don't believe in corporal punishment, but this is one form of paddling that everyone deserves. If you're not looking to get your feet wet but still want to cruise the waterways, the Just Ducky and Gateway Clipper launch from Station Square, just across the Smithfield Street Bridge. For a unique view of why the three rivers make our city special, take a few moment to watch a special video produced by Riverlife.

With more than 25 miles of trails that follow the city's rivers, hiking, walking and biking have never been easier in Pittsburgh. With the opening of a new section of trail near the Convention Center, bikers can pedal from the McKees Rocks Bridge to the 40th Street Bridge to 21st Street in the Strip to the Steelers training facility near the SouthSide Works. With all the outdoor cafes throughout Downtown, you can roll up put a quick hurt on that hunger and keep rolling. And if you don't own a bike, you can rent a set of wheels at Golden Triangle Bike Rental, near the PNC Bank Firstside facility, just off Grant Street. 

Just about now, it might be time to start thinking about a bite to eat. And, that means it's time to head back to the Square. Maybe you want to go old school with a hefty meal at the Oyster House or Primanti's. Of perhaps it's a spicy specialty from Chipotle or Moe's Southwest. For something a little more upscale, try Bella Sera, urban tratoria of the Canonsburg venue of the same name.  And for some bon temps gourmet at NOLA, where the tastes of New Orleans flavor the menu. Or comfort food with a twist at Winghart's Burgers. Best of all, if the sun is shining, almost every eatery in the Square now offers al fresco dining. From Italian to All-American, there's something for every palette in the Square.

We like to think that the nighttime is the right time to be in the city. Well, we actually think anytime is a great time to be Downtown. But when the sun sets on the city, the highlights continue to shine. Whether it's a Broadway show at the Benedum, the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall, a stage play at the Public Theater or a jazz ensemble at the Fairmont Hotel, nightlife is certainly alive Downtown. If you want something more interactive, we've got salsa dancing every Friday and Saturday night. And keep in mind that the Bucs play ball all summer long at PNC Park, the best diamond any girl or guy could want. To check out all the "after-dark" happenings Downtown, be sure to click on the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership Events Calendar. And just in case you need a spot to refuel after a big day in the city, Market Square is the perfect rest stop with a restaurants and bars for just about every taste.  With so many hotels in walking distance (Fairmont, Renaissance, and Wyndham are the closest) you've never had such an easy time getting "home."

So if a "staycation" is on the books for you this summer, you can get away yard work, bills and all those everyday routines and be a tourist in your own hometown when you visit Downtown Pittsburgh.

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