Pittsburgh Road Trip 2018
Erie/ Pittsburgh, PA
June 14-17, 2018
"There’s no place like home."- The Wizard of Oz
Most of the time I would have to agree with this phrase from the famous film- that is unless I’m visiting Pittsburgh for a weekend.
Visiting the Steel City honestly feels like a second home to me. It’s amazing how when I’m there I’m completely content and at ease- except if there is downtown driving involved of course. Although my best friend Jess and I visited less than a year ago, we never seem to have enough time to experience everything we want to see and do (and eat) on each trip. Lucky for us that means keeping every return visit to the 412 new and exciting.
Pittsburgh is only about a three and a half hour drive from the US Peace Bridge border for Jess and I, but we decided to go the Greyhound bus route again like our trip to Pittsburgh last year and save ourselves the anxiety of inner city navigating. The bus costs $110 USD round trip for both of us. This doesn’t seem all that cheap, but the hotel we stayed at charges $22 + tax USD/night, so in the end it’s worth having someone else drive, as we’ve never needed to drive anywhere within the city once arriving.
We arrived in Erie around 6:30pm on the Thursday and checked into the Best Western Plus Erie Inn & Suites ($134 CAN inc. taxes), which is just off the main drag of Peach Street. It included free parking, wifi and a breakfast that was delicious.
After checking in we headed out for dinner nearby at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. They had a large variety of options and really affordable, tasty food. All these onion rings were under $6 USD!
We did a bit of shopping at Millcreek Mall and Walmart before heading back to the hotel since we had an early rise the next morning.
The Greyhound bus took off at 8:50am and we arrived downtown in a heat wave around 12:30pm. This was the first of six Pittsburgh road trips we’ve gone on where we weren’t staying downtown. This time we decide to book the Hyatt Place Pittsburgh located in the North Shore of the city. It made the most sense with everything we planned on doing this trip, as we had nothing going on downtown.
In theory the short walk from the Greyhound station to Steel Plaza subway station is close. Walking to it wearing all black with over-sized luggage during high noon felt more like the 28th day of backpacking Europe.
The subway only took around 20 minutes to arrive at North Side station, which was the closest stop to our hotel. When you exit the subway the hotel is right across the street, but again it felt a lot further while carrying luggage. I swear I will never over pack again! Let’s be real, that won’t happen, but I did use packing cubes for the first time this trip and they allowed me to organize all the stuff I didn’t need to bring a lot more efficiently.
Our hotel was on the 6th floor and looked right at PNC Park. It came to $474 CAN for 2 nights through Expedia.ca, which included using Expedia points and a 10% off private sale. We chose to book the 1 King instead of the 2 Queens because it would have been an extra $200 CAD and we weren’t about that overspending life.
Once we unloaded our trillion pound luggage we headed back out down the street to Tequila Cowboy for lunch. This place reminded me a lot of something similar to a Hard Rock Café. I ordered the Cubano sandwich with a salad and it was so delicious and a huge portion for only around $12 USD. Our hotel had a mini fridge so I brought the other half back to eat later.
We had booked a Pre-Game Tour of PNC Park ($20 USD/each), so after lunch we headed to the baseball park for our 3:45pm tour. There were only about 10 of us on the tour with the rest of the place filled with staff, players and media, so it was exciting to see it practically empty. Jess loves baseball. I basically just go for the food, but I enjoyed the tour of Heinz Field on our last trip to Pittsburgh so this sounded exciting to me.
The tour guide gave us a brief 20-minute history of the team, stadium and notable players from the past to the backdrop of memorabilia from different eras. He then walked us through the tunnels past the locker room (unable to go in because it was game day) and eventually we walked our way up to the suites that most of us can only dream about affording. It gave us the best views and photo opportunities of the tour.
Feelin' like a VIP
We ventured back downstairs again where we watched the Pirates batting practice. Only a low-leveled fence was restraining Jess back from jumping onto the field. I couldn’t name you a single player on either team, but it was cool to see behind the scenes of what goes on before game time.
In order to attend a Pre-Game Tour you also had to have tickets to the same day’s game. We bought our seats back in March through StubHub ($70 USD for both) and decided to sit in an area we’ve never sat in before. We were in Section 130 Row A- aka foul ball territory.
The views weren’t that bad here ;)
After the game we walked back to the hotel to quickly change before heading out to Rivers Casino (I also crushed the other half of the Cubano sandwich at this time). We tried some new drinks and played a few different machines. Jess was the big winner with a spin giving her a mini jackpot of just over $100!
Last time we visited we booked the hop on/hop off double-decker tour bus through The Pittsburgh Tour Company, which showed us parts of the city we previously never knew existed. We decided to book it again because its route was the same path we wanted to follow for the day and figured it would be cheaper than taking cabs from place to place.
It first picked us up at stop #9 (PNC Park). We only took it a short distance to stop #11, which is the Strip District. Pamela’s Diner is a restaurant just off the strip that is really popular- like Presidential popular. We came here about 6 years ago and I wasn’t that impressed with it and knew how long the breakfast wait would be. I decided to give it another chance and we put our name on the wait list.
One hour later we were seated inside and at this point starving. I ordered the Croissant French Toast (croissants soaked in cinnamon-vanilla egg batter & topped with caramel sauce & walnuts) and a side of their famous Lyonnaise potatoes. When it arrived I thought it looked like a plate of eggplant parmesan, but this meal completely changed my mind of the restaurant as it was beyond amazing.
Our remaining time in the Strip District was spent hopping from shop to shop purchasing discounted Pirates and Penguins gear before the bus picked us up around 12:40pm.
We then stayed on the bus for a bit over an hour until our next destination of South Side Works. Some of the highlights of the tour were Heinz Hall, PPG Paints arena, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and St. Paul Cathedral.
I have to warn you that the tour guides all have the same jokes. I didn’t realize it the first time around, but the verbatim is pretty much word for word of what we experienced on our last trip, so that was slightly disappointing as we didn’t learn anything new this time.
Hofbräuhaus is somewhere we’ve always wanted to try every time we’ve come to the city but never had the chance to. This time we specifically set out to eat lunch here.
There are only a few locations within the United States and we were excited to try as much German food and beer as we could. I swear I ate like it was my job this weekend. For drinks we decided to try their beer flight of 5 different kinds for only $7. We couldn’t believe the price and enjoyed most of them.
To eat we shared The “Works” Sampler of Pretzels & Bier Cheese, Fried Pickles, Potato Pancakes and Sauerkraut Balls ($16 USD). To be completely honest we weren’t all that impressed with the quality of the food. It all seemed very basic and not that tasty. To my surprise my favourite item were the sauerkraut balls as I thought I would like that the least.
After lunch we did a few of the stores in the area such as Shop412 and the official PensGear store as we waited for the bus to come at 4:30pm. The tour then went through my favourite part of Pittsburgh: East Carson Street. So many great little places to eat, drink and party all within blocks of each other. This trip we didn’t make it back here during the night- the first in 7 years!
Stop #4 was going to be the end of the bus tour for us when we arrived at Station Square around 4:50pm. It was perfect timing for the next tour we had planned happening here at 5:30pm. It was called Just Ducky Tours - a land and water tour while seated in an amphibious truck built in the 1940s that we’ve seen driving around town on our previous trips.
I wish I had a photo of the actual truck/boat hybrid we rode in but it was 100 degrees out and two women in front of us almost got into a brawl over seating so I didn’t have a chance to.
As a PSA I have to say how small this boat was. My knees were up against the seat in front of me and Jess practically had the person across from her in her lap.
Views from the land portion of the tour: Monongahela Incline, PNC Park during an afternoon game, Market Square area downtown & exit lanes to the water portion of the tour.
Views from the water portion of the tour included: Fort Pitt Tunnel, Stage AE, Gateway Clipper Fleet. (Not Pictured are Point State Park and Heinz Field)
Since the hop on/hop off was now done for the day we took the subway from Station Square back to our hotel ($2.50 USD/person).
When we got back to the hotel I discovered my previously Casper-coloured skin was now more the likes of Sebastian the Crab.
We got ready for dinner and headed down the street to Jerome Bettis Grille 36- a place owned by a former Steelers player.
I ordered the Southwest Club ($10.50 USD) which doesn’t look all that appetizing in this photo, but it was so tasty. The sweet potato fries were a bit strange though as they had cinnamon sprinkled over them.
Then we ventured over to Southern Tier Brewing Co. I always drink their beer at Buffalo Sabres games so I was excited to try the beer straight from the actual brewery. I ordered a flight here as well- luckily all the carbs I ate throughout the day soaked up all the alcohol or I’d be drunk by 9pm. They had a wide selection of beer and you write your top 5 choices down on a piece of paper that you give the bartender ($13 USD).
Some of my choices were poor, like the Thick Mint Stout, ugh gross. My favourite was 8 Days a Week.
When we came back from the casino on the Friday we noticed that Tequila Cowboy turns into a lively bar at night, so we decided to head there next. It was extremely crowded with barely anywhere to dance and getting to the bar was impossible. Jess had to use the washroom so we set out to find it. In doing so we discovered this whole other area of the place that had hundreds of people in it but was much larger than the front. We then walked through that to locate the bathroom, but we found another part of the place that was a karaoke bar. I swear the White House has less secret rooms than this place does.
This was the only photo taken at Tequila Cowboy between both Jess and I, so you know we had a good night partying if we were too busy for photos. These are two "shots" of tequila and I guess they expect you to grind your own salt? Like we're that coordinated at 1am...
It was so humid this day you could see it in the photos we took.
The Pirates had a mid-day game so the area around our hotel was busy and we got to see all the activities on Federal Street. They close the Roberto Clemente Bridge to road traffic during game days, so it was nice to walk over it and get a different view of the ballpark.
We headed to SOHO for lunch and thankfully their air conditioning game was strong. We split the nachos (they would have been better hotter), and I ordered the blackened chicken wrap with kettle chips ($13).
Like true fatties we walked across the street after lunch to Local Brewhouse. We love their sister location on the South Side, but the North Shore location fell so flat for us. They didn’t have drinks that were advertised, their mimosas came in crappy cups and it just doesn’t have the same atmosphere as the other location.
We watched the beginning of the Pirates game from inside the bar and then headed back to our hotel because it was time to leave soon.
Silly, cheap us didn’t learn from the first time and set out on yet another episode of The Amazing Race to get back downtown to the Greyhound station.
Our bus was supposed to leave at 3:30pm but there was a delay with the bus where they had to find another one and it arrived around 4:30pm. I swear they pulled this thing out of some transit graveyard it was so budget and smelled like I was sitting in a port-o potty the entire trip back to Erie.
Despite the ride home being less than desirable it wont stop us from visiting again. We were planning our return trip before we even left the city. Next time we're thinking about coming during the colder months to actually attend a hockey game as we haven’t been to one here since 2011.
Is it October yet?
*Photos in this post are a combination of my own and from Jess.