20 Pittsburgh Destinations Sure to Delight Design Fans

From stylish, design-forward restaurants to historic architecture and amazing art spaces, HGTV's design experts choose the destinations on their radar.

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January 28, 2020
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Photo By: Carmine Sarazen / Visit Pittsburgh

Photo By: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh ©Abby Warhola

Photo By: Derek Jensen

Photo By: Mattress Factory

Photo By: Tom O'Connor Photography

Photo By: Don Burkett

Photo By: Steven Dray Images

Photo By: The Commoner

Photo By: Rob Larson

Photo By: Nate Boguszewski

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Photo By: Lineage

Photo By: Grist House

Photo By: Magnus Manske, Wikimedia Commons

Design Pittsburgh

Steel City is significantly shaking up its Rust Belt reputation. This hip haven has a funky vibe and a thriving arts scene thanks to institutions such as the iconic Andy Warhol Museum, as well as the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum that features site-specific installations by artists from around the world. There's also the Carnegie Museum of Art, the first museum of contemporary art in America.

The Andy Warhol Museum

If your relationship with Pop Art’s crown prince is limited to Marilyn and Mao, it’s high time to pay an extended visit to all seven stories of The Andy Warhol Museum — which, as you might expect, has the largest collection of Warhol's art and archives in the world. The Warhol features a vast array of its namesake’s greatest hits, of course, but it also offers visitors the opportunity to sit for a screen test as his subjects once did, to pose on a curved velvet couch a la Andy in an iconic portrait, and to get up close and personal with some of his 612 "time capsules," cardboard boxes the artist filled with everything from plane tickets and A-list invitations to tchotchkes and half-eaten sandwiches.

Gulf Tower

Built in 1932 as the headquarters for the Gulf Oil Company— on the same location as the U.S.’s first oil refinery — the Gulf Tower was Pittsburgh’s tallest building until 1970 (when the U.S. Steel Building was completed). It has long represented the intersection between classical ideals and industrial realities: The pyramid at its crown, designed to resemble the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the seven wonders of the world), has required extensive restoration to remove decades of thoroughly modern grime.

Phipps Conservatory

The spirit of the World’s Fair also made its way to Pittsburgh via the philanthropist Henry J. Phipps, who wanted to “erect something that [would] prove a source of instruction as well as pleasure to the people.” Upon completion in 1893, Phipps Conservatory’s nine rooms contained plants that had been displayed in Chicago. 120 years later, it also plays host to art collections, parties, classes and even a greenmarket, and is open to visitors from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily (with a few exceptions).

Mattress Factory

Speaking of heavy hitters on the Pittsburgh art scene, no design fan’s visit to the city would be complete without a lengthy exploration of Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum founded in 1977 to support resident artists in their creation of site-specific installations. With bespoke exhibitions spread across three buildings, Mattress Factory has commissioned and presented performances and installations by more than 750 artists from around the world, including Yayoi Kusama (whose Repetitive Vision [1996] is pictured above) and James Turrell. The advantage of seeing those art-world darlings in Pittsburgh? While in some cases visitors do have to secure timed tickets to view some works (such as Turrell’s), wait times and competition for tickets are considerably more visitor-friendly than what one would face in cities like New York City or Los Angeles.

St. Paul Cathedral

The 247-foot-tall, Scholastic Gothic cathedral built on Fifth Avenue cost $1.1 million to erect and furnish in 1906. A century later, St. Paul Cathedral has joined the National Register of Historic Places.

Lorelei

Design fans will appreciate the warm vibe and bright, timeless look as well as the casual, shareable menu at Lorelei. The restaurant and beer hall located in East Liberty, an up-and-coming neighborhood that media outlets around the country have been calling the "coolest" in America owes its excellence to Jamilka Borges, a 2015 James Beard Foundation semifinalist, and pastry chef Dianne DeStefano (of local favorites The Twisted Frenchman, The Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor). Mind you, those killer eats are only part of the story: Lorelei is best known as an incomparable beer hall that encourages laid-back community drinking, and its eclectic "lager-forward" list of 14 drafts includes German, Czech and American offerings. Did we mention that it also boasts an array of Alpine-inspired and classic cocktails? Prepare to clink glasses with half the town’s hipsters when you claim a long table here.

Cathedral of Learning Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor John G. Bowman wanted to erect a monumental building that would be an inspiration to everyone who saw it (and, of course, provide much-needed growing room for the school, which was rapidly expanding after World War I). The Cathedral of Learning’s creation was an act of civic pride: Local businesses gifted supplies for its construction, and according to Pitt historians, “17,000 men and women and 97,000 school children made individual contributions to help build the great tower.”

A Moby Dick Restaurant

Since 2017, the Salvation Army’s iconic former downtown headquarters has played host to the Distrikt Hotel Pittsburgh, a design-minded boutique destination. Its former gymnasium, in turn, houses or, The Whale — that is, a nautically inspired restaurant that shares its name with the subtitle of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Appropriately, the sleek space pairs a massive cetacean mural with a bar-level catwalk and swooping rigging, and the "farm-and-fisher-to-table" menu pairs meticulously sourced seafood with offerings from an onsite butcher room. (Vegetarians, there are local delicacies for you as well: Try the gourmet take on the 'Burgh’s beloved pierogis).

BOOK NOW: Distrikt Hotel Pittsburgh | Hotels.com, $161/per night

The Commoner

The sophisticated vibe at the Commoner is the result of New York City-based designer Mark Zeff of MARKZEFF Design, whose high-profile clients include actress Hilary Swank. A significant portion of downtown Pittsburgh has a pesky habit of closing up shop once weekday work hours draw to a close. Happily, that’s far from the case at the Commoner (a gem nestled beneath The Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh), where the kitchen is open until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday (midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday) and the bar is open even later. If you’re visiting the Commoner in the afternoon or evening, do yourself a favor and request at least one order of the Vermont cheddar fondue (served with Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, and crispy apple slices), an unquestionable star of the restaurant’s eclectic and reliably tasty menu. That foundation will prepare you for head bartender (and lifelong Pittsburgher) Alex Dando’s accomplished mixology, showcased in an extensive cocktail list that pairs local spirits and cutting-edge techniques with nods to pop culture and nostalgia alike. If you order the "Alright Alright Alright" (featuring mascarpone-washed Singani 63, clarified blood orange, a ginger root-asian pear reduction, a white peppercorn tincture and "bubbles"), know that you will be quizzed on Matthew McConaughey — and that your answer will affect the beverage you receive.

BOOK NOW: Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh | Hotels.com, $194/per night

Whitfield

Just around the corner from Lorelei, the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh opened its doors in 2015 in what was once East Liberty’s palatial YMCA (built in 1909). The Ace team took pains to honor its new home in details throughout the hotel’s rooms and public spaces: Local artisans upcycled regionally sourced materials for furnishings, and textiles on guests’ beds feature an abstracted take on an Amish quilt. Keep your eyes peeled in Whitfield, the Ace’s restaurant, for curtains with a Frank Lloyd Wright pattern. Whitfield’s Western-Pennsylvania-influenced tavern fare, in turn, swings from humble regional favorites (don’t miss bar snacks like the cheese ball, French onion dip and — yes — pierogies) to an extensive Butcher’s Menu and family-style steaks from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch in Bedford. (Again, vegetarians, never fear: There’s a tasting menu for you, too.)

BOOK NOW: Ace Hotel Pittsburgh | Hotels.com, $128/per night

PPG Place

Built in the 1980s to recall and update Pittsburgh classics like the Cathedral of Learning and the Allegheny County Courthouse, PPG Place (named for its original anchor tenant, née the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company) is a half-step between the city’s storied history and its gleaming skyscrapers. Designed by renowned American architect Philip Johnson, the neo-Gothic complex’s footprint spans three downtown blocks.

The Church Brew Works

With a local brewery trail that boasts more than 30 destinations, it’s easy for Pittsburgh-bound suds enthusiasts to feel overwhelmed. Need a tie-breaker? Head for Lawrenceville’s Church Brew Works, the first U.S. brewery to open in a deconsecrated church (St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, completed in 1903). Retrofitted with an eye to honoring the church and rectory’s history, CBW’s bar was rebuilt from salvaged pews, and it retains its original Douglas Fir floors, a confessional and, of course, its soaring stained-glass windows. Its extensive food menu includes both traditional and reimagined local favorites, and its current beer menu features a dozen offerings for drinkers of all stripes.

Randyland

If Outsider Art is your thing, make haste to Randyland, an eye-popping, free-to-the-public fantasia that’s open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until dusk. Randy Gilson’s glorious Northside home, exhibition and event space is as Instagram-ready as the ticketed, influencer-heavy selfie "museums" you’ll find in coastal cities. Think kaleidoscopic, wall-to-wall murals and installations — but as Gibson believes that "happiness shouldn’t cost anything," anyone and everyone is welcome to stop by and enjoy the party.

Union Trust Building

The Union Trust Building, first known as the Union Arcade, was built on land that was transferred from religious to secular use via a 1901 deed — and urban legends suggest that there’s a chapel hidden in one of its towers to comply with a requirement that a place of worship remain there. In truth, Henry Clay Frick intended it strictly for shoppers —but its spectacular roof is nevertheless divine.

Row House Cinema

Row House Cinema — a single-screen, 83-seat theater built in, you guessed it, a classic Lawrenceville row house — does not, strictly speaking, have something for everyone: In fact, it prides itself on promoting Pittsburgh’s film community by choosing a weekly theme and going all-out on movies to match. The cinema hosts Brews & Views (screenings with themed beers served strategically throughout the movie), Cereal Screenings (for early risers who fancy a bit of breakfast from an all-you-can-eat cereal bar) and programs late-night events, lectures and collaborations with film festivals. Row House itself serves tap beers and locally-sourced snacks, and its proprietors also encourage visitors to duck into the bottle shop next door and BYOB, as they’re A-OK with adult beverages in the theater.

Grist House Craft Brewery

The recipient of Pittsburgh City Paper’s 2017 Best Local Beer award, Millvale’s Grist House serves its reliably packed bar, patio and dog-friendly outdoor area with 12 rotating taps, canned beers to go and an ever-changing cast of food trucks. The craft brewery is also looking to expand in a very big way. It recently purchased a 55,000-square-foot future taproom, retail space, barrel-aging space and production facility in what was once a Cold War missile command center (in Collier, a township southwest of the city). There’s no official word yet on when that new facility will open, but Grist House assures its many fans that its Millvale location will keep on trucking.

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail

In Allegheny County’s words, “One of the most unique aspects of our history is a location that most county citizens tried to avoid.” Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail was designed by the architect H.H. Richardson in 1884 and built with a 229-foot tower and Romanesque flourishes. Since the jail itself was closed in 1995, one could argue that the grand old complex is now more welcoming than ever before.

Fallingwater

Yes, it is about an hour and a half outside of Pittsburgh. But design and architecture fans who haven't been before will want to make a pilgrimage to Bear Run, Pennsylvania to see possibly the most famous private home in America built for the socially prominent Pittsburgh family, the Kaufmanns. One of the architectural marvels of 20th century America, Fallingwater is made of sandstone, glass and steel but its reputation is mythic. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired to create this iconic home by his travels in Japan where water features and homes could be built in harmony with the landscape.

Kentuck Knob

Seven miles south of Fallingwater in the town of Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania, architecture and sculpture meet at Kentuck Knob, one of the last homes Frank Lloyd Wright completed. Kentuck Knob was based on a hexagonal design and built of sandstone and tidewater red cypress. More than 30 sculptures — including one of Andy Goldsworthy’s first commissions — dot the leafy landscape and walking trails around the house.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

In 1881, Andrew Carnegie offered Pittsburgh $250,000 —an offer that later increased to $1 million — to help create a Main Library and branches throughout the city. Both a library lover and a shrewd businessman, Carnegie was happy to provide capital funding, then insisted the best way to maintain a healthy relationship between the organization and local residents was for them to contribute to its upkeep.

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