Early Summer Short List: Sun and Fun in the Pittsburgh Region

A Baker's Dozen of Activities and Events to Enjoy

Kennywood's vintage Racer still rocks the coaster scene.

Kennywood’s vintage Racer still rocks the coaster scene. The ride first opened in 1927. (Photo: Jason North, for Kennywood)

Pittsburgh is a veritable wonderland of entertainment and activities during the summer months. It’s almost impossible to list everything, so we have created a curated list of some of the region’s top attractions and several interesting, off-beat events too. And as we all know, we live in a very beautiful part of the natural world, so we have also included activities to enjoy our region’s sylvan settings. (Don’t forget the tick spray.)

Entertainment Central presents 13 summer events and/or sets of activities that are especially worthwhile. They’re divided into three categories: “Outdoor (and Outdoor/Indoor) Music, Art, Hanging Out, Etc.,” “Unusual Attractions, Particular to the Pittsburgh Region,” and “Active Outdoor Recreation.”

That’s a lot of words, but it covers a lot to see and do, from paintings to pedaling and paddling to parks. In fact, the list mainly consists of things available in early summer, from May to mid-July (although some continue beyond then). Look for a Late Summer Short List later!

Mike Vargo (MV) made substantial contributions to our Early Summer Short List.

Outdoor (and Outdoor/Indoor) Music, Art, Hanging Out, Etc.:

Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn — monthly gallery crawl and street fair.

Fans and friends of Aaron Pfeiffer began to crowd Fieldwork Contemporary Gallery when they learned he was back in town and performing at Unblurred.

During a 2015 Unblurred, fans and friends of artist/songwriter Aaron Pfeiffer gathered for his performance at Fieldwork Gallery. (Photo: Martha Rial)

Persons wishing to experience Pittsburgh’s summertime pleasures in the relative cool of the evening will do well to take part in the monthly Unblurred events along Penn Avenue in Garfield. They’re on the first Friday of each month, which, early this summer, means June 7 and July 5. And what’s up is quite a lot. Art galleries along the street are open—the Silver Eye Center for Photography, Level Up Studios, and several more—as are other shops, eateries, and so forth. Many have music or performances. The Garfield Night Market, with stalls and vendors selling a wide spectrum of interesting goods, operates in the summer. Above all, Unblurred is a fine occasion to simply hang out, mill about, and enjoy. 6 p.m. till later at night, 4800 through 5500 blocks of Penn Ave., Garfield. (MV)

Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival — June 7 – 16, multiple times and venues, Downtown.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performances at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Art Festival are a long standing tradition. This year Pittsburgh Symphony Brass will be performing. (photo: Ed Dearmitt).

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performances at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Art Festival are a long-standing tradition. This year, Pittsburgh Symphony Brass will be performing. (photo: Ed DeArmitt).

The 10-day Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival is Pittsburgh’s largest summer event. Launched in 1960, it has evolved along with the city itself. Early Festivals were focused on the juried visual art show, with hundreds of paintings and other works displayed in open-sided pavilions that turned the plazas near the Point into a temporary outdoor museum. Today you can see a variety of modern visual arts throughout the center-city Cultural District—including an indoor juried Festival show, plus exhibits at five Pittsburgh Cultural Trust galleries and the August Wilson Center. Meanwhile, other Festival activities have grown into huge draws of their own. Handmade arts, crafts, and wearables are on sale in 250 booths at the sprawling Artist Market. And this year’s Festival has nearly 70 performing arts acts, all free, highlighted by the nightly Main Stage concerts at Point State Park. Headliners this year include pop/soul singer India.Arie, legendary country recording artist Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Canadian singer-songwriter Kaia Kater, and members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Brass. All that plus face painting adds up to a can’t-miss! Multiple times and venues, Downtown. (MV)

Allegheny County Free Concerts — June 1 – all summer, South Park and Hartwood Acres.

Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 2018 for a concert. (L.to r.) Jeffrey 'Joffo Simmons, Grushecky, Johnny Grushecky, Jeff Garrison, and Danny Gochnour. (photo: Jesse DeFlorio)

Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers in Asbury Park, New Jersey for a 2018 concert. (L.to r.) Jeffrey ‘Joffo’ Simmons, Grushecky, Johnny Grushecky, Jeff Garrison, and Danny Gochnour. (photo: Jesse DeFlorio)

Crowds don’t lie. When people with lawn chairs start arriving in bright daylight to get prime spots for evening outdoor concerts, it’s because the music is good—and free. Allegheny County sponsors weekly concerts all summer in two locations: 7:30 p.m. on Fridays at South Park Amphitheater and 7:30 p.m. Sundays at Hartwood Acres Amphitheater. Performers are a mix of Pittsburgh-based and touring talent across a wide range of genres. The lineup at South Park in early-to-midsummer includes shows by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers with Milly (Joe’s son Johnny’s band) opening, and River City Brass. At Hartwood Acres in June and July, featured acts include Pittsburgh Opera, the Tamburitzans, and Billy Price and Clinton Clegg—and, on Father’s Day, an afternoon vintage Car Cruise followed by an evening concert with Pure Gold. 3700 Farmshow Dr., South Park Twp., and 4070 Middle Rd., Allison Park. (MV)

Concerts, Movies, and More in the Great Outdoors — May through September, Various locations.

During our more temperate summer months, there are many entertainment opportunities in parks and shopping districts. Support local restaurants by eating in or taking out, even bring your own picnic basket to a performance. Here’s several area organizations and a link to their summer offerings:

Pittsburgh Citiparks – movies, bands, line dancing, farmers markets, foot races.

Jam on Walnut – Concerts on Walnut Street in Shadyside with food and drinks.

SummerSounds – Free concerts every Friday evening in Greensburg’s St. Clair Park.

Summer Fridays at the Frick – music, art, historical autos, food.

Market Square Night Market and Concert Series – music, crafts, art, food, drinks, vendors.

Squirrel Hill Night Markets – music, food trucks, art, crafts, activities.

SouthSide Works – Music, food, drinks, art, car show, car cruise. (RH)

Fourth of July Fireworks + More — all day July 4, multiple locations.

Fireworks over the Point create the big bang, though not the only bang, on the Fourth. (Photo: Martha Rial)

Everybody knows Pittsburgh has a BIG fireworks display at the Point on the night of July 4. Head to the Point early, where the EQT Celebrate America festival kicks off at noon with a day-long slate of music, kids’ activities, and more, leading up to the EQT Flashes of Freedom Fireworks. For fireworks with fewer crowds, try one of the many community events around the area, like Mt. Lebanon Community Day. (Mt. Lebanon Main Park, 900 Cedar Blvd.) Or visit the Grand View Golf Club, where—for a modest entrance fee—folks start gathering in early eve to enjoy a spectacular hilltop view of the Kennywood fireworks across the river and dozens of more displays all around the horizon. (1000 Clubhouse Dr., North Braddock). (MV)

Unusual Attractions, Particular to the Pittsburgh Region:

Kennywood and Idlewild — TWO iconic amusement parks.

Some “big-league” cities trumpet the fact that they’ve got a big-league amusement park. The Pittsburgh area can claim two: Kennywood Park, close to the city, and Idlewild, a bit farther out. Kennywood dates from 1898. It’s known for a world-class collection of mechanized rides, including the roller coasters—three classic wooden coasters plus the steel-frame Phantom’s Revenge—and a growing assortment of kiddie rides. Thomas Town opened last summer and steel coaster fans are eagerly anticipating the opening date of The Steel Curtain coaster ride in the new Steelers Country pavilion at Kennywood. Kennywood also hosts special days such as Italian Day (nearing its 90th anniversary), July 7. Another long term tradition is Polish Day, which has been occurring now for 88 years and this year is on August 6. There is also a Ribs & Blues Festival at the park on May 26 and 27. (4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin) Kennywood is open daily from now through August 20, and then on a more limited basis.

Idlewild offers a distinctive combination of amusements. The rides aren’t as plentiful as Kennywood’s, but there are plenty. Idlewild moreover has a full-scale water park, the Soak Zone, with water slides and a wave pool; an outdoor jungle-gym area; and the weirdly charming Story Book Forest, where children and trippy adults can wander through mini-replicas of scenes from fairy tales and folk songs: You may even meet Mother Goose, or Captain Candy on the Good Ship Lollipop. (2574 U.S. 30, Ligonier) Idlewild and Soak Zone will be open on Memorial Day and then will open daily beginning May 31 through August 18. After the 18th, it too will open on a more limited schedule. (MV)

Living Dead Weekend — June 14 – 16. Monroeville Mall

Get your undead on at the Living Dead Weekend. As you probably know, George Romero, legendary director of the landmark horror film Night of the Living Dead, shot the film in Evans City and its first sequel, Dawn of the Dead, at Monroeville Mall. This makes Pittsburgh the zombie film capital of the world. Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow (another Romero-directed horror film, written by Stephen King) movie reunions will take place June 14 – 16 at the Mall. Highlights include celebrity panels, photo opportunities, location tours, cosplay, merchandise vendors, exhibits, and ghoulish family fun. Scheduled to appear are Christine Romero (Romero’s widow), Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Savini, Tony Buba, and many more. This promises to be a fun weekend, and remember, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” (RH)

Pittsburgh Riverboat Cruises — Gateway Clipper Fleet.

Sightseeing from the top deck after brunch.

Sightseeing from the top deck of a Gateway Clipper ship on a dining cruise. (photo: Heather McCracken).

The Gateway Clipper Fleet has long been a crown jewel in the culture of Pittsburgh. Started by John E. Connelly with one riverboat in 1958, the outfit has grown and now boasts five vessels. The Gateway Clipper Fleet is still locally owned and operated by third generation owner, Terry Wirginis. Dining, sightseeing, and entertainment cruises make up the majority of the Fleet’s sailings. The riverboats are also available for private functions. Many a Pittsburgh youngin’ got their first taste of river adventure on the former Good Ship Lollipop of the Fleet. Kid cruises are still a fun attraction for many and are much more elaborate these days with various themes and costumed performers. Moonlight Dance Cruises are an especially popular cruise and feature dining, dancing, and drinking. They sail every Friday night from 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. There are also wine tasting cruises and beer & bourbon tasting cruises. The Gateway Clipper Fleet has its own dock at Station Square and operates throughout the year. 350 W. Station Square Dr., Station Square. (RH)

Active Outdoor Recreation:

OpenStreetsPGH — Various dates and locations.

The Strip District was crowded with bikes, walkers, and shoppers during Open Streets PGH.

The Strip District was crowded with bikes, walkers, and shoppers during OpenStreetsPGH. (photo: Heather McCracken)

OpenStreetsPGH is a fun event during which neighborhood streets are closed to auto traffic in certain parts of the city, so people can roll on through, whether biking, walking, or skateboarding. The first OpenStreetsPGH will occur on May 25 with a circular 4.4-mile loop through the neighborhoods of Homewood, Larimer, East Liberty, Shadyside, and Point Breeze. For the June 30 OpenStreetsPGH, participants will roll through parts of Downtown, the Strip District, and Lawrenceville. Businesses and civic organizations along the route often have special programs and offers. The July 28 event travels through Downtown, Uptown, and the South Side. There will be plenty of fun activities in each neighborhood. For more info, check out the OpenStreetsPGH website. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (RH)

Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival — June 7 – 9, Butler

Riding the off road trails in a Jeep at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival can be its own kind of roller coaster fun.

Riding the off-road trails in a Jeep at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival can be its own kind of roller coaster fun.

Whether you have a Jeep or not, head to Butler for the annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival. The event is a celebration of the fact that the original winning design for an all-purpose reconnaissance vehicle for the U.S. Army in 1940 was by Butler’s American Bantam car company. The government worried that Bantam couldn’t supply all the Jeeps the Army needed, so the design went to several different manufacturers while Bantam focused on other products. And a fine celebration it is. Highlights include the annual Jeep parade, which has set world records for largest Jeep parades; Jeep historical exhibits with a WWII encampment; family-friendly activities; vendors; food; and a variety of on- and off-road Jeep driving events, including an obstacle course. Camping is offered too. The event is produced by the nonprofit The Friends of the Bantam Jeep Association (FBJA). Cooper’s Lake Campground, 205 Currie Rd, Slippery Rock. (RH)

Venture Outdoors— Nonprofit with activities all summer (and year-round).

Summer in Pittsburgh offers plenty of flow with which to go.

Summer in Pittsburgh offers plenty of flow with which to go.

Venture Outdoors? That’s the outfit that runs the kayak rental on the North Shore and North Park, right? Well, yes—but this unique Pittsburgh nonprofit offers a great deal more. Every week, Venture Outdoors’ staff and volunteers lead an amazing array of outdoor activities for the public, on water and dry land. Bicycling events range from long rides to gentle outings for beginners. The schedule includes rock climbing occasionally, and fishing frequently. If walking is your speed, the selection is vast: Venture Outdoors has nature hikes, urban neighborhood hikes, and even a banjo night walk. The group also conducts a variety of excursions and learning sessions in kayaking, paddleboarding, etc. June is a month loaded with events throughout the Pittsburgh area, so it’s a great time to get acquainted with Venture Outdoors. Check the website, and we’ll see you somewhere under the sun or stars. (MV)

Allegheny Land Trust Green Spaces — conserved nature areas region-wide

Sycamore Island is a 'Green Space' haven river-bound and close to town.

Sycamore Island is a Green Space haven that’s river-bound and close to town. (Photo: Lindsay Dill)

Speaking of Pittsburgh’s best-kept secrets: Have you heard of Allegheny Land Trust?  The nonprofit maintains Green Spaces across the city and into the suburbs and exurbs. There’s a bunch of them, open daily for activities ranging from relaxing walks to biking, birding, and even camping. Wingfield Pines, south of Downtown, is a reclaimed strip-mining area. Audubon Greenway in Sewickley is notably bike-able. Emerald View Park on the slopes of Mt. Washington offers wooded trails with, as the name implies, great views. And Sycamore Island—in the Allegheny River, just a few miles upstream from the Point—is singularly cool. Reachable only by boat, it’s a patch of undisturbed nature where one can camp overnight (get a permit in advance) almost within shouting distance of the city limits. But don’t shout; check it out. The Land Trust has 19 Green Spaces overall. (MV)

North Park Swimming Pool and Trails — from June 1 (for the pool) and trails any time.

The Pittsburgh area has many beautiful public parks. Let’s zoom in on a couple of great features at just one. North Park is the largest in the Allegheny County park system, and so popular that some parts get quite crowded on weekends. Yet it has under-appreciated assets—notably the North Park Swimming Pool. Opened in 1937, this is one of the largest public pools anywhere, 50 meters wide and 105 long. And it’s not a wave pool, so you can swim 50-meter laps crosswise, bring children to make their own waves (how creative!) in the shallow end, and bask in the gorgeous traditional setting. Also somewhat out of sight, except to those in the know, is the network of multi-use trails in North Park. Over 40 miles of trails wind through the hills and woods, very suitable for biking, running, or hiking. They include a Braille Trail with special markings added. Consult the online maps at Trail Pittsburgh … or just park someplace in the park and find a trailhead. Pool is open 11:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. daily from June 1, weather permitting; trails are always open. North Park’s main entry is 303 Pearce Mill Rd., Allison Park. (MV)

Photo credits: Unless otherwise noted, photos are provided by organizations in charge of the places and activities shown. 

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.