Fact: Anything you might want to do in the summertime can be done in Pittsburgh or nearby. Well, except surfing. But aside from that, it is actually hard to think of things that cannot be done around here.
Our region’s varied terrain and water surfaces—rivers big and small, lakes, white water—support an amazing spectrum of outdoor activities. Pittsburgh has a well-developed cultural scene, a food scene that has put the city on the national foodie radar, and neighborhoods that are not only livable but lively. Summer festivals and big, themed special events are staged frequently and well.
Here are highlights of what’s up in the second half of the summer, from mid-July onward. Out of all the things to do, we’ve picked really good ones in four basic summer-fun groups: Festivals and Fairs, Free Outdoor Music, Active Outdoor Recreation … and that perennial favorite, Miscellaneous. You can also check the Early Summer Short List, which includes several attractions that run all summer long. Now let’s get started.
FESTIVALS AND FAIRS
COUNTY FAIRS—various dates and places from late July through August.
Although we are no longer a nation of farmers, late summer is a fine time to meet a few. That’s when independent farmers in areas around Pittsburgh bring their best livestock and produce to county fairs. The experience is not strictly agricultural; some of it is just cultural. Funnel cakes and country music go well together. Both go extremely well with demolition derby. But while you’re at the fair, don’t miss the many fascinating varieties of farm animals and flora—or the farmers. As the old song says, they’re the ones who feed us all.
The Fayette County Fair (July 26 – Aug. 4) presents musical artists including country rapper Walker Hayes and Uncle Si and the Sicotics, and regional rockers The Clarks. (Lead singer Scott Blasey is from Connellsville in Fayette County and the band mentions the Fayette County Fair in their song “Cigarette“). There’s also an open Sing Off competition, and a Sunday-long Gospel Sing on July 29—not to mention horse and equestrian events, antique tractors, monster trucks, and Mike Bishop the Comedy Hypnotist. 132 Pechin Rd., Dunbar. The Washington County Agricultural Fair (Aug. 11-18) features a variety of musical entertainment including The Clarks, Cross Creek (country, classic rock), and Charles Lee (soulful classics). Further attractions include harness racing, music and dancing in multiple genres, a school bus demolition derby (relax, no students inside) … and, on the dairy-intensive final day, a cheese auction and milk-chugging contest. N. Main St. at Arden Rd., Washington. Then right on the heels of that, the big Westmoreland Fair (Aug. 17-25) features trucker-rock band East Coast Turnaround and Saddle Up. This fair has demo derbies and motorized events aplenty, plus special events ranging from traditional rodeo to the 4-H Bicycle Rodeo, and from robotics to the Rabbit Agility Contest. 123 Blue Ribbon Ln., Greensburg. There are other rural fairs in the region—but these three are fairly (pun intended!) big and fairly close to the city.
EQT PITTSBURGH THREE RIVERS REGATTA— Aug. 3-5, Downtown.
Traditionally, regattas were high-society affairs that featured rowing or sailing races. The EQT Three Rivers Regatta goes ’way beyond tradition. River sports of many sorts are done here, while all kinds of people attend and many participate. Fearsomely fast Formula One powerboat racing is an aquatic version of that form of auto racing. Locals with kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards are invited to enter the Pittsburgh Paddlesports Championships. In the category of the comically bizarre, we have the Anything That Floats Race. (When you watch people paddling things that look like homemade stage sets, or floppy lashed-together inflatable contraptions, you learn why life jackets are more than a good idea.) Other attractions range from live music on shore (Sugar Ray, August 3 and Randy Houser, August 5) to fireworks in the sky. And, though money is involved in staging various events—for instance, Alcosan sponsors Anything That Floats, while the paddle sports raise money for cancer research—just coming on down to the Regatta is absolutely free. Is that socialism? No, it’s a PARTY. Noon to evening Aug. 3-5, Point State Park and North Shore.
BLOOMFIELD LITTLE ITALY DAYS— Aug. 16-19, Bloomfield.
Ah, Bloomfield. Only in Bloomfield does a summer festival begin with a free concert and a celebrity bocce tournament. This East End neighborhood is known for many things. Long ago it was home to native people affiliated with the Lenni Lenape. Johnny Unitas played quarterback for the semipro Bloomfield Rams before his storied career in the NFL. In springtime, runners laboring through mile 22 of the Pittsburgh Marathon get an astounding energy blast when they find Bloomfield’s main street lined with screaming spectators and blazing rock bands. And in mid-August the blast is called Bloomfield Little Italy Days. Immigrants from Italy’s Abruzzo region began to arrive around 1900. Their descendants have given Bloomfield great Italian food markets, an active Catholic parish … and a locale that’s now blooming with modern art galleries, eateries of multiple ethnicities, and more. Musical acts at Little Italy Days range from oldies to opera to hip-hop. Featured entertainment this year includes singer Marco Fiorante, from Italy; and Pure Gold, from Pittsburgh. Celebratory urban street life transpires; bocce balls are bowled. And did we mention the food? 6 p.m. Aug. 16, noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 17-18, noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 19. Along Liberty Ave. and elsewhere in Bloomfield.
PITTSBURGH RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL— Aug. 18-19, 25-26, and first four weekends in September, West Newton.
If you’re tired of looking at screens, try visiting a fantasy world that exists IRL—In Rural Lands east of the city. The Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival is analog, mostly acoustic, and pre-Internet by centuries. There are jousting knights on horseback and hand-powered amusement rides made of wood. And, whereas some living-in-the-past events are targeted to hardcore re-enactors, Pittsburgh RenFest welcomes anyone who wants to dive into yesteryear for a day. On Saturdays and Sundays from late August to late September, a tract of land in the gently rolling hills is turned into a town of the late medieval-Renaissance era. Entertainers of many kinds abound: minstrels and jesters (i.e., musicians and comedians), acrobats, magicians, handcraft artisans, strolling you-name-its, and the aforementioned knights in armor. The food is mostly hearty fare. Items on sale in booths, such as jewelry, clothing, and period gear, are mostly not too expensive. 10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. 112 Renaissance Lane, West Newton.
THE ART FESTIVAL ON WALNUT STREET— Aug. 25-26, Shadyside.
“Hip”—as in “Get hip,” rather than “Get a hip replacement”—is one of the oldest American slang terms still in wide use, and Shadyside’s Walnut Street is perhaps the longest-running hip district in Pittsburgh. Incredibly, it gets even hipper during the Art Festival on Walnut Street in late August. The Festival is popular, in part, because there’s so much art. The Walnut biz district is closed to motor vehicles and packed with booths where artists and craft people display paintings, prints, ceramics, handmade jewelry, and so forth ad infinitum. In addition: Walnut Street merchants bring out selected goods for sidewalk sales. Exotic food vendors descend. Established restaurants, coffee shops, and night spots operate in peak mode. And, music being the food of love and other good things, musicians play on. Official hours for the art and craft booths are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 26, but you can bet that on Saturday the 25th, merrymaking will continue into the night. Walnut St. between S. Aiken and Ivy Sts. with further activities adjacent, Shadyside.
PITTSBURGH IRISH FESTIVAL— Sept. 7-9, Riverplex at Sandcastle
Two rules of Irishness: (1) You do not have to be Irish to enjoy Irish things. (2) You might be more Irish than you think. This year’s Pittsburgh Irish Festival is billed as the city’s “28th Annual Celtic Celebration”—and since scholars say the ancient Celts populated lands from Austria to Portugal, this takes in everybody from Sigmund Freud to Cristiano Ronaldo. They’d both have a blast at the Festival. Irish and Irish-ish musical acts perform constantly through the weekend. Headliners from out of town include Gaelic Storm (who trace their Irish roots to Santa Monica, California), traditional Irish folk band Doolin’ (from France), and the all-female Celtic rockers Screaming Orphans (actually from Ireland). Also on tap are local favorites like Na Gaels, Devilish Merry, Cahal Dunne, plus at least three pipe bands (there is no such thing as too much bagpipes), and many more. In addition to music and dancing, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival has storytelling, arts and crafts, experts on Irish/Celtic culture and genealogy, etc., along with Irish foods, Irish whiskey, stout, and mead. The Festival is Irishness writ as large as it can be writ. Come one, come all. 4-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Riverplex at Sandcastle, 1000 Sandcastle Dr., West Homestead.
FREE OUTDOOR MUSIC
ALLEGHENY COUNTY FREE CONCERTS— Friday & Sunday eves, South Park and Hartwood Acres Amphitheaters.
As we’ve said before, crowds don’t lie. When people start bringing their lawn chairs in broad daylight to stake out spots for evening outdoor concerts, it’s because the music is free and the music is good. Such is the case with the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series, staged summer-long at two locations: Friday evenings, 7:30 p.m. at South Park Amphitheater, and Sunday evenings, 7:30 p.m. at Hartwood Acres Park Amphitheater. The lineup for the second half of this summer includes big-name vintage acts in several genres. South Park has Jefferson Starship on July 27 (with special guest Working Breed), indie rockers Better Than Ezra on August 3 (with Two Birds), and jazz/fusion pioneer Jean-Luc Ponty on August 17 (with Lyndsey Smith). At Hartwood Acres, notable headliners are the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on July 22 (with Angela Autumn), and, on August 5, Toots and the Maytals, who are more than just pioneers of reggae. Frontman Frederick “Toots” Hibbert is credited with naming the genre. He still leads the Maytals, and brings ‘em here along with guest Hollis Brown. 3700 Farmshow Dr., South Park Twp., and 4070 Middle Rd., Allison Park.
Closing the Allegheny County summer season is a special 5 p.m. concert at Hartwood Acres on September 2, the evening before Labor Day. Headliners are Uprooted—featuring Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root—with guests Meeting of Important People, Starship Mantis, and The Living Street. Allegheny County is asking a $20 per vehicle requested donation for this one which benefits the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
ACTIVE OUTDOOR RECREATION
REGATTA AT LAKE ARTHUR — Aug. 4-5, Moraine State Park
Pittsburghers have two regattas to choose from during the first weekend in August. While the EQT Three Rivers Regatta is held in the city, the Regatta at Lake Arthur—without powerboat races, and featuring a wide range of participatory events—takes place in Moraine State Park. Lake Arthur is about six miles long and over a half-mile wide in places, with several coves branching off. It’s popular for sailing and paddling, two of the many activities in which the Regatta’s “SummersCool” (as in “summer school,” got it?) offers try-it and learn-it sessions. The Moraine Sailing Club takes visitors on sailboat and catamaran rides around the lake. Other groups lead hands-on (and in some cases, feet-on) intros to kayaking, standup paddleboarding, fishing and fly casting, and even yoga. There’s also a family 5K run, a scavenger hunt, children’s activities, and more. Spectator events include sailboat races, a classic car cruise, and concerts. Fireworks top things off Saturday night.
All but a couple of attractions are free. And, while all the gear you’ll need is provided, the Regatta at Lake Arthur is also a fine time to bring your own kayaks, hiking shoes, or whatever and explore Moraine State Park. 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Also Crescent Bay Marina at Moraine State Park offers various types of boat rentals. 225 Pleasant Valley Rd., Portersville.
OHIOPYLE STATE PARK (green nature, white water, more)—ongoing, Ohiopyle.
Ohiopyle State Park, southeast of Pittsburgh, is wild and scenic. In the 1800s the area drew city dwellers who’d come just to stroll and enjoy the beauties of nature. That pastime is still popular, along with more activities today—notably, white water boating on the Youghiogheny River, which snakes through valleys and gorges here. Within the parkland, two stretches of river offer different experiences. The so-called Middle Yough, from upstream into the town of Ohiopyle, is the gentler ride: a mix of fast-moving flat water and moderate (“Class I and II”) rapids. Kayakers and standup paddleboarders who first have mastered steering on calm water often use this stretch to learn the game of zipping through chutes and dips without mucho upsets. The Lower Yough, from Ohiopyle down, has the bigger, bouncier rapids. Expert kayakers love it, as do visitors who take the guided raft trips, paddling in (relatively) stable soft rafts with guides who know the way. Major outfitters, alphabetically, are: Laurel Highlands River Tours, Ohiopyle Trading Post, White Water Adventurers, and Wilderness Voyageurs.
Other attractions include tours of the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater… plus good mountain bike trails right in the state park, the Great Allegheny Passage trail for hybrid and road bikers, and the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. Park office is 124 Main St., Ohiopyle.
PedalPGH (group bike rides, other activities)—Aug. 26, South Side and beyond
Pittsburgh, always likable, is growing ever more bikable. New bike lanes and trails keep being added, cyclists and motorists keep learning to coexist, and new riders are finding that hills aren’t a drawback; they’re fun. The nonprofit organization Bike Pittsburgh (stylized BikePGH) does a lot to move the evolution along—one part of which is putting on the big annual bike-a-palooza called PedalPGH. This is the day with mega-multiple group rides, from a 10-mile “local loop” to a 62-miler that goes all around the region. It’s the day when you see people on bikes freakin’ everywhere. PedalPGH is sponsored by UPMC Health Plan. This year marks the event’s 25th anniversary, and although biking at any time is free, registering officially for PedalPGH buys you a ton of perks. You’re in on the group ride of your choice, with “amazing snacks” at rest stops. There’s a t-shirt and merch; there’s a festival at the start/finish line. Above all, your fee helps BikePGH continue its work in bicycle advocacy and education. 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. South Side Riverfront Park, 1 S. 18thSt., South Side.
PRESSLEY RIDGE ICE CREAM FUNDAE— Aug. 12, Pittsburgh Zoo + more ice cream everywhere.
Ice cream is good. The Pittsburgh Zoo is good. Ice cream at the Zoo, for a good cause, is super-good. Ice Cream Fundae—an early-evening event for all persons of ice cream age—supports Pressley Ridge, a nonprofit that offers mental health and behavioral services to kids and families facing challenges. The gourmet ice cream is provided by Graeter’s. It comes in about a dozen flavors, including chocolate chips embedded in various matrices of ice cream. Enjoying it at the Zoo, in company with the elephants and kangaroos after public visiting hours have ended, is very cool. The Zoo’s official title, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, indicates that sea lions, penguins, and many, many fishes will also be present. Playful activities for children are part of Ice Cream Fundae. Admission fees are moderate and all proceeds go to Pressley Ridge. 6 – 9 p.m., Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, One Wild Place, Highland Park.
Much more good ice cream is available in Pittsburgh and nearby as well. Along with Graeter’s, in Wexford, some establishments serving fine homemade ice cream and related treats are: Scoops (multiple locations in the South Hills), Millie’s (Downtown and Shadyside), Klavon’s (Strip District), and Yetter’s (Millvale). Specialists in the soft varieties include Glen’s Homemade Custard (Springdale) and Page Dairy Mart (where South Side meets Hays). There are still more, but these should get you started.
NIGHTTIME SKY-WATCHING—Various times and places around the region.
Since time immemorial, humans have marveled at the nighttime sky. Today, when city and suburban lights wash out much of the view, we seldom get to feel the sheer wonder that Van Gogh expressed when he painted “The Starry Night.” But there are ways to reconnect with this elemental joy—right here in the Pittsburgh area.
One way is attending the Star Parties hosted by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP). Star Parties are held in regional parks which have very little “light pollution” at night. They’re free, though donations are welcome; just show up around dusk. AAAP will have high-powered telescopes for magnificent, magnified looks at celestial bodies. You can also bring your own telescope or binoculars … or, just enjoy being out in the open air, under the Greatest Show Beyond Earth. Summer locations and dates: at Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Regional Park on July 20 and 21, Aug. 17 and 18; and Sept. 15 and 29 (225 Kurn Rd., Tarentum); and at Mingo Creek Park Observatory on July 20 and 21, Aug. 11 and 18, and Sept. 7 and 9 (1 Shelter 10 Rd., Finleyville).
Within the city, Carnegie Science Center has SkyWatch nights. Each Skywatch session begins in the Center’s Buhl Planetarium, an indoor arena where a “virtual tour” of the night sky is projected across an overhead dome. Then, if the actual sky is reasonably clear, it’s upstairs to the Buhl Observatory, where you can peer through the big telescope installed there or bring your own telescope. Admission prices are at an additional very low cost thanks to sponsorship by PPG. Upcoming SkyWatches are July 27 and Aug. 11, at 8 and 10 p.m. each night. 1 Allegheny Ave., North Side.
Also, the historic Allegheny Observatory offers guided public tours from 8-10 p.m. on Thursday nights through August, and Friday nights through October. Weather permitting, each tour ends with a chance to look through the Observatory’s telescope. And the place is worth learning about for other reasons, such as its place in the history of climate science. Observations made here were used by the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius to document and calculate the greenhouse effect—in 1896, over 120 years ago. 159 Riverview Ave., Brighton Heights.
DIY sky-watching is possible too, of course. Late summer is a fine season for two reasons: Mars comes very close to Earth, and the annual Perseid meteor shower arrives. At peak times—which should be late on the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13 this year—the meteors burn through Earth’s air as visible “shooting stars” at the rate of one or more per minute. Find a place without much ambient light and settle in to watch.
COTRAIC 40TH ANNUAL POWWOW—Sept. 29-30, Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center.
At summer’s end, in late September, comes the lovely time known as Indian Summer. And with it comes the spectacular Annual Powwow held by the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. The Council doesn’t represent a particular American Indian nation or tribal group; it’s a service and cultural organization for everyone in our region whose ancestors arrived in America long before any Europeans did. The Powwow reflects this diversity and is open to everyone, period. Major attractions are the music and dancing, which begin with the “grand entry” of dancers at 1 p.m., then continue through the day. Also on tap are traditional American foods, plus arts and crafts (with items such as handmade jewelry, clothing, and ceramics for sale), and children’s activities. Although most dancing is done by experts skilled in the authentic styles, there are dances which all guests are invited to join. And, as at any powwow, just plain socializing is a big part of the experience. Noon-7 p.m. Sept. 29 and 30. 120 Charles St., Dorseyville.
Photo credits: Except where noted otherwise, photos are courtesy of the organizations in charge of the activities or places depicted.
Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, covers theater and other theatrical experiences for Entertainment Central.