EC Summer Guide: Yes, Summer Is Happening in Pittsburgh

What’s Open When, for Many Forms of Activity

Bikers—the self-propelled kind—are prolifically populating Pittsburgh's trails and streets this summer. (photo courtesy of Bike PGH, from a past PedalPGH event)

Bikers—the self-propelled kind—are prolifically populating Pittsburgh’s trails and streets this summer. (photo courtesy of Bike PGH, from a past PedalPGH event)

In this strange year—turbulent on many fronts, quiet on others—much is quiet on the summer recreation front. Figuring out what to do has gotten tricky, so EC presents this guide to available sources of enjoyment, complete with opening dates and special conditions that may apply. Entries are in categories: Amusement Parks, followed by Arts, History, and Automotive Cinema; then multiple choices for Outdoor Recreation, plus the ever-popular Miscellaneous, and finally Events TBA (i.e., for which plans are in flux). 

There’s still plenty to do. Most activities will involve at least a bit of the sub-activity that psychologists call “behavioral modification.” Amusement parks and museums, for example, will have you register in advance for visits, to control crowd size. Masks and distancing are required at venues where strangers mingle. 

For some popular items that are no-go this year, we’re suggesting options. (No swimming pools? Well, how about state parks with swimming beaches?…) Wherever you go, stay safe, be courteous, and bring your summertime spirit. Happy trails! 

Rick Handler (RH) and Christopher Maggio (CM) contributed portions of this guide.  

TWO Iconic Amusement Parks: Kennywood and Idlewild 

Kennywood's vintage Racer still rocks the coaster scene.

Kennywood’s vintage Racer still rocks the coaster scene. Photo: Jason North.

Some “big-league” cities trumpet the fact that they’ve got a big-league amusement park. The Pittsburgh area can claim two: Kennywood, close to the city, and Idlewild a bit farther out. Idlewild is now open and Kennywood opens July 13. This year, both also require advance reservations and purchase of a ticket or pass online, along with a mask worn inside the park. 

Kennywood dates from 1898. It’s known for a world-class collection of rides, including the roller coasters—three classic wooden coasters plus the steel-frame Phantom’s Revenge and the formidable Steel Curtain, which debuted last summer in the park’s new Steelers Country area. The Steel Curtain sets a Pennsylvania record for tallest roller coaster (220 feet), a North American record for most inversions (it flips you upside down nine times), and a world record for the highest inversion, at 197 feet above ground. Kennywood also has a wide range of children’s and all-ages rides, plus special entertainment on special days such as Polish Day, Italian Day, and Oldies Day. Various season passes include the Ride & Slide pass, which admits you both to Kennywood (4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin) and to the nearby Sandcastle water park at 1000 Sandcastle Dr., West Homestead. 

Idlewild offers a distinctive combination of amusements in a delightful rural setting. The rides are not as numerous as Kennywood’s, but there are plenty of them, and they’re good. Idlewild moreover has a full-scale water park on site—the Soak Zone, with water slides and a wave pool—plus 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. Every Idlewild season pass and daily ticket automatically includes the Soak Zone. 2574 U.S. 30, Ligonier.

ARTS, HISTORY, AND AUTOMOTIVE CINEMA 

Museums Reopen, Bringing Indoor Culture Back to Life 

Film actor and model Edie Sedgwick blazed a memorable path through Sixties culture before her tragic death in 1971. She's featured in the special exhibit 'Femme Touch' at The Warhol, reopening in July. (film still from 'Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick,' 1965, © The Andy Warhol Museum)

Film actor and model Edie Sedgwick blazed a memorable path through Sixties culture before her tragic death in 1971. She’s featured in the special exhibit ‘Femme Touch’ at The Warhol, reopening in July. (film still from ‘Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick,’ 1965, © The Andy Warhol Museum)

Rarely do museums rank high as summertime attractions, but this summer is reopening season for the Pittsburgh area’s temples of aesthetic and intellectual stimulation. All four Carnegie Museums—the jointly housed Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland, plus The Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Science Center on the North Side—open to the public on Monday, June 29 (and to members beginning June 26). Visitors must register in advance online for time-slotted entry on a particular day. See the website for the museum of your choice in order to do this. Special exhibitions include An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at Carnegie Museum of Art, Dinosaur Armor at Natural History, and Femme Touch at The Warhol.

The Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District reopens Thursday, July 1, while the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg has set a tentative reopening date of Wednesday, August 5. The Frick Pittsburgh in Point Breeze plans to reopen “selected spaces” in its museum buildings on Saturday, August 15. These would include the Frick Art Museum and the Car and Carriage Museum, both free. Check the websites of all these institutions for details and visitor info before going. 

On the gallery scene, the Silver Eye Center for Photography—a renowned nonprofit gallery—is open throughout the summer by appointment only. And although the Cultural Trust galleries in the Cultural District are closed this summer, various independent galleries around town are open or may soon be; check your favorites on the web.

Carrie Furnaces, Amazing Former Industrial Site, Open for Tours.

At Carrie Furnaces, modern urban art may mingle with majestic remains of industrial history.

At Carrie Furnaces, modern urban art may mingle with majestic remains of industrial history.

Archaeologists are excited to find well-preserved ruins of former times. Pittsburgh has such a treasure in plain view. The Carrie Furnaces site—twin blast furnaces towering above the Monongahela River, with auxiliary structures close by—is rare on a global scale, and astounding to visit. Not many old industrial facilities stay intact when they close. These immense furnaces, which boiled iron ore down to molten iron for U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works for nearly a century, were judged too much trouble to demolish after shutting in 1978.  And the sheer size of all that is left testifies to the brute-force nature of Pittsburgh’s historic industry. Just random details, such as massive heat pipes held together by bolts as big as human heads, can trigger awestruck imaginings of what it was like to build the furnaces—and to work there. The Carrie Furnaces site is open for public tours May through October under management of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Advance reservations are required, so make them at the web link above. And bring a mask! Carrie Furnace Boulevard, Rankin.

Free Drive-In Movies 

Drive-in movies, a pleasure of the past, once more glow in the dark this summer. The City of Pittsburgh is screening a free series that would normally be shown to crowds gathered densely outdoors, while Allegheny County screens a bunch in place of its usual summer movies of that type. The City’s series runs every other Saturday night from June through August. Officially called Dollar Bank Cinema in the Park, this year it becomes a form of Cinema in the Parking Lot, as each show is in an auto-friendly location (e.g., the Zoo lot, other locations TBA). Admission is free but register in advance online to get a space. Movies on tap, all PG or PG-13, include A League of Their Own, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Men in Black: International, The Mighty Ducks, and the new Charlie’s Angels film (see clip above). Gates open at 8 p.m. for each; show at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, Allegheny County offers two series, one with family-oriented films and one with “date night” movies. The Family Series runs from July 7 to September 12 with sundown showings on Tuesdays at Boyce Park, Thursdays at South Park, and Saturdays at Hartwood Acres Park. Movies include Sonic the Hedgehog, Frozen 2, Onward, Toy Story 4, and a bunch more. The Date Night schedule goes from July 10 to September 11 with screenings on alternate Fridays at South Park and Hartwood Acres. Knives Out, Dirty Dancing, and Crazy Rich Asians are among the Date Night films. Details and attendance info for both series will be upcoming on the County Parks Special Events webpage and Facebook page, so keep an eye out if you’re interested. 

OUTDOOR RECREATION 

Swimming and More: Sandcastle + State Parks with Beaches 

Look beyond the city to find wide-open beaches at state parks. This is one of several on the big lake at Pymatuning.

Look beyond the city to find wide-open beaches at state parks. This is one of several on the big lake at Pymatuning. (photo: Kathryn Hamilton)

It’s not a great summer for sunning and swimming at your favorite pool. City and Allegheny County pools are closed, as is the historic Dormont Pool, while the Crawford Pool in Shaler Township is open only to Shaler residents. Swimming in the rivers? Pittsburghers have done it for generations, but more than a few have drowned, so we are not up for recommending it nor for posting a list of precautions. One hint, though: Swimming while intoxicated is an insanely bad idea. 

On the bright side: Sandcastle is now open. Online reservations are required and daily capacities are limited—which should mean shorter lines at the slides. 1000 Sandcastle Dr., West Homestead. Also, state parks are already open, and several within striking distance of Pittsburgh have lakes with sand-beach swimming areas. They have other attractions as well, so you can make it a “swimming plus” jaunt. Here’s a quick look at four popular parks. 

Raccoon Creek State Park—31 miles and about a 35-minute drive from Gateway Center, Downtown—has a swimming beach on a tiny lake, plus hiking/biking trails and a campground. 3000 PA Rte. 18, Hookstown. Moraine State Park, 40 miles and 40 minutes from Gateway Center, has two swimming beaches on manmade Lake Arthur, about 29 miles of hiking trails, and limited biking trails. The lake is a meandering, multi-armed one of middling size (about five square miles total) that’s often a close-to-town choice for sailing, canoeing, and other forms of boating. 225 Pleasant Valley Rd., Portersville. Pymatuning State Park is farther—89 miles, about an hour and a half drive—but offers more, and has plenty of campground for multi-day stays. Pymatuning Lake is a truly spacious body of water: over 26 square miles, with several islands. There’s a big sand beach plus mid-sized to small ones; sailboats and kayaks abound. Numerous small towns ring the lake, and though dedicated bike trails are few, the surrounding terrain is popular for road biking, with scenic roads that roll through farmland and countryside. Park office: 2660 Williamsfield Rd., Jamestown. The lakes at Moraine and Pymatuning enforce a 20-hp limit for motorboats, which means you’ll have relative quiet and no speedboats. 

Finally, going ‘way north to Erie (132 miles, two hours and change), Presque Isle State Park isn’t really an island but a peninsula reaching into Lake Erie. Attractions here: multiple sand beaches, the only real opportunity for “surf swimming” (when the wind kicks up the lake), and all sorts of boating with no horsepower limit. There’s a 13.5 mile bike-and-foot trail within the park. Privately operated campgrounds are nearby. 301 Peninsula Dr., Erie.

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 river-bound and close to town.

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 are 20 Green Spaces overall, open daily for activities that range 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. (MV)

Venture OutdoorsNonprofit with Activities Year-round 

Venture Outdoors says: Go solo, go tandem, but go! (photo courtesy of the organization)

The word from Venture Outdoors: Go solo, go tandem, but go! (photo courtesy of the organization)

Venture Outdoors, the Pittsburgh nonprofit whose name says it all, continues its slate of open-to-the-public activities this summer with some alterations for our abnormal times. The group’s midtown North Shore kayak rental is closed but the rental facility at North Park remains open. A wide variety of other ventures into the outdoors continue as well, at levels of rigor and vigor to suit just about anyone. Hiking and walking events range from the gentle “On the Move” rehab classes for older adults to long, rugged hikes around the back trails in our region’s state parks. Venture Outdoors also conducts bike trips, and will even custom-design them for groups of 10 or more. Browse the full slate of choices under the “Activities” tab on the group’s home page. Mask-wearing, social distancing, and other basic health measures are in force at Venture Outdoors programs during the summer. (MV)

Bicycling in Pittsburgh: Tips for the Bike Boom 

As this gentleman illustrated, the 'peace' sign is a good sign to observe when cycling. (photo courtesy of BikePGH)

As this happy gentleman illustrates, the ‘peace’ sign is a good sign to observe when cycling. (photo courtesy of BikePGH)

Across the United States, more people are buying and riding bicycles more often this year. Locally, this means legions of Pittsburghers flocking to our region’s fine bike trails. And while we haven’t quite reached the “Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded” stage, our esteemed nonprofit org BikePGH advises: “If you are unable to allow enough physical distance on a given trail or road, consider going elsewhere.” That’s good advice even for non-pandemic times. Quality of experience and safety both suffer when popular bike/foot trails are crowded. Bike paths like those within the City limits and the roadside lanes at North Park can get uncomfortably and even dangerously busy at peak times like weekend afternoons. Some suggestions: (1) To ride popular trails, go early in the morning. It can be lovely to revel in the cool, pleasant air and relatively open trails that prevail in the few hours after sunrise. (2) Check BikePGH’s “Maps and Routes” page, which has a wealth of resources for finding other routes to ride.  

And (3), exploring the Pittsburgh area’s streets and roads on a bicycle has long been a classic form of enjoyment. Just please use common sense when sharing the roads with motorists. Here’s a simple plan to maximize safety while winning the love of your fellow travelers:

♥ Obey traffic laws.

♥ Why ride like a reckless jagoff? Rather, cultivate a state of mindfulness in motion, attuned to the rhythms of the road and the presence of vehicles and pedestrians nearby.

♥ Avoid highly trafficked main arteries that don’t have bike lanes or plenty of shoulder space. (McKnight Road is an obvious nah-ah. Pittsburgh’s East End has many good streets for biking, but Penn Avenue through Point Breeze isn’t one of them.)

♥ Wearing a high-vis garment will help drivers spot you early. And wearing a helmet is simply smart.

Ohiopyle State Park: Green Nature, White Water, Attractions Nearby

Do not try what this looks like. It's a stop-action composite of one guy, at four stages of a deft ride down the falls at Ohiopyle State Park—which also offers many outdoor thrills for visitors who aren't kayak ninjas. (Photo: 'Wwkayaker22' via Wikipedia)

Do not try what this looks like. It’s a stop-action composite of one guy, at four stages of a deft ride down the falls at Ohiopyle State Park—which also offers many outdoor thrills for visitors who aren’t kayak ninjas. (Photo: ‘Wwkayaker22’ via Wikipedia)

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 energetic 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, canoers, 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 operating this summer, alphabetically, are: Laurel Highlands River Tours, Ohiopyle Trading Post, and Wilderness Voyageurs.

Other attractions include tours of two nearby Frank Lloyd Wright houses, Fallingwater (for outdoor “exterior” tours only this summer) and Kentuck Knob … 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. The state park office is at 124 Main St., Ohiopyle.

McConnells Mill State Park

McConnells Mill StatePark is known for its beautiful scenery and rock formations. (photo: Christopher Maggio)

McConnells Mill StatePark is known for its beautiful scenery and rock formations. (photo: Christopher Maggio)

Whether you’re a tree hugger or just looking to get some fresh air after months in quarantine, McConnells Mill State Park makes for an exciting nearby day trip. Prehistoric, glacial drainage cut a deep gorge into the landscape, leaving some spectacular boulders and waterfalls. Remember—it’s called Slippery Rock Creek for a reason. Stay on the trails, don’t swim, and enjoy your fishing, hiking, hunting, rock climbing, or whitewater boating safely. The park is also a prime spot for bird-watching or observing (from a distance) any wildlife, such as beavers or groundhogs. The park takes its name from Thomas McConnell, who bought a gristmill on the creek in 1875. He later added water turbines and roller mills, which visitors can see for free during the preserved mill’s normal operating hours. The nearby covered bridge is a National Historic Landmark. Bring a picnic basket or grab food from a nearby establishment, such as North Country Brewing Company in Slippery Rock. (CM) 

MISCELLANEOUS …

Rivers and Meadows Casinos

The drum-shaped, glass-walled appendage on the facade of the Rivers Casino is the Drum Bar, open for business along with the gambling floor. (photo courtesy of Rivers Casino)

Rivers Casino, located on a beautiful riverfront spot on the North Shore is once again open for gambling, dining, and drinking excitement with many safety precautions. (photo courtesy of Rivers Casino)

Rivers Casino contains over 2,600 slot machines, over 100 table games—and now—140 hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipe stations. Although poker is not currently available, many of the dining options are. The Wheelhouse is both a bar and restaurant and boasts one of the largest television screens in Pittsburgh. Happy hour is 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. There are other dining options, such as the more casual Ciao, which features breakfast offerings, salads, sandwiches, and panini. FLIPT has different burgers, including a veggie Impossible Burger, and homemade milkshakes. 

Spiral Bar is open. Happy hour is 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Domestic drafts are $3, and wines and myriad cocktails are $4. And with pro sports returning soon, BetRivers Sportsbook, where one can drink and bet on games, is also open. 777 Casino Dr., North Shore. (CM)

The Meadows is known for all of the fun aspects of a great casino, but its original attraction is also back in action this summer: live harness racing. Many of the nation’s best harness horses are bred right here in Pennsylvania, and a horse of this type can move amazingly fast while pulling an ultra-light, two-wheeled “sulky.” Live racing is on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, all with 12:45 p.m. start times. The Meadows’ casino gambling tables and slots are open, but unfortunately not everything is. Live music, entertainment, convention, and banquet services are all suspended. Restaurant offerings are somewhat limited and serviced from The Eatery by Fabiano Viviani, Pub Trackside, and Bistecca Steakhouse. But hey, you can still break the bank (theoretically). And if you want a little break from all the gambling and racing action, there’s another form of excitement right across the highway—Tanger Outlets. 210 Racetrack Rd., Washington. (RH)

Commercial Drive-ins and Drive-up Ice Cream and Food Places

Coronavirus has made some old entertainments extremely popular again. Drive-in movie theaters and drive-up restaurants are seeing even more business this summer. Two in those categories that are very well known are Moon Township’s Dependable Drive-In and Jerry’s Curb Service in Bridgewater, Beaver County. Other good drive-ups are Page Dairy Mart (4112 E. Carson St., Becks Run) and Glen’s Custard in Springdale (original location) and Lower Burrell. Local ice cream chain gone international, Bruster’s, has 10 locations in the Pittsburgh area including the original location in Bridgewater. Other drive-in movie screens in the region include: Riverside (Vandergrift), Evergreen (Mt. Pleasant), Brownsville (Grindstone), and Starlight (Butler). So “head out on the highway looking for adventure” in your personal social distancer—a car. (RH)

SUMMER EVENTS THAT ARE TBA … 

You think you're hot? Special effects are real, not CGI, at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, one of our baker's dozen late-summer highlights.

You think you’re hot? Special effects are real, not CGI, at the annual Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, which this year aims for a delayed opening in early October.

At EC’s press time (or whatever “press time” means on the web), plans for a number of popular events were either uncertain or in flux. Follow the links below for updates. We’ll also keep refreshing this section as we learn more. 

OpenStreetsPGH—a series of days when various Pittsburgh streets are cleared of motor traffic for biking, running, and walking—are still in the works, but with dates and details to be announced. See the website. Cancelled for 2020.

Picklesburgh, the Downtown fair and food festival celebrating pickles and related phenomena, says on its website to “stay tuned” for 2020 dates. Until then, prime your appetite for dill-flavored popcorn, deep-fried pickles, and the pickle juice drinking contest. Cancelled for 2020, but pickle-inspired food dishes are being offered at local restaurants through Taste of Picklesburgh.

Little Italy Days in Bloomfield—We’re awaiting official word on the status of this popular neighborhood street festival, tentatively scheduled for August 13-16 this year. Check the Little Italy Days website or the “Bloomfield Buzz” community page on Facebook. New dates, October 8-11.

Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, which normally runs on weekends from late August to late September, has targeted a new opening day of October 3. Check the Festival’s Facebook page for updates on the annual journey back to days of yore. 

Jams on Walnut and the Art Festival on Walnut—See the Think Shadyside website for info on Shadyside’s annual summer street concerts and arts fest. As of now, the June and July Jams on Walnut have been cancelled; the August 22 and September 26 Jams are pending. The Art Festival on Walnut Street, scheduled for August 29-30, is pending. Cancelled.

PedalPGH— This citywide bicycling event is officially set for Sunday, August 30, but depending on the Covid-19 situation as the date approaches, it may or may not be the same as in years past. Watch the PedalPGH update page for news. Online registration fees support the regional nonprofit BikePGH. 

Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, covers arts and the outdoors for Entertainment Central.