Summer Guide (Early to Mid Season) 2023
Pittsburgh is a veritable wonderland of entertainment and activities during the summer months. It’s almost impossible to list everything, so Entertainment Central presents 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.)
Attractions are listed here in several categories. There’s a lot to see and do, from art to fireworks and movies to music. The list focuses on events in early summer, from May to mid-July—and, it includes ongoing activities that are available summer-long. Look for the EC Pittsburgh Summer Guide (Late Season) the second week of July.
Mike Vargo (M.V.) made substantial contributions to this Guide.
Outdoor (and Outdoor/Indoor) Music, Art, Movies, Hanging Out, Etc.:
Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn — monthly gallery crawl and street fair.
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 2 and July 7. And what’s up is quite a lot. Many art galleries along the street are open, as are other shops, eateries, and so forth. Some have music or performances. The Garfield Night Market, with stalls and vendors selling a wide spectrum of foods and crafts, operates in conjunction with Unblurred. Above all, Unblurred is a fine occasion to simply hang out, mill about, and enjoy. 3 p.m. till 11 p.m., 4800 through 5500 blocks of Penn Ave., Garfield. (M.V.)
Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival — June 2 – 11, multiple times and venues, Downtown.
The 10-day Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival is Pittsburgh’s largest and grandest summer celebration. The ever-popular Artist Market features handmade arts, crafts, and wearables on sale in over 150 booths. Performing arts are headlined by ten Mainstage Concerts in the Cultural District, at Ft. Duquesne Boulevard with acts including Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (June 5), Lizz Wright (June 6), Red Baraat (June 7), Corrine Bailey Rae (June 8), Mo Lowda & The Humble (June 9), and The Taj Mahal Quartet (June 11). A varied lineup of Pittsburgh-based talent will perform at two other stages in the Cultural District. Last but not least, a juried visual arts exhibition will be displayed at Space Gallery in the Cultural District. (M.V., R.H.)
Allegheny County Free Concerts — June 3 – all summer, South Park and Hartwood Acres.
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 Skyliners (June 9), Honky-Tonk Jukebox (June 23), Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Saturday, July 1). In June Hartwood Acres has River City Brass (June 11), The Jaggerz (June 18), Billy Price and Gabe Stillman (June 25), and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (July 2). Food trucks, Bella Terra Vineyards and Hop Farm Brewing will be at all concerts starting at 6:00 pm. 3700 Farmshow Dr., South Park Twp., and 4070 Middle Rd., Allison Park. (M.V., R.H.)
Concerts and More in the Great Outdoors — May through September, Various locations.
During our more temperate summer months, there are many entertainment opportunities in parks, shopping districts, and outdoor music venues. Most are free, some are not. Here are several Pittsburgh-area organizations and links to their summer offerings.
Pittsburgh Citiparks – concerts, line dancing, movies, farmers’ markets, foot races.
Jams on Walnut – concerts on Walnut Street in Shadyside with food and drinks.
Market Square Night Market and Concert Series – music, crafts, art, food, drinks, vendors.
Squirrel Hill Night Markets – music, food trucks, art, crafts, activities.
Vinoski Winery – wine, music, food.
Baja Bar & Grill – indoor/outdoor bands, food, drinks, and DJs.
Carnegie Museum of Art – Inside Out events with local artists and arts organizations, art-making, DJs, food trucks, local brews, and kid-friendly treats.
The Pavilion at Star Lake – national touring music acts and local openers. (R.H.)
Free Outdoor Movies
The City of Pittsburgh is screening a free series of films officially called Dollar Bank Cinema in the Park. They’re shown at parks throughout the city on various evenings. Early season flicks include Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic Park: Dominion, Elvis, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Meanwhile, Allegheny County offers PG-rated family movies at a variety of county-wide parks. Early highlights include Encanto and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.(R.H.)
Fourth of July Fireworks + More — various times, Point State Park and other locations.
You want fireworks, you got ’em. Fourth of July pyrotechnics at Pittsburgh’s Point are scheduled to commence at 9:35 p.m. Preceding the launch, Point State Park will be open for family-style picnicking and activities in the afternoon and early evening, 601 Commonwealth Pl., Downtown. Elsewhere, Kennywood Park is planning fireworks nightly on July 3 and 4 as part of its Celebrate America event. These fireworks can be viewed from vantage points nearby or across the river, but if you patronize the park itself, Kennywood promises activities including “patriotic entertainment, contests, and the always-popular Wiener 100 dachshund races.” 4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin. Many communities throughout the metro area have fireworks and related activities as well. And, though it doesn’t involve skyrockets, you can spend Sunday, July 2 learning about some of our region’s First Americans. Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, a National Historic Landmark and a site of very early human habitation, offers a special day with tours and activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 2. 401 Meadowcroft Rd., Avella. (M.V.)
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, close to the city, and Idlewild, a bit farther out. Both conduct their summer seasons from Memorial Day weekend onward. Check the parks’ websites for daily schedules and special events. Kennywood, which dates from 1898, has now been evolving for 125 years. It’s known for a world-class collection of mechanized rides, including three classic wooden roller coasters plus the steel-framed Phantom’s Revenge and Steel Curtain. There’s also a nice assortment of kiddie rides, and a new “intermediate” ride is Spinavision, part of Kennywood’s growing alien-themed Area 412. A popular non-ride feature is the ongoing Bites & Pints food festival, held on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June 2 – July 30, plus July 3 and 4. Enjoy chef-inspired tastings of international cuisine plus specialty cocktails, craft beer, and wine. 4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin.
Idlewild offers a distinctive combination of amusements in a gorgeous countryside setting. The rides aren’t nationally ranked but there are plenty of them, and a bunch are downright thrilling. Idlewild moreover has a full-scale water park, the Soak Zone, with water slides and a wave pool. There’s also an outdoor jungle-gym area, and last but never least the weirdly charming Story Book Forest, where children and trippy adults can wander through mini-replicas of scenes from fairy tales and folk songs—including Mother Goose, the Good Ship Lollipop, and more. Idlewild is about an hour-ish drive from Pittsburgh (depending on where you start from) and well worth the journey. 2574 U.S. 30, Ligonier. (M.V.)
Living Dead Weekend — June 9 – 11. 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. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead are featured this year with many events and reunions. Highlights include celebrity appearances, movie location tours, cosplay, merchandise collectibles, art exhibits and panels, along with photo opportunities. Scheduled to appear are Tom Savini, Christine Romero, Debra Gordon, Tony Buba, David Crawford, Randy Kovitz, and many more. This promises to be a fun weekend, and remember, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” (R.H.)
Boating on the Three Rivers
Pittsburgh Riverboat Cruises — Gateway Clipper Fleet.
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 young un’ 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 especially popular and feature dining, dancing, and drinking. They sail every Friday night from 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. And if you really want to chow down enjoy the dinner cruises. There are also wine 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. (R.H.)
Freedom Boat Club — Station Square Landing & Marina
A newer nexus for renting personal watercraft in the city is starting to emerge. A Station Square location of Freedom Boat Club—a national motorboat rental membership business—was opened in 2019 by former media executive Michael Hills. Some people say that the best days of boat ownership are the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell it. Well, by renting boats, every day is a good day. With Freedom Boat Club, the nation’s oldest and largest boat access club, you join as a member and that entitles you to rent boats in Pittsburgh and at any of the company’s other 250+ locations. Members have unlimited access to an entire fleet of new boats in Pittsburgh April 15 – October 31. Available boats for rental include powerboats and pontoons of various sizes. They’re at the Landing & Marina at Station Square (behind Bessemer Court). 238 W. Station Square Dr., Station Square. (R.H.)
What is a Tiki boat? Well, you could say it’s a floating form of the many popular “Tiki” appropriations from traditional Maori culture, designed to navigate not the South Pacific but the Three Rivers. You’ve got a little thatched hut on a waterborne platform, powered gently by an outboard motor and piloted by a skilled captain. There’s seating for six around a cozy bar. Food and drinks are BYO, and you can also bring your favorite sounds to play on the onboard sound system while you party with your peeps and behold the sights flowing by. Cruisin’ Tikis Pittsburgh offers two-hour group rentals, with cruises departing any time from early morn to around sunset. The company has three boats if you wish to float a delegation of up to 18. Reserve online in advance, because prime times (like fireworks nights near the Point) get booked early. Cruises with Cruisin’ Tikis are boarded at two launch points, on the North Shore near PNC Park and at the Station Square Marina. (M.V.)
Steel City Jet Ski Rentals
Another option for fun on the rivers is Steel City Jet Ski Rentals where you can rent Yamaha Waverunners. Owner Jake Tovey—a University of Pittsburgh grad and former member of the swim team—loves to jet ski and wondered why there wasn’t a jet ski rental business in Pittsburgh, so he started one. Launching from a new location on the Allegheny River, just downstream from the Highland Park Bridge, you can cruise down to the Point and jet upon the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers as well. 151 19th St., Sharpsburg. (R.H.)
South of Pittsburgh Hazelbakers rents canoes and kayaks at their Perryopolis, Pennsylvania, location (654 Layton Road) for river trips on the Youghiogheny River. And in the mountains at Laurel Hill State Park they rent canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, rowboats and paddleboats for fun on the park’s lake. They also rent bikes at the Laurel Hill location.
Active Outdoor Recreation:
OpenStreetsPGH — Various dates and locations.
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. There are plenty of activities along the way as well. Organized by the nonprofit BikePGH, the OpenStreetsPGH events are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on three Sundays this year: May 28, June 25, and July 30. Different routes are explored on each date. For more info, check out the OpenStreetsPGH website. (R.H.)
Venture Outdoors— Nonprofit with activities all summer (and year-round).
Venture Outdoors? That’s the outfit that runs kayak rentals on the North Shore and at 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. Ventures on tap include hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, and more. The schedule includes special Pride excursions, learning sessions for beginners and children, art and history walks, and evening and nighttime adventures—both in the city and surrounding areas. Some activities are free of charge and some carry moderate fees. See the events calendar on the Venture Outdoors website (linked above) and reserve in advance for the activities you’d like to enjoy. We’ll see you somewhere under the sun or stars! (M.V.)
Allegheny Land Trust Green Spaces — conserved nature areas region-wide.
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 now has 23 Green Spaces overall. (M.V.)
Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival — June 9 -11, Butler and Slippery Rock.
Whether you have a Jeep or not, head to the Butler area 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. However, diehard Jeep enthusiasts see the Heritage Festival as honoring the true birth of the vehicle, and a rousing 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. Camping is offered too. The event is produced by the nonprofit The Friends of the Bantam Jeep Association (FBJA). The Jeep Parade is in downtown Butler and many other events are at Cooper’s Lake Campground, 205 Currie Rd, Slippery Rock. (R.H.)
WET ‘N’ WILD (OR MILD)
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, which runs 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, canoeists, 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 nearby Frank Lloyd Wright houses at Fallingwater 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. Park office is 124 Main St., Ohiopyle. (M.V.)
Tubing on the Clarion River
Pale Whale Canoe Fleet rents tubes for a leisurely trip down the pristine Clarion River through Cook Forest State Park. Patrons schedule a tubing time when they arrive, as the fleet does not take reservations. At their time, a van drives the customers up the river with the flotation tubes; the river slowly returns the floaters downriver to the Pale Whale location. Along the way, look for crayfish in the water or deer on the shore, or simply absorb the sunshine. Different trip times are available, and patrons should visit Pale Whale’s Facebook page for information regarding daily operating status. (Tip: arrive early before all the tubes vanish, especially on weekends and holidays.) Besides single and double tubes, Pale Whale also offers canoe, kayak, and river raft trips. Patrons can bring their own equipment too. The nearby Cooksburg Cafe serves beverages and food, including Hershey’s Ice Cream, and the Cooksburg Dry Goods Gift Shoppe is a quaint final stop before the drive home. 115 Riverside Dr., Cooksburg, PA. (C.M.)
Swimming and More: Local Pools, Sandcastle, State and Regional Parks
It’s going to be a great summer for sunning and swimming at your favorite pool. City of Pittsburgh pools open June 17 this year and Allegheny County pools are open from June 3. Also try the historic Dormont Pool, and/or the Crawford Pool in Shaler Township, both open from Memorial Day weekend onward. 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.)
We can’t forget that the water wonderland known as Sandcastle is now open. Features include a wave pool, kiddie- and family-sized pools, and water slides ranging in thrill factor from “mild” to “intense.” 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. Laurel Hill State Park also has a nice sand beach and amenities at Laurel Hill Lake and is about an hour and twenty minutes from Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands. While there also enjoy beautiful hiking along creeks and hemlock trees. 1454 Laurel Hill Park Rd., Somerset.
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. (M.V.)
North Park Swimming Pool and Trails — from June 3 (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. County pools open June 3; trails are always open. North Park’s main entry is 303 Pearce Mill Rd., Allison Park. (M.V.)
Other Fun Events and Activities
Commercial Drive-in Movies and Drive-up Ice Cream and Food Places
Drive-in movie theaters and drive-up restaurants have seen a true renaissance in recent years. 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 12 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.” (R.H.)
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.