EC Pittsburgh Summer Guide (Early Season)

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 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 paintings 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. Christopher Maggio (C.M.) also contributed.

Outdoor (and Outdoor/Indoor) Music, Art, Movies, 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 4 and July 2. 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 may have 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. 6 p.m. till later at night, 4800 through 5500 blocks of Penn Ave., Garfield. (M.V.)

Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival — June 4 – 13, multiple times and venues, Downtown.

Shemekia Copeland, one of the nations top blues vocalists, is a Mainstage performer at this year's Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. (photo: Mike White)

Shemekia Copeland, one of the nation’s top blues vocalists, is a Mainstage performer at this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. (photo: Mike White)

The 10-day Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival is Pittsburgh’s largest and grandest summer celebration. After last year’s Festival had to go online-only, this year it returns as a “hybrid” affair—live and in person (with Covid precautions) for those wish to come, with some attractions also online. The ever-popular Artist Market features handmade arts, crafts, and wearables on sale in over 150 booths. An even larger selection, from more than 200 artists in all, will be viewable and buyable online.  Performing arts are headlined by six Mainstage Concerts in Point State Park, with acts including the renowned blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland, travelin’ singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter, and lively pop-rocker Caroline Rose. A varied lineup of Pittsburgh-based talent will perform at the Allegheny Overlook Pop-Up Park, alongside the river of that name. Live performances are free at either venue, and there’s a separate slate of performers coming together for the 24/7 Virtual Stage. Last but not least, juried and invited visual arts will be displayed at various Cultural Trust galleries in the Cultural District. A number of events and attractions were still in the planning stages as opening day approached, so see the Festival website for latest updates. The situation is fluid … but it’s good! (M.V.)

Allegheny County Free Concerts — June 1 – 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 Pittsburgh Opera, Bill Toms & Hard Rain, The Jaggerz, and The Vindys. In June Hartwood Acres has Truth & Rites, River City Brass, Indigo Girls, and Pure Gold. As per tradition, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra plays both locations around the Fourth of July. Food trucks and Hop Farm Brewing Company craft beer are at all concerts starting at 6:00 pm. 3700 Farmshow Dr., South Park Twp., and 4070 Middle Rd., Allison Park. (M.V.)

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

Bill Toms and Hard Rain with the Soulville Horns will be performing June 11 at the South Park Amphitheater for the Allegheny County Concert Summer Concert Series. (photo: Rick Handler)

Bill Toms and Hard Rain with the Soulville Horns will be performing June 11 at the South Park Amphitheater for the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series. (photo: Rick Handler)

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 (details are still forthcoming for several of the event series):

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

Jams on Walnut – concerts on Walnut Street in Shadyside with food and drinks.

The Frick Pittsburgh – Summer Fridays at The Frick concert series (online monthly).

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 on the Mon – local and national performers.

Pittsburgh’s Syria Shriners –  summer rock and blues concerts.

Juneteenth & Black Music Festival – The Ohio Players, House of Soul, classic soul, hip hop, and R&B.

Narcisi Winery – wine, music, food.

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. Details will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Allegheny County offers two movie viewing locations, with screenings Saturdays at South Park and Hartwood Acres on Wednesdays. Both locations start the movies at 7:30 p.m. Early season highlights include The Jungle Book, Scoob!, and The Croods – A New Age. (R.H.)

Go Green Festival for World Environment Day — June 4 – 5

The Go Green Festival in Market Square will feature a variety of performers, environmental exhibits, and activities the weekend of June 4 - 5.

The Go Green Festival in Market Square will feature a variety of performers, environmental exhibits, and activities the weekend of June 4 – 5.

Pittsburgh Earth Day is having a Go Green weekend full of events to celebrate World Environment Day. It encompasses free outdoor concerts and a community festival at Market Square. The Festival kicks off Friday, June 4 and runs through Saturday, June 5, with concerts starting hourly from noon to 6 p.m. each day. In addition to the concerts, there will be activity booths with local businesses sharing their sustainable mission in the city of Pittsburgh. Other areas of focus are on alternative and electric transportation, wellness, and an opportunity to get the kids involved with The Growing Up Green corner. Concert highlights include Scott Blasey, Jeff Jimerson, and Bindley Hardware Company on Friday; and Zoob, The Nox Boys, and the Clinton Clegg Trio on Saturday. (Market Square, Downtown.) On Friday, June 4 the Sixth Annual Sustainable Business Breakfast will be held at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel. Discussion will be moderated by City of Pittsburgh Chief Resilience Officer, Grant Ervin and Chief Corporate Relations Officer for the Allegheny Conference, Bill Flanagan. Tickets are free, but space is limited and registration is required. 510 Market St., Downtown. (R.H.)

Fourth of July Fireworks + More — various times, July 4, Point State Park and other locations.

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

You want fireworks, you got ’em. Fourth of July pyrotechnics return to the Point this year, commencing at twilight. Preceding the launch, Point State Park will be open for family-style picnicking “with patriotic music and food vendors provided from 6 to 10 p.m.,” says a release from Mayor Peduto’s office. 601 Commonwealth Pl., Downtown. Elsewhere, Kennywood Park is planning fireworks nightly from July 2 to 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 “music performances, magic acts, and the always-popular Wiener 100 dachshund races.” 4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin. At this article’s press time—yes, there are press times on the internet!—some communities in our metro area were still deciding whether to have their traditional July 4 fireworks and public celebrations this year. You may wish to check the web pages for, say, Mt. Lebanon. And, though it doesn’t involve fireworks, you can spend daytime on the Fourth 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. 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 Park, close to the city, and Idlewild, a bit farther out. Both are open for business—wait, make that pleasure—this summer. Check park websites for special attractions and updated health/safety info. Kennywood dates from 1898. 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 a nice assortment of kiddie rides, too. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in June, the Park is holding Bites & Pints with chef-inspired tastings of international cuisine plus specialty cocktails, craft beer, and wine. Kennywood is open all of Memorial Day weekend and then is open Wednesday through Sundays until June 21. After that Kennywood is only closed on Tuesdays until August 22 when a more limited schedule resumes. The park maintains a constantly updated list of attractions open and closed. 4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin.

Idlewild offers a distinctive combination of amusements in a gorgeous countryside setting. The rides don’t include nationally ranked coasters, but there are plenty of rides and the Wild Mouse coaster is a thrill. 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—from Mother Goose to the Good Ship Lollipop. For days and hours see the park calendar. 2574 U.S. 30, Ligonier. (M.V.)

Living Dead Weekend — July 2 – 4. 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. The Return of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead are both featured this year with may events and reunions. Highlights include celebrity appearances, movie location tours, official merchandise collectibles, art exhibits and panels, along with photo opportunities. Scheduled to appear are Thom Matthews, Linnea Quigley, John Philbin, John Russo, Debra Gordon, Lori Cardille, and Terry Alexander, plus 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. 

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 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. DJ ROC plays contemporary hits and old-school classics, and there’s even a free Tex-Mex buffet. And if you really want to chow down enjoy the Chicken & Ribs Lock & Dam dinner cruise. 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. (R.H.)

Freedom Boat Club — Station Square Landing & Marina  

A new nexus for renting personal watercraft in the city is starting to emerge. A Station Square location of Freedom Boat Club—a national powerboat 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 May 1 – October 31. Available boats for rental include Sweetwater pontoon boats (which seat 12), Hurricane deck boats (seat 8), and Regal & Bayliner bowriders (both seat 6). They’re at the Landing & Marina at Station Square (behind Bessemer Court). 238 W. Station Square Dr., Station Square. (R.H.)

Steel City Jet Ski Rentals — Station Square Landing & Marina   

Also at Station Square Landing & Marina is Steel City Jet Ski Rentals where you can rent brand new 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 this year. Special software on the Waverunners allows for safer operation of the watercraft on our sometimes busy waterways. 238 W. Station Square Dr., Station Square. (R.H.)

Active Outdoor Recreation:

Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival — June 11 -13, Butler and Slippery Rock.

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 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. And a fine celebration it is. This year they are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Festival. 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). 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.  

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 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 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. (M.V.)

Tubing on the Clarion River 

Tubing on the beautiful Clarion River is a fun way to spend a summer day. (photo: Rachel Francioni)

Tubing on the beautiful Clarion River is a fun way to spend a hot summer day. (photo: Rachel Francioni)

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: Sandcastle, State Parks, and Other 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 going to be a great summer for sunning and swimming at your favorite pool. City and Allegheny County pools will both be open, as is the historic Dormont Pool, and the Crawford Pool in Shaler Township. 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. 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 early June (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 days and hours info is still pending; trails are always open. North Park’s main entry is 303 Pearce Mill Rd., Allison Park. (M.V.)

Other Fun Events and Activities

Steel City Con — June 11 – 13. Monroeville Convention Center.

One of the country’s biggest comic cons is occurring in June at the Monroeville Convention Center. The Steel City Con features 750 vendor tables, an artist alley, celebrity guests, celebrity Q & A’s, panels, celebrity photo ops, and the Artist Charity Quick Sketch. And if that’s not enough you can also take part in the Steel City Con’s cosplay, trivia contest and costume contests. The Con will be burning bright with celebrities including William Shatner, Dee Wallace, Jamie Farr, Loretta Swit, Jon Lovitz, Mickey Dolenz, Skeet Ulrich, Matt Lillard, Melissa Gilbert, Curtis Armstrong, Robert Carradine, Andrew Cassese, Donald Gibb, and many more. Go for one day or buy the three-day pass. 209 Mall Blvd., Monroeville. (R.H.)

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.