This tour will require driving to get to the various locations around Pittsburgh but offers great walking potential at each site.
We start the tour at the Frick Pittsburgh and then after a brief stop at the last wooden street in Pittsburgh (Roslyn Place) we move on to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art and then the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden. Driving over to the North Shore we visit the holy relics at St Anthony’s Chapel followed by the more modern art of Randyland and the Mattress Factory. A final place to visit is across the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to the world’s steepest street – Canton Avenue.
Stop 1: The Frick Pittsburgh
(7227 Reynolds St, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Phone: 412-371-0600)
The Frick is industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick’s gilded age estate. The estate includes Frick’s collection of fine art, a house museum (which offers a glimpse into the late 19th century life of the Frick family), Frick’s collection of vintage cars and carriages and the surrounding landscaped gardens.
Admission to the grounds, the car and carriage museum, the greenhouse, and permanent art collection is free. Admission fees only apply for Clayton tours and special exhibitions. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged.
Quick thoughts: closed on Mondays, very nice casual café but can also picnic on the grounds, special summer Friday evenings including free music.
Stop 2: Roslyn Place– the city’s last wooden street
Roslyn Place, an 18 house cul-de-sac off of Ellsworth Avenue, is the last wooden street in Pittsburg. The street was designed in 1914 by architect-engineer Thomas Rodd. The wooden street blocks are called Nicolson Pavement, which is a patented technique (created by Samuel Nicholson in 1859) of making creosote-soaked wooden cylinders that are about a foot long and laid vertically. Wood block streets were popular in many cities in the mid-19th into the 20th century because wood was plentiful and city planners were looking for a more quiet material to replace cobblestones that echoed from the horse traffic. Wooden streets soon fell out of favor due to significant maintenance with the warping from the freezing/thawing cycles in the winter/spring time and the strong summertime odor from the horse urine that was soaked up into the wood. Most wooden streets were gone by the time cars were introduced in the early 1900s.
Stop 3: Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Art
(4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, Phone: 412-622-3131)
Both museums were founded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1895 and are two of the four Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh.
The natural history museum houses 22 million specimens, of which about 10,000 are on view at any given time, in a 115,000 square feet building organized into 20 galleries. The museum is ranked as one of the top five natural history museums in the country and has the world's largest collection of Jurassic dinosaurs (Carnegie had a special interest in dinosaurs). Other exhibits include minerals and gems, American Indians, arctic life, ancient Egypt and geology
The art museum’s permanent collection comprises roughly 35,000 works and includes European and American decorative arts from the late 17th century to the present, works on paper, paintings, prints (notably Japanese prints), sculptures and installations. Approximately 1,800 works are on view at any given time. This museum was the first in the US to focus on contemporary art.
Quick thoughts: has the world's first specimen of a Tyrannosaurus rex, 50% off admission after 3pm on Wednesdays, 3rd Sunday of each month is free admission, closed on Tuesdays.
Stop 4: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
(1 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213)
The botanical gardens set in Schenley Park were created in 1893 by steel and real-estate magnate Henry Phipps as a gift to Pittsburgh. Phipps has formal gardens (Roman, English, etc.) created with various species of exotic plants (palm trees, succulents, bonsai, orchids, etc.). The 14 room glass and metalwork conservatory, made by Lord & Burnham, offers an interesting example of Victorian greenhouse architecture. There are three LEED certified buildings on the grounds – the entrance pavilion is silver-level, the greenhouse production facility is platinum level (and the first and only greenhouse to be so certified), and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is also LEED Platinum certified, and produces all of its own energy.
The conservatory is a City of Pittsburgh historic landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is free but limited parking on the center island on Schenley Drive. Metered parking on either side of Schenley Drive is free after 6pm Mon to Sat and free all day on Sunday.
Quick thoughts: most of the gardens are inside the conservatory and are only accessible via paid admission but some outdoor gardens are free, there is a beautiful rooftop garden, holiday lights and decorations are incredible, check out the butterfly room.
Stop 5: Saint Anthony’s Chapel
(1704 Harpster St. Pittsburgh, PA 15212 412-999-4401)
This chapel houses over 5,000 religious relics, making it the largest collection of relics outside the Vatican.
The church was built in 1880 by Father Suitbert Mollinger, who was at that time the pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in the neighborhood of Troy Hill. He made several trips to Europe in order to collect relics, an unusual number of which were available to be purchased due to political upheavals during the so-called Kulturkampf in Germany and the unification of Italy. 525 of the 5,000 relics in the chapel have original certificates of authenticity, the oldest of which dates from August 12, 1716 (bones of St Frances of Rome).
Notable among the chapel's collection are the tooth of Saint Anthony of Padua (the most venerated of the relics and the chapel's patron), relics from the life of Jesus Christ (a splinter of the True Cross, a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, a piece of the stone from the Holy Sepulchre and a sliver from the table at the Last Supper), the complete skeletal remains of a saint named Demetrius (housed underneath the altar), the skulls of Saint Macharius and a saint named Stephana, skulls of the martyred companions of Saint Ursula, the skull of Saint Theodore and a bone fragment of Saint Caesarius of Africa.
There are also life-sized carved wooden stations of the cross imported from Munich Germany hand carved from the 1890s and stain-glass windows from Germany also from that time period.
The chapel is designated a Historical Landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.
Free admission, donations are requested.
Quick thoughts: free tours available, easy parking across the street
Stop 6: Randyland
(1501 Arch Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Phone: 412-342-8152)
Randyland is the home of artist, Randy Gilson and features a variety of public art displays in and around his house. He purchased the building in 1995 and uses the backyard as his studio and gallery. Admission is free, donations are accepted.
Quick thoughts: street parking only which can be difficult.
Stop 7: The Mattress Factory
(500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Phone: 412-231-3169)
The Mattress Factory is a contemporary art museum and experimental lab which features art installations created specifically for the museum, usually in room-sized environments, created by artists in residence from around the world. The museum was founded in 1977 in an old mattress factory and 2 nearby row houses and houses several continuous, permanent installations in addition to the art installations.
Quick thoughts: closed on Mondays, the museum recommends 2-3 hours to explore all 3 buildings. Thursdays are usually the most quiet, free museum tours (still must pay museum admission) available the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month, check ahead about closed exhibits (since exhibits are so big, large parts of the museum can be closed while they are being installed), material can be mature so may not be appropriate for younger children
Stop 8: Canton Avenue – steepest street in the world
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Baldwin Street in New Zealand is the world's steepest residential street with a grade of 35% Canton Avenue claims to include a 37% grade which would make it the steepest in the world. This is one of the featured “steep” hills in the annual dirty dozen bike race that is run on the Saturday after thanksgiving called the “dirty dozen” bike race.