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Pittsburgh: Five reasons to visit

The Duquesne Incline, which dates to 1877, carries

The Duquesne Incline, which dates to 1877, carries rush-hour commuters to Mount Washington above downtown Pittsburgh. (Dec. 8. 1999) (Credit: AP)

Because it's my hometown, Pittsburgh is a required destination on the annual itinerary. Still, every time I visit, as I did last weekend, I am reminded how much there is to do in the under-the-radar town.

Though far west in the Keystone State, a trip to Pittsburgh via the Pennsylvania Turnpike clocks under seven hours from Brooklyn. This is a good enough distance to wash off the workweek, but not so cumbersome as to require more than a long weekend.

Here are five must-dos when visiting the Iron City.

1. Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. In the late 1800s, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie read about a new discovery in Montana: something called a dinosaur. So he said to himself, “I want one of those!” This led to what is now one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world, on the first floor of this three-story complex. From fully rendered dino skeletons to paleontologists meticulously dusting off new finds, visitors get a glimpse into millions of years of history. Other highlights: a vast archive that includes many Impressionists (on display through Aug. 26, “Impressionism in a New Light: From Monet to Stieglitz) and the ongoing “Hand Made: Contemporary Craft in Ceramic, Glass and Wood.”

INFO $17.95 adults; carnegiemnh.org

2. Andy Warhol Museum. New York can claim Warhol's adulthood, but Pittsburgh is home to Andy Warhola the student, and the artist is on display in a multistory building on the city's North Side. Different floors are dedicated to various period in his career, from sketches of women's footwear to the Sliver Cloud gallery featuring floating Mylar balloons. The largest museum dedicated to a single artist in the country, AWM maintains repeat visitors by dipping into its vast archives and featuring other contemporary artists.

INFO $20; warhol.org

3. Kennywood. Sometimes size does matter, and this amusement park's strength is in it manageability. While not huge, it packs the rides in, including six coasters, three of them old-school wooden ones. The Thunderbolt, which dates to 1968, holds up well, while the newer Phantom's Revenge has one of the best vertical drops I've been on. Founded in 1898, Kennywood has done well balancing the creation of newer rides and maintenance of old favorites.

INFO $37.99 all-day pass; kennywood.com

4. The Strip District. Formerly an industrial area -- the proximity of the Allegheny River along its north end helped with that -- The Strip is now a mashup of ethnic grocers, fish markets, restaurants, shops and galleries. A one-half-square mile area centered around a slice of Penn Avenue northeast of downtown, it's especially hopping on weekends. Take a stroll to Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (Penn Mac to locals) for its array of cheeses and the 100-year-old Wholey’s Market for a fish sandwich or sushi. The Strip is also home to a Pittsburgh favorite, Primanti Bros., which piles its sandwiches with fries and coleslaw and where yinz guyz will surely hear some true Pittsburghese.

INFO neighborsinthestrip.com

5. Mount Washington. South of the city and located atop a steep incline, this residential area offers amazing views of the skyline. Go at night and you'll see downtown's many high rises -- including the gothic, glass-towered PPG Building -- reflecting off the three rivers. The very best view comes from riding one of the still-operational, wooden cable cars. Opened in 1877, the Duquesne Incline is $5 round trip and still transports commuters daily.

INFO duquesneincline.org

Tags: pittsburgh , road trips

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