4 Western Pennsylvania Spots for Culture, Nature and History
Head across the Ohio border to explore these cultural attractions in Pittsburgh and the surrounding Pennsylvania countryside.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
When travelers visit Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood this summer, they enter the world of “Monet in Bloom,” the 2022 version of the annual Summer Flower Show. The creative team uses flowers and other plants to re-imagine masterpieces by the renowned French artist, who was known to love gardening.
In Phipps’ Palm Court, Claude Monet’s “The Woman in the Green Dress” painting comes to botanical life in the form of a topiary with green and black grasses.
“It was a lot of fun to interpret and re-imagine an iconic painting,” says Jordyn Melino, associate director of exhibits at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. “It just really allowed me to be creative in a different way.”
Aside from the seasonal flower shows (which, in the summer, include favorite flowers like lilies, dahlias, geraniums and begonias), Phipps has many longstanding favorites, like the walk-through Butterfly Forest and Tropical Forest Hawai’i: Aloha ‘Aina.
“I think Phipps is a great place to connect to nature through the beauty of plants,” Melino says. “We have such a unique collection of specimens from all over the world … intermixed with these beautiful flower shows that we put on.” 1 Schenley Dr., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, 412/622-6914, phipps.conservatory.org
Every major city has a zoo, but Pittsburgh has another renowned specialty zoo focused on feathered friends: the National Aviary, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2022.
Every day at the aviary, located on the city’s North Side, visitors can see many of the more than 500 birds that reside there (including eagles, penguins, parrots, falcons, owls and toucans) as well as mammals like sloths.
Patrons can get cups of nectar and hand-feed the flock of colorful Rainbow Lorikeets twice a day. For an extra fee, families can even reserve time for semiprivate, close-up encounters with some birds.
A popular free-flight show, “African Adventure,” uses video, lighting and music to transport the audience to Africa, while the roaming and flying birds entertain people. While audiences watch the winged cast members (including the Eurasian eagle owl, African penguin and grey crowned crane) at the twice-daily show, staff members share how to help save these animals in the wild.
“One of my favorite parts of the National Aviary is that you can’t get these unique experiences at other places,” says Cathy Schlott, director of animal programs and experiences. “We really want people to be immersed in the habitat and get that up-close feeling.” 700 Arch St., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212, 412/323-7235, aviary.org
Old Economy Village
In the early 19th century, a group of German settlers known as the Harmonists broke away from the Lutheran church in Germany and came to Western Pennsylvania in search of religious freedom. Now, in the Beaver County community of Ambridge, the Harmony Society’s last settlement in the region remains as an attraction that teaches visitors about life during the 1800s in an agricultural, communal society.
“As a historian … what’s really fascinating is there’s still so much we don’t really know about them,” says Jason Weber, executive director at Old Economy Village.
“I don’t think people necessarily understand the advantage to having this National Historic Landmark right here,” he says. “We love to talk about it and give tours.”
Old Economy Village includes the houses of George Rapp and other Harmonist leaders, the Mechanics Building where tailors and shoemakers worked, a community kitchen, a cabinet shop and other structures. One visitor favorite is the beautiful outdoor George Rapp Garden, where people can freely explore the flowers and landscaping at their own pace.
Visitors to the village can interact with costumed volunteers who re-enact the Harmonist lifestyle and demonstrate trades like blacksmithing, cooking and baking, and spinning and weaving, Weber says.
“People like to see those historic traits,” he says, “why things are done and how things are done.” 270 16th St., Ambridge, Pennsylvania 15003, 724/266-4500, oldeconomyvillage.org
Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
Before people had their own automobiles in the 20th century, street trolleys were a key method of transportation. At the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, travelers can explore dozens of charming vintage trolley cars, ride an old trolley through the countryside and learn about this era of American life.
“Places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Cincinnati and Columbus, they all grew because of the streetcar,” says Scott Becker, executive director at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. “It’s a fascinating story and it’s a great way to tell the story of the 20th century and how people lived back then.”
The Washington County museum is building a new, 21,000-square-foot welcome and education center. Meanwhile, visitors enjoy the current museum building, where they can pretend to operate a trolley in an interactive simulator and explore the exhibition “Pittsburgh: Streetcar City.”
Admission includes a 4-mile-roundtrip scenic trolley ride, and a separate trolley ride out to the Trolley Display Building. Here, travelers can explore more than two dozen old trolleys, including one from Cincinnati and one that ran to Shaker Heights in the Cleveland area.
“I think the Trolley Museum is a great experience, especially for families, children and seniors,” Becker says. “It’s just a fun day out.” 1 Museum Rd., Washington, Pennsylvania 15301, 724/228-9256, pa-trolley.org
Carnegie Museum of Art
One of the four prestigious Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Museum of Art has a vast collection of more than 34,000 objects. The museum, located in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, spans paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and digital imagery.
“We are a local organization that serves a local audience, but we also have an international platform,” says Eric Crosby, the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Henry J. Heinz II Director. It’s a really special museum that always has one foot in the past and one foot in the present.”
Through Aug. 7, visitors can explore the exhibition “Gordon Parks in Pittsburgh, 1944/1946,” which shows the World War II era in Pittsburgh through the lens of African American photographer Gordon Parks. These roughly 50 photographs focus on Penola, a grease plant that supplied essential goods to troops during the war.
Thursday nights and Saturdays in the summer, the museum offers the free Inside Out concert series, where a regional performer entertains in the outdoor Sculpture Court. In September, the museum opens the 58th Carnegie International, which occurs every four years and showcases established and emerging contemporary artists. 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, 412/622-3131, cmoa.org
Save the Date
Plan your trip to Western Pennsylvania around one of these popular summer events.
Experience a Pennsylvania tradition that dates to before the Civil War at the Big Butler Fair, held this year July 1 through 9 at the Butler County Fairgrounds north of Pittsburgh. bigbutlerfair.com
The 48th annual Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival returns to the waterfront in Twin Lakes Park in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from June 30 through July 3. Visitors can enjoy live performing arts, cultural activities and foods of the world. artsandheritage.com
The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix returns to the city July 15 through 24. Take in the nation’s only vintage street race during this 10-day event that also includes car shows, parades and more. pvgp.org