What is it about Western Pennsylvania that inspires such indifference among Main Liners? And I’m not talking about Harrisburg. I’m referring to the part of our great commonwealth that exists beyond the Blue Mountain and Kittatinny Mountain tunnels just past Newburg. At this point along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Alleghenies make their stunning first impression. And it doesn’t let up all the way to Pittsburgh.
My family and I ventured out that way recently, spending two unforgettable days in the Laurel Highlands region southeast of Pittsburgh, which is spotlighted this month in travel editor Marilyn Odesser-Torpey’s feature, “Leaf-Peeper’s Guide.” The mountains of the Highlands are the largest in the state. At 3,213 feet, Mount Davis in Somerset County is Pennsylvania’s loftiest point.
The Poconos may have their charms and convenience, but an additional two hours of driving gets you the sort of geological drama you won’t find off the Northeast Extension. Our sunset view of Uniontown and the surrounding countryside from the Historic Summit Inn high atop Chestnut Ridge was nothing short of mesmerizing. Within 15 miles are Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, numerous hiking and biking trails, and Ohiopyle State Park, a thriving river-sports hub.
Once you get past the city’s obsession with those pesky sports teams, Pittsburgh has plenty to offer, including a walkable downtown, the Carnegie and Andy Warhol museums, the Duquesne Incline cable car that scales Mount Washington, and Point State Park, where the famed three rivers meet.
Then there’s the up-and-coming restaurant scene. Wyatt Lash, the former executive chef at our beloved Whip Tavern, is a Pittsburgh newbie, moving there from West Chester to take over the kitchen at the surging Commoner gastropub in the Hotel Monaco (look for my Great Escape entry on the Monaco in October). Lash cites an especially supportive community of chefs who are eager to live up to Pittsburgh’s 2015 Zagat ranking as the No. 1 most improved food city.
So, doubling back to my original point, why did it take me 27 years to return to a region with so much to offer—and why, for that matter, am I not alone? “For the most part, I think it’s often because folks in Philadelphia are oriented by proximity more toward the East Coast destinations,” says Cindi Lash, editor of Pittsburgh Magazine.
“We continue to fight that moth-eaten stereotype of being an industrial Rust Belt city, when nothing is further from the truth. We’re much more about tech, higher education, medicine and entrepreneurial innovation. We’re an easy, often very pretty drive west, and our restaurant, arts, culture and recreation scenes are well equipped to welcome you. Just leave those Flyers jerseys at home.”
To borrow from the Pittsburghese glossary, yinz really need to check it out.