PA Road Trip: A Philadelphian’s Guide to Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands

Go for the Steel City’s museums (from Warhol to a bicycle heaven), and stay for the adventures that await outside of town.

pittsburgh laurel highlands pa road trip

The Duquesne Incline / Photograph by Chris LaBasco/Alamy Stock Photo

When my son, a junior in high school, announced he wanted to tour the University of Pittsburgh, my wife said we could leave early in the morning, be out in Pittsburgh by lunchtime, do the tour, grab a cheap hotel, and be back in Philly for lunch the following day. And it’s true; we could have. But what fun would that have been? Pittsburgh and the rural area just to its east — the Laurel Highlands — provide plenty of distractions from the stressful college-search process.

You might think that because Philadelphia has such fabulous museums, Pittsburgh’s would be a letdown. Not true. The Carnegie Museum of Art is considered the first museum of modern art in the United States. Speaking of, guess where Andy Warhol spent the first half of his life? Yep. Which is why the Andy Warhol Museum is here. Continuing on the quirky trajectory, we made our way to Bicycle Heaven, which bills itself as the world’s largest bicycle museum, and I have no reason to doubt it, since there are thousands and thousands of bikes throughout three floors. The Monkees bike? It’s here. The Pee-Wee Herman bike? You bet. Among the other tourist stops: the Duquesne Incline, a funicular railway that rides a steep hill overlooking Pittsburgh’s bridges, rivers and skyline. Definitely not for those afraid of heights.

Bicycle Heaven / Photograph by Victor Fiorillo


Starting at: Pittsburgh
Ending at: Kecksburg

Journey: Five days.
Stopping in: Mill Run, Ohiopyle, Jones Mills, Evans City, Monroeville, Perryopolis.
Must-see: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.
On our playlist: “In Da Club,” by 50 Cent (clean version); Lizzo; the sounds you hear with the windows down.

We skipped Pittsburgh’s trendier restaurants, instead opting for Singapore slings and Cantonese fare at Chinatown Inn, the last remaining Chinese restaurant in what was once the city’s Chinatown. And it was only a 15-minute drive to Braddock, a.k.a. John Fetterman town, and Emil’s Lounge, a former go-go bar where locals pack in for cheap beers, what might be the world’s biggest Reuben, peerless gołąbki and fried fish platters.

The fun really begins outside Pittsburgh. After two nights downtown at Marriott’s Industrialist Hotel (rooms from $279), we moved to the rustic-chic Log Cabin Lodge & Suites (rooms from $99), where we took over a four-bedroom cabin outfitted with taxidermy, a pool table, and a deck on which we stargazed from our huge hot tub. And we used the lodge as our home base to explore the Laurel Highlands.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s one-of-a-kind house-built-on-a-waterfall Fallingwater is why many tourists visit the region, and for good reason. Ohiopyle State Park, one of Pennsylvania’s most scenic state parks — and the place to be for real white-water rafting — is down the road. That’s the “establishment” stuff.

A bit more off the beaten path (okay, way more), we found Evans City Cemetery, where George Romero filmed the opening scene for his horror classic Night of the Living Dead. My oh-so-ethical daughter refused to take a video of me standing next to the tombstone prominently featured in the scene (“People are buried here, Daddy!”) while I quoted the memorable line: “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!” If you’re super into zombie movies, not far away is the still-open mall where Romero filmed his 1978 follow-up, Dawn of the Dead — and yes, the mall has a Living Dead Museum

A movie still from Night of the Living Dead / Photograph via TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo

And how could we resist a quick detour to Buffalo Bill’s house from Silence of the Lambs? It was used for exteriors and some interiors (no, not the serial killer’s basement), and you can tour it or, if you’re really sick in the head, stay overnight.

If you’re visiting the area in July, you simply must go to one-horse-town Kecksburg — legend has it that a hieroglyphic-covered UFO landed there in 1965 — for its annual UFO festival. And if you miss the fest, don’t worry: There’s a towering replica of the acorn-shaped UFO as well as a gift shop in the back of a smoky members-only fire-company bar. Did I buy a Kecksburg UFO baseball cap? You betcha!

pittsburgh laurel highlands pa road trip

Victor Fiorillo and his brand-new Kecksburg UFO hat take a selfie at Buffalo Bill’s house.

Wander Luxe

Book a chalet, suite or villa at Seven Springs Mountain Resort (rooms from $200). Though the resort is big for skiing in the winter, don’t miss the exhilarating alpine slide (think luge but without the ice) and serious hiking opportunities in warmer months.

You don’t have to go far. Seven Springs is a full-service resort, and its fine-dining options, including Helen’s, are just that. Off-property, you can do no better than dining in a private tree house at the appropriately named TreeTops Restaurant.

Adjacent to Seven Springs is a well-manicured golf course and a clays shooting range. For something a bit more adventurous, hire a private guide from Wilderness Voyageurs to take you on a pretty serious rafting trip in Ohiopyle State Park.

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Published as “Trekking Through Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands” in the June 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.