Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a city of reinvention. When the steel industry collapsed, finding a new identity was necessary to bring the city back to life. Today, Pittsburg has consistently ranked as a top destination. From a history built on ketchup and pickles, to a very cool brewpub, and to a funky and unlikely bridge of peace to the world, this is a city of surprises. Check out these cool things to do in Pittsburgh, discovered by Globetrotting Traveling Grandmom.

Go off the beaten path with these cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

Pittsburgh: A Reinvented Beauty Photo: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

5 Cool Things to Do In Pittsburgh

1. Check Out Pittsburgh’s Connection to the World at the Heinz History Museum
2. Meet Pittsburgh’s Coolest Resident, Randy of Randyland
3. Go to Church and Have a Beer.
4. Feed Your Hunger (for Days) at Primanti Brothers.
5. Celebrate the Marriage of History and Modern Design at the Renaissance Hotel.

Sometimes you need to start over…

I’ve done it, have you? It happens in cities too, and Pittsburgh is all too familiar with the concept. Once a steel-producing powerhouse and a solid notch on the country’s rust belt, Pittsburgh suffered greatly when the steel industry collapsed. But this is a city of grit and determination, and it has emerged as a very cool place to be. These are just a few of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh.

The Heinz History Museum is one of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

Ketchup and Much More at the Heinz History Museum Photo: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

1. Check Out Pittsburgh’s Connection to the World at the Heinz History Museum.

One of my best travel writing friends lives in Pittsburgh. No matter where we go around the world, she almost always runs into someone connected to her hometown. Pittsburgh has a long and varied history. The inventor of the Ferris Wheel, George Ferris is from the city’s Northside. The Big Mac was first created at a McDonald’s just outside the city. And, no picnic would be complete without ketchup, pickles and all the other condiments Heinz gave us. These stories along with centuries of history and extensive exhibits on Pittsburgh sports await at the Heinz History Museum.

Located in the Strip District in a brick building with a massive ketchup bottle at the top, the Heinz History Museum is the largest in the state. Don’t miss the replica of the set of the beloved Mr. Rogers. After all, this is his neighborhood.

Randyland is one of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

Randy of Randyland! Photo: Terri Marshall, Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

2. Meet Pittsburgh’s Coolest Resident, Randy of Randyland.

Detour down Arch Street in Pittsburgh’s Northside neighborhood, and you can’t miss it. Randyland, a whimsical spectacle of recycled trash turned art with a message. Randyland represents the vision of Randy Gilson, a formerly homeless man whose challenges in life have included depression and ADHD. He has devoted the past 30 years to transform an abandoned, dilapidated building into Pittsburgh’s most colorful landmark. In the process, he transformed a neighborhood.

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Randy bought the property in the heart of Central Northside’s Mexican War Streets for $10,000—the credit limit on his only credit card. At the time, the neighborhood was overrun by gangs and riddled with drugs.

Using the recycling skills he had developed out of necessity, Randy created a colorful collection of folk art from neighborhood trash. He also covered the walls of the building and its courtyard with hundreds of vibrantly painted murals featuring butterflies, dinosaurs, and dancers intertwined with welcoming messages of hope and acceptance.

When I met Randy, he was wearing paint-splattered overalls, hugging friends and strangers, and sharing his “Randyisms” about life and love with anyone who would listen. And everyone did.

Church Brew Works is one of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

Give thanks for beer at the Church Beer Works Photo: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

3. Go to Church and Have a Beer.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Church Brew Works is housed in the former St. John the Baptist church. Originally built in 1902, the church endured its share of troubles including a fire followed by hard times for the community. The church closed its doors in 1993.

Church Brew Works stepped in and painstakingly restored the church to its former glory. The shortening of the church pews provided oak planks to build the bar.

Standing as a centerpiece at the former altar are gleaming steel and copper tanks that shine against a celestial blue backdrop. Inside, an assortment of craft brews will have you giving thanks with every sip.

Should you need it, one confessional remains intact behind the bar and houses “The Church Brew Works” merchandise.

Carb loading at Primanti Brothers is one of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

The infamous Primanti Brothers sandwich! Photo: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

4. Feed Your Hunger (for Days) at Primanti Brothers

Although it has become a chain in recent years, the original Primanti Brothers located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District is THE place to sample the iconic Primanti sandwiches. It started in 1933 during the Great Depression when Joe Primanti set up a sandwich cart to sell “hearty sandwiches to hungry truckers.” The tradition continues today and has become a Pittsburgh tradition.

Served on locally baked Italian bread, the decadent creation begins with grilled meat, turkey, pork or fish topped with coleslaw, Italian dressing and piled high with crispy French fries. Open 24-hours, you can satisfy your craving for calories and carbs whenever the urge hits.

Staying at the Fulton Renaissance Hotel is one of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

The Fulton Renaissance Hotel Photo: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

5. Celebrate the Marriage of History and Modern Design at the Renaissance Hotel.

Choosing the right lodging contributes to your experience at a destination. The Renaissance Pittsburgh is an excellent choice…offering an impressive fusion of old-world sophistication and contemporary style. Located in the city’s Cultural District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was named for Robert Fulton, the engineer responsible for designing the first steamboat to travel the “western waters” of the US in 1811.

The building has a storied past. In WWII, the 6th floor served as a VA hospital. Renovations led to a discovery of an x-ray lab lined with 3,000-pound lead panels within the walls. The bombing of Pearl Harbor required the lobby’s majestic rotunda dome to be covered with a heavy rubber material to avoid detection during the war. Sadly, its splendor remained covered for 60 years.

The Fulton’s history isn’t all serious. It was also home to the popular nightclub, Heaven in the 1980s. If its walls could speak, I’m sure we would uncover more than a few local scandals.

Staying at the Fulton Renaissance Hotel is one of the cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom

The stunning rotunda dome at The Renaissance Pittsburgh Photo: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom

The hotel offers 291 rooms and four suites. We stayed in the Andy Warhol suite (another Pittsburgh native) which pays tribute to his iconic style. Overlooking the Sixth Street Bridge, the river below, and PNC Park, our view was unsurpassed…even from the restroom.

As my husband pointed out, if you were inclined to linger on the “throne” during a Pittsburgh Pirates game, you’d have the best seat in the house. I suppose that’s another cool thing to do in Pittsburgh.

Off the beaten path: 5 cool things to do in Pittsburgh - TravelingMom