Steel yourself for an adventure in lively Pittsburgh

World-class museums and getaway packages


November 13, 2003|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It used to be when you mentioned Pittsburgh, the uninitiated conjured images of belching smokestacks, die-hard football fans and snow.

This year, Pittsburgh's getting national attention only for the Steelers' losing streak and the city's budget woes - including layoffs of city workers and cancellation of the 2004 Pittsburgh Marathon.

Under the current circumstances, Pittsburgh may not be the most fun place to live. But it remains a great place to visit.

Just four hours from Baltimore, Pittsburgh is steeped in interesting history and culture.

Before you doubt us, consider these lesser known facts about "Steel City":

Meriwether Lewis of the exploring duo Lewis and Clark spent two months in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1803, waiting for a keelboat to be built as he and Clark prepared for their three-year western odyssey.

The Klondike bar - the country's best-selling ice cream novelty item - was invented by a man with strong ties to Pittsburgh. By 1967, Isaly's Dairy chain was making 11 million Klondikes a year at its Pittsburgh manufacturing headquarters.

Andy Warhol, the 20th-century artist, filmmaker, author and so much more, was born in Pittsburgh, grew up there and attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology there. The museum about his life and memory is the largest museum devoted to a single artist in the United States.

Pittsburgh is also home to a world-class museum group begun by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie gave more than $350 million to educational and cultural causes during his life. Pittsburgh, the Scotsman's adopted home, benefited greatly from his generosity.

Today, Pittsburgh's convention and visitors bureau extends that generosity. The bureau's online getaways include free or significantly reduced admission to the city's most popular attractions.

The getaway packages - which also offer lodging choices - are themed. The "Kidsburgh" package includes admission to eight attractions and two nights' stay. A family of four pays $329. The Andy Warhol package - $30 per couple - includes visits to Warhol's childhood home, his grave and local art venues.

You can use the guide below to help design your own package - and still get bargain admission prices.

What to do

Carnegie Museum of Art (4400 Forbes Ave., 412-622-3131): The museum's collection includes American art since the mid-19th century as well as French impressionist paintings. The decorative-arts collection is marking its 50th anniversary. Two of the museum's main galleries have just reopened after major renovations.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History (4400 Forbes Ave., 412-622-3131): Adjacent to the Museum of Art, the natural history museum is dinosaur central. The Dinosaur Hall includes amazing exhibits, a working lab where scientists ready dinosaur bones for display and a dinosaur-dig play area that's a big hit with kids. North American wildlife, insects, the Earth and life in the Arctic are just a few of the other galleries to explore. There are all sorts of weird artifacts - some of which were lawn ornaments on wealthy estates during Andrew Carnegie's time.

Carnegie Science Center (1 Allegheny Ave., 412-237-3400): It's been called "an amusement park for the mind," and rightfully so. The science center offers 250 hands-on exhibits. There are two Exploration Stations where kids from preschool on up can explore scientific concepts ranging from the properties of water to basic aerodynamics. The centerpiece of the SeaScape area is a coral reef in a five-tank, 1,800-gallon ecosystem. There's also an Omnimax movie theater. The planetarium showcases star and laser shows accompanied by music, including songs by Julie Andrews, Pink Floyd and Radiohead.

Duquesne Incline (1220 Grandview Ave., 412-381-1665): Ride a cable car 400 feet up Pittsburgh's Mount Washington and marvel at the city below. There used to be 15 inclines in Pittsburgh. Today, the 126-year-old Duquesne (pronounced Du-Kane) is one of only two left. At night, there's a light show as you climb.

National Aviary (Allegheny Commons West, 412-323-7235): Six hundred birds in their natural habitats. Meet birds face to beak, watch them being fed and walk through ecosystem exhibits as birds fly around you.

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium (1 Wild Place, 800-474-4966): "Niches of the World," featuring the komodo dragon and tree kangaroos, are among the interesting exhibit areas. Don't miss Kids Kingdom, where youngsters experience what it's like to be a variety of animals. The 3-year-old aquarium has revolving tanks and a stingray tunnel.

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