My first stop was the Strip District, made famous by the Primanti Brothers restaurant and its signature sandwich, on which both cole slaw and french fries are piled -- along with meat -- on the bun. (Primanti's even has its own concession stand in PNC Park.)
There is nothing like a Saturday morning in the Strip District, located on a "strip" of land between the hills and the river.
It is three stretched-out rows of loading docks, food stores, restaurants, night spots, open air markets, sidewalk vendors and musicians -- and the ancient St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic church -- where every craving, from the spiritual to the gastronomical, can be satisfied.
The Strip is heaven for foodies. You can find any ingredient for any recipe from any country in the world.
I am ashamed to say this was my first trip there, and my first breakfast at Pamela's, a retro diner where you are likely to be waited on by Pamela herself.
For $5.95, I feasted on her "semi-famous" lyonnaise potatoes, her namesake hotcakes (which are more like oversized crepes) and chorizo sausage that was hotter than the coffee.
I was again glad to have driven to Pittsburgh, because I shopped. And then I shopped some more. I wished I had thought to bring a cooler after returning often to the van with my purchases of olive oil and spices.
But the best things in the Strip are free. The leisure of a Saturday morning. The sidewalk musicians. The sidewalk chefs, who offer ribs and omelets and Chinese pancakes and Italian pastries.
And ducking into the cool interior of a shop, where the smell of cheese or deli meats or fresh breads or olives or pickles greet you before the shop owners can.
As the heat rose in the late morning, I returned to the entrance of the Strip District and the Senator John Heinz History Center, named in honor of the late senator who died at age 52 in a plane crash in 1991, and featuring the history of his family's ketchup company. It is housed in an old ice warehouse that was used by the company until 1952.
For $7.50, I took a two-hour trip down memory lane. The museum is filled with memorabilia only a Pittsburgher could love: signs for Isaly's skyscraper ice-cream cones and Reymer's Blend (no relation!), Klondike bars, Clark Bars, Iron City beer and Rolling Rock.
There were signs from the U.S. Steel building -- which was actually built to rust -- and Joseph Horne Co. Dry Goods, the former downtown department store with the magical Christmas window displays.
There were signs, too, from Eat 'n Park, Gulf Oil and the Alcoa Building -- the first to be built entirely of aluminum. All are memories now.
The Heinz museum also showcases Pittsburgh illustrious sports history -- from the Homestead Grays of the old Negro Leagues to Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception. From Arnold Palmer to Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino.
Even my old high school, North Hills, was featured -- national champions in 1987.
If you ask nicely in the gift shop, the young woman behind the cash register will give you a pickle pin -- the souvenir given to millions of school children after their tour of the Heinz factory on the North Side.
Glass and pitchers
Pittsburgh has long been associated with steel-making, but the region was also the birthplace of glassmaking and is home to PPG Industries, once known as Pittsburgh Plate Glass.
The city is celebrating that heritage with magnificent glass displays at the Heinz History Center, the Carnegie Museum, the Pittsburgh Glass Center and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden.
The Phipps was my next stop.
Located in the jewel that is Schenley Park -- a 400-acre park in the heart of the Oakland section of town and next to the University of Pittsburgh, Phipps was often my destination at Easter for its beautiful spring flower show.
Until Nov. 11, the otherworldly work of Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly and his team is on display, mixed and mingled with the plants and in the gardens.
I had an quick lunch in the Phipps cafe for $9 before my leisurely tour of the exhibit. The tickets are timed -- the "Chihuly Nights" light show sells out -- but the conservatory was not crowded for a Saturday.
One of the volunteers told me that Chihuly and his staff arrived with six tractor-trailers of glass and took several weeks to install the hundreds of pieces. The $12.50 ticket price was a typical Pittsburgh bargain.
"You have to see the polar bears." My nephew called me before I left to demand that I visit his favorite Pittsburgh feature -- the sprawling ice-water home for a pair of teenage polar bear brothers, Koda and Nuka, just opened at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. (Admission is $10.)
The bears are so close you can play patty-cake with them through the Plexiglas. (They are trained to present their paws and open their mouths so their keepers can check for injuries.) And a Plexiglas tunnel underneath their pool enables you to watch them swim and play.
I couldn't help it. I found myself grinning and laughing like a child.