I returned to the Renaissance hot and tired, but determined to cram as much into my day as possible.
Just outside the hotel one of Pittsburgh's many bridges, this one renamed for baseball great Roberto Clemente and closed for pedestrian traffic on game nights at PNC Park.
It was 5:30 p.m. and fans were streaming across the bridge from downtown parking spots for a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And it was Bobblehead Doll Night.
My sisters were too busy with their daily lives to join me at the Strip, the Phipps or the zoo (see what I mean about the natives?), but one of them met me at the game.
We bought a couple of $9 bleacher tickets, collected our bobbleheads and took a tour of the stadium.
PNC Park is part of a new sports complex on the North Shore that includes Heinz Field, home to the Steelers. (Somehow, naming a sports stadium for a corporation doesn't seem so crass when you've been pouring its ketchup on your food for your whole life.)
It is an intimate park, with a grass field, designed to fit snugly in an urban grid, and it opens up to allow baseball fans a breathtaking view of the river and downtown.
Though we could have eaten at any of the 19 different concessions, some owned by Pittsburgh's favorite restaurants, my sister and I left the game early and strolled to Max's Allegheny Tavern on the North Side, a cozy neighborhood restaurant that features terrific German food, including red cabbage, every kind of wurst, sauerkraut with caraway seeds and smoky German potato salad.
We stuffed ourselves for $35 and washed it down with beer served in a Mason jar.
The next morning, I popped one of the Renaissance's smoothies in the cup holder of my van and headed for the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Pittsburgh struggled during its painful transition from manufacturing town to the medical and banking center it has become. But it has blossomed again, while maintaining its intimacy and down-to-earth qualities.
On my way home, I called my husband and told him that it might have been a mistake to leave all those years ago when we thought the city was dying.
"I could have told you that," he said.
How the money was spent
Tickets and entrance fees
Gasoline and tolls
If You Go
Southwest Airlines has a $39 one-way fare now, but if you choose to drive, take Interstate 70 West to Breezewood, Pa., to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-76 West. There are a number of exits around Pittsburgh, but the one that will take you downtown is the Monroeville exit, Route 22 and I-376. The drive takes between four and five hours. Tolls cost $6.50.
There are plenty of places to stay in Pittsburgh. I went on priceline.com and bid $75 for a four-star hotel, and my wish was granted.
Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel
-- The four-star hotel, on the water and in the heart of downtown, is beautifully restored. (Average rates $139-$209; 412-562-1200 or renaissancepittsburgh.com)
Omni William Penn
-- The Omni at 530 William Penn Place is a historic landmark. (Average rates $119-$249; 412-281-7100 or omnihotels.com.)
-- 2228 E. Carson St. This South Side restaurant offers Spanish cuisine. 412-488-1818; mallorcarestaurant.com.
-- 46 18th St., inside PNC Park and other locations around Pittsburgh. Pick up a sandwich piled high with meat -- and fries and cole slaw. rackdeal.com/primantibrothers.
Max's Allegheny Tavern
-- 537 Suismon St. Max's, on the North Side, has terrific German food, including every kind of wurst. 412-231-1899; maxsalleghenytavern.com.
The Strip District
-- This area is known for its rows of loading docks, food stores, restaurants, night spots, open air markets, sidewalk vendors and musicians.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
-- See the otherworldly work of Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly and his team here through Nov. 11. 412-622-6914; phipps.conservatory.org.
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
-- The zoo is home to thousands of animals representing more than 400 species, including Koda and Nuka, a pair of polar bear brothers. 412-665-3640; zoo.pgh.pa.us.
-- See the Pittsburgh Pirates play ball. pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com.
For a variety of Pittsburgh itineraries and suggestions, go to visitpittsburgh.com.