Hide in plain sight at Pittsburgh’s hidden gem green spaces

click to enlarge Circular path goes around a sculpture, surrounded by trees and small purple flowers
Photo: Hannah Kinney-Kobre
Firstside Park

As we climb our way out of the gray Pittsburgh winter, we’re of course all dying to get outside and bask in the burgeoning spring vibes. You can hit any of the usual spots, but guess what: Everyone else is, too. So where can you go to chill on some bright, green grass and zen out while avoiding the crowds? Check out our suggestions for some stellar green spaces around town that are off the beaten path.

Sterrett Environmental Garden

400 S. Lang Ave., Point Breeze

While Point Breeze has no shortage of green spaces between Homewood Cemetery and Frick Park, the fact is, they can get pretty crowded with people appreciating the weather on a fine day. If you’re looking for a lower key spot in which to soak up the spring sunlight, the Sterrett Environmental Garden is an East End gem.

Started more than 20 years ago with funding from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the garden has been tended by Point Breeze neighbor Howard Aiken for the past 15 of them. Each of the 100-plus plants in the garden are meticulously labeled, and many have medicinal or culinary uses. (We're not saying you can pick them, though! If the plant police come, we don't have your bail money.) In any case, you can certainly enjoy the divine smell when everything’s in full bloom.

Hannah Kinney-Kobre

Firstside Park

First Avenue, Downtown

In the desert that is Downtown Pittsburgh (save Point State Park, which has had enough ink spilled about it), Firstside Park is a little oasis. Built on a former railroad terminal, you’ll know spring is here when the trees – cherry, crabapple, and Callery pear – begin to bloom.

The park is studded with benches and patches of landscaped grass, accompanied by a sign that informs you it’s “a passive park” – so no skateboarding, kids! The contemplative air is only heightened by the maybe-whimsical, maybe-creepy sculptures by Albert Guibara scattered throughout the park, including two frogs learning to ride a unicycle and a rabbit sitting in a chair.


West End Overlook

Marlow Street, Elliott

Restaurateurs, retailers, and realtors have long capitalized on Mount Washington’s scenic grandeur, while generations of Pittsburghers have relied on the obligatory incline ride and accompanying dinner to endear their beloved city to out-of-town guests. It’s a winning formula — but it can get a little tired.

Meanwhile, just a mile or two downstream, an exquisite parklet with an arguably superior view is largely unknown to those outside the West End locale.

No doubt a major factor in the West End Overlook’s relative obscurity is that it’s not all that easy to find. Getting there involves meandering through the sleepy neighborhood of Elliot, and following a steep cul-de-sac to its abrupt end 700 feet above the Ohio River.

It’s definitely worth it, though. While Mount Washington impresses with scale and imminence, the Overlook lets you appreciate the point of Pittsburgh’s almost alien symmetry from a head on view. Somehow, rainfall collecting over Northern West Virginia and Southern New York lines up in a near-perfect triangle as it converges at the source of the Ohio River. There are few spots on the ground level where you can appreciate this spectacle of geometry — and the Overlook is by far the best of them.

Head there in the spring, and the canopy of blooming flowers over the winding, ADA-accessible entrance ramp will have you enraptured before you arrive.

Also on site, an airy event space with sliding glass doors makes a great venue for a celebration requiring indoor and outdoor elements.

— Jamie Wiggan

Homestead Labyrinth

54 E. Waterfront Dr., Homestead

Whether you’ve been shopping at the Waterfront or biking along the Great Allegheny Passage, take a stroll down to the Homestead Labyrinth — a beautiful maze of cobblestones embedded into a small field right next to the Monongahela. History buffs will especially enjoy navigating the labyrinth, as labyrinths date back to the 200s BCE, and were popularized during the medieval era.

These labyrinths were often installed in cathedrals to provoke meditation. Homestead’s labyrinth, designed by Lorainne Vullo, memorializes the people who died in The Battle of Homestead, also known as The Homestead Massacre, on July 6, 1892, during which union steelworkers clashed with Pinkerton agents hired by Henry Clay Frick. This star-pointed maze is shielded from Waterfront Drive by a small hill and gets very few visitors. A park bench can be found nearby for parents who wish to let their kids explore the maze.

— Lucy Chen

Seldom Seen Greenway

990 Saw Mill Run Blvd, Beechview

You enter Seldom Seen Greenway — a hamlet of tranquility nestled in a valley near the intersection of two of the region’s busiest highways — by walking through an intricately-laid brick archway catching the ethereal reflection of sunlight bouncing off Saw Mill Run.

Seldom Seen used to be an isolated farming settlement mostly populated by German immigrants who grew their own produce and raised chickens. The village was reportedly annexed into Beechview in 1924, and after the last residents moved out in the 1960s, the forest reclaimed their homes, creating the wild refuge we know today.

A walking path follows the flow of the run, but there are also possibilities for off-path excursions, including scaling the narrow side of a stone wall, which more or less, resembles a set of stairs, to survey the scene from above and admire colorful graffiti adorning the stone that buttresses the rail line.

— Jordana Rosenfeld