Spring Guide | Spring Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Spring Guide

click to enlarge Spring Guide
CP photo: Renee Rosensteel
The National Aviary’s Disco the penguin, this week’s cover artist

As the sun begins to shine sporadically and flowers start to bloom in sidewalk cracks, it can only mean one thing: Spring is here. If, like a bear, you’ve been hibernating in your lair for several months, it’s time to get outside, stretch those legs, and explore all the city has to offer. The Pittsburgh City Paper Spring Guide is a map for making the city feel like new again, from flea markets to bike lessons to film festivals.

Walk on the Wild Side

Spring Guide
Click the photo above to watch our behind-the-scenes video of Disco painting this week's cover artwork, plus find out how you can win the original artwork!

We’ve all seen adorable cartoon penguins slipping and sliding on icebergs, but you might be surprised to find out that penguins live in warmer climates. Disco, this week’s cover artist, is one of 20 warm-weather African penguins found in Penguin Point at the National Aviary (aviary.org) in the North Side. Much like humans, the arrival of spring is a welcome change from the harsh Pittsburgh winters for penguins. Their outdoor space includes heated nest cubbies throughout the exhibit in the cold months to help keep them comfortable.

Now that the weather is warming up, it’s a perfect time to come visit the penguins and the other birds at the Aviary. Book a penguin encounter and mingle with Disco and friends up close. There are also multiple exhibits throughout the bird zoo too, including the new Tropical Rainforest, where you’ll forget about shoveling sidewalks while hanging out with parrots and one of the zoo’s popular sloths amongst hundreds of tropical plants.

After you’ve met the African penguins, head to the Pittsburgh Zoo (pittsburghzoo.org) and meet some African elephants! We recommend a visit to the African Savanna, where you can see elephants, rhinoceroses, zebras, leopards, giraffes, and lions.

Like your felines a little smaller? Schedule a visit to one of the city’s two cat cafes. Colony Café (colonycafepgh.com) in the Strip District, and The Black Cat Market (blackcatmarketpgh.com) in Lawrenceville, both offer visits with adorable, adoptable cats. More of a dog person? Volunteer to dog walk at one of the city’s animal shelters: Humane Animal Rescue (humaneanimalrescue.org) or Animal Friends (thinkingoutsidethecage.org). Better yet, adopt one of those beautiful homeless babies!

— Lisa Cunningham

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Pittsburgh Bike Share
Healthy Ride bikes

Get on a bike

Biking is a fun and eco-friendly way to get around the city, but for those of us who haven’t touched a bike in 10 years, the idea of riding in the city can be incredibly daunting. On Sat., April 27, the Lawrenceville branch of the Carnegie Library (carnegielibrary.org) will offer a free class designed for new cylists looking to ride comfortably and confidently around town. Confident City Cycling teaches bike/body separation, brake modulation, weight distribution, and quick hazard avoidance. After the class, participants will go on a group ride to practice strategies for crossing big intersections, riding on fast roads, reading traffic patterns, and road conditions. For those 16 and over, free Healthy Ride bike rentals will be available for the duration of the class. 

For more bike-riding workshops and get-togethers, we recommend checking out Bike Pittsburgh (bikepgh.org), a local nonprofit who holds bike-related events regularly.

— Jordan Snowden

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Paul G. Weigman
Gardens of the Rainbow at Phipps Conservatory

Stop and smell the flowers

In the brief window between cold season and spring allergies, take advantage of clear sinuses and enjoy the whimsical floral scents of springtime.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (phipps.conservatory.org) is tops when it comes to seeing and smelling flowers from all over the world. Starting on Sat., March 23, the Conservatory will host its Gardens of the Rainbow spring flower show, with dozens of varieties bursting into bloom.

One of the Pittsburgh are newer flower-full locales is the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden (pittsburghbotanicgarden.org) in Oakdale. And this year, the garden, which offers ponds, meadows, trees, and a children’s area, opened a new exhibit called Garden of the Five Senses. Flower fans can smell, look, touch, taste, and hear all that spring has to offer. 

By mid-April, Pittsburgh’s native flowers should be starting to bloom, and the Raccoon Creek Park Wildflower Center (visitpa.com) in Clinton is the best place to view them. Take a leisurely stroll by the marsh, through a meadow, and along the creek to gaze upon goldenrod, larkspur, and other local varieties.

— Ryan Deto

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Rob Thompson
Catch mountain biking documentary Beautiful Idiot at the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival

Binge Break

It’s nice that we’ve come up with “binge-watching” as a euphemism for the unglamorous act of watching a whole series in one sitting. But as spring approaches, it might be time to give the binges a break and get out of the house — to watch movies in a theater. Hey, it’s better than nothing. If actually being outdoors isn’t your forte, check out the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival April 5-7 at the Byham Theater (trustarts.org), which features three days of films focused on outdoor activities like climbing, skiing, beaver trapping, and more. You get to explore the outdoors without actually braving the elements! 

If virtually exploring the outdoors isn’t appealing, try learning about organ transplantation on the biggest screen in Pittsburgh. Burden of Genius follows the work of Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, who performed the world’s first liver transplant and perfected the procedure in Pittsburgh. The documentary runs April 12-18 at the North Side’s Rangos Giant Cinema (carnegiesciencecenter.org). Other upcoming shows at Rangos include Rocky Horror Picture Show (April 27), The Dark Crystal (April 26-28), and Jimi Hendrix concert doc Electric Church (May 3-4).

— Hannah Lynn

Finders Keepers

Spring is, well, springing up, and fresh shoots mean one thing: fresh finds. Instead of trudging through produce aisles in the grocery store, get outside and explore what Pittsburgh has to offer.

Foraging in the city is surprisingly simple. Pittsburgh is filled with green spaces that are home to unknown, delicious treasures, all mapped out on an interactive map. Falling Fruit (fallingfruit.org), created by two avid foragers, shows hotspots for fallen goods across the ‘Burgh. It’s kept up by foresters, fregans, and foragers in the area, pinpointing hundreds of spots to pick out spring’s edible offerings, like chickweed and purslane. 

If do-it-yourself harvesting isn’t all that appealing, the Allegheny Land Trust (alleghenylandtrust.org) is here to help. Join the organization, along with the Western PA Mushroom Club, in search of native fungi on Sat., April 13. You can also explore the season’s first signs of plant life in a Plant Pursuit hike with Jen Dalke of Blue Heron Nature Skills on Wed., April 17. 

Or leave the forest behind and forage for new skills at one of the city’s many cooking classes. Explore international cuisines at Gaynor’s School of Cooking (gaynorsschoolofcooking.com) — highlights include Spain, Thailand, and Japan; master the challenging art of French baking at East Liberty’s Macaron Bar (macaron-bar.com/Pittsburgh); or hand-paint artisan truffles at A519 (a519chocolate.com) in Millevale.

— Maggie Weaver

Make cool stuff

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Workshop PGH
Spring Plant Party at Ace Hotel

Being productive in the winter is tough because all you want to do is be wrapped under a blanket. But now that the ground is thawing, flowers are blooming, and the sun is shining (once a month), it’s a great time to celebrate the earth in creative ways. Workshop PGH will host Spring Plant Party on Mon., April 22, in collaboration with Shadyside Nursery, at the Ace Hotel (acehotel.com/pittsburgh). The event benefits environmental organization Tree Pittsburgh and features several gardening and craft workshops including making an indoor herb garden, decorating a reusable tote, and creating a hanging moss ball.

If you want to learn skills that are less artful and more technical (and free), check out the useful car workshops hosted by Prototype PGH (prototypepgh.com). It can induce a confused panic when a car breaks down or a dashboard light starts flashing. Instead of paying someone else to fix your car, do it yourself, with help from the Jump Your Battery, Change Your Tire workshop on Sat., April 27 and the Change Your Oil, Check Your Fluids workshop on Sat., May 18, both in the parking lot of the Blumcraft building.

— Hannah Lynn

Take a hike

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CP file photo
Allegheny Cemetery

At 42 percent, Pittsburgh has the most urban tree cover of any city in the country. Enjoy the springtime return of green by hiking through the trees. Pittsburgh has great trails through the region and even in the city. 

Frick Park in Point Breeze offers a plethora of forested trails snaking their way past ravines and views of the Monongahela River. Most trails start at the Frick Environmental Center. Outside of the city, Settlers Cabin Park in Robinson has several quiet trails away, including a relatively easy hike down to a small but scenic waterfall. That trail starts at the end of Te Pee Drive in the park, just follow it down the hill. 

For a more manicured hiking experience, consider a trek through Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville. The paths are paved, but the terrain is hilly and meandering. In spring, the several different types of trees bloom with yellows, purples, and bright greens. 

— Ryan Deto

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CP file photo
Jerry’s Records

Record Deals

A new record shop called The Government Center (519 E. Ohio St. North Side) opens its doors on March 23 with a party and a handful of great local bands (including Meeting of Important People acoustic and some ex-Delicious Pastries). They're boasting a selection of thousands of new and used 45s and LPS.

From there on out, treat this spring as a time to ramp up your vinyl collection since surely you're sick of the albums you wore out during winter. Sadly, this year saw the closure of Juke Records in Bloomfield, but many of Pittsburgh's mainstays remain waiting for your visit. A few of our favorites: Amazing Books & Records (amazingbooksandrecords.com), Attic Record Store (atticrecordstoreinc.com), Get Hip Records (gethip.com), Vinyl Remains (vinylremainspg13.com), and of course, the legendary Jerry's Records (jerrsrecords.com). It’s always a good day to shop for records, but be on the lookout for deals and new releases on Sat., April 13 for Record Store Day (recordstoreday.com), when stores all over the country celebrate vinyl with new releases, discounts, and events.

— Alex Gordon

Spring Cleaning (and Claiming)

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Handmade Arcade
Jewelry by Leshia Seager at Shop and Sell spring pop-up market

Clean out your closets and make room for a whole new spring wardrobe at various spring markets and fairs popping up all over town.

On Sat., March 23, the Vintage Pittsburgh Retro Fair returns to the Heinz History Center (heinzhistorycenter.org) with dozens of local vendors. Presented in partnership with The Neighborhood Flea, the event features a wide array of items, including vintage clothing, accessories, and home decor, plus handmade goods like jewelry, candles, and artwork. In addition to shopping, enjoy delicious food and drinks from local hot spots, including tasty treats and beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

On Sun., March 24, hit up the Pittsburgh Pickers: Vintage Market at the Ace Hotel (acehotel.com/pittsburgh). Presented by Retro Gems and Zeds, the event features 20 different local resellers and collectors, dealing primarily in vintage clothing and nostalgia from the 1970s through the 1990s. There will also be food and drink from the Whitfield. 

On Sat., April 6, head to the ground floor of the Blumcraft Building for the Babyland Spring Cleaning Sale (search Facebook for “Babyland Pittsburgh”). Presented by Babyland, a collection of studios and shop spaces used by members for work, art, and activism, the afternoon includes handmade, vintage, and secondhand goods, including wood and metal work, clothing, prints, and more. Beverages and treats like bagels, tamales, and pupusas will also be for sale. 

Looking for cool glassware, kitchen gadgets, or furniture? On Sat., April 6, the PGH Vintage Mixer Home Show presents two floors of antique and vintage home goods at the Teamsters Local Union 249 (pghvintagemixer.com). Over 30 local and regional vendors will have items to suit a variety of tastes, from kitschy décor to fun, yet functional pieces. There will also be pizza, coffee, and adult beverages from Pittsburgh businesses. 

On Sat., April 27, Handmade Arcade celebrates its 15th anniversary by spotlighting new crafters at the first-ever Shop and Sell spring pop-up market at Construction Junction (cjreuse.org). Meet and shop from a new crop of craft hobbyists, enthusiasts, and rookies joining the local craft and maker scene. The event includes 30 vendors, free maker activities by the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse and Pittsburgh Zine Fair, and on-site food and coffee trucks. You can also sample and purchase Crafted Apple, a special, limited edition collaborative release from Handmade Arcade and Threadbare Cider.

There are plenty of chances to find unique items when the PGH Flea returns to Spirit (spiritpgh.com) in Lawrenceville. The expansive, indoor monthly market features tons of local vendors selling everything from clothing and accessories to vinyl. Whether you like the offbeat, the cute, or the crafty, you’re sure to find something to fit your taste. Plus, Spirit offers a pizza-based brunch to keep you shopping all day long. 

— Amanda Waltz

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Becky Thurner
H2Oh! At Carnegie Science Center

Get the Kids Out of the House

You stink. Your kids stink. Your house stinks. It’s probably been about five months since you’ve been able to open your windows or spend any time outside that wasn’t sprinting to a car or bus before you’re overwhelmed by an arctic blast. Clean up your children with a fresh breeze offered at any of the great local parks. My kids really like the Highland Park Super Playground (Reservoir Drive), which features sprawling, castle-like wooden structures for climbing. There are a lot of nooks and crannies, though, so keep an eye on your little flight risks. If you are in the South Hills a very aesthetically similar park to Highland exists at the Dormont Community Center (1444 Hillsdale Ave.).

“I love the Science Center” is the only quote I could get out of my son about a place he will bisit any day of the week. If I had to wager a guess, I feel confident saying his favorite exhibit is the H2Oh! exhibit based on the hours we’ve logged there making it rain, building dams, and floating boats. But he loves all the great things to see and do at the Carnegie Science Center (carnegiesciencecenter.org), including the Miniature Railroad & Village, SpacePlace, and the great selection of rotating exhibits, like Da Vinci The Exhibition. I take personal joy in trying to beat that stubborn air hockey robot that I know laughs at me after I walk away. I’m also pretty excited when the basketball robot misses. You won’t replace us, Johnny 5!   

The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum (pittsburghkids.org) also has so many fun things to do that it can take several trips to soak it all in. A great rotating selection of exhibits keeps each visit fresh. But the staples remain strong as the backbone of any visit. Check out the garage where you can drop parachutes from a second story platform, race wooden cars on side-by-side tracks, wheesh and whoosh on a giant wooden railroad, and watch a ball roll the length of the ceiling on a fascinating wire track. The Makeshop is another must see and features “a space for children and families to make, play, and design using ‘real stuff’— the same materials, tools, and processes used by professional artists, builders, programmers, and creators of all kinds.”   

— Josh Oswald

Suns out, headphones out

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CP file photo

While you wait for summer’s official outdoor concert season to begin, capitalize on getting outside and listening to music any chance you can this spring. It will be impossible to not feel good listening to Benji. belt out the tropical sounding “Tamale” at Wilkins Block Party (wilkinsblockparty.com) in Schenley Park on Sat., April 27. Also set to perform is Chet Vincent and Biirdwatcher, along with a one-time jazz and fusion jam set hosted by Beni Rossman and Steve Ippolito of Starship Mantis and The Clock Reads, with more acts to be announced.

The outdoor camaraderie continues with two free outdoor music festivals on Sat., May 11. In Millvale, it’s the third annual Millvale Music Festival (millvalemusic.org). The daylong event showcases local musicians and bands, while also giving attendees a chance to explore the charming borough right across the river from Lawrenceville. In Oakland, fans of brass music will gather in Schenley Park for Pittonkatonk (pittonkatonk.org), a daylong festival in celebration of May Day with a potlock and an opportunity to engage with local social and environmental justice organizations.

— Jordan Snowden

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Photo: CP file photo
EQT Children’s Theater Festival

Staging Spring

If you love theater, you’re living in the right city. Pittsburgh is blessed with a large number of amazing venues with productions throughout the entire year. A few of our favorites this spring are Pittsburgh Public Theater (ppt.org), City Theatre (citytheatrecompany.org), Pittsburgh CLO (pghclo.org), and Prime Stage Theatre (primestage.com). You can find info on these and other productions in our paper each week. But spring also brings two unique festivals to the city.

The Pittsburgh Fringe Festival (pittsburghfringe.org) is a four-day performing arts festival bringing edgy works of theater, comedy, spoken word, dance, and even puppetry to multiple venues in Pittsburgh’s East End starting on Thu., April 4.

For the younger folks in your family, head to Downtown’s Cultural District for the EQT Children’s Theater Festival (pghkids.trustarts.org) on May 16-19. The popular festival is always a big hit with kids of all ages, with family-friendly performances and free hands-on activities all weekend long.

— Lisa Cunningham

Throwing The Distance

Winter hibernating can be fun for a while, but it tends to lose its luster around Pitchers and Catchers. By the time spring officially kicks off on March 21, most Pittsburghers have a healthy stow of pent-up energy dying to get out. The solution? Throw something.

In order to avoid pulled muscles, start slow with some frisbee golf (frolf) at the Schenley Park Disc Golf course (1 Overlook Drive, Oakland). It's has all of the pleasant exertion of an Ultimate game mixed with the strategy of golf, with no running or country clubs involved.

If you find that lacking for violent undertones, head over to one of Pittsburgh's burgeoning axe-throwing companies, such as Lumberjaxes (axethrowingpgh.com) or New Generation Axe Throwing (throwaxes.com). It's deeply satisfying and good practice if you should ever run into a zombie holding a wooden bullseye. 

Lastly, some equally fun but less novel options: play darts at dive bars (Dee's in South Side or Take A Break in Lawrencville), join a cornhole league through Steel City Cornhole (steelcitycornhole.com), or get down with skeeball or puck bowling at Games N'at. Or, you know, just buy a football or something. 

— Alex Gordon

Spectator Sports

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CP photo: Lisa Cunningham
Pittsburgh Riverhounds

After spending all winter cheering on the Steelers, it’s time to put away the sweats, get off the couch, and go play some sports yourself. Nah, just kidding. It’s Pittsburgh, which means it’s just time to go watch other people play different sports while stuffing your face with hotdogs and Crackerjacks. There are lots of local teams playing in spring, like the Steel City Roller Derby (facebook.com/steelcityrollerderby), whose season just kicked off last week; Pittsburgh Passion (pittsburghpassion.com), the city’s women’s football team, has its home opener on Sat., April 6; and we can’t miss mentioning the Pittsburgh Penguins’ (nhl.com/penguins) whose regular season wraps up the first week of April. (Fingers crossed they make it to the playoffs.)

Two teams in town offer amazing views of the Downtown skyline while taking in a live game. The Pittsburgh Pirates (mlb.com/pirates) home opener kicks off at 1:05 p.m. on Mon., April 1 with breathtaking views from inside PNC Park, right by the Allegheny River on the North Side. Want a different view of Downtown? Check out the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (riverhounds.com) across the river at Highmark Stadium in Station Square, for its home opener on Sat., April 13. There’s nothing quite like seeing a soccer ball soaring through the air in front of the skyline on a beautiful spring day.

— Lisa Cunningham

Drinking Spring

Pull your walking shoes out of their winter hiding spots because it’s time to revisit a beloved warm-weather activity: bar crawls.

In Bloomfield, start at Tina’s and Brillobox, then head down Liberty Avenue to enjoy some open-air seating at Lot 17. Down Western Avenue on the North Side, hit Allegheny City Brewing before moving onto Siempre Algo, Max’s Allegheny Tavern, and ending in Federal Galley’s beer garden. 

Discover city brews on The Great Pittsburgh Beer Thru Hike, a Google Maps trail that marks local breweries, divided into legs of varying lengths. Not into beer? Hold out for the Pittsburgh Wine Festival (pittsburghwinefestival.com), a global tasting of over 500 wines on Wed., May 1 at Heinz Field. 

But spring crawls aren’t limited to bars. Pop in and out of Sewickley stores during the neighborhood’s annual Soup Crawl (exploresewickley.com) on Sat., April 6. Flavors of Lawrenceville come together on Sun., April 14 during Taste of Lawrenceville (search Facebook for “Taste of Lawrenceville”), with restaurants and breweries joining together, and featuring a Game of Thrones pop-up bar to honor the show’s final season.

— Maggie Weaver

Art Crawls

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Courtesy of the artist
Larimer Stories by John Pena

Start spring on a therapeutic note at XOXO: An Exhibit about Love & Forgiveness (pittsburghparks.org). Presented by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Frick Environmental Center, the all-ages exhibit invites Frick Park visitors to work together and create art through interactive experiences designed to provide insight into various expressions of love and forgiveness. There are crafts to be made, soft sculptures to hug, and fun, collaborative activities, all of which encourage kids and adults to connect with their feelings in meaningful ways. For those who prefer a guided tour, sign up for Nature XOXO, a free event on Sun., March 31. Visitors will embark on a guided hike through the park, then write a love letter to the trees and trails.

For the outdoorsy art lover, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council hosts a variety of public art tours throughout the city. On Fri., March 29, go on a Downtown Public Art Walking Tour starting in Market Square. On Fri. April 12, go for two-wheels with the Larimer Bike Tour. Or, if you don’t want to spend the money (both tours cost $8), take a self-guided walking tour with the Pittsburgh Art in Public Places guidebook, which features tours of Downtown neighborhoods and the North Side (guidebooks are available for free at 810 Penn Ave., Downtown, at the Visit Pittsburgh Welcome Center at 120 Fifth Ave., Downtown, or online at pittsburghartscouncil.org/tourbooks). Each tour takes 80-120 minutes.

Also, don’t forget the city’s reoccurring nightly art crawls throughout the year: Downtown Gallery Crawl (trustarts.org) in the Cultural District is on Fri., April 26, and the next Unblurred: First Friday Art Crawl (pennavenue.org) on Penn Avenue in Bloomfield-Garfield is on Fri., April 5. Galleries open their doors for free during both gallery crawls.

— Amanda Waltz

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