Mention “Oakland” in most parts of the U.S. and people will think of the large California port city. Not so in Western Pennsylvania. Here, people identify “Oakland” primarily as the neighborhood at the forefront of Pittsburgh’s academic and healthcare renaissance.
Home to three nationally-ranked universities, the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow University, and Carnegie Mellon University (technically part of neighboring Squirrel Hill, but just over the border), Oakland’s predominant landmark is the University of Pittsburgh’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning—the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere. Be sure to venture inside the Cathedral to view its enormous Commons Room (the four-story, nearly .5 acre room looks like something out of Harry Potter) and tour its 31 Nationality Rooms, all of which were “designed to represent the culture of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County.” The rooms are particularly festive when decorated for the winter holidays, so stop in then if you can. Keep in mind, however, that the vast majority of the Nationality Rooms serve as functional classrooms, so touring is limited to weekends and other times when school is not in session.
While the Cathedral of Learning might be the easiest landmark to spot, it is only one of many architectural wonders in Oakland. Both the neo-Gothic Heinz Memorial Chapel (one of the most in-demand wedding venues in Pittsburgh) and Soldiers & Sailors Museum and Memorial Hall (paying tribute to American veterans from all branches of service) are also on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, each less than a block away from the Cathedral.
Also nearby are the stunning Carnegie Museum Buildings, including the renowned Museum of Art (don’t miss the tremendous archive of Teenie Harris photographs) and the Museum of Natural History (the original skeleton of Dippy, one of the world’s most famous dinosaurs, has been on display there since the completion of the 1907 expansion required to house it!). A statue of Dippy stands outside the complex—sometimes sporting a scarf for winter, or dressed to support Pittsburgh sports teams—a sure sign that you’re in the right place. The historic 1,900 seat Carnegie Music Hall and the main branch of the Carnegie Library complete the Carnegie Museum complex, portions of which date back to 1895.
Across the street from both the Carnegie Library and the Cathedral of Learning is Schenley Plaza, which features gardens, the Victorian-style PNC Carousel (open mid-April through mid-October), and The Porch, a popular restaurant featuring seasonal, local food with a rooftop garden and beehives (be sure to try the wood-fired pizzas).
Continue along Schenley Drive into the 456-acre Schenley Park to Flagstaff Hill, known for its movies in the park (shown at dusk throughout the summer) as well as the Carnegie Mellon Buggy race (held each April—this year celebrates the race’s 100th anniversary). The park is also home to the Phipps Conservatory, one of the greenest buildings in the world, as well as one of the most lovely, with exhibits that change frequently (the winter flower show and light garden is a must-see). The adjoining Café Phipps is a good spot for a reasonably-priced light lunch, with numerous vegetarian options.
Other top restaurants in the area include Spice Island Tea House, a longtime favorite for Southeast Asian food, Mount Everest Sushi for fresh sushi and poke bowls, and Butterjoint for burgers and cocktails. For dessert, follow the scent of homemade waffle cones to Dave & Andy’s for unique and absolutely delicious ice cream. Check for festivals, too, such as St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s Greek Food Fest (the 2020 event will be held May 3-9), for excellent food and entertainment.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has numerous offices and hospitals in Oakland, including UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore, both closely affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In addition, UPMC has announced plans to build a new heart and transplant hospital on the UPMC Presbyterian campus. Magee-Womens Hospital (where approximately 45% of all births in Allegheny County take place) and Western Psychiatric Hospital are also in the neighborhood.
In an area known for education and innovation, it’s no surprise to find high-quality coworking spaces such as Avenu, “just a moment’s walk from the invaluable resources at Pitt, CMU and UPMC and geared toward university-affiliated innovators and entrepreneurs.” With flexible leasing options, and an outstanding reputation for hosting start-ups, Avenu provides a suitable work environment for everyone from students to established business owners.
With all that Pittsburgh’s Oakland has to offer, it’s only a matter of time before even those living outside of Western Pennsylvania recognize the name.
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Written by: Kim Pierson
for Coeo Space