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Lou Eppelsheimer/My Shot

Christine’s Pittsburgh

In the November/December issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, now on newsstands, our editors recommend 20 must-see destinations for 2012. One of the top cities to visit next year:  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Why Pittsburgh, you ask? Well, travel writer Christine O’Toole nominated Steel City for “its natural setting that rivals Lisbon and San Francisco, a wealth of fine art and architecture, and a quirky sense of humor.”

We asked Christine to tell us more about the city she loves. Read her insider tips, then tell us what you love about Pittsburgh in the comments section below.

Pittsburgh is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Mount Washington, with its killer panoramic views of downtown Pittsburgh. Especially at twilight, it’s the best place to appreciate the city’s great setting: three rivers surrounded by mountains. Get there by cable car– here, they’re called inclines.

When I crave a sugar  high, I always go to Dozen for cupcakes. Mmmn.

To escape rush-hour tunnel traffic I head to Point State Park downtown to watch the sunset.

If I want to hear one of the world’s best orchestras, I grab a last-minute ticket to the Pittsburgh Symphony at its gilt-and-velvet home, Heinz Hall. Seats aren’t expensive (especially student rush.)

For complete quiet, I can hide away at Schenley Plaza— a little oasis, complete with carousels and cafes, between the two big universities, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a local. Ask anyone– really. Pittsburghers are unbelievably friendly.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Benkovitz‘s in the Strip District, it has to be the gigantic fish sandwich.

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Antique shop in Pittsburgh's Strip District (Photo: Lindsey Zern/My Shot)

The Society for Contemporary Craft (also in the Strip District) is my one-stop shop for exquisite handmade gifts.

Locals know to skip South Side and check out Lawrenceville instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to Good Fridays at the Andy Warhol Museum. For the price of a cocktail you can spend the evening mingling, seeing great bands or movies, and checking out Pop Art by this Pittsburgh homeboy.

For a huge splurge I go to Casbah, a great restaurant in Shadyside. Locavore lamb, superb service, and a cool Mediterranean vibe.

Photo ops in my city include its great 19th-century bridges and the best vantage points are along the North Shore of the Allegheny River.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Tom Hanks: friendly, handsome, modest, and all-American.

The most random thing about my city is the weather.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh (Photo: Stephanie M. Wood/My Shot)

My city has the most over-educated men (we’re tied with Washington D.C. for most graduate degrees among twenty-somethings).

My city has the most brilliant women (see above).

In my city, an active day outdoors involves running, inline skating, or cycling the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Look for the interpretive signs that explain how the city turned its industrial riverfront into a clean, green playground.

My city’s best museum is the Mattress Factory, with some of the most wacked-out installation art in the world.

My favorite jogging/walking routes are the downtown riverfront trails.

For a night of dancing, go to Stage A.E. an indoor/outdoor venue on the North Shore (two words: Girl Talk!). Or, for live music, go to Brillo Box in Lawrenceville or Shadow Lounge in East Liberty.

The Original Hot Dog Shop, aka the “Dirty O,” is the spot for late-night eats in the beating heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the weekly City Paper or the daily Post-Gazette.

You can tell a lot about my city from how many people boast about it being their hometown.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they’re wearing Steelers jerseys. For formal occasions, work, or weddings (and even some  funerals), you simply can’t go wrong with black and gold. During hockey season, the Penguins’ retro jerseys (the old blue ones) are acceptable.

In the spring you should be prepared for one last snowstorm.

In the summer you should kick back and do some kayaking and whitewater rafting.

In the fall you should enter the city’s Great Race–a 10K that attracts over 10,000 runners.

In the winter you should go skating at the Southside Works rink, on the Monongahela Riverfront. Later, warm up with a cold beer at the Hofbräuhaus next door.

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Pittsburgh's North Shore (Photo: Jamie Dietz/My Shot)

A hidden gem in my city is Kelly’s, a cool and mellow bar that’s an East Liberty institution.

For a great breakfast joint try Pamela’s. Even President Obama is a huge fan of their yummy sweet pancakes.

Don’t miss the Via Festival, an electronic music weekend with a growing buzz, each October.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Laurel Highlands, a great place for skiing, hiking, and mountain biking.

The best way to see my city is on a bike.

If my city were a pet it would be a robotic one–a lot were invented right here.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in Mt. Lebanon, a cute trolley-car suburb.

The best book about my city is Wonder Boys. If you didn’t read the Michael Chabon original, rent the movie with Michael Douglas.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Wiz Khalifa’s hometown homage, “Black ‘n’ Yellow.”

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Children’s Museum. (Kids aren’t on display– they’re splashing, painting, and enjoying cool electronic art.)

“The Dark Knight Rises” could only happen in my city— Christopher Nolan’s sequel to “The Dark Knight” was filmed here.

My city should be featured in your magazine … oh wait, it already is!

Tell us what you love about Pittsburgh. Leave the details in the comments section below.

Want to see your city on Intelligent Travel? Copy and paste our list of fill-in-the-blank questions into an e-mail, fill in your answers, and send your responses (with any photos, videos or links) to

Photo: Lou Eppelsheimer/My Shot