Thousands of steps and a soaked hoodie later, I saw all of the holiday things in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Inspired by The Incline’s nine-stop holiday walking tour, two friends and I set out on our adventure on Dec. 1.
A constant rain and tickets to the Pens game changed our walking course, which, according to my Google Maps timeline, looks more like a wayward drunk than a holiday decoration seeker!
But we saw it all and then some!
We started our tour with a quick stop into Prantl’s Bakery on Market Street for some classic Pittsburgh thumbprints and some free smells of delicious treats.
Fifth Avenue Place
From there, we headed into Fifth Avenue Place to check out the Arcade Shops.
This site once was home of Jenkins Arcade, which, along with the Horne’s Department Store, helped to anchor one end of Pittsburgh’s then-vibrant retail corridor.
The multi-level center connected to Horne’s and had a myriad of shops and eateries over the years. Jenkins was torn down in 1984 and replaced with Fifth Avenue Place.
The retail portion of Fifth Avenue Place offers a few stores, including Dave DiCello’s photography gallery, Katie’s Kandy, a Hallmark store and food court.
But the headliner is the Welcome Pittsburgh store, which doubles as a visitor information center and retail shop.
The place has a plethora of Pittsburgh gifts — from local artisans to DVDs, games, books and so much more. The staff is extremely help (and also very knowledgeable about the city and region).
If you’re looking for a Pittsburgh gift, go there!
We spotted our first tree of the day inside Fifth Avenue Place.
The tree isn’t particularly wide, but its height allows for a great view from the second floor.
While you’re in Fifth Avenue Place, check out the couple of great window displays. This is Pittsburgh’s first holiday season without any storefront holiday windows. So finding a few in Fifth Avenue Place was a special treat!
Point State Park
After walking through Fifth Avenue Place, we went toward the confluence to take a selfie with the tree at Point State Park. I’d already figured the view wouldn’t be terrific since it was daylight and raining.
But because of the weather and the muddy field, we opted to not get close to the tree.
The dumpster at the tree doesn’t necessarily make for a good daytime view, but nonetheless, we checked off this tree!
The views of this tree from Heinz Field, Mount Washington and parts of the South Side are great. It also makes for some great selfies up close and personal.
Next up, we took a stroll to the old Horne’s building to take in the beautiful sights of what I think is Pittsburgh’s most iconic tree.
Now referred to as the Unity tree, the Horne’s Tree was part of the department store’s holiday tradition for decades until Horne’s closed its iconic location in the early 1990s. Highmark has continued this special Pittsburgh tradition.
The tree is part of this website’s banner image, and also makes appearances in at least one Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.
After the Horne’s tree, we diverted to Market Square to check out the Holiday Market at Market Square. The square offers a variety of artisans and vendors — many of which are from the Pittsburgh region.
The 2018 market includes artisans such as Pittsburgh artist Linda Barnicott, local photographer J.P. Driscoll, Monmade, Pittsburgh Pottery and many others.
Along with the open-air shops, the event offers music and entertainment, too. The event is open daily through Dec. 23. It is not open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
And, of course, there is a tree at Market Square!
Following our trip through Market Square, we took a stroll over to PPG Place to see the tree, rink and gingerbread houses inside the Wintergarden.
The rink at PPG Place is actually larger than the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Pretty cool, eh?
Inside, gingerbread houses created mostly by students in area schools dot the Wintergarden. Winning creations typically are placed in the center underneath a large tree.
A collection of life-size Santas from around the world also are part of this magical wonderland.
Local musicians perform throughout the holiday season inside the Wintergarden as well.
The Giant Red Ornament
After PPG Place, our journey took us to the giant ornament outside of K&L Gates Center.
I’m not sure how long this ornament has been here, but it’s certainly fun! (There are giant clusters of similar ornaments in NYC, and also giant Christmas lights, that I want to see one day!)
After our trek for a quick photo with the giant ornament, we set our sights toward Smithfield Street. At one time, Pittsburgh’s retail mecca included a massive corridor along Smithfield Street.
The days of a vibrant Downtown shopping district are long gone, but there still are great local shops — new and old — to explore.
The first stop we made was to Steel City Clothing (625 Smithfield St). Check them out for some pretty rad Pittsburgh designs, including my current favorite T-shirt: “Wish Yinz a Merry Christmas.”
After, Steel City Clothing, we walked over to S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes (630 Smithfield St).
The classic store bills itself as Pittsburgh’s “largest and oldest speciality toy store.” And with three floors of toys, it’s safe to say that’s accurate.
My friends seemed a little skeptical at first, but after a few minutes inside, I think they began to enjoy it.
If you’ve never been, take a gander inside. The store certainly has that classic locally-owned shop feel — from the display cases to the steps up to each floor.
While the shop doesn’t seem to sell video game systems, it’s full of popular toys such as Lego sets, Barbie dolls, new board games and more. Plus, there is a very great collection of trinkets, gifts, collectibles, Funko pops, Christmas village sets, trains, dolls and so much more.
There were several things I found that I’d like to buy for the holidays and afterward. Also, if you’re someone who enjoys model trains, they’ve got so many items to choose from!
By the way, S.W. Randall has three brick and mortar locations — Downtown Pittsburgh, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill — and an expansive online store.
PPG Paints Arena
From there, our holiday excursion paused so that a friend and I could get to the Penguins game.
And, yes, we found trees!
But after the Pens game, we walked to the to the creche at Steel Plaza (600 Grant St). It is the only authorized replica of the creche at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy.
It has been on display each holiday season since the late 1990s in Pittsburgh. A smaller nativity scene was displayed on public property. But local government leaders sought to find a permanent and private space for it.
There also is a menorah on site.
City-County Building Tree
This gigantic tree was our last official stop on the day of Downtown Pittsburgh holiday decorations journey!
There is so much to love about this tree.
The black and gold bridge ornaments that celebrate Pittsburgh’s 200th anniversary of the city’s founding. They identify each of the 90 neighborhoods.
There are the Wendell August ornaments.
There is good ol’ David Lawrence keeping watch on the tree.
But. The best part is the illuminated portico with music playing around the tree. It’s such a serene setting.
I like going at night, when it’s dark and mostly empty.
There’s also a menorah on display.
But wait! There’s more!
There is a beautifully lit tree in the atrium of Oxford Centre. We took a quick stroll over to view it from above before walking back to where we parked near Market Square.
There’s not much in the retail area of Oxford Centre these days, but if you get a chance, swing by the tree to see it in person!