All Things Pittsburgh...with a Holiday Twist

It's been awhile since I posted a personal story and I think holiday "things to do" is definitely worth a share for those of you in and around the Pittsburgh area. As a family, we usually go somewhere festive each year for a quick trip. In the past, we have done things like the Polar Express, Great Wolf Lodge, Hershey Park, and the Stonewall Resort. What better way to start the Christmas season than to truly connect as a family and spend REAL time together. Downtown Pittsburgh is the perfect place to stay and play!

Starting in the Strip District...

We started our morning in the Strip District. The boys loved the outdoor shopping atmosphere and looking into the decorated storefront windows of the up and coming "Terminal" shops. We explained to them that it used to be loading docks and the occasional food stand for those of us that went "out" back in the day! They seemed mesmerized by the beautifully decorated windows and outdoor trees. From there, we visited the Korean Market for some homemade kimchi and ginger (side note: when Eugene lived in Korea years ago, he told me about all of the wonderful things he ate and now I'm hooked!). We visited Reyna's Market for homemade tortillas. They are so much better than store bought. We saw them coming right off of the conveyor fresh! Next, we had a delicious lunch at Bella Notte. Their pizza is so delicious and the boys loved the pasta. After lunch, we stopped into Wholey's. I will be the first to admit, I made a beeline for the fruits and vegetables because I am NOT a fan of seafood. But lucky for us, the nice workers there gave us a demonstration of how orange juice is could we NOT buy some of that deliciousness? Lastly, we stopped into La Prima coffee for some lattes and coffee to take home. I loved walking in there to smell the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, the friendly workers and a group of older gentleman playing cards and laughing at a nearby table.

To Market Square We Go....

We could have absolutely done all of our activities in one day but it was SO much more fun to spend the night! We stayed at the Pittsburgh Renaissance because of it's close proximity to Market Square and the highlight of our trip, ice skating at the PPG rink! Ed, the valet was so kind to the boys as he took our luggage (which was WAY more than we needed for one night!) and shared his own stories about how he and his family stay downtown for New Year's Eve as a tradition. We were all so excited for ice skating and it is definitely best to buy tickets ahead of time, online. We chose the 4:00-5:45 time slot because we got to see Market Square and the GORGEOUS tree in the day time and at night so we got the best of both worlds! Towards the end of the session, it started to snow and couldn't have made it more perfect. I don't know if the boys will remember for years to come but we will remember this day as the first time Ethan skated on his own and Aiden perfected his hockey stop. We even got to skate with our Uncle Jack that came in for Thanksgiving and he got to show Ethan a few tricks. Like how to get up after falling a gazillion times. I'm pretty sure that he was falling on purpose so that he could eat the snow (both gross and funny!) We were on to his tricks!

When skating came to an end, it was time to find a dinner spot. One thing we failed to do however, was make a dinner reservation. We figured we would find "something" but had no idea that most restaurants in Market Square had a two hour wait. Ooopps!!

So, we took a chance and made the short walk over to the Cultural District to find that our usual go to restaurant was closed. By now the kids were not so patient so we walked into the first place that did not have a wait. We shook off the cold and the snow to find a cozy seat in the back of Alexander Henry's Pub. Sometimes things happen for a reason because their food was wonderful and we never would have thought to go there but we HIGHLY recommend it!

It's Movie Time and Relaxing Time....

After our dinner and a snowy walk back to the Renaissance, we took our time looking at the festive decorations along the way. Heinz Hall and the Benedum were all lit up. We saw iconic tree that adorns the old Horne's building. While our kids may never see the magic of the storefronts of Macy's or Kaufman's, they will remember the beauty in the quietness of the city streets that night.

Some of us were looking forward to getting into our matching Christmas pajamas (I even talked Eugene into it this year!) and taking ONE selfie of us in those jammies. Well, by the time we were all showered and ready to watch a movie, someone was already asleep. And if you're wondering why he is touching the "Elf of the Shelf", well....that's a story for another blog post! So the rest of us watched "Home Alone" and relaxed before bed. I don't know about you, but there is something about being in a hotel that lets me disconnect. When I'm at home there is ALWAYS something to do so I rarely sit down. But here, the thing I love the most is that I don't have to worry about dishes that need done or laundry that needs folded. We were able to just be...and focus on time together.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and finished our sightseeing. We wandered around the holiday market shops at Market Square and saw the Santas from Around the World. Growing up, they were always in the PPG Wintergarden. But this year, they are in the windows of the building. It was nice in a new way. We took our time and read the stories of how others in different countries celebrate the season. We stopped by the ice rink one last time to see the beautiful tree gleaming in the sunlight.

We usually stop at the Omni Hotel to see the tree in their grand lobby and grab some hot chocolate as we look at their hotel made out of Hershey bars while listening to the train roaring around the track. We also enjoy stopping by what is now US Steel Plaza to see the magic of the larger than life sized Creche. We didn't want to rush so we will just have to make another trip downtown. We like to go and spend quality time near the Creche, thinking about what that first Christmas was really like and reflecting on the true meaning of the season. Did you know that we have the ONLY Vatican authorized Replica of the one in Rome?

If you have the chance to do a Pittsburgh "staycation", I highly recommend it! We have memories for years to come. I'm sure we missed some things along the way so I would love to hear your holiday traditions and how you celebrate the season!!