Getaway: Our Favorite Places to Stay, Eat and Shop in Quaint Ligonier
This charming town with a center “Diamond” is the gem of the Laurel Highlands.
A small town charmer.” One of “The Most Charming Small Towns in America.” “Among the best places on Earth to lick an ice-cream cone on a warm summer night.”
These descriptions of Ligonier in travel brochures and magazines are no exaggeration.
Whether you’re on a weekend getaway or visiting the town as a launch pad to other sights in the Laurel Highlands, this Westmoreland County borough of 1,500 people offers a variety of history, dining, shopping and entertainment in a quaint setting that feels like a Hallmark Channel movie.
The focal point is an old-fashioned town square called the Diamond, bordered by the town library, white-columned town hall, post office, ice cream parlor, shops and a Methodist church. At the center is the gazebo bandstand park — a slice of Americana — that received a $3.5 million facelift in 2018.
One of the main draws of this borough, of course, is Fort Ligonier (fortligonier.org), whose original 8-acre site served as the outpost for 5,000 British-American soldiers (including a 26-year-old George Washington) during the French and Indian War. An active garrison, it was never taken. After the fort was decommissioned in 1766, little remained by the end of the 19th century. The Daughters of the American Revolution, with support from the Mellon family, helped reconstruct the fort, which opened in 1953; a museum followed in 1962.
More than 200 re-enactors will fill the site for Fort Ligonier Days, Oct. 13-15, which this year will commemorate the 265th anniversary of the unsuccessful attack on the fort. It’s the biggest weekend of the year in Ligonier, drawing 100,000 visitors to take in its military exercises, 200 craft and food booths, live music, a 5K walk/run, special wine tastings and a grand parade on Saturday. It comes at the peak of the fall foliage season, a time of stunning beauty in the Laurel Highlands.
The original path of the Lincoln Highway — the first transcontinental highway in the U.S. — veered into Ligonier on Main Street and then back to Route 30. The stretch through town was completed in July 1919 and is credited with spurring development in the town. One of 20 of the original highway markers that remain in Pennsylvania (at one time there were 300) is on the edge of the Diamond.
To appreciate Ligonier, you need to walk it. Its mostly flat business district is filled with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, a bowling alley, a few bars, a family-owned movie cinema and theater, antique and furniture stores and galleries. The few empty storefronts already have signs posted about new businesses on the way. If you’re staying the weekend and looking for a quick workout, you can get a day pass for $10 at the giant YMCA on Church Street, just a block off the main drag.
Ligonier also is a convenient location to reach myriad destinations in the Laurel Highlands. It’s a short drive down Route 30 to Pennsylvania’s oldest amusement park, Idlewild and Soak Zone, and 25-45 minutes from the Frank Lloyd Wright sites of Fallingwater, Polymath Park and Kentuck Knob. In the vicinity, you’ll also find Powdermill Nature Reserve, Ohiopyle State Park, the Flight 93 National Memorial, local ski resorts, the Great Allegheny Passage bike/pedestrian trail and a branch of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. The GO Laurel Highlands visitors bureau (golaurelhighlands.com) has put together several sightseeing trails — among these are the Pour Tour, featuring more than 50 craft beverage locations, and the Trout Trail, 10 spots for the best trout fishing.
Fortunately, Ligonier is only an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. There’s so much to do and see you’ll want to come back again and again.
Where to Stay:
The boutique hotel Thistledown at Seger House (thistledownligonier.com) offers eight renovated rooms in an early 20th century mansion built by coal baron John Seger, adorned with beautiful stained-glass windows. Dogs are welcome. It includes the independently owned Sweet Rust farm-to-table restaurant and distillery, and there is live music under a large front yard tent on weekends. There are a few B&Bs along Main Street, as well as the Ramada by Wyndham.
Where to Eat:
In addition to Sweet Rust at Thistledown, you’ll find gourmet flavors at The Kitchen on Main (thekitchenonmain.com), a scratch and open kitchen concept offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with a craft cocktail bar. The historical Ligonier Tavern & Table (ligoniertavernandtable.com), in the former home of Ligonier’s first mayor (the first home here with indoor plumbing), offers lunch and dinner and a full bar. No visit is complete without a stop at the Ligonier Creamery (facebook.com/ligoniercreamery), right on the Diamond.
Where to Shop:
Check out Main Exhibit Gallery & Art Center (mainexhibitgallery.com) and G Squared Gifts & Gallery (gsquaredligonierpa.com) — both packed with high-quality, one-of-a-kind jewelry, arts, ceramics and crafts. Don’t miss the Toy Soldier Gallery (toysoldiergallery.net), a miniature hobby store; there’s nothing like it in the region.
When to Go:
Special events are planned each month — even in January, when 50 ice sculptures appear for the annual Ligonier Ice Fest. During the summer, there are Sunday evening band concerts on the Diamond through August and occasional night markets. Fort Ligonier Days, the biggest festival weekend during the height of leaf-peeping season, this year is Oct. 13-15.