The Easy and Practical Newcomer's Guide to Pittsburgh
Here's everything you need to know about getting settled in the Steel City.
Two years ago, after living in Colorado for almost a decade and then in Boston for two years, we moved to Pittsburgh. Settling in a new city is exciting — there are new neighborhoods to explore, restaurants and museums to visit and delightful local slang and accents to understand. Simultaneously, it’s also exhausting: Finding housing, navigating the DMV and learning bus routes all can be exercises in patience. Just managing the documents you need to acquire a neighborhood parking pass can require a notary-level management of paperwork.
Lucky for you, Pittsburgh newcomers and visitors, we’ve done all the hard work for you — and the steps we took are fresh in our minds. We present our guide to learning the ropes in the Steel City. A guide to neighborhoods you should think about choosing. Where to buy groceries (and beer). And how to register your car.
Welcome to Pittsburgh.
Where to Live if You're a …
Shadyside and Oakland get much of the love from students, but the smartest choose Bloomfield, the city’s historic Italian neighborhood. Filled with Italian markets, bakeries, restaurants and bars, the area is walkable and affordable on a grad-student stipend. Finally, you won’t need a car: Bloomfield is a short bus ride, or a 1.5-mile walk or bike ride, to Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and their neighbors in higher education.
Median Sales Price: $130,000
Average Days on Market: 59
Median Income: $33,604
Walk Score: 88
Honorable Mentions: Friendship, Shadyside
Nicknamed the “Brooklyn of Pittsburgh,” Lawrenceville is home to an eclectic mix of retail outlets (within a block on Butler Street: a tea shop, a bike shop, a guitar store, a florist and a zombie-themed store) and hordes of bars ranging from divey to upscale. The area has become popular rapidly (and highly sought by investors and house flippers), but rowhouses and single-family homes still can be had at reasonable prices.
Median Sales Price: $182,500
Average Days on Market: 63
Median Income: $34,679
Walk Score: 73
Honorable Mentions: Central Northside, Garfield
The quiet streets, friendly neighbors and leafy, 380-acre park here all attract young couples looking for a little more space. While the community mostly is residential, it also features one of the best coffee shops, Tazza d’Oro, and some of the best neighborhood restaurants, including Park Bruges, Teppanyaki Kyoto and Smiling Banana Leaf.
Median Sales Price: $244,900
Average Days on Market: 66
Median Income: $66,985
Walk Score: 59
Honorable Mentions: Regent Square, Dormont
Young families are laser-focused on top-notch educations for the kids, and it’s hard to beat the schools of Mt. Lebanon, which is home to some of the best in the region and country. Don’t mistake the community for a drab suburb, though — Mt. Lebanon boasts a popular main street, tree-lined sidewalks and a manageable (20- to 30-minute) commute to downtown.
Median Sales Price: $229,900
Average Days on Market: 60
Median Income: $76,953
Walk Score: 60
Honorable Mentions: Dormont, Fox Chapel
After spending a couple of decades focused on soccer practices, dance classes and dioramas, empty nesters may want to get back to urban living once the kids move out. There are few better spots than the resurgent Strip District, where new lofts and condominiums are going up amidst restaurants and markets.
Median Sales Price: $286,820*
Average Days on Market: 93*
Median Income: $70,706
Walk Score: 70
Honorable Mentions: Downtown
*Housing sales data for Strip District and downtown combined
Squirrel Hill North
While far from the cheapest neighborhood in the region, Squirrel Hill boasts classic dining spots, ethnic restaurants and tons of retail shops on Murray and Forbes avenues. Retirees also flock to the adult-targeted Manor Theatre (which sells beer, wine and cocktails) for new movies — and not just for matinees.
Median Sales Price: $325,000
Average Days on Market: 75
Median Income: $91,409
Walk Score: 59
Honorable Mentions: Mount Washington, Forest Hills
Walk Scores are based on a 0-to-100 scale (the higher, the better) and calculated by measuring walking distances to nearby amenities.
Deadline: Within 60 days of moving to Pa.
Where: PennDOT Driver’s License Center
Required Paperwork: Out-of-state driver’s license, Social Security card, passport or birth certificate, lease/mortgage and current utility bill
Deadline: Within 20 days of moving to Pa.
Where: Many notaries, messenger services and dealers; AAA
Required Paperwork: Pa. driver’s license, valid title, proof of Pa. car insurance and tracing of VIN number
*for all new Pa. residents
Deadline: Within 10 days of registering vehicle
Where: Most car mechanics
Required Paperwork: Car registration
Cost: Varies; $40 and up
Deadline: 30 days prior to election
Where: In person at PennDOT, at County Voter Registration Office, or by mail
Required Paperwork: Pa. voter-registration mail application form
Where: For Pittsburgh, in person at Pittsburgh Parking Authority (232 Blvd. of the Allies) or by mail; varies elsewhere
Required Paper-work: Proof of residency (lease, utility bill or mortgage), car registration and driver’s license
Cost: $20 in Pittsburgh
*required in some areas
Deadline: ASAP; required by law in Pa.
Where: Pittsburgh residents: via mail to City Treasurer’s office; County residents: via mail or online through County Treasurer’s office
Required Paper-work: Dog-license application
Cost: $10-20 (City), $4.50-8.50 (County)
Info: pittsburghpa.gov/animalcontrol; alleghenycounty.us/treasurer/dog
Where: Port Authority downtown office; “T” stations; Giant Eagle locations; other retailers
Required Paper-work: None
Cost: Standard fare: $2.50
Where: Any of 62 libraries throughout Allegheny County (including all Carnegie Libraries)
Required Paper-work: Photo ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.) and proof of address (utility bill, bank-account statement, etc.)
Where: By mail through Forestry Division of Public Works
Required Paper-work: Tree-planting request form (for city to plant) or request for permit and site analysis (to plant yourself)
Where: Call 311 or visit city’s 311 website
Required Paper-work: n/a
Buying your groceries in Pittsburgh can be a little tricky if you’re used to frequenting one-stop-shop grocery stores. We do have stores of that type — but the city is a lot more fun if you also shop small and explore ethnic food shops, farmers markets, bakeries and butchers. Here’s a rundown of how to navigate our grocers.
Farmers markets run by Citiparks are located in many Pittsburgh neighborhoods. They generally start in May and end as late as the end of November. There are branches of the farmers markets in Squirrel Hill, East Liberty, South Side, Carrick, Bloomfield, Beechview, downtown and the North Side. Plenty of neighborhood markets spring up in the warmer months throughout the ’burbs and outlying areas, too. [pittsburghpa.gov/citiparks]
The Pittsburgh Public Market is fun — and not just due to the fact that East End Brewing Co. has a loyal following and sells inexpensive tasters and growlers near the front door. You’ll spend time tasting the exotic olive oils at The Olive Tap and trying cheeses at Family Farms Creamery. The market is open Wednesday-Sunday; keep an eye on the website for new merchants. [2401 Penn Ave., pittsburghpublicmarket.org]
Patisseries: It’s not often that you’ll feel like spending $5 on a croissant, but the almond croissants at Gaby et Jules [locations in downtown Pittsburgh and Lawrenceville; gabyetjules.com] are worth every penny. If you’re heading to a dinner party, stop by La Gourmandine [locations in Lawrenceville and Mt. Lebanon; lagourmandinebakery.com], where the baguettes (made in traditional and rustic) are so perfectly soft inside with a crunchy exterior that you won’t mind waiting in the line that stretches out the front door. Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery [213 North Ave., Millvale, jeanmarcchatellier.com] makes outstanding French pastries and macarons.
Ethnic shops: Spend a Saturday exploring the Strip District, where you can choose from hundreds of varieties of cheeses at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. [2010-2012 Penn Ave., pennmac.com] or get Asian groceries (and homemade tofu) at Lotus Foods [1649 Penn Ave., lotusfoods.com], among other shops. While you’re there, stock up on sweets at Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop [2124 Penn Ave., grandpajoescandyshop.com].
Butchers: It’ll take only one bacon burger (yes — a burger with generous bits of bacon worked in) for you to buy all of your meat at DJ’s Butcher Block [4623 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield]. If you want specialty sausages, head to Butcher on Butler [5145 Butler St., Lawrenceville], where you not only can stock up on sausages for your next barbecue, but you also can enjoy a lunch special grilled fresh every day.
Giant Eagle / Market District
Vibe: Gigantic and insanely friendly
Pro: You can buy beer at Giant Eagle’s Market District stores
Con: You could get lost in the store for days
Vibe: A clean, no-frills local grocery chain
Pro: No yuppies browsing through six types of organic flour
Con: Most locations are outside the city; better for the ’burb dwellers
Vibe: Island cult dedicated to TJ house brands
Pro: Addictive snacks and frozen items
Con: “Two-Buck Chuck” in-house wine not available in Pa.
Vibe: Yuppie-hippie shrine to produce
Pro: Every apple is perfect
Con: Every apple costs, say, $4/pound
ShurSave / Shop ’n Save
Vibe: A grocery store from the 1950s
Pro: Inexpensive staples
Con: Hunting through bins to find fruits and vegetables that aren’t beat up or bruised
“Where the Heck Can I Buy Booze in This City?”
Sorry to tell you this, but buying alcohol in Pittsburgh can be a bit complicated. If you come from a state where you can buy a handle of whiskey, a six-pack of beer and a bottle of red in the same store, we’ve got bad news: In Pennsylvania, we keep our booze separate. For a newbie, it can take a bit of an Easter-egg hunt to figure out where to buy a keg versus a six-pack versus a bottle of wine. Here’s what you need to know.
Wine and liquor:
Sold together at the eponymous Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores [finewineandgoodspirits.com], which vary in size from neighborhood outposts to larger “Premium Collection” stores. Good News: The state owns all stores, so the prices are the same wherever you go.
Cases and kegs: If you want to buy beer in bulk — meaning more than a six- or 12-pack — you need to look for a beer distributor, where you can get a case or a keg. Good News: Beer is much more affordable this way.
Sixers of beer: If you want six- or 12-packs, you can buy these at restaurants, bars, some grocery stores and bottle shops. Beers tend to be a little more expensive this way, but bottle shops often add the fun option of being able to mix and match. Good News: A local favorite is D’s SixPax & Dogz [1118 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square, ds6pax.com], where there’s a huge local selection and you can get your beers chilled while you indulge in a gourmet hot dog from the bar.
Growlers: Breweries and some bars offer growlers, as do some Giant Eagle Market District locations. For local brews, stop by East End Brewing Co. at its Larimer home [147 Julius St., eastendbrewing.com] or at its stand in the Public Market. You also can make a growler run through Lawrenceville, with stops at Church Brew Works, Hop Farm Brewing Co. and Roundabout Brewery. Good News: Pittsburgh has refined taste in beer, and you can get some great brews in your growler.
Pittsburgh’s Porch Culture
When we moved to Pittsburgh in October 2013, we had to wait a few days for all of our possessions to show up. To make do, we bought two folding chairs and TV trays to use as makeshift desks during the day. At 5 p.m. on the first day, I dragged my chair outside to have a beer on the porch.
It didn’t take 10 minutes for our neighbor across the street to wander over. I froze; after living in Boston for two years, I had learned that neighbors usually don’t come by unless they are going to chew you out. This was different. In his Irish brogue, he introduced himself as Dennis and asked when we got to town. When our stuff arrived a few days later, he was up early with a cup of coffee, pushing a dolly across the street to help us move.
The next few days felt as if I had become part of a very kind practical joke. Every time I’d sit on the porch, I’d meet a new neighbor. Every time, they’d offer something nice — to get our mail while we were out of town, warn us about parking tickets or introduce us to their curious puppies.
Over the long, cold winter, the thing I missed most was our porch. We saw our neighbors only while they were bundled up, hastily scraping their cars. It was such a relief when the city finally started to thaw. I went out to sweep and saw our neighbors doing the same, replacing chair cushions and hanging up bright pots of flowers. St. Patrick’s Day came around, and I went outside to find a four-pack of Guinness in a brown paper bag on our porch. A few hours later, Dennis came by to serenade me with an Irish tune, accompanying himself on spoons. He sang, and I laughed, and later that afternoon I readied our outdoor chairs to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of my favorite time: Porch season. —JD