Sponsored Partner Content

Discover Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History — A Perfect Weekend Getaway

Make the museums the centerpiece of a culture-packed weekend. By Leslie Basalla-McCafferty

Summer is upon us, and it’s time to break away. If you desire a destination that delights your eyes, inspires your inner child and stimulates your mind, and you only have a few days to spare — look to Pittsburgh. 

While often regarded as Cleveland’s rival, Pittsburgh is better considered a sibling. Its industrial roots, diversity and mix of vibrant neighborhoods, world-class cultural institutions and buzzy restaurants will seem both familiar and fresh. Whether you’re roaming solo, with a partner or traveling with the family, it’s an easy weekend escape. Only a two-hour road trip, you might get there before any impatient companions ask, “Are we there yet?” 

An ideal focal point for your Pittsburgh adventure is Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. Founded in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, the two museums share a building, offering guests a unique opportunity to make a day of taking in each remarkable collection under a single admission fee.

“You can come for T. rex and you can see Monet, or you can come for decorative arts and you can leave with birds,” says Carnegie Museum of Natural History Director Gretchen Baker. “That you can get that all in one building — it’s an incredible day for a family.” 

What to See at the Art Museum
At Carnegie Museum of Art , you’ll find Joan Brown on view until September 24. This comprehensive exhibit of portraits by the San Francisco painter traces a prolific career that was tragically cut short by her death in 1990 at age 52. 

“It’s an amazing exhibit,” says Stefanie Cedro Mohr, the museum’s director of marketing and engagement. “You come in and you’re just surrounded by these large-scale, colorful portraits of her family, her pets, and herself. Visitors are loving it.” 

Running through May 12, 2024, is Imprinting in Their Time: Japanese Printmakers 1912-2022. The exhibit will present 270 different works, capturing changes to printmaking over the last century. The art will be displayed in three rotations, each consisting of approximately 90 prints, moving forward chronologically. 

As Cedro Mohr explains, “It examines the role of the printmaker in Japanese society and how that role has evolved.” 

The museum is also renowned for its vast collection, including an abundance of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including several works by Claude Monet. Its extensive collections of decorative arts and functional design objects, architectural drawings and sculpture are also sure to impress. 

Summertime visitors to Carnegie Museum of Art will find an additional, interactive treat with the event series, Inside Out. Taking place every Thursday night and Saturday afternoon through Aug. 19 in the outdoor Sculpture Court, Inside Out celebrates Pittsburgh’s rich culture with live music performances, from hip-hop to classical, dance and DJ sets, along with art activities. While Thursday’s nightlife vibe caters to an adult crowd, the Saturday events are family friendly.

“Inside Out invites visitors from near and far to come to the museum, get together with friends and family and enjoy local performances, food trucks and drinks,” says Cedro Mohr. “People come in droves. It’s fun, and it’s free!” 

Can’t-Miss Exhibits at the Museum of Natural History 
At the Museum of Natural History, kids and their parents will delight in Jane’s Endangered Animal Experience, an interactive installation based on the Apple+ TV series of the same name and primatologist Jane Goodall’s conservation work. Visitors can take a break watching 20-minute segments from the show in the museum’s theater, then get hands-on. 

Beginning July 1, audio exhibition Chirp, Chitter, Caw — Surrounded by Birdsong, will offer an immersive experience for the ears. 

“There will be some specimens in the exhibit,” Baker says, “But it’s really more about sound. It’s a composition of bird songs and sounds from all over the world, and it’s trying to be reflective and inspirational.” 

There is no shortage of highlights within the museum’s permanent collections, either. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaurs in Their Time features many complete or nearly-complete fossilized skeletons, which are displayed within re-creations of the habitats in which they would have lived. 

“Sometimes, you go to museums and the specimens are treated almost like works of art — they’re sitting on a pedestal,” Baker says. “The ones here are in the context of replicated plants and other organisms, and surrounded by very large, atmospheric murals, so you really get a sense of what the environment was like at the time of the dinosaurs.”

Also, sure to invoke a sense of wonder is the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems, displaying awe-inspiring specimens, in every color and formation imaginable, from around the world. 

Explore the Neighborhood
When you’re visiting the museums, the surrounding Oakland neighborhood is a perfect base for exploring the city. It is Pittsburgh’s cultural epicenter, pulsing with artistic and academic energy. In addition to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the area is home to the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Oakland boasts iconic architecture, including the 42-story Cathedral of Learning, teems with hip restaurants and cafes and is leafy and walkable (it was named for the vast oak trees that shade its streets).

Where to Stay
The neighborhood is also home to The Oaklander. The boutique hotel — official partner to the Carnegie Museum of Art — is steps away from the museums and other landmarks. Many of its stylish rooms, ranging from standard king or two-queen configurations to studio suites, offer views of the city. 

Where to Eat
In addition to the museums’ own on-site restaurant, The Cafe Carnegie, dining options abound nearby. 

Spirits & Tales, the Oaklander hotel’s French-inspired brasserie, is a perfect place to grab a bite in the morning. Try the French Parfait Breakfast with a buttery croissant and house-made jam, and you might be tempted to return for savory Moules Frites and a signature cocktail at happy hour, or a luxe seafood entree at dinnertime.

For a lunch that will please omnivores and vegetarians, try Ali Baba. At this spot, you’ll find Syrian specialties like mohomara (a walnut dip with pomegranate molasses, breadcrumbs and spices) and sleek (a salad of bulgur and kale) alongside familiar Middle Eastern fare like falafel.

Craving pizza or a savory sandwich? Stop at The Porch. Befitting its name, this sunny bistro offers relaxing outdoor dining and a decidedly seasonal menu, with many entrees featuring herbs and vegetables grown right in the restaurant’s backyard garden.

For dinner, drop into Butterjoint. Pair a creative dish to share, like the pickle plate, or an entree of pierogies and kielbasa or veggies, with a tiki drink. And save room for dessert —Butterjoint is famous for its homemade pies.

Regardless of what brings you to Pittsburgh and Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, you are certain to find more to delight and engage in than you ever expected. 

“You can have a full-day adventure,” Cedro Mohr says. “You’re going to discover something, then walk around the corner and discover something else.”

Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, 412-622-3131,