Last Updated on July 26, 2023 by Jeremy
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Oakland is one of the most bustling neighborhoods in Pittsburgh thanks to being home to several universities, even more hospitals, and a strong residential community- primarily students.
As such, Oakland offers a unique dynamic as far as Pittsburgh neighborhoods are concerned in that it is busy at all hours of the day and has a wealth of attractions and restaurants worth checking out.
So let's share some of our favorite spots in this neighborhood guide!
Note: Oakland is a neighborhood whose businesses are often in flux. As such, businesses may change faster than we can keep up with. If you spot a place that has closed, please contact us.
Oakland History and Map
Oakland is located in central Pittsburgh, and its history goes back to the early 1800s. Named for the abundance of oak trees found on an early settler's farm, Oakland's early history began as part of Pitt Township, seceded to become Oakland Township in 1866, and was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1868.
Residency in Oakland boomed shortly thereafter as a rail service allowed for commercial growth. In the late 1800s, Mary Schenley donated hundreds of acres to become Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza, respectively. By the end of the 1800s, the future of Oakland received its final push to what we know today when Andrew Carnegie built his famed library, museums, and concert hall, and Phipps Conservatory opened to the public in 1893.
Oakland began its rise to prominence as a college neighborhood in the early 1900s when Andrew Carnegie opened the Carnegie Institute of Technology (1900), and Andrew and Richard Mellon opened the Mellon Institute in 1913. The University of Pittsburgh relocated the university from Allegheny City in 1909, and in 1925 started construction on the 42-story Cathedral of Learning that is now the most iconic building in the neighborhood. The famous Forbes Field was also constructed in 1909 and housed numerous iconic baseball and football games until its closing in 1970.
The neighborhood's final push to being an education hub came in 1967 when the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Mellon Institute merged to form Carnegie Mellon University which is now a hub of all things engineering, robotics, the arts, and much more.
Now the neighborhood is a dynamic one that is home to tens of thousands of students, a thriving business district, a dedicated health sector featuring several hospitals like UPMC Presbyterian and Magee-Womens Hospital to name a few, and the museums have achieved international acclaim and are some of the most visited attractions in Pittsburgh every year.
What we consider to be Oakland is four neighborhoods rolled into one- West Oakland, North Oakland, Central Oakland, and South Oakland. This makes the boundaries a bit hard to draw but goes all the way out to just past Kirkpatrick Street on the west, the Monongahela River or I-376 on the south (depending on what section you're in), Aliquippa Street and Centre Avenue to the north, Bigelow Blvd to the northeast, and Neville Street to the east. (We did say it was a bit hard to lay out!)
The major business districts in Oakland are, naturally, found around the universities with the vast majority of shops and restaurants being located on Forbes and Craig Street. That said, the entire neighborhood has hidden gems speckled throughout the residential streets around the universities.
Museums and Attractions in Oakland
Although Oakland is predominantly defined as a college neighborhood, it is also home to some of the city's most prestigious museums as well as some rather unique gems you may not be able to find anywhere else.
- Carnegie Museums – Two stellar museums in one, focusing on Art and Natural History, respectively, founded by Andrew Carnegie. In addition to regular visits, check out the Carnegie International for limited-time art and the Carnegie Trees and Neapolitan Presepio at Christmas!
- Phipps Conservatory – The premier botanical gardens in western PA featuring seasonal flower shows and a collection of permanent and rotating flora that we return to see again and again. The Spring and Winter Flower Shows are particular favorites!
- Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning – The first few floors of Pitt's iconic Cathedral of Learning are the famed Nationality Rooms that are themed after classrooms from around the world from at or before the founding of Pitt. Many of the rooms also get decorated for Christmas with traditional decor as well.
- Forbes Field Remains – Although Forbes Field closed in 1970, parts of the outfield wall can be found on Roberto Clemente Drive just next to Schenley Plaza and the home plate can be found inside Posvar Hall!
- The Carnegie Library – Another opulent construction by Andrew Carnegie that is located right next to the museums and is said to contain over 2.5 million items.
- Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall – This memorial hall is often known for events and for being a filming location for Silence of the Lambs, but this one also has a modest museum dedicated to Pittsburgh's soldiers and sailors on the outer walls.
- Schenley Park – On the eastern edge of Oakland lies an urban oasis that is the stunning 465-acre Schenley Park. In just a few minutes walking from Phipps you can be out on the trails and check out some hilltop views of the city. Be sure to visit Schenley Park for the acclaimed Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix each July!
- Petersen Events Center – Home to Pitt basketball and many touring concerts throughout the year on Pitt's campus.
Cafes, Restaurants, and Bars in Oakland
The restaurant scene in Oakland is flush with fast casual dining and approachable prices that target the neighborhood's college community. The neighborhood often feels a bit in flux as the restaurant scene is highly dynamic and changes regularly.
Although the following is not a complete list of the restaurants you can find in Oakland, these are a selection of some of the gems we have tried to date:
- Pamela's Diner – A popular local diner with several locations known for their hotcakes.
- The Colombian Spot – Colombian arepas and other delightful cuisine.
- Primanti Brothers – Oakland location for the popular local chain known for fries on sandwiches.
- Mount Everest Sushi – A reasonably priced sushi restaurant in Oakland with large portions.
- Chick'n Bubbly – Korean fried chicken and bubble tea.
- Gussy's Bagels & Pizzeria – Delicious bagels and large slices of pizza in one deli style spot.
- Oishii Bento – Japanese-inspired bento bowls at a reasonable price.
- Las Palmas – Authentic street tacos with several locations in the city.
- Hemingway's Cafe – A popular hang out bar for college students and visitors.
- K-Town Snack Bar – Permanent restaurant for the Korean food truck, Mr. Bulgogi.
- Dave & Andy's Homemade Ice Cream – An ice cream staple in Oakland.
- Spice Island Tea House – A popular Malay and Thai restaurant in the heart of the neighborhood.
- Redhawk Coffee – Oakland outpost for the local coffee chain.
- Taza d'Oro – Another Oakland outpost for a local coffee company.
- Spirits & Tales – Fine dining on the upper floors of The Oaklander Hotel. Great views!
- The Porch at Schenley – Delicious and approachable dining in the heart of Schenley Plaza
- Schenley Plaza Dining Kiosks – Themed food stalls for quick meals to go near the Cathedral of Learning.
- The Carnegie Cafe – A popular cafe inside the Carnegie Museums.
- Cafe Phipps – Another popular cafe located inside Phipps Conservatory.
- Butterjoint – A cozy restaurant with fresh made food- go for the burgers!
As mentioned at the start of this guide, the restaurant scene in Oakland is often in flux, with restaurants opening and closing at a fast pace. As such, this should only be treated as a starting list. As we visit more places, we will update this guide accordingly.
Information for Visiting Oakland
We will be the first to admit that visiting Oakland's business districts can be chaotic, and that is at the best of times.
The neighborhood is estimated to be home to about 20,000 residents (most being students), the three universities have a combined attendance of around 45,000, and the bustling collection of hospitals ensures a steady stream of people flowing into and out of the neighborhood at seemingly all hours of the day. From a density of people standpoint, Oakland is genuinely one of the busiest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.
Despite a robust connection to the city's public transportation network (sadly, only via buses), traffic in Oakland can be some of the worst in the city- primarily on the main roads of Forbes and Fifth Avenue which run through or near most of the major business districts. Pedestrian and driver traffic here can only be described as intense, and parking challenges are almost always present no matter where or what time you visit (outside of the parks and the fringe residential areas, at least).
Most of the main streets within Oakland (like Forbes and Fifth Avenue) generally do not have street parking except for deliveries, and the closest side streets to these major roads have a limited number of meters that are inadequate for the volume of drivers looking for a spot. It isn't until you get deep into the college residential streets nearby where permitted street parking may offer free parking for short durations (often a maximum of one hour until early evening), assuming you can find a spot at all, and even there, you may be walking many blocks to your final destination when you do.
Thankfully, there are several parking garages found throughout Oakland for those who are looking for an easier place to park, including at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Sennott Square Parking Garage off of S Bouquet Street, and the Forbes Semple Garage on Meyran Avenue to name a few.
As many of the parking garages in Oakland are private and have inflated pricing, we often park in the Forbes Semple Garage as the Pittsburgh Parking Authority operates it and tends to have the best prices for short parking during the day and nightly flat rates. That said, the garage also sells leases and can often have a sign indicating “lot full, leases only” during conventional business hours.
That said, some of the attractions in Oakland have dedicated parking facilities, including a paid lot at the Carnegie Museums and a limited free parking area on the street just in front of Phipps Conservatory (which is almost continuously monitored by security- only park there if you are visiting the conservatory). For those who cannot find free parking in front of Phipps, metered spots can typically be found on Panther Hollow Road heading into Schenley Park to the east at reasonable rates for short visits.
Hotels in Oakland
Oakland has several hotel options thanks to the neighborhood's substantial concentration of colleges and hospitals.
Generally speaking, most of the hotels within Oakland are all located within one or two blocks of Forbes Avenue and can be as far west as Blvd of the Allies near the hospitals all the way east to Schenley Plaza. A selection of hotels includes the following (starting closer to the hospitals and ending closer to the universities):
Recent Posts from Oakland
For our most recent posts from Oakland, check out the following:
- Gussy's Bagels & Pizzeria Review – One Stop Shop in Oakland
- Phipps Conservatory's Flowers Meet Fashion is a Unique Show
- Phipps Conservatory's Spring Flower Show – 5 Senses of Splendor
- Phipps Conservatory for the Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show
- Phipps Conservatory's Winter Flower Show – Holiday Magic
Do you have a favorite place to check out in Oakland not featured in this guide? Comment below to share! We visit Oakland often and update this one as we find new spots to share.
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