Hometown Hidden Gems: A Picnic on Observatory Hill

September 2014

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck

Poor Autumn. The vibrantly colored in between. It’s such a gorgeous time of year in Pittsburgh, but all too often, autumn is overshadowed by a fear of the looming winter. In an effort to channel my winter fears positively, I took advantage of the PERFECT fall day, abandoned my afternoon laptop plans and took to the hill…Observatory Hill, with a French picnic, a dog, and an Urban Farmer in tow.

La Gourmandine Facade

Picnic Source: La Gourmandine

Due to the last minute nature of these picnic plans, I needed to fill my basket quickly. When it comes to throwing together a delectable outdoor meal, my mind wanders to a time in my life when I could glean from French bakeries, cheese mongers, farmers markets and butcher shops. Being that my Provincial and Parisian days are behind me, I do not have all these boutique delicacies available within an arrondisement, but I do have the next best thing- La Gourmandine.

La Gourmandine

Neighborhood Spotlight: Lawrenceville

Though not really a hidden gem, La Gourmandine is a Pittsburgh gem no less. While my mouth is full of almond croissant, my mind jets to Paris. However, if I put aside my Parisian residence dreams long enough, it’s easy to be inspired by the surrounding neighborhood of Lawrenceville. Here the enviable old homes have been reborn with vibrant colors and refurbished details. A quick stroll from bakery to car reminded me how important it is to tread beyond my normal routes more often, lest I take this city for granted.

Pastry and the Neighborhood

In a display of restraint, I managed to buy a proper picnic lunch and not just a basket of almond croissants. There will be weekend mornings for these baskets of pastries.

Observatory Building

Picnic Locale: Observatory Hill

If I was going to blow off laptop times and enjoy a warm day, I figured we might as well pick more of a destination. Nearly two years had passed since my first visit to this architectural gem, and like so many off-the-path places, I had had every intention of returning much sooner. The time was right.

Observatory and Blue Sky

Leap Farmer

Wave Detail

Now that I am a certifiably crazy dog lady, Julep-friendly adventures are especially appealing. Not only does Observatory Hill boast a hidden architectural gem and impressive views of the city, but my little Julep had the chance to sprint, fetch and gnaw on logs in the tree-studded dog park. Win win!

Dog park

Tree Trunk


Both man and dog tried to discover the building’s secrets to no avail. I must, must, must make a better effort to return here to take advantage of this telescope housed within and peer into the night sky (tour info).

Dog and Duded Exploring

Setting up the picnic 02

Setting Up the picnic

Et voila! A few of my favorite elements all came together on one piece of canvas: a French picnic, the Urban Farmer, my happy little dog and a beautiful view on a beautiful day…

Dude and Picnic

The Picnic:

Traditional Baguette
Blueberry & Toscano Cheeses
Vegetarian Quiche
Homemade Kombucha with Local Peaches
Paris Brest pastry for dessert!

The Picnic

It was a lovely, lovely way to spend an afternoon, fully soaking up the here and now of autumn.

Observatory Hill View

Where are your city’s hidden gems?


Happy Wandering!

p.s: After years of being a rather limited pedestrian in this car-centric city, I am every so grateful to have a little red car for maximum adventuring potential. However, it’s really exciting to see more and more car sharing programs popping up in Pittsburgh. This adventure was partially inspired by Turo, who wants more people to discover and share their city’s hidden gems. Turo is a program for renting out your car when you’re not using it, the Air BnB of cars, if you will. If I didn’t schlep around my furry, four-legged friend, you might even be able to rent my little red whip. So grab someone’s keys, hit your hidden gems and report back.

Leave a Reply