CITY GUIDE: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh typically doesn’t get mentioned in the conversation about the country’s top cities— but don’t expect to find a chip on the locals’ shoulders over that perception. Based on the conversations I’ve had while traversing the hilly scape, Pittsburghers seem content to keep their bounty a secret. 

But make no mistake: the Steel City has world-class food, architecture, and views to offer across a slate of highly walkable neighborhoods that rival those of its Northeast compatriots that are often heaped with much more attention. 

Grab a picnic and stroll to the edge of Pointe State Park in the heart of downtown to see, up close, the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converge. Or take a ride up the historic Duquesne  Incline for that same view from above, compete with perspective of the bridges and city skyline. Buy insanely cheap, insanely fresh seafood on the Strip. Sip craft cocktails in East Liberty’s fresh new Ace Hotel. Or test the city’s next wave of restaurants in one of its incubator kitchens.

Best of all: Pittsburgh has authored its impressive turnaround following the collapse of the steel industry without harming the gritty spirit that bleeds through. It’s cool without pretension, full of quality finds without approaching extravagance. Don’t check the rental prices or else you might be enticed to stay.

In the meantime, here’s where you should eat, drink and play: 

CITY GUIDE: Raleigh. N.C.

When I moved to downtown Raleigh in 2005, people quietly warned me to buy a firearm.

Then, abandoned storefronts lined prime street corners, drug deals went down in the open and not much existed in the way of restaurants, save for the sports bar where I worked and a handful of other options.

Life in downtown Raleigh couldn’t feel much different now and yet, it somehow still feels like the same city to me every time I make the jaunt back. The City of Oaks has managed to hold onto its charming architecture, it’s blue collar feel and its beautiful, tree-lined streets— the best of its assets remain, while its dangerous overlay has been greatly diminished.

Still small, the 10-some square blocks boast lush city parks, an impressively diverse array of eating and drinking opportunities and a vibrant, lived-in feel at every time of day. I’ve seen many small city downtowns remade in this era of revitalization, but few as authentically and gracefully as Raleigh. The only proof necessary is how eagerly its residents have embraced the changes.

Here’s where you should eat, drink and play:

GALLERY: Ocracoke Island, N.C.

Ocracoke Island

CITY GUIDE: Ocracoke Island, N.C.

Ocracoke Village, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is one of the most unique places in the country.

Despite being surrounded by other islands characterized by corporate chains, sprawling resorts and big-money tourism, Ocracoke has remained quiet and slow-paced, due to its physical distance from the mainland — it’s still accessible only by boat  — and its proud, centurys-long history of isolation. The beaches are nearly untouched. The fishing is exceptional. And 15 miles of undeveloped island surround the quaint, 4-square-mile village.

To get here, you’ll need to fly into a major airport (RDU and JAX are options), then drive several hours to either Swan Quarter, Cedar Island or Cape Hatteras to take an 45-minute to 3-hour ferry (depending on your starting point).

Here’s where you should eat, drink and play when you arrive: