It might be OK to finally say it.
Winter — that long, oppressive string of pipe-bursting months — is over. And spring, for that matter, seems to be passing us right by, if we even had one this year.
Long live summer. Who needs to wait for June 21? I’m calling it.
Temperatures are hopping into the 80s, the sun is shining at least a few times a week, and my mom is nagging me to mow the lawn of her North Side manse.
It’s a great time of year to live in Pittsburgh.
Sure, Western Pennsylvania is a full day’s ride from the ocean, and most Pittsburghers use these months to get out of town, but there are some great events and places to visit in the region while the weather is warm.
If you’re new to the area or a local who needs their memory jogged, here’s a quick guide to enjoying a yinzer summer.
Kennywood and Sandcastle
This West Mifflin amusement park and its wetter Homestead counterpart are obvious entries in our guide. They’re the quintessential destinations in the region during the hottest months of the year.
No summer is complete without at least one visit to Kennywood. Billed as America’s Favorite Traditional Amusement Park, it’s a unique place filled with world-class roller coasters and good eats alike — not to mention a rendition of Noah’s Ark that even Darren Aronofsky would find a little far afield from the source material.
Short on time? Your humble guide submits the following as the park’s best rides. Depending on the lines, you can probably knock these out in a few hours:
5. Raging Rapids — Arguably, this trip through the un-laziest of rivers is the park’s best water ride. And if you’re the unfortunate one to end up under a waterfall, it’s definitely the wettest.
4. Jack Rabbit — Any local will tell you the secret to this rickety coaster: sit in the back and wait for the double-dip.
3. Turtle — Hey, it’s a traditional park with plenty of “safe” rides. Give this one a whirl for old times’ sake.
2. Phantom’s Revenge — There was a time when this ride carried the appropriate title “Steel Phantom.” Back then, it boasted a serious set of loops and could be pretty brutal on your neck, to boot. Now, the tallest, fastest coaster at the park is just a lean, mean machine with a lap bar and a 230-foot second drop even better than the cliff-hanging first.
1. Thunderbolt — This lauded wooden coaster opens with a pair of drops before you even get to a lift hill. That’s about the only time you can catch you breath on this thriller. Hang on to your hats.
As far as Sandcastle goes, the closer the temperature climbs to triple digits, the busier the place gets — and potentially closes its doors to late-comers.
Once you’re inside, the highlights include one of the region’s few wave pools and a set of speed slides that double as a test of bravery. For a more relaxed trip, try out the lazy river, or if you’re old enough, the Sandbar is a great place to unwind and catch your breath.
Three Rivers Arts Festival
One of the keys to Pittsburgh’s growing recognition as one of the country’s up-and-coming cities is the growth of its arts and cultural scene. But the city’s massive arts festival has been a fixture for more than half a century.
This year’s 55th annual festival centered around Point State Park from June 6 through 15 features a rich blend of music, theater, film and dance. Simply put, there’s something for everyone — and it’s free, thanks to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and other supporters.
Not into the arts? No problem. The amount of food vendors practically matches the artists. Come hungry.
For a complete schedule of events and more, visit http://www.3riversartsfest.org.
EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta
Let’s all say it together:
You gotta regatta.
Pittsburgh’s rivers are a treasure to the region, and this is the best use of the three you’ll see all year. The three-day event from July 2 through 4 is packed with races, food, music and culminates with one of the country’s best Independence Day fireworks shows.
The highlights include powerboat racing across the confluence, which will host the F-2 North American Championships on July 4. And for creative types or anyone up for laugh, the Anything That Floats race is a must see.
Even if you’re not converging on Point State Park for the fireworks, there are plenty of great vantage points to catch the show. A personal favorite is Mt. Washington, but the North Shore is great for an up-close view with a slightly thinner crowd.
For a complete schedule of events and more, visit http://www.threeriversregatta.net.
Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix
There may not be a more unique summer event in the region. And certainly, few have a more worthy mission.
Starting as a single-day race in 1983, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix has grown to a 10-day celebration of vintage cars, the people who maintain them and their drivers. At no other time of the year will car lovers find such an eclectic and fascinating mix of autos in Pittsburgh.
The highlight of the expanded event remains the July 20 race through a challenging Schenley Park course. Even better, that race and many other events are free to spectators, though donations are encouraged and go to a crucial cause.
Over the course of its three-decade life, the PVGP has raised $3.5 million, according its website, for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year’s record haul of $350,000 was split between the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School.
Even if you’re not that into cars, this is one of the city’s great summer shindigs, one that should be experienced at least once. And every little bit helps.
For a complete schedule of events and more, visit http://www.pvgp.org/.
Get your kicks
It’s no secret, Pittsburgh loves itself some football, but there’s a growing market for futbol, too.
The Riverhounds’ new Highmark Stadium has reignited interest in the franchise, and soccer continues to thrive at the youth level in the region. Another step on sport’s climb in Western Pa. will come July 27 at Heinz Field.
The Steelers’ home field will host two of the world’s top teams in Barclays Premier League champ Manchester City — think of them as you would the reigning Super Bowl champs — and Italian stalwart A.C. Milan as part of the Guinness International Champions Cup.
Heinz Field Rib Fest
Ribs and football. There are few better pairings on this planet.
Celebrating its 15th year from Aug. 28 through Sept. 1, Rib Fest coincides with the start of football season — the Steelers are home for a preseason game Aug. 28, and Pitt opens its season Aug. 30. The addition of a row of vendors beside Heinz Field hawking Southern-style ribs and other barbecued items almost makes for too much awesome in one parking lot. Almost.
There are six free concerts, as well, featuring a mix of local and national acts — and one that holds both distinctions in The Clarks, who play Aug. 29.
Of course, the return of football signifies fall is just around the corner, but the fest makes for a great way to wave goodbye to summer.
For a complete schedule of events and more, visit http://heinzfieldribfest.com.