Western PA Summer
Chances are you'll have someone visiting over the summer. A cousin, grandkids, an old friend. Or maybe a child who’s moved away, that’s no longer a child. Or, for some, you'll be doing the visiting.
Over the past decade, as I’ve descended upon Somerset during summers, our relationship has been constantly evolving. With every year comes new insights and discernments into how my hometown, and the region as a whole, has stamped itself into my DNA.
There’s a lot to find here. A lot to connect with. A green, active landscape, beautiful brick and stone architecture, and pockets of interesting small business that won’t give up.
Here are some thoughts on how to keep busy when the guests, or you, arrive.
After I unpack and settle back in at my parents’ place, one of the first things I like to do is cruise uptown and take a look around. You know, survey the scene. If you enjoy losing track of time in antique/vintage shops, Somerset isn’t a bad place to be. Find the diamond in the center of town, pull off onto a side street, and park. Grab a coffee at Haz Beanz or Bella’s and then stroll each direction starting at the center. If you walk down towards the pharmacy and Somerset Trust bank, you’ll pass by a couple great spots that can land you a meaningful retro souvenir. And at the end of the strip, you’ll be greeted by Cascio’s Market. Treat yourself to a healthy snack to keep you going.
If you’re looking for evening entertainment that isn’t grilling out in the yard, which is also a fine option, the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown is a cultural oasis that consistently offers a diverse summer series of theatre, including musicals and plays. It’s a treasure that traces back to childhood summers I still think about. It can get hot inside, so dress light, bring some water, and hang on to the program in case there’s handmade fan kind of emergency.
A lot of us have a deep connection to the region’s landscape and seasonal shifts from growing up here. Pump House, a beautiful and classic trail winding through Laurel Hill State Park, is a destination for locals and a safe bet to start with if you’re looking to get out in it. The Laurel Highlands is vast in its hiking options, so feel free to ask around or do some googling for alternatives. Western PA certainly wasn’t overlooked when it came time to paint the backdrop.
While you’re out that way, consider stopping at Out of the Fire for a refreshingly spirited dinner experience. It’s BYOB-friendly, so swing into a bar for a sixer or Glades Pike Winery for a bottle on your way out. In addition to offering an attractive menu, including a Thai twist on the region’s beloved deviled eggs, Out of the Fire has great deck seating options topped with a close-up view of the aforementioned mountains. Their following is dedicated, so call ahead if possible.
Ok, you’ve had a semi-restful evening in someone’s spare room and are ready for the day. If you have the time (20-25 minute drive each way), venturing to Ligonier is definitely worth it. Head out of town on 601 towards Jennerstown and then take a left onto 30. On the way, stop at the Pie Shoppe Bakery in Laughlintown for a snail or pepperoni roll. Don’t skip this instruction. Once you’ve had your daily bread, head into Ligonier to marvel at what a lot of small towns haven’t managed to do over the past decade: sustain Main Street. If possible, try to line the jaunt up with the Saturday morning farmer’s market that sets up down by the high school. If you can’t, the Kitchen on Main will surely please. A tasteful, yet casual dining room with an exciting menu. Stroll the street, pop into some shops, take a picture by the gazebo, and snag some ice cream.
Alright. You did it. Sunk in with your family, took some drives, went on a hike, strolled town, and got entertained. The last mission I leave you with is to stop at Eat n’Park and the Summit Diner for some nourishment before you get back on the Turnpike. Food at Eat n’ Park. Coffee and Lemon Meringue pie at the Summit. Pine Grill is also an excellent option if you’re looking for something a little classier, but still comfortable.
And it is worth mentioning that taking a drive through Amish Country outside of Meyersdale is a day well spent, as well as an afternoon listening to live music and sampling local beverages at Greendance Winery in Mt. Pleasant.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather a jumping off point. Throw your own favorite nooks in there. I know you got ‘em. As for me, I’ll be sticking close to my parents’ house, grilling out, and having a few fires. After cruising around and getting reacquainted with town, of course.