Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. MSN named it one of 10 Up and Coming Downtowns in the U.S. and the numbers prove it. More people are choosing to live there—the population in the Golden Triangle is 4,405—and more than 500 residential units are under construction, on top of all the new ones already built and purchased.

Downtown’s residential population balloons to about 85,000 during work days, an increase of 70% since 2000.

The growing population, coupled with the fact that 40% of all jobs in the city are located in the Greater Downtown area, means that almost half of the city’s residents spend much of their lives there.

The good news? Downtown’s healthy amenities are growing, too. It’s not just pizzas and hoagies for lunch anymore. It’s amped-up salads and beautifully-made fresh and local food. And there’s an upscale grocery set to open this year.

Outdoor spaces have also undergone a major shift, giving everyone a chance to get out of their offices and breathe a little more deeply. With our impressive rivers and trails, downtown is now a green and healthy place to live and work.

Here are the top spots for keeping fit in our Healthy Guide to Downtown.


Bluebird Kitchen defines what takeout should be: fast and healthy and delicious. A seasonal menu that includes hot entrees and soups, fresh salads and sandwiches and handmade desserts plus their house-made potato chips, Bluebird Kitchen is your go-to for that quick lunch. And ditch those Sausage McMuffins because they offer great options for breakfast too. With two locations, one right off of Market Square and one on Stanwix St. in the First Niagara building, Bluebird Kitchen pledges ‘quality of ingredients’ and offers healthy options for discerning people on the go.

Photo by Brian Cohen
Photo by Brian Cohen

Inside the Fairmont Hotel, Habitat is a modern, quiet and inviting space offering locally-sourced food. Aside from their stellar seasonal menu they also cater to a wide array of dietary preferences, with great vegan, vegetarian, raw, macrobiotic, and gluten-free options. Here’s what you’ll find on the menu: olive-braised tomatoes, whole grain veggie burgers with herb aioli and tomato jam, sweet potato cake with flaxseed ice cream and vegan salted caramel peanut butter ice cream. They are just a few of the mouthwatering items that redefine healthy at Habitat. It’s a gem.

At Bluebird Kitchen. Photo by Brian Cohen.
At Bluebird Kitchen. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Right next to Vallozzi’s on Fifth Avenue is Toss’t, a build-your-own salad spot with a wide variety of ingredients to choose from. It’s the end of those wan-looking generic spring mix salads or worse, iceberg lettuce with fake ranch dressing. Toss’t gives us options that include baby kale, arugula, pea shoots, daikon, sesame broccoli, cage-free eggs and many more ingredients that are local, organic and hormone-free. They work with dozens of local farms all over Pennsylvania and Ohio and are committed to sustainability. This is our kind of salad.

At Verde Good Beans. Photo by Brian Cohen
At Verde Good Beans. Photo by Brian Cohen

Perhaps downtown’s best kept secret is Verde Good Beans. Tucked away on First Avenue, this mother-daughter-run coffee shop has a commitment to fresh ingredients and sustainable environmental practices. Homemade soups, sandwiches and salads are made from local ingredients with generous servings. Great coffee is from La Prima and you can cap your meal with locally-made gelato from Mulberry Street Creamery. It’s worth the trip to this out of the way spot.

Fresh & Local Produce

The Farmers Market on Market Square is one of the most awaited openings of the season. Around 30 weekly vendors and lunchtime concerts can be enjoyed in the welcoming square from May 15th until October 30th. From fresh-baked breads and fresh produce to naturally dry-aged beef, organic raw milk and cheese, you can do most of your weekly grocery shopping right in the market. Don’t miss the beeswax candles and honey. It’s the best thing about Thursdays downtown.

CSA Deliveries (that’s community-supported agriculture) are available with drop-off locations from many farms including Clarion River Organics and Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance. Eat Well Pgh also delivers fresh farm boxes and Breakroom Fruit Boxes right to your workplace.


Sitting all day in your office doesn’t mean you have to miss your workout. Downtown makes it easier to get moving—for early-birds who want to get it done before work, lunchtime yogis and after work weightlifters.

Gold’s Gym is a traditional gym located off Market Square. The YMCA has two locations that you can choose from with traditional gym amenities and classes. With a pool, indoor track, basketball, racquetball and a full service gym and spa, and group classes, the high-end Rivers Club is an excellent choice for those who want variety in their fitness options. Want to rub elbows with celebrities while you work out? The Health Club at the Fairmont is the place to be. With one of the best equipment and spa services to boot, it’s a welcome oasis at lunch or a great way to end your day.

Yoga and Pilates

For Pilates enthusiasts, Pilates Sol on Penn Avenue is a private studio equipped with a range of Pilates equipment. The studio offers one-on-one instruction. Moxie Mind and Body on Market Square offers Pilates classes from private to group mat classes. For downtown yogis, Bend Yoga on Penn Avenue offers classes during the lunch hour and right after work with different styles ranging from hatha to heated vinyasa. Verve Health & Wellness offers more than 30 pilates, barre and yoga classes throughout the week. For those wanting a different yoga experience, Verve’s aerial yoga class is definitely one to try.

Get Outdoors!

Photo by Brian Cohen
Photo by Brian Cohen

Downtown is beautiful. You just have to stop and smell the roses and the many flowers and plants that the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and TreeVitalize have planted to make downtown simply breathtaking. TreeVitalize has planted 20,000 trees here and Riverlife continues its transformative work in creating beautifully-designed green spaces along the rivers and trails. There are more than 47 acres of park space downtown. Like these:

The Green Roof at the Allegheny County building is filled with trays and vertical plantings that have kept the building 35° to 60° cooler than conventional roofs.

Mellon Square Park just opened to great acclaim after a long and extensive renovation. This rooftop park (built over a parking garage) with mid-century modern design measures over one acre and makes for a perfect place to enjoy lunch or drink solo or with friends.  A project of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Mellon Square truly offers “a tranquil oasis in the heart of the Pittsburgh’s downtown corridor—a place to enjoy the sparkling fountains and their rhythmic splashing of water,” just as they say.

Two great trails border downtown: the North Shore Trail is a wide, gentle trail with green spaces. It’s great for walking, running and biking and runs about 8 miles past downtown to Millvale. The Eliza Furnace Trail is a part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that runs through to Point State Park. The 4-mile paved trail is perfect for everyone from bikers to walkers. Those still learning how to skate will love that this trail is flat—a rarity for our hilly city.

Take a short walk to the North Shore Boathouse and rent a kayak from Kayak Pittsburgh, a project of Venture Outdoors (also headquartered downtown). Kayak in the river and enjoy stunning downtown views from different launching points along the trails. Few cities offer something like this. It’s one of our favorite things to do.

Photo by Brian Cohen.
Photo by Brian Cohen.

Need a bike? The Golden Triangle Bike Rental on First Avenue offers rentals for as little as $8 an hour. A project of Bike Pittsburgh, Golden Triangle also hosts interesting tours on bikes such as the Pittsburgh Winery bike tour that ends in the winery’s cellar in the Strip or the Flashdance bike tour that traces Alex Owen’s route in the famous movie set in the ‘burgh.

Spas and such

After all that physical exertion, downtown offers a number of spa and massage options. Verve Health & Wellness, the Rivers Club and The Health Club at The Fairmont feature a wealth of wonderful and restorative spa services. Try the boutique Spa Jema on First Avenue, a colorful and sweet organic day spa with a modern aesthetic. Backrubs and Bodyworks on Fifth Avenue is a 15-year downtown standby with massage services that range from Swedish massage to trigger point therapy.

In July, Pittsburgh’s first Pop Up Wellness Fair will take place in Market Square. More than 30 exhibitors will showcase the city’s healthy resources, retailers and recreational opportunities. Admission is free. This is your chance to come out and take a free fitness class and meet the people making Pittsburgh a healthier place to live.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.