Photo by Kristy Locklin.

It might seem light-years away from Downtown Pittsburgh, but Mars Borough is only a 30-minute drive up I-279. And unlike many suburbs dotted with strip malls and big-box stores, Mars offers visitors plenty of quaint, small-town charm.

Stats (from Niche)

  • Population: 1,650
  • Size: 0.4 sq. mi.
  • Median Home Value: $172,300
  • Median Rent: $614
Photo by Kristy Locklin.

A little history

Founded in 1873 and incorporated in 1895, Mars occupies just half of a square mile, making it a walkable community. When you visit, be sure to stop by the Mars Area History & Landmarks Society. Since 1980, the organization has worked to preserve the borough’s past, including the Mars Shortline Railroad. You can hitch a ride on a replica every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., mid-May through November.

Don’t miss

On Grand Avenue and its side streets, you’ll find a number of mom-and-pop businesses.

Antique shopping in Mars. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Grab a homemade ice cream cone, pastry or quick meal at The Peach Tree Creamery & Bakery, an adorable little cafe filled with friendly faces. Need a caffeine fix? Mars Brew House, around the corner on Pittsburgh Street, offers what they call the “finest coffees in the universe.”

If you’re in the mood for another type of brew, head to Stick City Brewing Company on Irvine Street. Open Thursdays through Sundays, the rustic taproom is a frequent stop for food trucks. Order dinner from one of the visiting trucks, then wash it down with Cabotsquatch American Brown Ale.

More dining options: Posti’s Pizza specializes in old-fashioned pies. Mamma’s Place is a diner serving up hearty breakfast and lunch specials. And Hot Mama’s Pierogies and BeBe Kakes (both operating out of 200 West Hook St., behind the Rite Aid) will satisfy your carb cravings.

Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Pfeifer Hardware & Supply is a handyperson’s haven. Shop for antiques and unique gifts at Vintage Finds on Grand, Revamp Decor and a new Salvaged PGH location. Book lovers, especially children, will enjoy perusing the shelves at the Mars Area Public Library, which is undergoing a renovation.

Photo by Kristy Locklin.

If you’re looking to decorate your body, head to After Hours Tattoo Studio and the Social Club Barber Shop, which recently hosted the inaugural Mars Rumble — a show for custom cars, trucks, bikes, rat rods and hot rods.

“If there’s anything Mars can do, we can throw a party,” says Bonnie Forsythe, the borough’s secretary and treasurer.

From Mars Applefest (held annually on the first Saturday of October) to Mars New Year (a celebration of the Red Planet’s 687-day orbit around the Sun — the next one is in 2021), the borough draws large crowds, including folks from NASA.

Although it’s generally believed the place is named after a judge named Marshall, there are nods to the celestial body all over town. There’s a flying saucer at the entrance to the business district, little green men occupy nearly every storefront and Mars Area School District is the home of the Fightin’ Planets.

“We’ve clearly made it work for for us. We benefit from the kitsch factor,” Forsythe says, noting residents refer to themselves as Martians. “There are a couple towns in the U.S. that have planetary names, but this is the only Mars.”