#9 Pittsburgh, Pa.

Currently undergoing a renaissance, this hidden gem has distinctive neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, glittering skyscrapers, upscale shops and a diversified economy.

What we loved: The city's ethnic European cuisines. The pierogies served at The Church Brew Works -- formerly a Catholic church that's now a brewery -- were marvelous.

The best vantage point for surveying Pittsburgh is atop Mount Washington. Hollows and streams in the surrounding hills carve out distinctive neighborhoods that are linked by more than 700 bridges. Steeples of 19th-century churches dot tree-lined streets. Glittering skyscrapers cluster at the Golden Triangle, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio.


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For a ground-level view of Pittsburgh's gradual changeover from a steel-driven economy to "eds and meds" -- education and health care -- take a ride around town with Carl Kurlander. He's a native son working on a documentary about the city's current renaissance. First stop is the Strip District, where warehouses have become upscale shops selling everything from cheeses to chocolates. Drop in at the 72-year-old Primanti Brothers restaurant, where Kurlander buys a sandwich topped with fries, the restaurant's signature touch.

Next stop is a campus of corporations on the Monongahela River that's so green you would never know it occupies the site of a former foundry. Inside is the Entertainment Technology Center, in which students who are candidates for master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon University create new devices, such as a touch screen that lets children in hospital waiting rooms color in 3-D characters that move. Steady prosperity is expected to bring 10% more jobs to the city by 2010.


Pittsburgh's recent median house values are low even in its priciest neighborhoods, such as Shadyside ($199,000) and Squirrel Hill ($184,000), according to Zillow, a home-data collector. Says longtime Squirrel Hill resident Alan Van Dine: "The city offers something like a millionaire's lifestyle on a middle-class budget."

-- Sean O'Neill