Beating the Winter Blues…Without leaving the Steel City!

I don’t know about you, but around this time every year, I am done with winter. Through December and January, I’m all about that Hygge life – candles burning, fireplace glowing, cozy throws across my lap – but enough is enough. I’m ready for long warm days, bicycle rides by the rivers, and twilight dinners on the deck. 

Let’s hope that Punxsutawney Phil got it right last weekend with his prediction that we are in for an early spring, but just in case, here are some ways to get a spring-like attitude right here and now:

Escape to the Islands at the National Aviary

It may be going too far to say that a visit to the National Aviary will make you feel like you’ve left wintry Pittsburgh behind for an “Escape to the Islands,” but I’m willing to play along.  The balmy temperatures inside make it easy to imagine yourself strolling in a Caribbean garden – especially while visiting the Tropical Rainforest exhibit with its 15-foot high waterfall and 400 tropical plants including coffee and cacao trees. The beautiful habitat houses an endangered Palm Cockatoo, Great Argus Pheasants, Victoria Crowned Pigeons, and many other birds, as well as a Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth.

I’m also a big fan of the Wetlands Exhibit, which features gorgeous pink American Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, and Brown Pelicans, as well as many other free-flying wetland birds. The pelicans and spoonbills especially remind me of the gulf coast of Florida (definitely one of my “happy places”).  

Flamingos in the foreground, spoonbills in the back, and a pelican in the tree above.

There are lots of interactive exhibits at the aviary as well. On a previous visit with Jordan and Silvan, they hand fed some of the wetlands inhabitants. Birds flying up to me for a snack is a little out of my comfort level – I blame Hitchcock – but adventurous sorts like our kids will love it.

The National Aviary (and, yes, it’s America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds) is located in Allegheny Commons Park on Pittsburgh’s historic North Side.

https://www.aviary.org

Get Out of this (cold) World at Phipps Conservatory

Another way to get that tropical feeling is to pay a visit to Phipps Conservatory. What’s not to love about this beautiful Victorian structure filled with flowers and plants? This season features the “Out of this World Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show,” which begins in the Palm Court with an enormous plant covered Saturn-like sphere hanging in the center. Other planetary shaped topiaries are scattered throughout the room along with a collection of slipper orchids. 

When we visited with our grandsons, they absolutely loved the Garden Railroad: Farms, Food, and Family Exhibit. This interactive display has lots of buttons for little ones to push. There are buttons to make the trains run, make the goats bleat, make a tractor circle a hay field, and more! Most importantly, for any little engineers you may know, there are So. Many. Trains!

To get an island feeling, head back to Tropical Forest Cuba for a multi-level tour of the 12,000 square-foot, 60-foot high conservatory filled with lush palm trees, Cuban orchids, unique ferns and rare cycads, as well as gurgling streams and cascading waterfalls. 

Phipps Conservatory is located in Oakland, adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.

https://www.phipps.conservatory.org

Drink rum. Lots and lots of rum. Preferably in a coconut.

Another way to attempt to forget about winter: Visit a restaurant with a tropical theme. Believe it or not, we’ve visited two right here in Pittsburgh! Kaya is in the Strip District and Hidden Harbor is in Squirrel Hill. While Kaya’s seasonal menu gives a nod to winter with cocktails like the Red Mittens Mojito and the Frosted Flannel, Hidden Harbor is all about denial. Their cocktails are heavy on the rum with names like Josie’s Faraway Vacation, Golden Girl, and Tropical Itch garnished with beautiful exotic fruits and flowers. Adding to the fun, many of the drinks are made for two (or more) to share and all are served in themed drink ware. We visited Kaya back in the fall, so I can’t really speak to its ability to help beat the winter blues. As for Hidden Harbor, the fun atmosphere will definitely help you shake the blues, but it would have taken a lot more rum to make me forget the sleet and freezing temps just outside the door on the night we visited.

http://www.hiddenharborpgh.com

Endorphins Make You Happy!

Perhaps the best way to fight the winter blues? Get to the gym! As Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t shoot their husbands!”  Whether you’re walking on a treadmill, stepping on an elliptical machine, pumping iron, or taking a cross fit class, anything that has you breaking a sweat for an hour can make a huge difference in your mental outlook.

My absolute favorite gym of all time is Mecka Fitness in Mt. Lebanon (they have a second location opening in the Strip District soon). I take their Body Lab class, which is a mix of cardio and weights set to music, and I am obsessed with it! Through the years I’ve tried just about every exercise regimen known to man, from Jane Fonda and Billy Blanks videos to hot yoga and Zumba classes and while I was always happy to have worked out (and the endorphins kept me non-homicidal!) I never really loved it. Mecka Body Lab, I love.

https://www.meckafitness.com

Hope these tips help you navigate the next few weeks with a sunny attitude! What are your favorite ways to beat the winter blues?

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