Strolling a sweet small town calms the soul. If you’re near the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, THE picturesque place to visit is Ligonier, PA. Even if you’re not near the town, come walk along virtually and learn why this spot has won so many awards!
“Most Charming Small Town In America”
Pronounced “Lihg-un-ear,” Ligonier has a population of just over 1,500 people — fully qualifying it for “small town” status — and its rich history dates back to the 1700s. Its layout consists of a delightful “Diamond” with a bandstand on the green, surrounded by shops and pretty municipal buildings, then one Main Street. As a fan of quality over quantity, beautiful bite-sized towns like Ligonier and Woodstock, VT are just my style.
In Country Magazine’s ranking of best small towns in the America, Ligonier won the #2 spot! (It’s a nice list overall, featuring some of my other favorites such as Mystic, CT.) Ligonier’s combination of delicious aesthetics and great outdoor activities, history, arts, food, and culture make it an ideal base for a Laurel Highlands getaway.
Things to Do in Ligonier
First, a note: The trip to Ligonier during which I took these photos was exactly a year ago, in the summer of 2019. As always with travel sites, make sure to look up current information if you’re planning a visit, as some attractions may be altered or closed at this time. The official Ligonier site is ideal for this. Now on to the fun!
Above all, my favorite thing to do in Ligonier was to stroll the streets and take in the sights. I popped in and out of the many shops, walked around the lovely library, and sat in the bandstand, people-watching. Just look how relaxing this view of The Diamond at the center of town is!
Ligonier’s Food and Restaurants
Tied with wandering and watching for me in Ligonier was EATING. (If you read my Folly Beach, SC story, you may have seen that one coming.) In fact, the experience of food in the town is intimately connected with architectural ogling.
Take, for example, Ligonier Tavern which is housed in this ornate yellow mansion — a feature on the historic Lincoln Highway (America’s first cross-country roadway) for over a century. The turret reminds me of a mermaid tail…
My husband and I sat on the second floor outdoor balcony pictured below and drank in the sights of the street while eating up pasta and fresh beet salad. Relaxation to the max!
Art, Culture, and Architecture
Inside Ligonier Tavern are more examples of how art and historic architecture permeate the entire town. Check out the metalwork on this red radiator inside the restaurant:
Metalwork, stained glass, and artisanal woodwork by local craftspeople is all over Ligonier, from the historic hotel we stayed in, to the public library — but nowhere is it more clearly displayed than the world-class crafts gallery, Main Exhibit. (Click through to see photos of art that will blow your mind! Just be warned that it’s possible to order their pieces online, and you’ll want to buy everything.)
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art
Pennsylvania’s SAMA museum network has a small but fabulous branch just on the outskirts of Ligonier, and it is a must-see for its astounding glass paperweight collection and gardens. Bonus: If you wear an asymmetrical dress like I did, it will match the outdoor sculptures!
Speaking of art and architecture — how the heck did Ligonier get the entire facade of their movie theatre to SPARKLE like a shiny black diamond?! If anyone knows what this building is made of, please clue us in.
Fort Ligonier: War History
History buffs will know Ligonier, PA as the site of Fort Ligonier: an 18th century fort which is now a living museum (with some aspects similar to Old Sturbridge Village in MA) offering excellent tours, professional development for educators, and workshops for kids.
Mister Rogers Lived Nearby in Latrobe
No mention of Ligonier is complete without loving reference to the Fred Rogers Trail — a series of sites central to the real life of TV’s beloved Mister Rogers. Fred’s birthplace, Latrobe, PA, is just a 17 minute drive from Ligonier, and boasts the fantastic Fred Rogers Center where you can see the actual puppets and cardigans from the show!
Hike at Linn Run and Forbes State Forest
Just past SAMA, a short drive from Ligonier, sits a set of WONDERFUL outdoor recreation areas at Linn Run State Park and Forbes State Forest. Read my write-up on these Laurel Highlands hiking trails for tips on the best scenic overlooks — plus a warning about snakes.
If you’re up for a 50-minute drive, you can do even more hiking and white-water rafting at famed Ohiopyle State Park. The scenery of Laurel Highlands parks is quite different from my Massachusetts mountain of Mount Greylock and its tallest waterfall, Bash Bish Falls, but that variety of topography is why we enjoy exploring other parts of this country beyond our home state.
Visit the Fallingwater House!
Now, if you come to Ligonier and don’t make the 45-minute drive to see Frank Lloyd Wright‘s architectural masterpiece, the Fallingwater house, then… HUH?! Fallingwater exceeds all expectations and is 100% worth a visit.
The tours are top-notch, and the grounds around the house are as stunning as the home’s interior. If you want to make a romantic getaway of it, we adored these luxury cabins nearby.
Other Laurel Highlands and PGH Attractions
Closer to Ligonier, who could forget long-lasting Idlewild & SplashZone — established way back in 1878 — which was recently named the “Best Children’s Park” by Amusement Today, and which Mister Rogers himself enjoyed.
Less than 30 minutes away in Greensburg, PA is the fantastic Westmoreland Museum of Art which is not only FREE, but has a phenomenal set of activities for children. Meanwhile, 20 minutes south of Ligonier sits Pletcher’s Farm Market which is famous for their hilariously sassy signs (see them at the link) and scrumptious produce.
Headed to Pittsburgh? Don’t miss the rainbow-colored outdoor art installations at Randyland, the unbelievable artistic botanical gardens at Phipp’s Conservatory, or the largest vintage bicycle collection in the world at Bicycle Heaven.
Thank You, Ligonier!
So what do YOU think? Have you been to Ligonier or the Laurel Highlands? If so, what was your favorite part? If not, which attractions here look best? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!