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Ligonier, PA: Small Town Beauty in the Laurel Highlands

Ligonier, PA Diamond with bandstand.
Ligonier’s “Diamond” with bandstand.

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!

Fort Ligonier has 18th century American history.
Fort Ligonier has 18th century American history.

“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.

Eating at Ligonier Tavern and Table.
Eating at Ligonier Tavern and Table.

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!

How picturesque is Ligonier's main square, the Diamond?
How picturesque is Ligonier’s main square, The Diamond?

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…

Ligonier's historic yellow building.
Ligonier’s historic yellow building.

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!

The beautiful upstairs patio at the Ligonier Tavern.
The beautiful upstairs patio at the Ligonier Tavern.

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:

An ornate radiator inside Ligonier Tavern.
An ornate radiator inside Ligonier Tavern.

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.)

Stained glass is all over Ligonier.
Stained glass is all over Ligonier.

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!

The sculpture garden at SAMA.
The sculpture garden at SAMA.

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.

I love the sparkly silver exterior of Ligonier's movie theater.
I love the sparkly silver exterior of Ligonier’s movie theatre.

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.

Table 105 had a great restaurant vibe.
Table 105 had an excellent restaurant vibe.

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!

The famous key lime pie at Table 105.
The famous key lime pie at Table 105.

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.

Hiking nearby Linn Run State Park.
Hiking nearby Linn Run State Park.

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.

Healthy eating at The Kitchen on Main.
Healthy eating at The Kitchen on Main.

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.

Ligonier Town Hall adds to the picturesque charm.
Ligonier Town Hall adds to the picturesque charm.

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!

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Myline

Friday 28th of August 2020

Wellsboro - Home of the PA Grand Canyon. One the prettiest Main Streets in North Central PA and beautiful countryside to boot. A "must-visit" for fall foliage.

Lillie Marshall

Saturday 29th of August 2020

Thanks for the suggestion! I'll have to check it out!

Diana

Monday 10th of August 2020

Wow, this is a beautiful small town, and I haven't visited. Great photos -- and that food especially the beet salad looks yummy!

Lillie Marshall

Monday 10th of August 2020

Thanks and yes!

Harmony, Momma To Go

Tuesday 4th of August 2020

Ohiopyle! We used to do a school camping trip up there every year when I lived in DC! great memories, beautiful area. Although I had never heard of Ligonier - Mr. Rogers, cute buildings, good food, sounds like a great place!

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 5th of August 2020

Ah right -- I always forget that Washington DC is just 3 hours from the Laurel Highlands! Ohiopyle would be a fabulous place for a school trip. So glad you got to experience it!

Rhonda Lynn

Friday 31st of July 2020

Table 105 is gone. You should of mentioned the creamery, Wildfire bread, and given more credit to actual stores in ligonier ; allegory gallery, our 1 and only tattoo shop, second chapter books, my honeybee, paws on Main Street, abigails coffee shop. I can go on and on.

Lillie Marshall

Friday 31st of July 2020

Thank you for these updates, and please feel free to add other recommendations! I’m sad to hear about Table 105 — we really enjoyed it and I was hoping that their closure was only temporary.

Andrew Thornton

Thursday 30th of July 2020

Thanks so much for visiting and sharing your experience! Looks like you had a great time! Come back any time and be sure to stop by Allegory Gallery to say hello! We’d love to meet you!

Lillie Marshall

Thursday 30th of July 2020

Thanks so much, Andrew! I'm sad that I missed Allegory Gallery, but it sounds amazing, and I'm continually astounded by how much art and culture Ligonier has in such a petite package.

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