Depending on how you travel, there can be very little relaxation on your vacation. If you’re the type to hustle from one destination to another, with tickets to an event every night and a slate of sights to see every day, when are you going to actually unwind?
When you go somewhere like Warren, Pennsylvania, that’s when. The small town just north of Allegheny National Forest has more than enough to draw visitors — particularly nature lovers — and enough isolation that you’ll be left with idle hours. Whether you visit for a day or a week, you will leave Warren feeling rejuvenated.
You’ll have the kind of day we wish we could have every day: Getting up early for a hike or a kayak trip, coming back for a long nap, enjoying a big meal and a few beers then relaxing at a beautiful boutique hotel.
Even if you’re a novice when it comes to outdoor recreation, Warren (and, more broadly, the full Allegheny National Forest area) will welcome you. Start your excursion at Allegheny Outfitters, a sprawling store offering everything you need to get back to nature, from advanced camping equipment down to the right shoes. You’ll also pick up a few souvenirs; look for the shirts featuring the squonk, the mopey resident cryptid of northern Pennsylvania.
If you prefer life on the river, you can rent a kayak on the spot (from Memorial Day through Labor Day) and take it out into the Allegheny. Long before colliding with the Monongahela at Point State Park, the Allegheny runs right through Warren; you’ll find new kayakers and seasoned pros alike exploring its banks and gently floating downriver. If it’s the woods you’re after, check at Allegheny Outfitters for recommended trailheads near town.
Looking for a beginner-friendly, 3.5-mile-or-so hike? Point your GPS to the Hearts Content Recreation Area; you’ll find signs for Tom’s Run, an invigorating loop that shouldn’t be too challenging for newcomers. (You may want to download the maps to your phone, as there’s very little cell service this deep in the woods.)
After a day working up a sweat (and, ideally, that nap), you’ll want a hearty meal and a cool drink to go with it. The center of culinary gravity in Warren is a pair of local breweries offering good food and even better beer. Wicked Warren’s is a storefront brewery in the heart of town; you’ll see the stills downstairs as you saddle up to the bar. Their beer offerings range from the mainstream to the daring, and change seasonally; those looking for a refreshing brew after a long hike should try the Not a Boblem pilsner, while sippers seeking a more flavorful experience should order the hearty Sumpin’ Smokey rauchbier. Whatever you’re drinking, get a wood-fired pizza — or, if something else on the menu tempts you, at least begin with the delectable “pizza chips” appetizer, tiny discs of bread topped with cheese and pepperoni.
A few blocks away, Bent Run Brewing Co. has a similarly strong lineup of suds on tap as well as a full menu; it’s also the go-to spot for Sunday brunch. Bent Run is located next door to Allegheny Outfitters, making it an irresistible next stop after climbing out of your kayak.
In the morning — or afternoon, depending on how long you sleep — the Arbor Coffee House Cafe & Tea Room is the unofficial center of the city. This is the kind of coffee shop where you’d never merely grab a cup and go; it insists that you linger, either inside its cozy confines or at one of the many streetside tables outside. Their lattes and teas are enveloping, and their sweet pastries sell out on a daily basis. It’s a sensory feast; it looks good, smells good, tastes good and sounds good.
You’ll want to stroll through the compact downtown area, where you’ll find treasures in Authors Books & Music, where you’ll get lost in piles of old paperbacks, and Second Avenue Exchange
a bargain hunter’s dream collection of consignment shops. If you have a nighttime destination, it will be the Struthers Library Theatre, a stately old building that hosts music, movies and more; it’s a beautiful place to spend an evening.
But you may not want to do much in the evening. Or any other time, for that matter. You may want to relax in your hotel, reading or napping; you may want to sit and watch the river go by; you may want to stroll the streets without a thought in your head. Warren is the kind of place that invites such quiet, restorative reveries.
Where to Stay: Seek out a room, if there’s one available, at the Hazeltine Boutique Hotel , a century-old Jacobean mansion that has been lovingly restored into a seven-room getaway. The amenities are remarkable, with free beer on tap (yes, from the local breweries), a generous continental breakfast and more — but you’re here for the remarkable building itself. A series of luxurious sitting rooms invite you to linger, if you can resist the call of your beautifully appointed bedroom. It’s a haven; in fact, if the Hazeltine is booked, reschedule your trip until it’s not.
Where to Eat: The aforementioned breweries will likely be your first stop for food; both serve full menus of comfort food and more than a few healthier options. The food at Arbor Coffee House is quite good as well, especially the wraps; try the turkey-and-kale option. If you’re looking for a hearty serving of satisfying pub grub, pop into Christie’s Downtown Pub & Grille.
When to Go: There’s no off season in Warren, as many of the trails near the town are favored by snowshoe enthusiasts and cross-country skiers in the colder months. Spring and autumn are natural choices for more amateur hikers, and summer is best for river activities. But if you’ve thought about learning to snowshoe, this is the place — and who doesn’t love a winter getaway?