If you’re a history buff, a train lover, a food enthusiast, or a road tripper, you’ll love Altoona. This charming city in the heart of Blair County, Pennsylvania, has many must-visit attractions and diverse culinary experiences. Add these nine Altoona attractions and bites to your itinerary if you’re here for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Altoona is accessible by Interstate 99, US 220, and US 22. It is roughly two hours from Pittsburgh, PA, and Hagerstown, MD, and three hours from Baltimore.
Breakfast at Tom and Joe’s
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Tom and Joe’s Restaurant, a landmark diner that has been serving the Altoona community since 1933. This cozy and friendly spot offers classic diner eats, such as pancakes, omelets, waffles, daily specials, and homemade desserts.
You can chat with the regulars at Tom and Joe’s, admire the vintage décor, and savor the authentic flavors of this local legend. I chose to try the Chipped Beef Special over toast with a side of potatoes, a real regular treat. It was so darned good; satisfying home-cooked goodness.
Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark
Start your adventurous journey in Altoona with a visit to the world-famous Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark. This engineering marvel dates back to 1854 and features a 2,375 feet long and 1,300 feet wide curve that helps trains navigate the Allegheny Mountains.
Horseshoe Curve was built by hand by 400 Irish immigrants over three grueling years. It was opened in 1854 and, years later, became a huge part of America’s Westward Expansion.
You will enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from the observation decks and learn about the history of the railroad industry through exhibits, videos, and guided tours. The museum is well worth spending a little time in.
There are quite a few steps to climb to the top, as the funicular has been out of commission for several years, but once there, it is spectacular. Bring a picnic lunch and stay awhile.
Watching the trains around the curve is incredible…even more so when two or three occupy the remaining tracks.
Trivia: Horseshoe Curve was on the top 10 hit list during WWII. The Germans knew that if they could sabotage the railroad, it would cripple the US and give them advantage over the war.
Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum
For more railroad history, head to the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum. This three-story museum showcases the lives, sacrifices, and talents of the men and women who built and operated the railroads in Altoona and beyond through interactive and immersive displays.
You can explore the locomotives, cabooses, and other artifacts, admire the colorful murals, and interact with the knowledgeable staff and volunteers. A huge expansion and outdoor project are going to take this space to the next level and bring in oodles of new visitors. I can’t wait to see it come to fruition.
Check out the well-appointed gift shop before you leave. Adult admission prices are $12, youth are $9, and $10 for seniors.
To taste Altoona’s architectural and cultural heritage, visit Baker Mansion, a 19th-century masterpiece and Greek Temple-style home belonging to prominent businessman and philanthropist Elias Baker. This gem would become the icon for power and wealth of the region.
This limestone and cast iron mansion has 26 rooms filled with antique furniture (including an 1840s piano), paintings, and objects d’art, as well as manicured gardens, fountains, and sculptures. It is also the headquarters of the Blair Co. Historical Society.
You can join a guided tour or attend special events such as antique car shows, heritage holiday tours, monthly speaker series, concerts, teas, and ghost tours. The Murder Mysteries was high up on my list.
Keep in mind that this historic treasure is ADA exempt, so those with certain physical limitations would be unable to visit. But, for those unable to visit in person, you can take a virtual tour on their website.
Thanks to Explore Altoona for hosting me on this FAM trip. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art
SAMA, as it is better known, is an accredited museum of fine art that actually houses three separate art spaces in one. The museum is small, but mighty, and has interesting artworks and carefully curated exhibits. You’ll find regional, national, and local artists in this photo-worthy gallery.
Don’t miss the museum’s gift shop for epic souvenirs and trendy items before leaving.
The Clay Cup
Quench your thirst at the nearby Clay Cup. This beautiful specialty coffee shop, serving Westfall Coffee, is in the heart of historic downtown Altoona, and has a wide variety of pastries, coffees, and teas. They also serve sandwiches, soups, oatmeal, and bagels, amongst other goodies.
Need a new drink to try? The Matcha Latte was excellent.
In the back of Clay Cup is a pottery painting space, available by reservation only. You can also “take and paint” if you wish. Clay Cup is closed on Sundays.
To end your Altoona adventure with a cultural bang, see a show at the ornate Mishler Theatre, a historic venue and regular stop on the Vaudeville circuit hosting performers and audiences since 1906. Greats like W.C. Fields, Harry Houdini, and Al Jolson performed on this stage.
This beautifully restored theater features Art Nouveau decorations, stained glass windows, and a cozy atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re in a European palace. The lounge in the basement (SPIRITZ) is stellar!
Catch a play, a concert, a dance recital, or a comedy show from regional, national, and international performers, and appreciate the talent and creativity of the artists.
Fun Fact: Altoona Symphony Orchestra, the longest continuously performing community orchestra in the U.S., uses the Mishler Theatre as its home.
Shop Boyer’s Candy Company
After you’ve worked up an appetite, indulge in some sweet treats at Boyer’s Candy Company. This family-owned business has been making delectable candy since 1936, and its signature item is the Mallo Cup, a dreamy chocolate-covered marshmallow with a creamy center that has been one of my favorites for life.
At the factory shop, you can pick up fresh from the factory candies, including Mallo Cup, Smoothie, Peanut Butter Cups, Clark Cups, and Clark Bars. They also have a nice selection of souvenir t-shirts, gift mugs, and candy baskets.
Dinner at the Allegro
For a romantic or upscale dinner, head to the Allegro Restaunant, an Italian restaurant that blends tradition and innovation. This elegant and stylish dining room serves award-winning veal dishes, handcrafted pastas, succulent steaks, fresh seafood, and homemade desserts, like creme brûlée and tiramisu.
There is an extensive wine list, too.
Enjoy attentive service and an intimate ambiance perfect for a date or a special occasion. There is also a casual bar area for those who want quicker service. Allegro is closed Sunday and Monday.
Need a Hotel in Altoona?
The Wingate by Wyndham Downtown is a great 100% smoke-free place to overnight when visiting Altoona. The hotel offers free parking, free WiFi, complimentary breakfast and has 82 comfortable, spacious rooms and suites.
This stylish Wingate is located off I-99 in downtown Altoona near Penn State Altoona. It is within walking distance of several major Altoona attractions. A small sundries shop offers things you may have forgotten or need.
The coolest thing about this hotel, for me, was the indoor therapeutic saltwater pool with color changing lights. It was gorgeous!
Ideas for Next Time
I didn’t have time to experience nearly all of the marvelous things Altoona has to offer, so I share with you my bucket list for future travels.
- Slinky Action Zone (they were and are still made in Altoona)
- Lakemont Park (the world’s oldest wooden coaster)
- DelGrosso’s & Laguna Splash Water Park (I need to bring my granddaughter)
- Zombietown USA (weekend of all things zombie related)
Altoona is a Real Treat
By visiting these nine Altoona institutions, you can immerse yourself in its rich past, vibrant present, and promising future. Discover why this city is worth a trip.
Pack your bags, hit the road, and let Altoona surprise and delight you!
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