11 Americana Things to do in Indiana PA: With Jimmy Stewart and Groundhog Day

WHY GO: There are more things to do in Indiana PA, Punxsutawney, and the greater Indiana County Pennsylvania region than attractions and events that focus on Jimmy Stewart and Groundhog Day.

View from Vinegar Hill Indiana PA

Also known for its Christmas Trees, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as an Abolitionist stronghold, and, interestingly, its “Salt Wells,”  this region has plenty to recommend it.

In 1910, after coal companies had denuded the land, entrepreneurs discovered that evergreen trees were the only flora that could thrive in these conditions. They planted thousands of them, then opened up for business. Subsequently, Indiana PA region became the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.”

Vinegar Hill Steps Indiana PA

These days, though, most visitors to this Western PA region visit not so much for Holiday Trees, but for recreation (rails to trails), education (IUP, which counts the founder of YouTube among its illustrious graduates), libation (breweries and distilleries), and celebration (Groundhog Day). Herewith the Getaway Maven’s things to do in Indiana PA and Punxsutawney.

Indiana County PA joins this roster of 18 Top Romantic Getaways in Pennsylvania. You might just get some more romantic getaway ideas.

Things to Do in Indiana PA and Punxsutawney

Phils Burrow Punxsutawney PA

TOUR: Punxsutawney PA

Just outside of Indiana County PA – a bit closer to I-80, Punxsutawney, a tiny town of 5,500, more than quadruples in population every February 2nd when resident rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, announces (in language only a select few can decipher) whether or not he’s seen his shadow, auguring Spring or another 6 weeks of Winter.

So important is this “Seer of Seer’s,” Phil’s forecast is recorded in the Congressional Records and the Library of Congress. Groundhog Day is based on the German Candlemas tradition, which used a hedgehog for the same Spring prophesy, right at the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.

In fact, the event is so important here, Feb. 2nd is a school holiday. First celebrated in Punxsutawney in 1886, Groundhog Day has since become a National spectacle. Especially after the release of the movie starring Bill Murray in 1993.

The “Inner Circle”

Phils Elixir Of Life Punxsutawney PA

Though anyone can join the Groundhog Club (for a fee), there are only 15 top-hat wearing men in the “Inner Circle.” These chosen few understand groundhog lingo, and assert that the current Phil is the same Phil as first popped out of his burrow in the 1880’s.

Phil has lived to the ripe old age of 150 years by virtue of a special “Elixir of Life.”  Administered every second Saturday after Labor Day, this drink expands his life by 7 more years.

Only two members of the Inner Circle can handle Phil (licensed through the USDA). And they must do so with falconer’s (chain mail) gloves, as Phil is a feisty bugger with sharp woodchuck teeth.

How to Meet Phil

A.J. Dereume Handler Punxsutawner PA

You can see Phil, and his “wife,” Phyllis, in their glass-enclosed burrow on most days. If a journalist is in town and a handler is on hand, you may be lucky enough to see him outside his lair. (Photo is of Inner Circle Groundhog Handler, A.J. Dereume – the “Rainmaker”).

Groundhog Club Headquarters Punxsutawney PA

There are more photos and artifacts at the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Headquarters, which also serves as a small museum. Those who can’t get enough of the famous woodchuck can purchase Phil paraphernalia at a store a few doors down.

Gobbler’s Knob

Gobblers Knob Closeup Punxsutawney Phil PA

Afterwards, head uphill about 2 miles from town to Gobbler’s Knob, where the famous and oft filmed stage is set for Phil’s pronouncement.

Although Groundhog Day, the movie, wasn’t shot here, Bill Murray wanted to get a good sense of what went on, procedurally, with real, boots on ground research. He hid in the crowd and walked up to the stage only after the festivities were over, so as not to detract from the event. His humble approach earned him a lot of good will from locals.

If you show up in Punxsutawney on February 2nd, you’ll find no ads, no corporate sponsors, nothing to pollute this pure as the driven snow American holiday. However, you will have to deal with the 30,000 to 40,000 people who come annually to see/hear the Groundhog’s prediction.

Being around Groundhog Phil is one of the most quirky-romantic places to propose in PA.

Jimmy Stewart Museum Indiana PA

VISIT: Jimmy Stewart Museum, Indiana PA

Anyone who’s ever felt a jolt of emotion while watching the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life will want to visit the one establishment devoted to hometown hero, and all around swell guy, Jimmy Stewart.

It figures that the Jimmy Stewart Museum, opened in 1995, shares space with the town Library. After all, humble Stewart himself didn’t want a museum devoted to just him and his movie career. He wished instead to focus on his family, the town, and his military service during WWII.

Personal Side of Jimmy Stewart

Stewart Hardware Office Indiana PA

To that end, these series of exhibits, on the 4th floor of the library are filled with early pictures of Stewart with his family in his house on “Vinegar Hill.” (The house still stands – and you can actually sit on the porch for a photo op).

See his childhood bed and a diorama from the local Stewart-family-owned hardware store. Imported from California –  the door to the home he shared with beloved wife Gloria (who he married when she was 40) in Beverly Hills, artifacts from his Los Angeles Office, and his personal booth from Chasen’s restaurant.

And naturally, there are posters and stories from each of his 85 movies. In case you forget, Stewart starred in blockbusters from the 1934 Art Trouble, to Harvey, Philadelphia Story, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and of course, It’s A Wonderful Life.

Jimmy Stewarts Chasens Booth Indiana PA

It’s interesting to note that It’s A Wonderful Life was a flop at the box office in 1947, when post-war America was rebuilding and had no taste for a main character bent on committing suicide.

But the film found renewed life on television decades later, when it ran during the Christmas Season as a message of compassion and redemption. In later life, asked which movie was his favorite, Stewart answered unequivocally: It’s A Wonderful Life, by far.

Born in 1908, Stewart died in 1997, leaving a legacy of kindness and decency. Check website for dates and hours open.

Jimmy Stewart Boyhood Home Indiana PA

WALK: All over downtown Indiana

The Crosswalk message on the corners of 9th and 7th Streets is Jimmy Stewart as depicted by Rich Little. Look across Philadelphia St. to a set of stairs. That’s “Vinegar Hill” – and if you climb up, and veer left, you’ll be on the front steps of Stewart’s boyhood home.

Underground rr history center blairsville pa

VISIT: The Blairsville Area Underground Railroad History Center, Blairsville

Located in the 1917 Second Baptist Church, this low-tech, hands on, much-researched one room Blairsville Area Underground Railroad – a National Park Service Network to Freedom Program –  illuminates the plight of the enslaved. But it also highlights the gumption of freedom seekers and those who helped them along the way.Weeks Rations Underground RR Center Blairsville PA

Blairsville was a canal town in Indiana County PA. Part of the water-highway to Pittsburgh, it was a logical stop on the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, Blairsville Abolitionist, Alexander Moorhead, Jr., wrote the names of Underground Railroad “Conductors,” stops, and incidents specific to his hometown.

Dreadful Artifacts

Such documentation makes these displays all the more poignant. There’s a table set with one week’s worth of slave rations. Another exhibit, “The Day in the Life of an Enslaved Child,” depicts the backbreaking chores that kids as young as 5 would be forced to do. One object, a child-size yoke used to pull heavy plows, provides dreadful evidence of humans used like chattel.

There are hand-crafted playthings like dolls and marbles, too. And other hands-on artifacts from everyday life.Child Yoke Underground RR Center Blairsville PA

To indicate just how anti-slavery this town was, Blairsville’s Fugitive Slave Rescue of 1858 is still celebrated today. In defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act that made mandatory the return of freedom seekers from free states, Blairsville locals formed a mob to rescue a fugitive named Richard Newman.

Newman had been living in Blairsville for six years with UGRR conductor, Lewis Johnson. Found by a bounty hunter, Newman’s life was in danger until the town rose up and drove the slave tracker away. Open by appointment only and some select evenings. Contact the museum at least 24-48 hours in advance for personal tours; blairsvilleugrr@yahoo.com, 724-541-2344.

Saltsburg PA

VISIT: Stone House Museum, Saltsburg

Originally a Canal and then railroad stop between Philly and Pittsburgh, Saltsburg once bustled with industry. Yes, this dusty glass case Stone House Museum in Saltsburg holds the requisite local stuff – coal mining artifacts, Native American arrowheads, and pictures of floods. But it also contains a rare portrait of Jimmy Stewart, painted by his sister.

Perhaps the most fascinating exhibits are about Saltsburg’s namesake – derived from the “salt wells” that provided the United States with much of its domestic salt.

Beginning in 1813, drillers discovered salt deposits 300 feet below ground. Flooded with water, brine was pumped to the surface, and evaporated. The resulting high quality salt was in great demand.

In fact, this valley was the country’s 3rd largest salt producer, with over 21 Salt Works within 2 miles. That is, until salt drillers like Samuel Kier began to notice a viscous liquid befouling the wells.

The sticky substance was crude oil, first sold by Sam Kier for medicinal purposes. He called his cure-all, “Petroleum.”

Kier went on to develop an economical way to make kerosene. And, finding a better use for crude, he established the first oil refinery in Pittsburgh in 1853. Check website for hours and admission fee.

Saltsburg Canoe and Kayak PA

KAYAK: Saltsburg Kayak and Canoe Outfitters, Saltsburg

Rent a kayak from Saltsburg Kayak & Canoe Outfitters, located in the historic George Altman Mill, and paddle portions of the River with drop off and pick up service.  At the confluence where Loyalhanna Creek meets the Conemaugh to form the Kiskiminetas River, Saltsburg Kayak is right across the street from the Stone House Museum.

Disobedient Spirits Distillery PA

TOUR/TASTE/DRINK: Disobedient Spirits, Homer City

Who are Disobedient Spirits? Gandhi, Ben Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela to start.

What are disobedient spirits? The vodka, whiskey, brandy, and gins that drip from backroom distillers in this wonderful craft cocktail, beer and wine, pool and game hall.

Cocktail Disobedient Spirits Homer City PA

Drawing crowds to this small town between Blairsville and Indiana PA on the Hoodlebug Bike Trail, Disobedient Spirits also offers Yoga, Painting classes, Darts, Jenga, and other tavern games. Play, paint, and ummmm your heart out with a crafted drink in hand.

Though you can find Disobedient Spirits in local bars and restaurants, belly up to the cool poured concrete epoxy-resin bar to sip them at the source. Check website for hours and programming. 

Levity Brewing Taproom Indiana PA

TASTE/EAT: Levity Brewing Co, Indiana

Levity is just what it sounds like: “serious beer for the light of heart.” Levity Brewing is the brainchild of three light-hearted hometown guys who came to the conclusion that “Indiana PA needed a brewery.” Luke McKelvy, Jay Herman, and Erich Walls commandeered an old window factory, and created a local sensation.

All kinds of folks of every age from all over enjoy Spel Czech (Pilsner), Korrie and Her Wheat (American Hefeweizen), It’s Hoplicated, Hoodlebug Brown (American Brown Ale), Haze Frehley (Vermont IPA) among many others (soft drinks for the kids).

Hungry folks will appreciate “Levity Dogs,” soft pretzels, pulled pork nachos, and more bites. Crammed on a midweek night, this is a very happening spot.

BICYCLE: Three Bike Trails in Indiana County PA

One of the best things to do in Indiana PA and the surrounding Indiana County involves biking popular trails that feature interesting stops (like breweries).

The 36-mile Ghost Town Trail, 10-mile Hoodlebug Trail, and the 2-mile Blairsville Riverfront Trail are also open for walking and cross-country skiing.

Artist Hand Gallery Indiana PA

SHOP: Artists Hand Gallery and Espresso Bar, Indiana

Exactly as it sounds, the Artist Hand Gallery and Expresso Bar is a funky coffee bar surrounded by of oodles of unique hand-made arts and crafts.

Restaurants in Indiana County PA

EAT: Nap’s Cucina Mia and Josephine’s Pizzeria & Enoteca, Indiana

Owned by the same family, these side-by-side restaurants are equally great, though differ in cuisine. Nap’s Cucina Mia named for Napoleon Patti, began as a “shot and beer bar,” open 24 hours a day.

In 1992, daughter Mary Joe turned it into a fresh pasta restaurant. Then, her son, Nick Karas upscaled it further, offering steak and fish. It’s now one of the top restaurants in Indiana PA.

Josephines Indiana PA

Nick branched out next door. He named his own Neapolitan wood-fired Pizza joint after his Grandmother, Josephine. Josephine’s interior was literally built around the Italian-made wood-fired oven, which came on a barge to the USA, and then on a truck to this western PA town.

Benjamins Indiana PA

EAT: Benjamin’s, Indiana

This iconic Indiana PA restaurant occupies a large Victorian home. As such, it’s endowed with cozy, homespun charm. Benjamin’s features fine food, and a great summer patio. It just keeps getting larger and larger. It’s been a hit with locals and parents picking up or dropping their students off at IUP for years.
Market Street Pastries Blairsville PA

EAT: Market Street Pastries, Blairsville

This adorable, bright lunch spot, Market Street Pastries, dishes out a lot more than sweets. Try the homemade soups and sandwiches. Everything is fresh, tasty, and excellent.

Where to Stay in Indiana PA

Hilton Garden Inn Indiana PA

STAY: Hilton Garden Inn, Indiana

It’s rare that the Mavens recommend a chain hotel. But in this case, Hilton Garden Inn at IUP is the best place in town. Plus, it’s conveniently located next to the Convention Center on the IUP campus.

Brand new, rooms are bright and clean. The lobby is pretty and modern, and the in-lobby restaurant serves up good food from an open kitchen. There’s also a Craft Cocktail Bar that bustles at night, an indoor pool, and an outdoor fire pit.


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.