A guide to the best outdoor study spaces around campus


Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

The Cathedral of Learning seen from the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.

By Jessica McKenzie, Senior Staff Writer

Ah, Pittsburgh — it has us Panthers sweating buckets in sweltering heat one minute, then running to take cover from a torrential downpour the next. As fall semester kicks off, it’s just a matter of time before we’re walking to our classes in blistering cold. 

Fall is the best season to spend as much time outside as possible. We’re fortunate enough to have some beautiful natural spots on our mostly urban campus, where we can enjoy some foliage in not-too-torturous temperatures. 

With that in mind, this is a guide to some of the best outdoor study spaces on campus — from a student who prefers to work with a little fresh air and white background noise.

  1. Schenley Plaza

I’ll start with one of the more obvious, but underrated, spots to do some studying. Schenley Plaza can get a little crazy on a sunny day, but once it cools down and the clouds roll in, the crowds thin out. If it’s a breezy day, I love to wander over to one of the little green tables on my way out of class in Cathy and do some homework on my laptop. 

You’re right next to some great food options 一 The Porch, Tres Amigos, Omar’s Halal Grill and Asia Tea House 一 that make it super easy to munch on something while you study (this is how I developed my addiction to spicy bourbon chicken). You also get a beautiful view of Cathy, a nice spot for people watching and sometimes live music from outside The Porch.

  1. Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain

A super short walk from Schenley Plaza is Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain, which is arguably one of the most amazing landmarks on campus. The fountain features a bronze and granite sculpture that depicts the Greek god Pan and a female singer playing a lyre.

To be completely transparent, the WiFi here is pretty spotty, so don’t start a Zoom call or anything, but if you have your files downloaded and can work offline, this is a great — and less hectic — spot to be productive. Right outside of the Frick Fine Arts building, you’re overlooking Schenley Plaza and get distant, but beautiful views of campus. This area really sets Pitt’s campus apart from other college campuses, and since it’s surrounded by trees, this is the ideal spot to appreciate changing leaves in the fall.

  1. Picnic Tables Between Posvar Hall and Hillman Library

This is kind of a substitute spot until Hillman’s construction is scheduled to end in February 2023. For those who weren’t around before the construction began in August 2021, there used to be an array of picnic tables outside of Hillman’s second floor, which offered students a breezy, spaced-out and (mostly) clean place to study or eat and chat with friends. What’s left of those tables are on the walkway between Posvar and Hillman.

This is a fantastic spot for dependable WiFi. Also, you’re right by Forbes Street Market, the William Pitt Union and Schenley Plaza for a snack break. It’s usually decently quiet and not crowded, but those picnic tables are limited, so try to get there early.

  1. Cathedral Lawn 

I will go to my grave insisting that any view of Cathy can’t be overhyped. The Cathedral Lawn is a go-to spot for anything student life related, including picnics, club meetings, campus-wide events or just wandering around and appreciating our campus. Of course, it makes a cozy study spot too.

When I don’t have to worry too much about having a great WiFi connection, I could spend hours here reading under a tree or on a bench. Facing one way, you get a great up-close and personal view of Cathy towering over you. Turn around and there’s Heinz Chapel, another Gothic-revival piece of architecture and famous landmark on campus. There’s plenty of space here, so you can decide if you want to be around people and noise or away from it all, where it’s just you and the squirrels.

The Cathedral of Learning lawn.
(Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer)
  1. Quad Between WPU and Starbucks

This one is my not-so-secret weapon for weather of all kinds. When it’s pouring rain and I’m still in an outdoorsy mood, you can find me at a table under the walkway between Starbucks and the WPU. The WiFi is decent, my laptop is safe from the rain and there’s a solid view of the bustling Fifth Avenue or Schenley Quad. If you can’t function without caffeine like me, having such quick access to Starbucks while doing homework is a must.

The only iffy factor here is that because this spot is close to so many residential buildings, it can get busy and loud — especially on weekdays as people filter in and out of classes. So, if you’re looking for a place to do your remote midterm, this isn’t the best option. But if you want a comfortable spot to sip on something from Starbucks’ legendary fall menu and review your study notes, this is a perfect place to do so on a drizzly day.