A working list of things to do (that you might haven’t tried yet) around Pittsburgh!
- Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor
Located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, Klavon’s is an authentic 1920’s Art Deco soda fountain/ drugstore. Everything in the building is original—you really feel like you stepped back in time. Sit at the bar and order your favorite ice cream soda and then pick out some penny candy.
- Pittsburgh Penguins open practice
If you like hockey, you know how expensive it can be to take your whole family to a game. For the last two years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have held “open practices” at the Consol Energy Center. Fans can come to the Consol and watch the Penguins practice for free. It’s a nice event, and a real treat to see all your favorite Penguins skating.
About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh lies the small hamlet of Zelionople, PA. Take your kids to an old fashioned candy store located right outside of the city, Baldinger’s Foods From All Nations. Check out the amazing candy selection and then the old timey way the clerks ring you up (the register won’t tally more than $9.99 at a time!) A really fun thing for the kids to do.
If you’re out and about on a weekend, check out a movie at The Strand Theater after your trip to Baldinger’s. The Strand is an historic theater in the heart of Zelionople. http://www.thestrandtheater.org/
Located in the heart of Millvale, PA, Esther’s is a wonderful little hobby shop. The owner is always available, friendly, and helpful. Although they specialize in HO gage trains, there are all sorts of cool kits and models for kids and adults.
After you’re done here, hop across the street to Pamela’s for lunch (Michelle Obama ate here!) and then over to Jean Marc Chatellier’s authentic French bakery http://jeanmarcchatellier.com/ for some dessert. Round out your visit with a visit to the Attic Record Store http://atticrecordstoreinc.com/ for some old vinyl.
Don’t ask. Just try it. Read all about it here.
I’m lucky enough to have a neighbor who puts up a rink every winter. More and more people are giving this a shot. It’s a great way to keep the kids busy during long cold winters.
Every September, farms across Butler open their doors to the public for an insider’s peek into how they work. In the past, participating farms have included a dairy farm, a wild game bird farm, and a working alpaca farm. Wonderful trip for a fall day, and the best part is: it’s free.
- Allegheny County Outdoor Ice Rinks
Beginning right around Thanksgiving, Allegheny County opens their outdoor ice rinks in North Park and South Park. My family and I go to North Park’s rink just about every winter weekend. It’s so nice to skate outside in the crisp air, right next to North Park Lake, especially with a light snow falling. The rates are very affordable and the buiding is an awesome retro 1960’s throwback.
Learn to bait a hook and take the kids fishing. Pack a lunch and your lawn chairs. Even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll have a good time.
- Hartwood Acres Free Summer Concert Series
Every Sunday during the summer months, the county hosts free concerts at Hartwood Acres and South Park. It’s great way to unwind after a hectic summer weekend. Lots of families, kids, Frisbee games, dogs, and a nice vibe in general. Always an eclectic mix of music and entertainment, we look forward to Sunday nights in the summer.
Since 1959, every third week of August, the small town of North Washington, PA has turned into the “Rodeo Capital of the East.” About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh, you can watch bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing and all other sorts of fun rodeo events. Food is cheap and good, and everyone is friendly. It’s a real American experience that’s a short drive from home. You can buy chances to win a live steer, pig, and pony. If you win and can’t bring it home (what, no barn!?)…no problem. Your prize also has an auction value that you can sell right back for the cash.
The kids don’t care that they stink and the tickets are always available and relatively cheap. Swing for the “All You Can Eat Tickets.” These tickets include admission in addition to unlimited amounts of hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts, pop, nachos, and ice cream for the duration of the game. The cost for the unlimited “stuff your face experience” starts at about $40. Regular tickets start at $10 for adults and $6 for kids. http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/ticketing/ayce_seats.jsp
- FIRST Robotics Competition
When I attended this robotics competition a couple years ago, I couldn’t help but think, “I wish they had this when I was a nerd!” A robotics competition complete with pumping music from a DJ, professional lighting, electric vibe, and kids from all over the United States and Canada. High School teams compete at the University of Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center for a chance to participate at the national competition. The high schoolers are given their robotic challenge in January and are given only two months to complete a robot that can complete the challenge tasks. This is a great opportunity to see truly gifted young adults.
The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is always a big hit with kids. Since the zoo is open mostly every day of the year, we like to go on colder days (when the animals are more active) or overcast/rainy days (when there are no crowds!) The zoo offers great classes and often give participants a chance to get close up with some special animals, maybe even pet them!
Pittsburgh offers a wonderful library system with access to interlibrary loans between almost every Carnegie and most suburban branches. There are always programs available for all ages. Check out the beautiful Carnegie locations, especially the main library in Oakland and the Homestead branch, which also hosts concerts in a lovingly restored theater.
- Soldiers and Sailors Hall (Oakland section of Pittsburgh)
Great place for the military history buff (and budding military history buff). Wonderful exhibits feature both a national and Pittsburgh-centric view of the military history of the United States. After your visit inside, the kids can hang from the cannons out front, then walk a block down the street and get some of “world famous” “O” French fries.
- The Old Stone House (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvaia)
Special activities planned all year round. Try to check out the fronstierman/woman rendezvous and military re-enactment weekends. Lovingly curated by staff and volunteers from Slippery Rock University, experience a step back in time with unprecedented access to an historical gem of a building.
Built in the shell of an old ice house, the Heinz Hisotry Center is the premiere western Pennsylvania history museum. Highlights include hands on exhibits for kids, stellar permanent exhibits, and world class traveling exhibits. Don’t miss the Special Collections section which is really like stepping into a well organized and super cool attic housing Pittsburgh history.
Long Weekend Trips
- Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad
Over 150 years ago, many small towns north of Pittsburgh were booming with the spoils of the oil industry. After the first successful us of a drilling rig, oil towns popped up all over northwestern Pennsylvania from the 1850’s into the early 20th century. This train trip takes a rider back in time, and gives a history lesson about a time when the back woods were littered with boom towns.
The train runs through the beautiful Pennsylvania woods, most notably Oil Creek State Park, and boasts of having the only working Railway Post Office. Riders can enjoy the trip from the comfort of the antique rail cars, or bike half of the trip and then pack their bike on the rail cars for the second half of the trip back to the station.
If you go and want to stay the night, you can stay in the railroad’s Caboose Motel: http://octrr.org/caboosemotel.htm. Stay in one of the 21 refurbished caboose cars (with all the amenities of a regular hotel room). The train offers seasonal trips such as a fall foliage tour, murder mystery trips, and rides with Santa and the Easter Bunny.
It helps to have relatives here, but I would love this city, regardless. Border rules have changed, so a birth certificate is no longer adequate to cross over the border. I would suggest a passport card for the kids if you’re driving. It’s a cheaper alternative to a passport, but will only work when driving across the border. Check out Niagra Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s such a wonderful city, and it’s only about 5 hours from Pittsburgh.
A great destination trip to take with kids. We stay outside of the city for deeply discounted hotels (relative to staying in downtown DC). Plus, having to take the metro everywhere adds a bit of fun to anything. The key is to try not to do too much. For a two night, one day trip, pick one “must see” location and let the rest fall into place. You’ll always find interesting things to see, and won’t be disappointed.
As I mentioned before, taking the whole family to a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game can be expensive. However, for much less, you can drive to Wheeling WV (about an hour and a half away) and catch a Wheeling Nailers game. The Nailers are the ECHL affiliate team for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team offers some really great deals for a family, and you can catch a game and stay overnight for under $150.