How to keep kids entertained during summer in Pittsburgh
Photo above courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Summer in Pittsburgh is a really vibrant time in for families. There are the free outdoor things that are pretty much always available — like great parks, pools, splash pads, hikes, and summer park programs. There are festivals and celebrations, and many of our great museums have special events in the summer. There are also camps and classes galore for parents who need to drop their kids off somewhere.
Along with writing weekly and monthly event roundups for Kidsburgh, I also have four kids. So finding things to do is a part of my personality by now. I recently did a podcast for CityCast to share a range of kid-related resources and summer events, plus advice on having a successful outing with kids during the summer months.
You can click below to listen to the podcast or read on to get the scoop on summer in Pittsburgh.
- Open May 27, from 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. daily through the summer.
- There are 8 actual spray parks, and many more playgrounds with smaller water features. It’s all on the Citiparks website.
- Our favorites are Troy Hill Spray Park and the splash pad at the newly renovated Moon Township Park.
- Pro tip- if you get there and the water is off, it is because it is motion activated. There are poles kids can push to activate it.
- Aspinwall (water swings, cool slide sculptures, Farmer x Baker)
- Bayne Park (skate park, library, free lunch program)
- Blue Slide Park (famous, Daniel Tiger, coolest park in the city)
- Liberty Green Park (URA project, 3.5 acres, Larimer and E. Lib, next to Target! Mom win!)
- Summer lunch program, Roving Art Carts, Y on the Fly
Pools (check out our Kidsburgh guide to local pools):
The city has 12 pools! They are super cheap or free. Any city resident under 15 gets a free pass to all pools. For nonresidents, it’s still pretty affordable – $3 for kids and $5 for adults per visit. There are discounts for veterans, disabled individuals, and people who receive assistance.
And outside the city, there are a few big pools that might be worth a drive during summer in Pittsburgh.
- Cranberry Township
- Wave Pool at Settler’s Cabin
- Sandcastle (We got tickets at the Ross Township community center. Many community centers have discounted tickets.)
Summer camps and classes (check out our big guide):
- Many camps are filling up at this point, but there are still spots and waitlists. Don’t underestimate the wait list, families do drop out often. Camp can be pricey, but “camperships” are available. Get in touch and ask a camp if any funding is available.
- One thing a lot of families don’t realize: So many of the museums and other spots around the city have summer camps. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has one (now on waitlist). The Children’s Museum (spots available in some grade levels), National Aviary (spots available in some grade levels) and Venture Outdoors (some spots left — they added some new spots recently) have camps that are unique and high energy. Also Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the zoo, Ascend and the YMCA. Find contact info for all of these camps right here.
- The libraries and museums continue to host special events all summer, and these are almost always free. Story times, craft activities, visits from the zoo, traveling museums, Y on the Fly. Search here for CLP info and check with your favorite museums.
Festivals and events
Three Rivers Arts Festival and Pride – early June
- A CLASSIC. We’ve been going since we were kids, and there is so much to do. You can drop a ton of money on art and food, or simply pack a picnic and listen to some free music, watch the parade, view the art and enjoy free kid-friendly activities. It’s a pretty customizable experience. Get all the details here.
August Wilson African American Cultural Center
- These events are for everyone, and there is so. much. for. families. I don’t think enough families really know how much they have going on at AWC. In my family, we have Black kids and white kids, and it is important for all of them to learn about Black history. The AWCommunity Days are FUN. They are also free, and packed with activities. July 15 is the next one, and it is STEAM themed.
HOT TIPS on how to have a successful outing with a kid of any age
- Always check for discounts if you’re going to an event or museum. For families who receive public assistance or have Medicaid, there are steeply discounted admissions for the Carnegies, Heinz History Center, Phipps, Children’s Museum. A Carnegie membership also gets you a discount at the new Moonshot Museum, which is a great shorter museum trip on a rainy day or when you need to escape into air conditioning. Before you buy tickets for anything, check with local community centers. They often have discounted tickets. And learn about www.Museums4all.org.
- Do what you can, and don’t overplan. With kids, sometimes “fitting it all in to one day” can be too much. Once, when our twins were just 8 months old and our oldest was 2.5, we went to the Three Rivers Arts Festival. By the time we parked and hauled our triple stroller across the Three Rivers Heritage Trail along the Ft. Duquesne bridge to the Point, we ended up only having the energy to buy some fries, sit in the grass, and listen to live music. I didn’t mind at all that we didn’t explore the festival and “do” a ton of things. That day is actually one of my favorite Downtown memories. My twins were figuring out how to “dance” at that age!
- For these Downtown events, use public transportation if you can. While we aren’t the best at this, we are improving. We love to either take a bus from our Bellevue home or park at the T stop across from the Science Center (just six bucks!) and take the T for free to Gateway Center. Our kids love to ride the T, and it saves a bunch of cash. Also, no stress about parking.
- Honestly, I recommend overpacking. I always bring a few mini-playdohs, a travel game (we like Qwirkle and Uno), and some coloring supplies. It helps with waits for food at restaurants and during down time, and it allows kids to take a few quiet minutes to themselves during a busy event. I am excited this summer because we got a collapsible wagon (all the rage now it seems?). So festivals and trips Downtown or to the pool/spray parks will be easier with plenty of room for snacks, drinks and tired kids. My dad, who we call Ranger Mike because he is very prepared, always tells us, “If you don’t have it, you can’t use it.” So I act like a pack mule now. If you have to return to the parking garage to get items out of your car, that’s when the wheels can fall off the whole day.
- Prepare for the fallout. If kids have a busy, fun day, the “hangover from fun” might be brutal. It’s usually worth it, though. Keep your cool, remembering that as tired as you feel, they feel it more so. Everything’s better with some sleep.
- Let your schedule go a bit during summer in Pittsburgh. I was a stickler for naps and bedtime, but my kids have seen 4th of July fireworks every year of their lives, without fail. It’s always worth it.