The summer bucket list for Pittsburgh parents
A summer bucket list of classic Pittsburgh spots can be a lifesaver for making the most of the lazy days stretching endlessly on until the school bell rings again in September. From the iconic incline experience to remodeled attractions at our homegrown theme parks, keep this list handy for reliving cherished childhood traditions while creating new memories.
You were going there this summer anyway, but Kennywood has upped the ante in 2016 with the return of the big blue whale.
“Now we’re kind of walking a lot of that back and restoring the animal-heavy theme,” says Nick Paradise, director of public relations and social media for Kennywood. “There are still high-tech elements, but the attraction itself and the scenes and stunts inside are much more in line with the classic funhouse feel that Noah’s Ark was known for.”
In addition to the whale entrance, back are the surprising noises, air blasts and animals that move. It’s a return to glory for the attraction that last year won its sixth consecutive Golden Ticket award from industry magazine Amusement Today.
Also “new” for 2016 is Volcano, formerly the Enterprise. The gondola ride, which begins horizontal and ends up vertical once it really gets moving, required excessive maintenance. So Kennywood officials got a new one from theme park Lake Compounce in Connecticut.
Special events at Kennywood this summer include a Father’s Day buy-one-get-one promotion called Thunder in the Park, with motorcycles and hot rod cars on display throughout the park. Other events include Kidsfest (June 28th-29th), Celebrate America (June 30th–July 4th) and Italian Heritage Weekend (July 8th-9th). This summer, local Serbians and Croatians each will celebrate 100 years of Heritage Day picnics at the park.
Kennywood’s sister park, Idlewild and Soak Zone, is 60 miles east of Downtown Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County. The historic park has delighted kids even longer than Kennywood and has been named Best Kids’ Park in the World for six consecutive years by Amusement Today. This summer brings the opening of the Enchanted Castle, which replaces King Arthur’s Castle in the heart of the park’s beloved Story Book Forest.
“Ever since the castle went away, our visitors always remembered it very fondly,” says Idlewild spokesman Jeff Croushore. “We’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of Story Book Forest and we wanted to bring back something for those people.”
Castle-dweller and Idlewild’s newest character, Princess Lily, is the descendent of the Golden Knight who lived in the previous castle. The Golden Knight kept an eye on Excalibur, the Sword in the Stone. A new interactive Sword in the Stone will be on display in the Enchanted Castle’s courtyard.
“Some people will be able to remove it,” Croushore says. “Not everybody, but at varying intervals throughout the day, some will be able to remove it.”
Complementing the new castle this summer are some new food offerings, including Wild West Kettle Korn in the center of Olde Idlewild and The Swhinery Award Winning BBQ. Loco Roberto’s Taco Stand, in the western-themed Hootin’ Holler, has an expanded menu for 2016.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an interactive trolley ride, is back this summer, as are the popular Daniel Tiger Neighbor Days (July 11th–15th). Kids will get to meet the five main characters from the PBS Kids television series. Other character events are sprinkled throughout the summer, including Maisy (June 14th–16th), Caillou (July 5th– 7th), Garfield & Odie (July 19th–21st), and Princesses Cinderella and Beauty (July 26th-29th).
Fourth of July and Regatta
The Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta is scheduled for Aug. 5th through Aug. 7th this year, rather than the Fourth of July. The new August date offers more predictable weather conditions on the Allegheny River and lets the regatta build its own identity with a full weekend rather than be dependent on whenever the Fourth falls.
The regatta footprint includes the Allegheny River, the North Shore and the Roberto Clemente Bridge, with the Kids Zone at Point State Park. Folks from Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh will help kids make ships in a bottle and other make-and-take activities still in the works. The Wheel of Lights Ferris wheel will make a repeat appearance this summer, as well. And, of course, the cool Formula Boats and jet-ski stunts on the river are pretty cool, too.
“We also have a big mural we’ve commissioned on a plastic tarp that’s like a giant coloring book,” says Darcy Kucenic, senior events coordinator for Peony Entertainment, which contracts with EQT to put on the event. “Everyone can take their turn to color it in throughout the day. It has the city in the background and fireworks and the Point, the fountain.”
Independence Day will still host fireworks and a big party. The EQT Flashes of Freedom will shake the bridges at the close of Celebrate America, the new Fourth of July event held in Point State Park. The full day of activity will include live music, lots of food and the pyrotechnics at 9:30 p.m. Celebrate America will have plenty for kids, including face painting and animal balloons. Youngsters can also enjoy craft activities including liberty hats, streamer wands and bead bracelets.
Just Ducky Tours
The amphibious Just Ducky Tours depart Station Square for a brief trip across the Smithfield Street Bridge down the Boulevard of the Allies to the river. Sometimes, kids even get to take the wheel. For a more traditional aquatic adventure, try the Good Ship Lollipop Cruise, a time-honored classic that departs from the Gateway Clipper fleet at Station Square. Parents can learn from a narrated tour of the three rivers, while pirates entertain the little ones.
The inclines are both accessible from Carson Street, with the Monongahela Incline across the street from Station Square and the Duquesne Incline, preferred by tourists, a bit farther west. A good way to see the beauty that is Downtown Pittsburgh is to take the Mon Incline up to Mt. Washington, walk along Grandview Avenue to the overlook and take the Duquesne Incline back down. While Pittsburgh’s famous funiculars are fun any time of year, this up-and-down tour is most enjoyable on a clear summer day.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side introduces “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit” this summer. Kids can immerse themselves in the neighborhood with costumes and masks, even taking an opportunity to act out a scene on the Imagination Stage. An interactive map lets kids personalize the experience by marking schools, parks and other special places in their own neighborhood. Other activities involve clocks, musical instruments and a Thank You Tree where kids can leave thank you notes for someone who has done something special for them.
Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor
East of Downtown in the Strip District, kids can load up on treats at the historic Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor. Opened in 1923 as an apothecary and ice cream shop, Klavon’s acquired new owners in 2011, but still has its original marble counters and stainless steel fountain equipment. Wooden phone booths and stools shaped like bottle caps help round out the Americana charm.
Drive-in movie theaters are disappearing from the American landscape, but you can still count on Dependable Drive-In in Moon Township, which opened in 1950. Dependable plays digital double features on each of its four screen digital movies seven nights a week. This summer’s movies include “Finding Dory,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” and “The Angry Birds Movie.”
Summer Fridays at the Frick 2016
Gather up the kids after a long week and head to the Frick Art Museum in Point Breeze for a culture-soaked family date night every Friday evening through Labor Day. Each week is different, with a new musical act, food truck or fashion truck to check out during the Summer Fridays at the Frick series. The lineups in August look especially promising for families: Family fun night is Aug. 5th, featuring the musical comedy duo Josh & Gab Show, but there’s also an In Bed by Ten: Dance Party on Aug. 12th and a junior fashion show from Cut & Sew Studio on Aug. 26th. Admission to the performances and family-friendly activities is free.
Kids will glory in having their run of the streets on a few very special Sundays this summer for OpenStreetsPGH events. For 3 1/2 miles stretching from Downtown to Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville, streets are closed to motor vehicles to allow for a pileup of family-friendly activities, like kids’ crafts, dancing, yoga and the city’s superhero, ‘Burghman. On June 26th and July 31st, head to one of the event hubs at Market Square in Downtown, the intersections of 47th and Butler streets in Lawrenceville or the 28th block of Penn Avenue in the Strip District to start your adventure with scheduled programming. Or let your kids run wild through this normally traffic-choked route, as you browse the shops and enjoy some serious people watching.