Welcome to Pittsburgh! I stood in your place a year ago, when a job opportunity for my husband found me in the role of accidental full-time mom to my two young daughters. I took the skill set from my background as a news producer and put it to work figuring out a brand new city, and “producing” our new life.
There are lots of things anyone new to Pittsburgh should know such as:
- Unlike wherever you came from, supporting the home team extends far past the football season. Steelers jerseys are considered a perfectly acceptable spring and summer wardrobe choice.
- Pittsburgh has its own driving laws. The Pittsburgh Left. Google it. I was baffled by this practice for 10 months before I found out—it’s a thing that has a name.
- If you’re in the market for booze (which, if you’re a parent, you probably are), finding it is … complicated. Generally, buying beer, wine and groceries means three separate stops (but, on the plus side, the Wine & Spirits store has carts to lug your kids around). NOTE: these laws are changing, slowly.
- While we’re on the subject of drinks, be sure you call ahead before going out to dinner. You may need to BYOB. (This can be a good thing—you can save a ton of money AND ensure that you have your favorite drink).
I’ve learned other things that I hope can make the transition easier for other parents. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a guide to get you started on exploring your new city.
Pittsburgh has an amazing network of museums and attractions for kids. You’ll hear about them from everyone you ask. This is one of Pittsburgh’s best assets.
Here’s my tip: Get the annual membership. Daily admission to the following places ranges from $11-$20 — per person! But the annual memberships are extremely reasonable, especially when bundled. For instance, an annual membership to both the Children’s Museum and the National Aviary is $210 for the whole family. You can bundle all the Carnegie museums — the Science Center, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Museum — for $150.
Children’s Museum: This is my favorite as the mom of two toddlers. Everything is hands-on and it really has something for everyone: art, building, science, technology, plus a lot of ways to expend energy, like climbing up a giant rope ladder and winding through a life-sized ant farm. We go here over and over again, and my kids never get tired of it.
National Aviary: See amazing varieties of birds up close. The penguins are a favorite. There are daily bird shows and feedings. Plus—I still haven’t figured out what sloths have to do with birds—but they have a baby sloth, and it’s pretty darn cute.
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium: Lots of animals to see: giraffes, tigers, lions, polar bears. A highlight for us on a recent visit was seeing Tasha, one of the elephants, get her bath. The aquarium is inside the zoo, admission to one gets you into both.
Carnegie Science Center: Lots of science for kids at every level. Really fun stuff, plus the most amazing model train set you have ever seen. Admission gets you onto the USS Requin, too, a submarine docked on the Allegheny River next to the museum.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History: The headliners here are the dinosaurs. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History houses 19 massive dinosaur skeletons, most of which contain fossil material, making this the third largest dinosaur display in the U.S. There is so much to see and learn about the dinosaurs, including a chance for kids to “dig” for dinosaur bones like a real paleontologist. This was by far the best part for my little ones.
Indoor energy releases
Moving from a (slightly) warmer climate to Pittsburgh in the middle of the winter, I sought out places for energetic little bodies to dispel all that built-up energy on 20 degree days without freezing. These are my favorite options:
Gymsport: This huge gymnastics facility in the South Hills opens its doors from 9 a.m.-noon weekdays for kids ages 5 and under to jump, tumble, bounce and swing for just $5. They have tons of mats and trampolines for bouncing, foam pits to jump in, even ropes and zip lines to ride. I really like the unstructured nature of the playtime, letting kids challenge themselves and find fun new ways to play.
JumpZone: The North Hills has a fun option for jumping too. JumpZone is a series of bouncy houses and castles, with inflatable slides, ladders and obstacle courses in Allison Park. My daughter is constantly asking to go here, and always takes a deep nap afterwards. There is a section for toddlers only, where little ones can jump without worrying about being crushed by a 9-year-old.
Pittsburgh’s amazing network of libraries: The libraries have friendly and knowledgeable librarians, story times and wonderful free classes. Our go-to library is Shaler North Hills Library, where weekly dance classes, Mother Goose story time, and parachute play are big hits. We love the huge play area complete with a LEGO table, train table, doll house, puppet theater, and many other toys.
The Great Outdoors
At the slightest sign of sunshine or warming temperatures, we head outside. Luckily, Pittsburgh knows how to reward its residents for braving a harsh winter.
Playgrounds abound. And they are seriously wonderful. A mix of old and new, there are things to climb, lots of slides, and some of the old gems that I thought were gone in this age of plastic playgrounds, like merry-go-rounds and wooden play structures. Among the best ones in the city: Highland Park Super Playground, a sprawling wood castle-themed playground, and Frick Park, which has tons to do, including the legendary Blue Slide Park. I am also a fan of Squaw Valley playground just north of the city in Fox Chapel.
Commune with nature. Great options for hiking are just a short drive away—some are within the city limits. Three of my favorites:
Fall Run Park in Shaler is a fairly easy and kid-friendly hike with a splashy payoff: a waterfall. A word to the wise: the waterfall is a lot more impressive in the wetter months than it is at the end of the summer.
Frick Park is another worthy destination with a couple hundred acres of trees, streams, picnic areas and hiking trails – all within city limits.
Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve is a hidden gem with 134 acres, which include hiking trails, as well as DiscoverGround, a naturally minimalist playground where kids can climb on tree stumps, rocks, and fallen trees, and explore a tree house and a tunnel built into the side of the hill.
Water Steps is a super way to cool off on a summer day. North Shore Riverfront Park’s water steps are perfect for splashing around—even for little ones. They have varying depths, though none are more than a couple feet deep, and are not slippery at all. Added bonus: a beautiful view of the river and the city skyline.
Adventures in your new back yard
Ride the Incline. I find this to be the perfect length trip for little ones with tiny attention spans. The Duquesne Incline has easier parking and the iconic look and feel (Mister Rogers’ and Daniel Tiger’s trolleys were designed to look just like it), but the Monongahela Incline is a better bet for a full outing. After visiting the overlook at the top, walk across the street to DiFiore’s for lunch or ice cream. Be ready- it’s cash only. There’s an adjacent coffee shop for parents.
Take the T to (or from) Mt Lebanon. This is a fascinating outing for your train-obsessed tyke. Catch the train at Station Square, or wherever else is convenient for you, and get off in Mt Lebanon. A short walk finds you in the heart of the town. Have lunch at Il Pizzaiolo, a fantastic restaurant with delicious pizzas that you can see being cooked in a wood-fired brick oven.
Go to a Pirates game. Excellent stadium, amazing view of the city, fun atmosphere, and there’s a pierogi race. Tickets are affordable, and the crowd is not so charged up or loud that you have to fear what your child might see or hear.
Visit Idlewild. This is a terrific amusement park for the little ones. You’ve probably already heard of Kennywood—Pittsburgh’s quintessential amusement park—but just an hour or so east is Idlewild, which has rides, a small train, and Mecca for my daughter: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. You can ride on Trolley and even see Daniel and friends perform on-stage.
The other gem of Pittsburgh
The people. I have found nearly everyone I meet to be genuine, friendly and happy to help. So if you need anything along the way, just ask. Chances are, you’ll find someone thrilled to tell you about their beloved city.