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10 Indoor Playspaces for Winter Fun

Kate Luce Angell
January04/ 2016

While it hasn’t snowed much yet this winter, chilly weather and grey skies can breed cabin fever and motivate us to look for indoor options for kids’ play. Just in time for the tough months ahead, here’s our list of the some of the area’s best indoor playspaces.

You’ll find classic favorites such as the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library along with newer additions, like Snapology. And we’ve listed them by area to make it easy for you.

Looking for maker spaces rather than just play? Watch for our list of Maker Spaces later in January.

City of Pittsburgh

  1. The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (PTLL)

The Toy Lending Library is truly a Pittsburgh institution, started 41 years ago in Shadyside to raise awareness about the importance of play in children’s development. It’s still run entirely by volunteers, and offers a large playspace for children birth through age 6, with a special infant play area.

The central area has climbing structures, with surrounding areas containing a play kitchen, art tables and supplies, a light table, building toys, books, puzzles and a library of more than 400 toys that PTTL members can check out.

President Nicole Adams says the organization wants to remain at the same size and location so that it can continue to fulfill its mission of promoting imaginative and creative play for young children, and stay affordable for everyone. With a 4-hour volunteer commitment per month, a family membership is $30 for a year—without volunteering, it is $125. Without a membership, it is $5 a child, $10 maximum per family. Babies under 1 are always free.

The PTTL is open Monday through Saturday at 9:30 a.m., and closing times vary. It’s also a popular location for birthday parties and serves as a meeting space for several groups, such as the La Leche League.

The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library in Shadyside. Photo by permission of the PTTL.
The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library in Shadyside. Photo by permission of the PTTL.
  1. Wilkins School Community Center (WSCC) Play Space

Founded in 2011, the Wilkins School Community Center’s Play Space is staffed by volunteers, like the Toy Lending Library, but Director Patty Doody says it offers a more intimate space. “We have a cozy area for kids,” she says, “and our groups are nice and small, so that people often form friendships with other members.”

Located in the Regent Square neighborhood just off Braddock Avenue, the Play Space area features train sets, dress-up clothes, books, musical instruments and riding toys — as well as sofas for adults. Children through age 5 are welcome. Membership is $60 a year, plus two hours of volunteering per month, and $5 per visit drop-in fee. The fee is waived for the first visit. While the posted hours are 9:30-11:30 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the space can be opened at other times if there’s a volunteer available.

The WSCC also offers a wide range of classes for adults and children, an outdoor playground, and space for events.

The Wilkins School Community Center. Photo by permission of the WSCC.
The Wilkins School Community Center. Photo by permission of the WSCC.
  1. Phipps Conservatory

There’s something for everyone at the historic Phipps Conservatory, but over the last few years there’s even more specifically for kids.

The Garden Railroad, with its storybook themes, is always a favorite, and in decent weather, the outside garden with its koi pond and sculptures, are a magnet for kids. For more sustained imaginative play, there’s the Phipps Public Market, a pretend farmer’s market with carts, a check-out counter, and scores of realistic (and healthy) food choices. Kids can spend hours here.

An even newer addition is the SEED (Sustainable Education Every Day) classroom, located next to the Center for Sustainable Landscapes behind Phipps. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, an intern can show older children around the space, which generates its own energy and recycles water on-site.

Without a Phipps membership, admission is $15 for adults, $11 for kids 2-18, and children under 2 are free. The award-winning Phipps Café offers a wide range of food, including a children’s menu that features organic and sustainable options.

  1. Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center has enough exhibits to entertain families for days on end but it also has areas that are great play spaces in their own right.

All the way up on the top floor is Exploration Station Jr. Kids age 3 to 6 can spend an entire day here, moving balls around in the ball factory; playing with the giant water table; using the ride-on scoopers to move “rocks”; and crawling through pretend tree trunks with furry animal friends. If it all gets too much (for you or them), there’s a “quiet spot” in the corner, with a good stock of books and pillows, and a nursing area.

For older kids, there’s the Exploration Station, right outside the Jr. area, with lots of different experiments using the principles of electricity and weather.

Carnegie Museum members get in free. Adults are $18.95, and kids 3 through 12 are $11.95. Kids under 3 are free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. A full menu is available at the River View Café.

Pittsburgh North

  1. Jump!Zone

This family-owned indoor play space in Allison Park is all about giant inflatables: bouncy houses, slides, and obstacle courses in the shape of superheroes, princess castles, and pirate ships. Socks are a must.

Since Jump!Zone is a popular birthday party venue, check their website for open play times. Open play is for two-hour increments, and is $9 for ages 3 and up, $5 for age 2. Children under 2 are free.

  1. Wildwood Highlands

Just outside of North Park on McKnight Road is Wildwood Highlands, a huge entertainment complex open year round. During the winter, it offers a wide range of fun indoor activities—from laser tag to bumper cars—for older kids and families.

But this family-run business also hosts Kiddie City, a four-level jungle gym with mats, ball pits and slides that’s just for kids ages 2 to about 8. Wildwood Highlands has no admission charge and entrance to Kiddie City is about $5 (depending on a child’s age) for unlimited play. Remember to bring socks!

The facility has a full menu and according to general manager Ray Klenk, it’s famous for its birthday parties — they hold more than 150 per month. Attractions run on tokens and tickets and usually cost between $5 and $7. Wildwood Highlands is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 10 p.m. on the weekends.

Wildwood Highlands soft play area.
Wildwood Highlands soft play area.
  1. Fun Slides Carpet Skatepark

As owner Candy Holsing says, “it’s a ‘Burgh-only thing.”

She and her two siblings run the Fun Slides location in the North Hills, as well as a second location in Greensburg—the only carpet skateparks in the U.S.  “Fun Slides” started as an invention to help in the family’s furniture moving business but at some point the Holsings realized there were other uses.

The smooth plastic “skates” strap under athletic shoes and allow for sliding on carpets. The Skatepark has 33,000 square feet of blacklit hills, slopes, and jumps, as well as a level area for beginners, although Holsing says almost anyone can learn to carpet skate in minutes. Instructors are on duty to help younger kids get confident and teach stunts to those more advanced. Kids under 8 are required to wear helmets.

Kids not into skating? The Skatepark also has an inflatable bounce and slide area for younger children as well as a super ninja challenge obstacle course, mini golf and blacklight dodgeball for older ones.

Two hours of skating is $11.99, and a non-skating pass for adults is $1.49.

Kids at play at FunSlides Skate Park in the North Hills. Photo by permission of FunSlides Skate Park.
Kids at play at FunSlides Skate Park in the North Hills. Photo by permission of FunSlides Skate Park.

Pittsburgh South

  1. The Seesaw Center

Castle Shannon’s Seesaw Center celebrated ten years in October 2015. Founded by a group of moms from Mt. Lebanon who were looking for something differnt and fun for their kids in the winter months, the Center operates from mid-September through April and is open to children from birth through Kindergarten.

Center coordinator Thelma Zanone says aside from giving young children a safe place to play during the colder months, the center also offers a welcome change of scenery for caregivers and parents.  Note: Parents or caretaker must be present with their kids. “A lot of moms come in so they’re not isolated at home during the winter,” she adds.

There is a separate infant area, with a baby gate and swing, as well as a play kitchen, books, dress-up, a sensory table and riding toys. Memberships range from unlimited, at $75 a year, to $5 a day for one child. The Center is open 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday through Friday, 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday.

The SeeSaw Center in Castle Shannon. Photo by permission of the SeeSaw Center.
The SeeSaw Center in Castle Shannon. Photo by permission of the SeeSaw Center.
  1. Snapology

We’re focusing on the Bethel Park location in this guide, but Snapology is a local success story, with two more Pittsburgh-area locations and 22 more across the U.S. and Canada. The brainchild of Pittsburgh-area sisters Laura and Lisa Coe, Snapology was founded in 2010 as a fun way to teach kids ages 3 to 14 STEAM principles using building systems and technology. Besides Legos of all types, there are K’nex, Minecraft® building stations, giant soft blocks, tube maze walls and robotics building stations.

Parents can drop off their kids 5 and older at Snapology locations where children of all ability levels are welcome, including those on the autism spectrum, says President Laura Coe.

Cost is $5 per hour for the first two hours, $8 per hour after that. During the school year, Snapology is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are also open Friday nights from 5:30 to 8:30 and on weekends from 12 to 5 p.m.

  1. Sky Zone Leetsdale

Who doesn’t love jumping on trampolines—or landing in thousands of foam cubes? SkyZone has jumping experiences for very young children all the way up to adults, with additional options for older kids such as Ultimate Dodgeball and SkySlam (dunking basketballs with a trampoline assist!).

Be aware that jumpers are separated by size, so you won’t be able to jump with your kids. SkyZone also insists upon their own socks, which are included in their price. And finally, make sure to download, print and fill out a waiver for everyone before you go, to save time.

Check the schedule online for special times for toddlers (walking to age 5) and open jumping (all ages). Prices range from 30 minutes of jump time for $12 to 120 minutes for $22.

Looking for more active options for kids? Check out this article from NEXTpittsburgh on Top indoor places for active families! 

Kate Luce Angell

Kate Luce Angell is a former academic, a longtime contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a specialist in non-profit communications and marketing. She enjoys hiking and watching movies with her 2 kids, reading non-fiction and volunteering for various causes. She’s of the humble opinion that Pittsburgh is the best city in the world for families.