An Easy, Fun Family Weekend In Pittsburgh
A family event provided us with a weekend family getaway in Pittsburgh, a city new to both Rich and I. We liked its energetic vibe, its Carnegie- and Mellon-funded arts and culture institutions and its wealth of family activities.
The wedding we traveled for took place in the city’s Oakland neighborhood, a few minutes drive from downtown. This was a clever move on the part of our local hosts. There is so much for tourists to do in this corner of the city with kids and tweens that we barely left it all weekend. If you’re visiting Pittsburgh with kids it’s a handy place to base yourself. (Read about Pittsburgh with little kids, too.)
Here’s what we did on our family trip. Use it as a starter itinerary for your own weekend with kids in Pittsburgh.
Things To Do With Kids in Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon are both right here, which means lots of green space, your pick of coffee spots and plenty of places to try local beer.
The don’t-miss stop is U.Pitt’s towering Cathedral of Learning. On the first and third floors are 30 Nationality Rooms, class and conference rooms designed and furnished by Pittsburgh’s various ethnic communities.
They evoke respectively, an Indian Temple, Irish and Italian monasteries, a village in Ghana, a palatial dining room in Austria, Greek and Hebrew temples and a Turkish home, among other things. The variety and detail are amazing and truly unique. A switch by each room’s door will tell you about what’s inside.
Tiny Traveler, who is currently obsessed with Harry Potter, loved the soaring Hogwartsesque gothic common room on the ground floor (left). However, she stood in the hallways and refused to go into any of the nationality rooms. We think that because they’re so unusual she was convinced we weren’t supposed to go inside and that her parents were flagrantly breaking the rules.
This is a better stop with tweens and teens than with toddlers.
The Carnegie Museums*
The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History are one museum. You can wander out of the hall of dinosaurs and into the hall of Architectural history, which is handy if your family’s interests are as wide-ranging as ours or you have kids in a wide range of ages.
The dinosaur exhibit tries to provide some environmental context, which makes the skeleton displays less sterile and more inviting than at some other museums.
A temporary Pterosaur exhibit allowed us all to simulate flying, diving and catching food like these ancient birds. Tiny Traveler, and every other kid in the room, loved it.
On the art side, an interactive modern exhibit that was going on engaged all of us on different levels.
There is obviously something for every age here. Whether you spend more time in art or natural history will depend on whether you have tots, kids or teens and where your family’s interests lie. It’s very easy to do at least a bit of both
Note: As museum admissions go, $20 for adults and $12 for kids seemed reasonable for two museums. The Pterosaur exhibit was $5 extra per person. It’s a small exhibit and sending one parent in with our daughter would have been an easy way to save a little.
Want to go to a botanic garden on a rainy or cold or exceedingly hot day? The Phipps Conservatory is mostly inside, so you can. We really loved it. The outdoor kids’ discovery garden is fun on a sunny day.
If the weather doesn’t cooperate stroll from one plant habitat to another – tropical, Mediterranean, desert and so on – as you walk from room to room. Tiny Traveler liked tracking down specific species of fig trees and cacti for the Bingo game they give to kids.
Note: Admission is $15 for adults and $11 for kids. We really enjoyed it, but given that it’s a walk-through rather than stay-and-play botanical space, and we were done in less than two hours (with a good half hour in the kids garden), I can see some families thinking it a little steep compared to other gardens. Still, if you need a rainy day activity (that isn’t a kids’ museum), this is a good option.
Schenley Park and Plaza
The conservatory sits on the northwest corner of enormous Schenley Park, which has walking and biking trails, an ice rink in winter, plenty of running around space and the Anderson Playground.
This older play space has four distinct, mismatched sections that almost look like a study in the evolution of playgrounds. It provided a good hour of climbing, spinning and jumping before we got in the car for the long drive home.
Schenley Plaza sits adjacent to the park with a colorful carousel and the university’s Frick Fine Arts building, which has a nice inner courtyard and art display that are worth a quick peek.
What We Missed
There were a few uniquely Pittsburgh things we would have tried if we’d had another day or two. These include the Duquesne Incline railroad for its city views, the National Aviary and the Heinz History Center, which seems like a fun Pittsburgh-centric variation on the Smithsonian’s American History museum.
The one thing we did away from Oakland was to visit Point State Park. It’s a popular weekend spot with families picnicking, teens playing frisbee. There is no playground but Tiny Traveler joined lots of other kids kids splashing in the large round fountain.
The park comes to a point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet the Ohio River. It offers nice views of the city’s bridges, stadiums, the incline and more. Parking nearby was tight, even on a weekend, but it’s a worthwhile stop for getting the sense of the city and running around a bit.
Dining in Pittsburgh
Good meals with kids
We managed to hit the Porch, also on Schenley Plaza, for all three meals at some point in our weekend. I would call it enlightened casual American. For dinner I had a butternut squash pizza with fennel and roasted kale, while Rich had a springy pea risotto. For lunch it was homemade soup; breakfast was egg and prosciutto sandwiches on sourdough bread. Tiny Traveler twice ate a kids’ hamburger that came with great roast potatoes (these also come with egg dishes during weekend brunch).
Near the universities, South Craig Street at Filmore Street has a college-area vibe with a bookstore, cafes and a variety of ethnic restaurants. We had an excellent Italian dinner at Lucca.
The blocks around Forbes Avenue and Atwood Street have local sandwich, pizza and hot dog joints as well an outlet of kid-friendly Noodle & Co. We attempted to try local brewpub Fuel & Fuddle at dinnertime. The food looked good but the music was way too loud for us.
A sweet treat
We also checked out the Strip area downtown for a quick bite. It struck us as interesting but a work in progress. Any of the restaurants we saw would have worked with kids, but none seemed a slam dunk.
We tried the Beer Hive, which has solid fried pickles, wings and chicken fingers. The upstairs dining room is more family friendly than the bar area. GrandPa Joe’s Candy Shop across the street is sure to please kids and adults with its treasure trove of retro and regional specialties and new treats like Bertie Bott’s Beans.
Where to Stay in Pittsburgh
We stayed at the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center, a non-descript hotel down the street from the Cathedral of Learning. Our room was pretty standard, and fine for three people. The pool in basement is perfect for family swimming. It’s exceedingly convenient for visiting the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon. It was a short walk to most of the things we did and given the student population there are plenty of places to eat at any time of day and many are inexpensive.
If you’re in town for a professional sports game choose a North Side hotel. There are plenty of hotels downtown, too, if you want to be more central. The Southside has good value options for families as well as things to do.
Pittsburgh struck us as a city where you get around by car. Aside from inside Schenley Park, we wound up paying for parking everywhere where we went. Consider yourself lucky if you find street parking downtown, but don’t plan on it (especially around The Strip). If you visit for a baseball or football game pick a hotel in walking distance of the stadiums on the North Side or downtown, like this family did.
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*Visit Pittsburgh provided us with a press pass that partly covered our admission to these sites, which we greatly. We never agree to coverage to any particular covered in exchange for press access. Our opinions are always our own.
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