Have you ever visited a destination and wished you had more time to stay and explore? Pittsburgh was that city for us, as we literally drove through the city on our way from Cooperstown to Chicago and had a quick overview before we hit the road again. The taste was enough to leave us hungry for more. We were amazed by the wealth of child friendly activities, the warmth of the people, and the stunning beauty of this former steel city.
Driving into the city, we were impressed by its beauty. Surrounded by small hills, cross sectioned by three rivers, the city was nothing as expected. It was clear on arrival that our short 24 hours in Pittsburgh with kids was not going to be enough.
One of the things we are always trying to teach our kids is: “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” That is definitely the case with Pittsburgh. Forget what you have heard, find a way to travel there and explore for yourself, because you won’t be disappointed.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Our first destination was the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, located next to Carnegie Mellon University and down the street from the University of Pittsburgh. We had no idea what to expect when we entered the museum. We realized upon entering that the museum is actually joined with the Carnegie Museum of Art. Admission includes both museums.
After bypassing the museum gift shops, we found ourselves in the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems. The exhibit was fascinating. I wouldn’t usually say that about a collection of stones and minerals, but this is simply spectacular. Our kids were pulling my husband and myself in a million different directions because they found so many fascinating stones and crystals.
Next up was the Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibit which is one of the best collections of dinosaur fossils in the world. It is also the “first permanent exhibition in the world with scientifically accurate, immersive environments spanning the Mesozoic Era—the Age of Dinosaurs—arranged chronologically and filled with actively posed original fossil specimens.” In other words, it’s one of the most impressive dinosaur displays we have ever seen.
We also made time to explore Polar World: The Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life and the Alcoa Foundation Hall of Native Americans. The Arctic area had a fascinating film about the life of the Inuits, artifacts, and a life size igloo. We always make a point of exploring the Native American area of natural history museums as my husband’s ancestors were on the Trail of Tears. The Carnegie Museum does a nice job of having hands-on activities for the kids throughout the Native American section and featuring different tribes throughout the United States. There are also interactive games and videos for children to encourage learning.
Our final stop was the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt which is rather small compared to the rest of the exhibits but worth a quick walk-through to see mummies, a royal funerary boat, and other Egyptian artifacts. The kids wanted to call it a day, so we skipped the Carnegie Museum of Art and headed across the street for a quick bite to eat and coffee at Starbucks.
Cathedral of Learning
Once outside, you can’t help but notice the towering Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The gothic revival tower is unlike anything I have seen before and I knew it was something special. Sure enough, visitors are invited to take a tour of the Nationality Rooms if arranged ahead of time for groups, or at the right time of year when students aren’t using the rooms. We were satisfied with a quick peek of the ground floor, which seems straight out of a Harry Potter movie with its towering columns, long corridors, and giant fireplaces. You can also take an elevator up to the top floor for views of Pittsburgh. Definitely worth a quick stop to see a beautifully unique university building.
What We Still Want to Explore
Pittsburgh can be a confusing city with its highways and bridges and even our GPS got lost sending us to our hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites in the Strip District. The hotel was centrally located across the street from the John Heinz Science Center, a Smithsonian institution with six floors of Pennsylvania history. Our knowledgeable hotel staff spoke highly of the center and we wish we had time to explore. It will definitely be a priority next time.
For dinner we headed to lively Penn Avenue and made a reservation at Sienna Mercato, a three story restaurant known for its meatball dishes. The wait was long so we took a walk through the area which was a mistake because there was a Pittsburgh Pirates game that evening. I could see my husband and oldest son plotting the remainder of their evening. Sure enough after dinner they went and found tickets to the game at PNC Park. The rest of us took a walk to admire the gorgeous downtown architecture, went for Ben & Jerry’s, and then headed back to the hotel for an evening swim.
We had to leave the next morning, and were disappointed we didn’t get to see more of Pittsburgh. Some of the highlights we missed were the Duquense Incline, an old cable car that takes you up the side of a hill for views of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. We learned something on this trip, always schedule more time than you think you need for a major city. Unfortunately, we didn’t give ourselves nearly enough time to explore Pittsburgh with kids, but as a result, we’re destined to return again.