Some people have described Pittsburgh as an up-and-coming town, even “the next Seattle.” Others said, “You’re going to Pittsburgh?” I’m glad I ignored the naysayers, because Pittsburgh is a great town for families.
My 8- and 10-year-old kids and I had a blast there. We found unique and fun museums, delicious food (although not exactly diet-friendly), friendly people, and lots of culture–just a few of the fun things to do with kids in Pittsburgh.
1. Carnegie Science Center
This was my family’s favorite place, as it was filled with hands-on sports activities. There were explanations of the science behind the sports, but they were secondary to the fun stuff.
We raced each other on the electronically timed, two-lane running track; played a giant dome hockey game with a dozen other people; the kids bounced up and down while hanging from a rope (hard to describe, but fun); and I made a panic-filled attempt to ride a bike on the high wire. They say it’s impossible to tip, but the minute I started wobbling 50 feet above the ground, I pedaled back.
The sports exhibit can get crowded. Try to go around 3-4 p.m., when the school groups clear out.
The science museum also had cool exhibits that you don’t see at every museum — like playing air hockey against a robot. Or climbing into a still-in-the-water World War II submarine. Not only did we peek in the submarine’s tiny compartments, we got to ask questions of a retired Navy man who had actually lived on a submarine (he was a museum volunteer).
2. Eat pierogis and kielbasa
These are Pittsburgh’s two iconic foods, and they’re both awesome. Try the pierogi pizza with real bacon sprinkled on top at Church Brew Works, which I couldn’t stop eating. The restaurant is housed in a large old church, so we sat in seats made with pews, surrounded by arches and stained glass windows. I washed down my pizza with a tasty craft beer that had been brewed – literally – on the altar in front of me.
Another must-try is the kielbasa sandwich at Primati Bros., a restaurant synonymous with Pittsburgh. I ordered mine with the coleslaw on the side, but was later told that’s sacrelege. So be warned. Delicious! And dinner at this sports-themed restaurant was less than $10 per person.
A good way to sample the town’s culinary offerings is on the “Burgh, Bits & Bites” walking food tours, which will take you through different neighborhoods.
3. Go to a Game
Pittsburgh is a SERIOUS sports town. I am not kidding when I say about 75 percent of the population is sporting a Steelers, Penguins or Pirates logo of some kind. .
If you don’t have time for a game, but want to blend in with the “yinzers” (an endearing term used to describe people from Pittsburgh), we found a bunch of sports souvenir and T-shirt places along Liberty Avenue in The Strip District. (See Empty Nest TravelingMom’s great list of other things to do in the Strip District).
4. Ride the Duquesene Incline
A short & touristy activity, but one with a great photo op. This throwback, century-old wooden cable car goes up the side of the hill. At the top, there’s a little area explaining the incline’s history, plus an observation deck with outstanding views of Pittsburgh’s skyline.
5. Visit the National Aviary
This bird museum is a diamond in the rough. Its best feature is that you can crawl under, and then pop up, into little glass cylinders in the middle of the penguin population. When the penguins see people, they think they’re being fed, so they’ll walk right up to the glass. The penguins all have names on their necklaces, so my kids each had their own little “friend.”
We also saw a bald eagle up close (stunning!), watched bats being fed fruit, walked through a forested area where dozens of live birds flew around us, and much more. The neighborhood around this museum is a little dicey, but the museum and parking area are well secured.
6. See the Senator John Heinz History Center
This was the first thing we did when we arrived in Pittsburgh, and it gave us a good introduction to the town. There’s a large exhibit about the history of Pittsburgh’s sports, where my son practiced his Terry Bradshaw football passing and “tried on” Super Bowl rings. My daughter loved the pop culture art exhibits. But I liked learning about the history of the Heinz ketchup company, especially the video loop of hilarious old Heinz TV commercials from around the world.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn downtown, across the street from the John Heinz History Center. The hotel was undergoing renovation at the time, so it was hard to judge. But when you’re traveling with kids, you can’t beat a nice pool, big free breakfast, and the location — walking distance to the Strip District, Eleven (one of Pittsburgh’s nicest restaurants), and the Amtrak train station.
Looking for more cool things to do in Pittsburgh? Check out our list of free things to do in Pittsburgh.