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I’m sure many people who have never ventured to Pittsburgh picture the place as a city filled with factories, steel mills and warehouses based upon its industrial past.
Looking to spend some time bonding and having fun with my 9-year-old son, we embarked on a weekend getaway to Pittsburgh where both of us were familiar with its pro sports teams but neither had ever visited there before.
What we discovered during our father-son road trip wasn’t the stereotypical factory town image we had expected. Instead, we found an upbeat, energetic city that is full of world-class museums and educational institutions, wonderful places to eat, scenic green spaces, sporting events, and incredible kid-friendly activities.
Exploring Pittsburgh With My Son
With so many entertaining things for families with children to do and see maybe they should think about changing the name of the city to KIDSBURGH! We had an incredible time exploring Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here are some highlights from our father-son road trip:
Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Game
Nothing I like better on a summer day than going to a baseball game, it is the national pastime after all, so of course we went to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play at PNC Park.
It is always exciting to visit a new ballpark and look for the things that make it stand out. This stadium with a limestone façade and steel trusswork was designed to pay homage to classic ballparks like Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. It seats 38,000 people but provides an intimate feeling game watching experience, including great views of the field from throughout the grandstands.
Situated along the city’s vibrant Allegany River shoreline, it provides a remarkable view of the downtown skyline as a backdrop to the outfield. The only thing that bummed us out about attending the game was that we didn’t get a chance to catch a foul ball to take home as souvenir of our visit to PNC Park.
More Pittsburgh Sports Teams
In addition to professional baseball, Pittsburgh has a pro football team (Steelers) and hockey club (Penguins). Both have a reputation for being regular championship contenders. In fact, the Steelers won a Super Bowl in our hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
The city is also home to NCAA sports powerhouse University of Pittsburgh. There are lots of competitive sporting events featuring the Pittsburgh Panthers going on throughout the year. Pittsburgh is a great city for sports fanatics!
Family Friendly Hotel in Pittsburgh
If you are a Penguins fan, or want to go see your favorite hockey team play them on the road, you will want to know about the CAMBRiA Hotel Pittsburgh. That’s where we stayed during our visit to the city. It is located right next door to PPG Paints Arena, the home rink for the Penguins. It is literally less than a 5-minute walk between the two buildings. The hotel has its own parking deck dedicated to its guests. With spacious rooms and a nice indoor pool, we found this a great place to rest up after a full day.
Ride the Subway for Free
A subway station is four blocks from CAMBRiA Hotel Pittsburgh. We rode the train to the next spot. It dropped us off at the front door of Carnegie Science Center.
Have to say I was very impressed that riding the subway is always FREE with no fares to pay when traveling between its downtown stations! The cars and stations felt safe, were very clean, it was easy to get to where we needed to be, and you can’t beat riding for free. Wow! How convenient is that?!
Carnegie Science Center
The Carnegie Science Center is an amazing place filled with interactive opportunities to learn while having fun. It is home to a decommissioned Navy submarine that can be toured, planetarium, movie theater with an advanced 3D 4K resolution giant sized screen, and a number of hands-on activity areas that have themes such as robotics, sports and water. It also regularly hosts temporary traveling exhibits that highlight a variety of artistic, educational, and entertainment topics.
While we were there, the Carnegie Science Center was hosting a traveling exhibit called, “The Art of the Brick.” Showcasing works by Nathan Sawaya, it is described as the world’s largest exhibition of LEGO art. The artwork on display is made exclusively from one of the most recognizable toys in the world: the LEGO brick. With my son having a huge LEGO collection at home, we weren’t going to miss seeing this!
There were a lot of interesting things to see at the science center. I’m a big science fiction fan so really enjoyed seeing the collection of replica robots from classic sci-fi movies including Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet 1956), B-9 (Lost in Space 1965 – 68), and R2-D2 (Star Wars 1977). I was disappointed though they didn’t have Twiki from Buck Rogers (1979 – 81) on display, but the collection they have is still impressive. You can also play games including basketball in a number of robot encounters within this area.
My son had a blast in the H2Oh! Gallery. There, kids learn about scientific principles of water through play. Learning about how a lock works was very popular.
Learning Science Through Athletics
We spent a bulk of our time at the Carnegie Science Center’s Highmark SportsWorks space. This space has three areas that teach different scientific aspects through getting people to engage in athletic activities. These areas focus on Physics of Sports (balance, center of gravity, momentum, trajectory), LifeWorks (learning about healthy lifestyle tips), and Sports Challenge (opportunities to try out different skills involved with athletics).Defy gravity in the Physics of Sports area by navigating obstacles along the elevated ropes course or scaling the 25-foot high rock wall. These two activities were specifically designed to be accessible for children. It makes for a great experience for families to do together. In fact, my son took advantage of me. He enticed me to participate as a bonding opportunity. Later, he laughed and admitted he only wanted to do it because I’m afraid of heights. Sometimes kids can be cruel! I did enjoy myself though.
In the LifeWorks area, pretend to be a surgeon playing on a life-sized OPERATION board game, blow into a sensor to determine your lung capacity, and learn the basics of Hands-Only CPR chest compressions on a special kiosk developed by the American Heart Association. Learn some valuable health tips in an entertaining way. Get an understanding of the ABC’s of science — anatomy, biology, and chemistry – through the interactive exhibits in this space.
Imagine you are a Major League Baseball player in the Batter Up! exhibit within the Sports Challenge area. Take a swing of the bat and laser beams will calculate your swing speed and resulting ball distance and direction that would have occurred if you got a hit. Results are displayed on a monitor screen next to an image of the playing field at PNC Park. Think you have a big league swing?
Up to challenging someone to a race? See who can win a 10-meter dash to see how your time compares to an Olympian’s. Amazingly! My son and I tied!
Test your reaction time and motor skills playing on the world’s largest ‘bubble hockey’ table. This is an eye-catching hockey game that draws everyone in the room to it. It takes some team work to get a goal making it a nice way to meet some new friends while you play a match.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
My son has always been fond of dinosaurs, so going over to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was near the top of our to do list while visiting Pittsburgh.
The museum is a must visit destination for dinosaur fanatics. It has the third largest display of mounted dinosaur skeletons within the country behind Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. It also has some of the most prestigious fossil specimens in the world and an international reputation for the outstanding quality of its collection.
Dinosaurs aren’t the only prehistoric creatures on display at the museum. It also has a gallery filled with facsimiles and fossils of Ice Age animals. Fossil skeletons of a dire wolf, giant ground sloth, mammoth and saber-toothed cat are on display. The flip side views of the saber-tooth cat are particularly interesting sight with one side showing a living representation of the animal and the other highlighting the fossil skeleton.
Also, on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is taxidermy of animals who lived in more recent times from Africa, North America and the Arctic. Get a close up look at preserved bodies of animals from these regions including jaguars, moose, walrus and rhinos. It is like going on a safari within the museum.
I love going to the zoo just as much as my kids do; therefore, our next stop was a visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo. After seeing the taxidermy one at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History it was nice to see the living variety at the zoo. It was nice to see a parent and child rhinos at the zoo and knowing an effort is being made to maintain the existence of these magnificent animals in our world. While we enjoyed looking around the natural history museum it would be a shame if it came down to people only being able to view a rhino on display like that.
This zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals from nearly 500 species. While there are numerous animals to see, the bulk of our time at the zoo was spent in its African Savannah area. We had wonderful views of lions, rhinos, elephants and giraffes that day. Instead of rushing around trying to see everything, we decided to just relax and linger around appreciating the sight of these exotic animals before us.
The wooden roller coaster at Kennywood Amusement Park. Photo credit: Tim Burns
Kennywood Amusement Park
Our final stop is an amusement park that was celebrating its 120th anniversary of thrilling families with roller coaster rides and other attractions during our visit.
Kennywood Amusement Park is full of classic wood roller coasters & carnival rides. It also has modern thrill rides including one that combines a coaster with a virtual reality simulator. That being said, we spent our afternoon there riding the old-fashioned coasters over and over again. If you have an appreciation for wooden Roller Coaster you need to go to Kennywood!
We could have spent all day just riding RACER which was built in 1927. This has two sets of cars racing through the course to see which one can pass the black and white checkered finish line first. There are enough curves and drops to make the ride amusing without being intimidating. Plus, the race aspect adds an extra bit of fun to the ride.
We also rode the world’s oldest running wooden roller coaster called the JACK RABBIT built in 1920. It isn’t scary but has some unexpected drops that really get your adrenaline flowing. This coaster is famous for its double dip which lifts riders out of their seat. That really caught me off guard during our first run on the ride but is the reason we had to go back on it a few more times.
The final roller coaster we rode was called THUNDERBOLT. This wooden roller coaster is more recent to the park than the other two built in 1968. It was more intense than the other two being faster and with higher drops. In its youth this was considered one of the best rides in the country, being ranked the Ultimate Roller Coaster by the New York Times in 1974.
After that ride, my son decided he would prefer just doing the bumper cars for awhile and we called it a day for our roller coaster rides. He was all smiles on those bumper cars. One of his favorite moments from our Kidsburgh trip.
Something I really liked about Kennywood is that they measure kids’ heights before they enter the amusement park. Each child’s hand is stamped with his or her height restriction to make it easy for everyone to know what rides kids can get on. My son was able to ride everything except a ride called the VOLCANO which is like a fast Ferris wheel that spins you up side down. No having to go from ride to ride wondering if your child is tall enough to ride it.
It was so much fun at Kennywood we’re absolutely going to have to come back with my wife and daughter for a family outing. In fact, we’re talking about going back again to explore Pittsburgh some more this time as a family road trip. There were so many wonderful memories made with my son during our weekend boys getaway and I’m looking to make some more with my whole family during future adventures to this wonderful city.
For more information about planning your own trip to Pittsburgh, head over to visitpittsburgh.com, the website for the official tourism promotion agency of Alleghany County.