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Best Pittsburgh Activities for Preschoolers

Pittsburgh: Travel Ideas for Kids

The Pittsburgh skyline: this city boasts a fabulous children's museum, the Carnegie Science Center, zoo with aquarium, and more.

The Pittsburgh skyline: this city boasts a fabulous children's museum, the Carnegie Science Center, zoo with aquarium, and more.

Pittsburgh: A City of Rivers and Bridges

Many people don't think of Pittsburgh as a vacation destination, but it is a wonderful place for young families to explore. Rivers encircle the city center, and bright yellow suspension bridges create a beautiful and dramatic scene. Pittsburgh is filled with activities geared to families with young children, and the majority of the attractions have low admission fees.

Finding a Hotel

By using discount hotel providers such as Hotwire or Priceline, 3 and 4 star hotels can be found at deep discounts in the Pittsburgh area. Staying in Green Tree, Pennsylvania is an excellent choice, as the area is safe, cheaper than the city center, and offers several high quality hotels. Recently, our family stayed in Green Tree at a four star Radisson (with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool) for $40 per night. The drive from Green Tree to the city center takes travelers through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which is a thrill for preschoolers.

Pittsburgh Children's Museum

Playing at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum

Playing at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum

Day One: Pittsburgh Children's Museum and the Church Brew Works

Start the day off by visiting the Pittsburgh Children's Museum. This museum is best for children 1-8 years of age, and will take approximately 4-6 hours to explore (depending on the age and attention span of the children involved). Check the museum website for current discounts and promotions. If you are a member of your local children's museum, determine if the Pittsburgh Children's Museum is a reciprocating member, in which case your admission will be free (minus parking fees).

Best Way to Proceed:

The Pittsburgh Children's Museum has four floors of exhibits, and it is wise to proceed in a certain manner. The first floor contains an art studio, with painting, paper making, silk screening, and printing press activities. It is wise to stop by this area first, to allow your child's art work to dry before it is time to return to the hotel. Make sure to label any artwork with your child's name before placing it on the drying racks.

The first floor also contains a three-story climbing structure, which is highly entertaining to children 4-10 years of age. The climbing structure may be a little too challenging for 2 and 3 year olds, who are not quite tall enough to climb from one level to the next. This floor also contains Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, an interactive area recreating familiar items from the beloved PBS show.

The Garage is a favorite exhibit, with a climbing tower and parachutes to send over the railings. Climbing nets, a slide, and several building activities complete this area. Children can send balls racing around an obstacle course along the ceiling, or send toy cars racing down ramps. This is the place to go when kids need to run off some energy!

The nursery is an area targeted to babies, toddlers, and very young preschoolers. A giant Lite-Bright peg board is along one wall, and several soft climbing areas, sand tables, and toddler toys are available for the littlest guests.

There is an outdoor area (seasonally available) which offers a tree house and something called "the slip." If you are an adventurous parent, you can let your child play in liquid clay: save this activity for last if you plan on doing it, otherwise proceed to the water play area.

Visit the water play area last, as children often exit much wetter than they entered. Crocs and raincoats are provided, but most children have a love for sprinklers and water play that exceeds the ability of the provided gear to keep them dry! This area contains a massive water table and a grated floor with fountains emanating from pipes. Children can take available PVC pipe and sprinkler heads to change the water course. Sidenote: restroom hand dryers make excellent toddler-dryers in a pinch!

Dinner at the Church Brew Works

Once you have returned to your hotel and dried off the drenched kids, head out to the Church Brew Works for dinner. This restaurant is great fun, and if you ask for seating on the "bar side," your bill will be lower. The "bar side" is no different from the "restaurant side," and you can get the same experience for a cheaper price.

The Pittsburgh Children's Museum

The Pittsburgh Zoo

Polar bear at the Pittsburgh Zoo

Polar bear at the Pittsburgh Zoo

Day Two: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Station Square, and the Duquesne Incline

The Pittsburgh Zoo

The Pittsburgh Zoo is massive, so bring a stroller for all children under the age of six. There are many hills, and the asphalt paths will concentrate summer heat, so bring plenty of water if visiting in the summer. This zoo is absolutely amazing in scope and scale, with an aquarium admission included in your zoo ticket.

Take the zoo at your own pace, and stop frequently for breaks. The polar bear exhibit is one that kids adore: a walk through tunnel takes visitors under the polar bear's pool for an underwater peak at the swimming bears. The zoo features many playgrounds, and the "otter slides" are popular with older children (height restrictions apply). The zoo also has a safari car ride, toddler's log ride, and "turtle bikes" for young children. When the zoo and aquarium have been explored, leave the zoo and head over to Station Square for dinner.

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Duquesne Incline

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

Station Square and the Duquesne Incline

Station Square

Station Square is filled with various restaurants, so pick your favorite for dinner. Bucca di Beppo and Joe's Crab Shack are family favorites. The area has a large fountain themed to music, which is great fun for children and adults alike. The passing trains are very exciting for preschoolers, and many will hang on the wrought iron fences as the trains chug by. After dinner, head over to the free parking lot for the Duquesne Incline, a funicular railway.

Duquesne Incline

The Duquesne Incline takes riders to the top of Mount Washington, for a beautiful view over the city center. This ride is wonderful when taken at sunset, and young children delight in the climb up the steep hillside. The best part of riding the Duquesne Incline is the cost: Children are $2.20 round trip, and adults are $4.50 round trip. Cash or Port Authority bus passes are the only accepted forms of payment.

Sportsworks at Carnegie Science Center

Riding the "You-Yo" at the Science Center

Riding the "You-Yo" at the Science Center

Day Three: Carnegie Science Center and Highmark SportsWorks

While the Carnegie Science Center has a higher admission price than the zoo or children's museum, the exhibits and shows are well worth the cost. This Science Center includes admission to the USS Requin submarine, the Highmark SportsWorks complex, and to all planetarium and science center shows.

The model railway exhibit is stellar, and children are often invited to press the button controlling the train horns. The SportsWorks complex includes a trampoline, roller coaster simulators, a human yo-yo, and more. This museum will take most of the day. It is recommended to visit the SportsWorks building before the main Science Center building, as lines for exhibits like the trampoline and high-wire bicycle can become quite long.

Before heading home, be sure to stop by the Primanti Bros. for a unique Pittsburgh sandwich!

Andy Warhol Silver Clouds

Other Great Pittsburgh Trips for Preschoolers

The Andy Warhol Museum may sound like an unusual choice, but the artist's collection includes an enormous room filled with floating, giant mylar balloons. The exhibit is called "Silver Clouds," and preschoolers will be delighted as they tumble around the gallery.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has dinosaurs galore. In addition to preschooler-pleasing dinosaurs, the museum offers an exhibit on ancient Egypt and the Hillman hall of minerals and gems. There is a hands-on Discovery Room for younger children, and an interactive dinosaur fossil dig called the Bonehunter's Quarry.

The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers river cruises around the city center, with several river tours designed specifically for families with young children. The "Good Ship Lollipop" cruise offers entertainment from Lolli the clown, and the Sunday ice cream social cruise. The best cruise for kids is the Kid's Showtime Cruise, which features ice cream and live children's shows by the Gemini Theater Company.

The National Aviary is located in Pittsburgh, featuring over 600 birds from around the world. Several interactive encounters are available, including the "Little Peepers" exhibit for children 2-5 years old. This activity features a story and a close-up encounter with one of the aviary's birds. The Flite Zone Theater offers live, educational shows geared to future veterinarians and zookeepers.

PPG Place has an amazing interactive, outdoor water fountain feature in the summer and an ice rink in the winter. For families touring the city center, this is a welcome diversion for preschoolers (bring a towel)!

Kennywood and Sandcastle Waterpark are in the greater Pittsburgh area, for families seeking an amusement park experience. Both parks offer entertainment and activities for young children, and roller coasters and water slides for older siblings.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Leah Lefler

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