Don’t Knock a Weekend in the Steel City ‘Til You Try It

Forget what you know about Cincinnati’s sports rival. For a family getaway, Pittsburgh isn’t half bad.
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Pittsburgh is literally the last place my die-hard Bengals family would think to head for a weekend away. But you can only visit the same two-hours-away cities so many times before you need a change of pace. So I packed up my three young sons and my husband and headed to enemy territory to see what family-friendly weekend activities they had to offer. And in spite of all the toxic yellow and black around town, Steel City didn’t disappoint.

WHERE TO STAY

Photograph courtesy of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

Another revelation: I didn’t realize that “family-friendly” hotels exist, but leave it to the hometown of Mr. Rogers to create one. The Kimpton Hotel Monaco proved to be just that, with eclectic decor like full-sized bird cages for bedside lamps and, much to my kids’ delight after the four-hour drive, Micro kickboard scooters. Yes, kids are literally allowed to scoot through the hallways. They also became quickly addicted to their housemade gummy bears, which seriously rivaled their Haribo favorites.

Traveling with babies is also much easier at this hotel, which offers mini fridges for breast milk storage, along with 4moms products like mamaRoo infant seats, breeze plus baby play yards, and a cleanwater tub. Those kinds of conveniences cut baby-related luggage in half.

WHAT TO EAT

Pittsburgh has a competitive takeout scene, which is a must-have for families who can’t wine and dine in sit-down settings. We checked out Primanti Bros (locals call it Pittsburgh’s “signature restaurant”), which features sandwiches piled high with French fries. Visitors should also check out The Yard in Market Square, which boasts an impressive kids’ menu with classics like gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup. Just a short drive away, we loved walking around Bellevue, a quiet and charming suburb where we headed to Maxwell’s and wished our kids had the bandwidth to chill at Lincoln Avenue Brewery. Instead, we grabbed a latte at Muddy Cup on the town’s main stretch and headed back for naptime.

WHAT TO DO

Photograph courtesy of Pins Mechanical.

After settling in, we headed to Pins Mechanical, a similar but slightly more elaborate version of our Pins location, which had just opened in Pittsburgh. It offers a two-story metal slide that my kids couldn’t get enough of. The arcade, duckpin bowling, and oversized yard games (like a massive Lite-Brite) were a total hit, making it the perfect place for parents to chill and have a drink while kids have fun. We brought in food from a local restaurant, and the kids didn’t want to leave all night.

The next day was full of experimenting, learning, and playing at the Carnegie Science Center, where we saw a piece of Mars, went inside a submarine in the river, ate at the museum’s surprisingly good café, and my kids even practiced giving their in utero baby sister a pretend ultrasound in the BodyWorks exhibit.

Photograph courtesy of Carnegie Science Center.

Next door, the SportsWorks exhibit, which takes up an entire building, got the rest of their remaining energy out with sports challenges and physics lessons (they didn’t even know they were learning, of course). They jumped on trampolines, tried batting cages, ran races, and watched a robot shoot free throws—it made every shot, much to my sons’ dismay.

Pittsburgh also offers the National Aviary, for kids who are bird fans, and a zoo and aquarium. We’ll have to save those for our next trip, which my kids are already begging to take. I think they just miss the huge slide.

SIDE TRIP: PITT STOP

If you’re going to make the trek to Pittsburgh, plan to make a stop at Beaver Creek State Park, a sprawling wilderness retreat right near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. In the park’s central visitor’s area, kids can learn about the historic mill and rebuilt canal lock system and let their imaginations run wild at the recreated pioneer village. Make it a quick stop or plan to spend the night at the campground, where the family can pitch a tent or stay in a rustic cabin.

Photograph courtesy of ODNR.

Southwest of Pittsburgh, in the town of Washington, you’ll find the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, where younger kids will encounter Daniel Tiger in costume, as well as a working trolley ride and lots of other train toys and exhibits that’ll make the drive seem much shorter. 

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