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Family City Guide: U to Z

photo courtesy university of pittsburgh


U is for Universities

Pittsburgh is home to a number of institutes of higher learning, among them the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, Point Park and Duquesne universities, just to name a few. They all offer a variety of educational and sports-related youth programs (and the campuses are enjoyable to explore), but if you want a little history with your fun, head to Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. Each of the Nationality Rooms inside the dramatic Gothic Revival building focus on a different culture. Zip around the world by starting in the understated Welsh room before making your way to the more opulent Turkish or Austrian (pictured) rooms. Nearly all of the 30 rooms serve as functioning classrooms for Pitt students; while guided tours are available year round for organized groups of 10-plus, self-guided, recorded tours for individuals or small groups only are available at certain times — depending on whether classes are in session. —JS

★ Insider Tip: Mark it on the calendar: The Nationality Rooms host an open house on the first Sunday of each December. Admission is free and cultural performances take place every 15 minutes. Costumed guides also will be on hand to give you the scoop on your chosen room destination.

Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland
nationalityrooms.pitt.edu, 412/624-6000

photo by douglas duerring


V is for Volunteering

We believe that volunteering is one of the most important activities you can encourage your children to participate in. Pittsburgh Cares, a nonprofit organization founded in 1992, is dedicated to forwarding the cause of volunteerism. The organization matches eager volunteers with opportunities to help out other organizations, has an informative online calendar and holds occasional family volunteer days. Its Youth Engaged in Service (YES) program partners with youth groups, schools and community organizations to offer leadership opportunities for those ages 5 to 21. Pittsburgh Cares aims for the program to “inspire young people to become more aware of social issues and the tools and resources they need to respond and become part of the solution.” —HBK

★ Insider Tip: If parents are trying to motivate kids to get involved in volunteering, the best way is to incentivize it ... but not as a resume builder. Kids love to be treated as adults, and service is one of the best ways to do this. By learning leadership and organization — and actively affecting their community — they will feel like they’re doing something that has a lasting impact.

pittsburghcares.org, 412/471-2114

photo by douglas duerring


W is for Water

It’s not hard to find a spot to splash around on those sweltering summer days. One obvious choice is Sandcastle, which features a wading pool for littles, plenty of slides for the adventurers and a lazy river for teens just looking to soak up some sun. Citiparks also offers six free spray parks around the city in Beechview, Beltzhoover, East Hills, Hazelwood, Shadyside and Troy Hill. Two other spots not to be overlooked: The Water Steps at North Shore Riverfront Park, a family-favorite spot for kids to splash around, and the water feature at PPG Place Downtown, where parents can take a seat nearby while kids play among the waterspouts (or they can join in the fun — but take bathing suits! You’ll get seriously soaked). —LD

★ Insider Tip: If you’re a season-ticket holder at Sandcastle, don’t let your savings wash away in the parking lot. Purchasing a season-long parking pass is the way to go.
Sandcastle: 1000 Sandcastle Drive, West Homestead
sandcastlewaterpark.com, 412/462-6666

​Citiparks Spray Parks:

Water Steps:

photo courtesy pittsburgh symphony orchestra


X is for Xylophones

Heinz Hall is home to a myriad of professional instruments and world-class music, but it also offers special events for kids, schools and families, such as its annual sensory-friendly concerts. “With sensory-friendly concerts, we’re trying to be as welcoming as possible for everyone to experience music in their own way,” says Lisa Belczyk, director of learning programs for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. These concerts are specifically designed to be inclusive to kids on the autism spectrum and allow for audience members to participate in any way the music moves them, whether it’s singing, clapping or dancing along. The concerts also features audience-engagement activities an hour before curtain, such as a musician meet-and-greet, and rooms for movement, sound exploration and art. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Belczyk says. —ET

★ Insider Tip: If full-scale orchestra concerts seem intimidating to you, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra also holds a more personal speaker series where a single musician demonstrates his or her instrument for a small crowd in Heinz Hall’s Regency Rooms.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown
pittsburghsymphony.org, 412/392-4900

photo by douglas duerring


Y is for Yinz

If you’re living in the City of Champ-yinz, you’ve got to get the look — specifically a very black and gold look. For that, there’s no better place to head than the Strip District. Besides hip restaurants, grocers and other specialty shops, the thriving corridor along Penn Avenue is lined with vendors selling Steelers, Penguins and Pirates clothing and memorabilia. Check out the appropriately named Yinzers in Da Burgh or Black and Gold Forever to stock up on Terrible Towels, foam fingers, bobbleheads and all manner of ’Burgh-themed T-shirts for the kiddos. You’ll find the biggest variety (and best-priced) Pittsburgh gear in the city here. Yinzer welcome. —JS

★ Insider Tip: Head to the Strip District on the second Sunday of each month, from May through October, to check out the locally made goods at the popular Neighborhood Flea. The family-friendly, pop-up marketplace at the corner of 23rd and Penn avenues features a mix of vintage-clothing, housewares, art, flowers, farm goods and more.

​Yinzers in Da Burgh, 2127 Penn Ave., Strip District
yinzersindaburgh.com, 412/434-0113

Black and Gold Forever, 1907 Penn Ave., Strip District

photo by chuck beard


Z is for Zoo

Generations of Pittsburghers have fond memories of summer trips to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium — but why confine the experience to the warmer months? The zoo is open year-round, with most animals visible even in the winter (and less crowding for the best spots from which to observe them). Families should make sure to visit the Kids’ Kingdom area — where excess energy can be spent on climbing nets and slides and close-up encounters with deer and kangaroos are available — and its neighboring Worlds of Discovery building, where children can crawl into tubes running through a meerkat habitat. —SC

★ Insider Tip: Mark your calendar for the annual “Zoo Boo” weekends; this year’s are scheduled for Oct. 21-22 and 28-29. Kids are encouraged to come in costume for activities including a not-so-spooky haunted house, one of the only Halloween walkthroughs in the region tame enough even for younger children.

7340 Butler St., Highland Park
pittsburghzoo.org, 412/665-3640

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