Best of the Burgh '2011: Kids and Family
From the best old-school videogame store to the best summer program, our editors pick the best in Pittsburgh kids and family events.
Best behind-the-scenes tour that might get hairy
To show gratitude, the Pittsburgh Zoo offers exclusive behind-the-scenes tours to special donors. But once a year, the zoo staff opens its gates and crates to Facebook followers for a back-door tour of the impressive giraffes, those cute tiger cubs and the ever-eccentric penguins. The social-media special allows fans to purchase after-hour tickets for a closeup encounter of animals in their zoo habitat, seeing—or touching—what’s normally just part of keepers’ experiences. Truly a popular attraction and a memorable adventure for any animal lover. Just stay away from the tarantula case. —Melissa Urick
One Wild Place, Highland Park; 412/665-3640, pittsburghzoo.org
Best store to buy old-school videogames
After school, you spent hours playing Pitfall or Burger Time on Intellivision. Or perhaps, Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo Entertainment System rocked your youth in the late ’80s. The fact that these consoles are still operable is impressive, and you can find a variety of old-school videogames to play in ’em at Groovy. Is there something missing in your Atari collection? Stop in weekly, since there is always something “new” taking over the counter space. —M.U.
Best 50th birthday bash
Charlie the Tuna’s milestone exhibit at the ToonSeum
Talk about beating the odds: The fact that Charlie the Tuna ever reached the Big 5-0 (which must be equivalent to 500 in tuna years) should be cause for celebration in itself. After all, the survival of this audacious fish, a beloved advertising icon for StarKist, was the serendipitous consequence of a semantic misunderstanding. Sporting a red beret and cool shades, Charlie thinks StarKist is seeking tuna with good taste—not tuna that tastes good. (A critical distinction.) “Sorry, Charlie.” In February, StarKist sponsored a show in Charlie’s honor at the ToonSeum to celebrate his reaching the half-century mark. It’s now part of the corporate archives at StarKist headquarters on the North Shore—the building featuring Charlie on its exterior. —Mike May
945 Liberty Ave., downtown; 412/232-0199, toonseum.org
Best summer program for little Einsteins
Peculiar Paleontology Camp at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History
For budding Bill Nyes, the only thing more mind-blowing than seeing dinosaurs is meeting the real, live scientists who discover them. At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, this creative science camp will enable pint-sized paleontologists (ages 6-7) to cover land, sea and sky as they meet unusual dinosaurs, pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs as well as prehistoric birds and mammals. Even cooler, some of the most exciting discoveries were made by researchers right there at the museum—from huge titanosaurs to thumb-sized micromonkeys. —Celanie Polanick
4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. July 25–29: $220, child non-member; $200, child member. 412/622-3131, carnegiemnh.org/camps
Best green school makeover
Falk Laboratory School at the University of Pittsburgh
The Falk School has been a creative place for kids to learn since it opened in 1931. But once the school’s expansion and renovation stages ended last year, it became an even more inspiring—and environmentally friendly—place for kids to grow and thrive. The imposing, traditional architecture of the original building contrasts beautifully with the modern, industrial feel of the new sections, which were partly built from recycled or salvaged materials. The rooftop playgrounds and green “living roof” make brilliant use of space. And floor-to-ceiling windows in the new library and cafeteria offer tons of sunshine, plus inspiring views of the Cathedral of Learning and Pitt’s main campus. —Melissa Rayworth
4060 Allequippa St., Oakland; 412/624-8020, falkschool.pitt.edu
More of Best of the 'Burgh:
Zoo photo by Laura Petrilla; charlie the tuna photo courtesy of toonseum.