25 Fun Things Under $25

We’re always on the lookout for great activities that won’t break the bank. Here are 25 affordable outings to fill your calendar.

Photo by John Altdorfer

Get Down & Derby at a Roller Disco
It sounds crazy: Strap on roller skates, order cheap beer and dance the night away. But this mayhem is a monthly occurrence at Belvedere’s Down & Derby roller-dance party. The club has plenty of room and level floors, so daring skaters with good balance are free to roll from couch to table to bar. The dress code encourages ’80s fashion, and because rentals are limited, guests can bring their own skates. The floor is hard, so exercise extreme talent or extreme restraint. — Robert Isenberg

4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412/687-2555, skatedrinkdance.com
$6 with RSVP

Get In the River with Kayak Pittsburgh
It is impossibly easy to get in the water here in the Steel City, with quality instruction and equipment available anytime on the cheap. Kayak Pittsburgh runs seven days a week (during the warmer months) at three locations: downtown, the Millvale Riverfront Park and a suburban outpost in North Park. The friendly instructors will be happy to show you how to stay (relatively) dry. If you want a more organized start to your river experience, check out the many tours and programs offered by Venture Outdoors (ventureoutdoors.org). — Sean Collier

Sixth Street Bridge, downtown
412/969-9090, kayakpittsburgh.org
Solo: $15/hr, $8 each add’l half-hour;
Tandem: $20/hr, $10 each add’l half-hour

Zap! Some Energy Into Your Saturday Routine at The ToonSeum
Do your kids love Krabby Patties? Are they slowly becoming bilingual, thanks to “Dora the Explorer”? Then the Cultural District’s ToonSeum is the best place to spend a Saturday with animated friends from the past and present. It’s just one of three museums in the nation that’s completely devoted to cartoon arts. In addition to vintage cartoons and rare comic prints (some dating back 100 years), the ToonSeum also features stuff for big kids, too, like film screenings of Japanese anime and cartooning workshops. Better yet, your wallet won’t go Ka-blam! — children ages 6 to 13 are admitted for $1. — Sean Conboy

945 Liberty Ave., downtown
412/232-0199, toonseum.org
Adults, $5; Children (6-13), $1; Children 5 and Younger, Free

Get Your Dog to Fetch a Home Run at PNC Park
This season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have once again revived their Pup Night promotion, where you can bring your pooch to the game with you (provided your furry buddy is up-to-date on his shots and vaccinations). You’ll watch from the deck-seating section while Rover devours treat handouts and sniffs his peers. If you want your pet to make the “SportsCenter” top 10, keep an eye out for long homers; it’d take a whopper to make it to the deck, though. Remaining Pup Nights this season are Aug. 7, Aug. 28, Sept. 18 and Oct. 2. — Sean Collier

115 Federal St., North Shore
412/321-2827, pirates.com
$25 for one owner and one dog

Show the Kids How Video Games Used To Be at Games N’At
If you were born between 1970 and 1990, you’ll fondly remember the arcades of your youth as just about the coolest places on earth. If your children were born after that, they’ll find the concept of going somewhere to play video games to be completely foreign. Fortunately, you can give them a flashing, beeping history lesson at Games N’At. Pinball, air hockey, skeeball, newer arcade games and — for a trip down memory lane — Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong can all be played for a flat fee. — Sean Collier

2010 Josephine St., South Side
412/481-2002, sites.google.com/site/gamesnatsite
One hour, $5; Two hours, $8;
Three Hours, $11; Four hours, $14

Play Games with Drag Queens at OUTrageous Bingo
As the sassy host exclaims, this “ain’t your grandma’s bingo.” Popularly known for its over-the-top drag queens and rowdy fun, a diverse crowd meets once a month (September through May) for OUTrageous Bingo. The payouts are as sure as the sequins and loud makeup, and proceeds benefit local gay-service organizations. Dressing in drag is not required; you can leave that to the professionals. — Melinda Urick

Rodef Shalom Temple, 4905 Fifth Ave., Oakland
$12, advance; $15, at the door

Race Dragon Boats with Three Rivers Rowing Association
Three Rivers Rowing Association will put your corporate (or any other) group in two dragon boats so you can paddle for bragging rights. Staff will provide everything you need, including safety gear and coaches. Your teams will do several sprints on the Allegheny River, paddling to the beat of a dragon-boat drum. The dock is located at the association’s Millvale facility, which, conveniently, also provides a great space for a post-race cookout. If you’ve already proven your paddling prowess on the job, check out other dragon-boating opportunities for paddlers of all ages (available all summer). — Elizabeth Speed Kabus

300 Waterfront Drive, Washington’s Landing
412/231-8772, threeriversrowing.org
Programs start at $15/person

Let the Night Sky Amaze You at a Star Party
Now through October, free star-gazing parties at Wagman Observatory are open to the public. You don’t need your own telescope to hang with the experts: AAAP members love answering questions from newbies and giving guided tours of the sky. Once your eyes fully adjust to the darkness, you’ll get a peek at the mind-blowing beauty of meteors, nebulae, star clusters and even far-off galaxies. Bring your own refreshments and a jacket for cool summer nights. And remember to turn off your headlights as soon as you arrive at the observatory so that you don’t illuminate the viewing area. Parties begin at dusk; donations welcome. — Mike May

P.O. Box 314, Glenshaw
724/224-2510, 3ap.org

Take the Mansion Tour at Hartwood
When John and Mary Flinn Lawrence built their dreamy Tudor mansion in 1929, they probably didn’t expect that, one day, outsiders would have the chance to wander through their bedroom and peek in their closets. But we can, and you should. The house, preserved much as it was when the Lawrence family lived there, boasts stunning architecture and a formidable collection of English and American antiques. Immerse yourself in Pittsburgh’s past  — and make reservations first: The house is sometimes closed for private events. — Melissa Rayworth

200 Hartwood Acres, Hampton Township
412/767-9200, alleghenycounty.us/parks/hwfac.aspx
Adults, $6; Seniors (60+) and Teens (13-17), $4;
Youth (6-12), $2; Children 5 and Under, $1

Bowl a Strike in Acid-Wash Jeans
I have no desire to relive the ’80s — mostly because of the awful fashion (and the horrible yearbook photo reminders). But Arsenal Lanes hosts a retro party of Debbie Gibson proportions that makes all that hair-crimping and neon attire worth one more trip down memory lane. Every Thursday night, it’s all-you-can-bowl, complemented by big-hair bands galore. The evening is split between good fun and cheesy music. The ’80s strike back, literally. — Melinda Urick

Arsenal Lanes, 212 44th St., Lawrenceville
412/683-5992, arsenalbowl.com
All-You-Can-Bowl: $8

Take in Oakland with a Self-Guided Public Art Tour
The Office of Public Art is responsible for a pair of walking tour books highlighting the works of art in plain sight all over Pittsburgh. The general tour covers everything from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to the Boulevard of the Allies, but the Oakland guide is a great introduction to the University of Pittsburgh campus and beyond. Never stopped to take a good look at the statues on top of the museum? Unaware of the beautiful Westinghouse memorial in Schenley Park? Take a relaxing walk (probably about three hours), and appreciate the details of an iconic neighborhood. Books are free. — Sean Collier

810 Penn Ave., Suite 200, downtown
412/391-2060, pittsburghartcouncil.org

Feed Your Inner Caveman (or Cavewoman) at Laurel Caverns
If Fred Flintstone could choose a man cave, Laurel Caverns might be the spot. But there’s fun here for Wilma and Pebbles, too. Take a tour and spelunk your way through the meandering passageways and rock formations in Pennsylvania’s largest cave, located beneath a 435-acre geological park. The site offers a number of other attractions as well, including Kavernputt, an 18-hole golf course inside a 10,000 foot simulated cave. — Mike May

200 Caverns Park Road, Georges Township, Fayette County
724/438-3003, laurelcaverns.com

Hang Loose and Hit the Waves at Settlers Cabin
The ocean may not be in close proximity to western Pennsylvania, but you can still catch some waves at the Settler’s Cabin Wave Pool. Sunbathe on the green turf, float and splash about in the pool while the waves crash over you or swim out to the deep end with a tube and float the day away. Feeling adventurous? Jump off of the one of three high-diving boards. If you can’t make it to the beach this year, Settlers Cabin provides a great alternative. — Caitlin Restelli

1225 Greer Road, Oakdale
412/787-2667; alleghenycounty.us/parks/scfac.aspx
Adults, $5; Seniors, $3; Teens (14-17), $4;
Youth (6-12), $3; Children 5 and Under, $1

Make a Pilgrimage to Pittsburgh’s Most Beautiful Island
Park by the tennis courts, and pull your bike out of your trunk. Hop on your cycle and let the tires rumble on the dirt path past all those boats docked along the Allegheny River. Look up and see the bottom of the massive 31st Street Bridge. Grab a bite to eat at the dockside Redfin Blues. Keep pedaling, and watch as the trees part and the city’s skyline opens up to you, on a clear day where river meets steel and steel meets blue sky. Past all the townhouses, you’ve reached the end of Washington’s Landing — but feel free to cross the car-free bridge onto the North Shore Trail and let this urban oasis continue to wash over you. — James Santelli

Accessed via 30th Street Bridge, North Side

Discover the History of Photography at Photo Antiquities
You’d be surprised how quickly the historical photography collection at Photo Antiquities becomes fascinating. First of all, you don’t have to know anything walking in, which is a plus. Your tour guide will explain daguerreotypes and antique cameras, and then you’re on to Pittsburgh’s own history: the Strip District during the Depression or the construction of Forbes Field. And if you ever need some excitement, just slip in a penny to watch an “artistic figure studie” with April Showers — don’t worry, it was approved by the New York Census. — Katie Booth

531 East Ohio St., North Side
412/231-7881, photoantiquities.org
Adults, $10; Seniors, $8; Children 12 and Younger, Free

Catch an Aria or Two for Free with Pittsburgh Opera
Enjoy a ballet of vocal cords echoing throughout the George Rowland White Opera Studio at Pittsburgh Opera — or see an in-depth look at an upcoming production. Your heart might feel lighter, but your wallet won’t: The Pittsburgh Opera offers free events open to the public from October through April, and you should definitely make your way to the Strip District. You and a friend can enjoy your lunch on a Saturday afternoon at Brown Bag performances, take in a one-hour performance by the Residence Artists of Pittsburgh Opera on Sundays or see what’s in store for the coming season at the Opera Up Close events. — Caitlin Restelli

2425 Liberty Ave., Strip District
412/281-0912; pittsburghopera.org

Take the City by Land and Sea
You may think you know the ins and outs of Pittsburgh, but you can’t truly know your city until you’ve taken a Just Ducky Tour. These guided looks at the ’Burgh aren’t just for tourists — and what better way to see the town than on land and water, without having to switch from a car to a boat? These eye-catching vehicles travel by wheels on land and easily transition into boats when they hit the water. The adventure starts at Station Square; from there, you’ll pass the Cultural District, Fortune 500 companies, Heinz Field and other landmarks. It will surely make you appreciate this city even more — and maybe even view it in a new light. — Caitlin Restelli

125 W. Station Square Drive, Station Square
412/402-3825; justduckytours.com
Adults, $21; Children (3-12), $15; Children 2 and Under, $5

Stop and Smell the Roses — and Everything Else — at Phipps
If Pittsburgh were Kansas, then Phipps Conservatory would be the Land of Oz. Wandering through this 119-year-old greenhouse, you’re guaranteed to feel as if you traveled through a dream and landed miles away from the Steel City. Explore the garden’s many rooms, home to everything from cacti and orchids to bananas and butterflies, for just $12 or less. Personal photography is encouraged, but rooms may be reserved for private sessions (such as wedding receptions and family portraits). The tour itself takes about 90 minutes, so if gazing at all those colorful plants rouses your taste buds, be sure to stop by Café Phipps afterward. — Caitlyn Kronket

1 Schenley Park, Oakland
412-622-6914, phipps.conservatory.org
Adults, $12; Seniors and Students, $11; Children (2-18), $9; Children 2 and Younger, Free

Feel Peace in the Middle East (End) at Rodef Shalom’s Biblical Botanical Garden
Find your personal oasis at the Biblical Botanical Garden at Rodef Shalom Congregation, where carefully curated nature brings scripture tenderly to life — from June 1-Sept. 15. The lush garden includes a waterfall, a desert, a stream, and a miniature River Jordan, which meanders through the garden from mini-Lake Galilee to the mini-Dead Sea. Biblical history was never so fragrant and delicious-sounding: more than 100 plants, including cedar, olives, dates, pomegranates, figs, wheat, barley, millet and herbs valued by the ancient Israelites, all labeled with the Bible passages that describe them. Hit Ali Baba on Craig Street afterward to satisfy your cravings. — Melinda Urick

4905 Fifth Ave., Oakland
412/621-6566, rodefshalom.org

Step Through the Looking Glass on Penn Avenue
The motivation behind a visit to the Pittsburgh Glass Center is pretty transparent: glass. And if you think that medium is only for windows and windshields, the PGC is eager to prove otherwise. The center’s galleries regularly update installations with new sculptures and dynamic exhibits. And don’t miss one of the center’s demos, which focus on either glassblowing or flameworking. Even if you’re not the next Dale Chihuly, it’s fun to see all the tools used to make cool glass art pieces. And don’t worry: They’ll keep you a safe distance from the 2,200-degree furnace. — James Santelli

5472 Penn Ave., Garfield
412/365-8591, pittsburghglasscenter.org
Guided Tour & Demonstration: Adults $10-15, Children 18 and Under $7-10

Explore the World One Room at a Time
Many of your high school or college classes dragged on in dull, windowless lecture halls. But there isn’t a drab spot to be found in the Nationality Rooms inside the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning: The 29 rooms are designed to place you within the classic architecture from nations far and wide. Gladly, you can experience these one-of-a-kind classrooms for a lot less than the price of tuition. Free audio tours are available on weekends and when school is not in session, with guided tours available for groups of ten or more (with advance reservations). Be sure to check out the newest additions — the Turkish and Swiss rooms — on the third floor. — James Santelli

4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland
Audio tours: Free. Guided tours: Adults, $4; Children (6-18), $2

Get Your Act Together at Friday Night Improvs
Comedy isn’t easy, especially after 600 shows. And who stars in these weekly jams? You do. Touted as Pittsburgh’s only “all-audience participation improv comedy show,” the Friday Night Improvs are somewhat of a humorists’ potluck: Anybody can volunteer to come onstage and play an improv game, and nine times out of 10, the scenes are downright hilarious. What’s more, attendees are forbidden to boo. The group may perform in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning, but every week during the school year, the University of Pittsburgh’s Studio Theater is packed with rabid comedy fans. Upbeat, fast-paced and stomach-achingly funny, the improvs have wowed regulars and newcomers for nearly two decades. — Robert Isenberg

Studio Theater, Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland
412/624-7529, fnipgh.com

Visit ’Burgh Royalty at The Frick
The Carnegies and Mellons weren’t the only families who once ruled this blue-collar town. Indeed, the Fricks were also prestigious members of Pittsburgh’s upper crust around the turn of the last century. The public has been able to visit this famous family’s “castle” (aka the Frick Art & Historical Center) since 1990. Take a tour of the Victorian-style home with an impressive art collection. In addition to the house, the Car and Carriage Museum showcases the Frick’s personal vehicle collection, including a classic Ford Model T. And if all that history leaves you hungry, stop by The Café at the Frick, where you can enjoy a delectable dish fit for royalty. — Caitlyn Kronket

7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze
412-371-0600, thefrickpittsburgh.org
Adults, $12; Seniors and Students, $10;
Children 16 and Younger, $6

Water Slide Au Natural at Ohiopyle State Park
It took thousands of years for the stream to cut a channel in the sandstone bottom of Meadow Run. But the resulting 100-foot-long water slide is an incredibly fun miracle of nature. Slide down the twisty route, then plunge into the swimming hole at the bottom. This all-natural, cost-free attraction is accessible from the Meadow Run Trail hiking route in Ohiopyle State Park and was recently named one of the country’s top three water-slide hikes by Backpacker magazine. Pro tips: Wear jean shorts and shoes, and call ahead to check water levels in addition to safe sliding conditions. — Elizabeth Speed Kabus

Park in lots off Route 381 or Dinnerbell Road
724/329-8591, dcnr.state.pa.us

Embrace Your Dark Side at the Mattress Factory
Despite the word “mattress” in its name, this factory has no connection to anything sleepy. Edgy, quirky, provocative and mind-bending, this alternative museum, with a focus on installation art, has been pushing the art-velope since 1977. In addition to changing exhibitions, you’ll find 11 permanent installations here. For the truly mysterious and metaphysical, don’t miss James Turrell’s three “sculptures” inspired by light (or lack thereof): “Catso, Red”; “Danaë,” a study in purple; and the darkest, most challenging and most time-demanding of all: “Pleiades.” — Mike May

500 Sampsonia Way, North Side
412/231-3169, mattressfactory.org
Adults, $12; Seniors, $10; Students, $9; Children 6 and Younger, Free

Categories: Visitors Guide