Little House Big Art
There’s no denying it. The cold, wet weather is rapidly approaching. With it, will come a whole new set of challenges–ear infections, leaking in my basement and, of course, antsy children. Being cooped up indoors stinks for my kids…and their mom, too! This Fall and Winter, I’m hoping to keep my kids active by visiting the huge array of indoor play spaces in Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities.
To help guide your own adventures over the cold weather months, here’s my 2014 Indoor Play Spaces in Pittsburgh Family Guide. This guide has been updated from my 2013 version to include many new play spaces, as well as some spots designed for older kids including bowling alleys, roller rinks, ice skating rinks, laser tag arenas, batting cages and much more! I have included stand-alone play spaces, as well as play spaces within local museums, libraries and shopping venues.
The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library
Stand-alone Play Spaces (organized by location):
Pittsburgh has many unique stand alone play spaces for children within its city limits. First, there’s always our perennial favorite:
The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (PTLL)
This volunteer-run facility on Centre Avenue in Shadyside has toys geared to children up to kindergarten, including a specific enclosed area for babies. There is also an arts and crafts area, a kitchen, child-sized seating and highchairs, and lots more. Plus, they have an extensive collection of toys to borrow and bring home (must be a member for this service). Your first visit to the PTLL is free, subsequent visits are $5/child up to $10/family and membership is available.
Wilkins School Community Center Play Space
There is also another similar indoor play space in Regent Square called the Wilkins School Community Center playspace. This space is also a cooperative run by volunteers. In contrast to the PTLL, drop-in visits are not available. Instead, you are required to buy a $40 membership to visit. Membership also entails volunteering two hours per month.
This year, I’ve also found other play spaces within the city limits that are probably better for the slightly older child.
The Wheel Mill
The Wheel Mill is Pittsburgh’s first and only indoor bike and skate park located in Homewood. The Wheel Mill is open to all ages, although typically children start visiting around age 3. Besides the mountain bike and BMX terrain on the first floor, the Wheel Mill also offers a 2nd floor “Fundamental Skills Area,” which is flatter and more family-friendly. The Wheel Mill rents balance bikes, youth bikes and adult bikes at very reasonable rates. Alternatively, you are welcome (and encouraged) to bring your own bikes. The Wheel Mill also hosts family-friendly events throughout the winter.
The Climbing Wall
Located in the Factory Building in Point Breeze, the Climbing Wall offers several options for children ages 6 and older, including a) a Kids Climb program, where children up to age 12 can practice fundamental rock-climbing skills in their top-roping area with experienced staff. The program runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5-7pm and costs $15 for first visit and $12 for subsequent classes b) a Bouldering area where children over age 6 can climb anytime during open hours c) a top-roping area where children over age 6 can climb anytime during open hours as long as they are supervised by someone who is belay certified. Finally, the Climbing Wall offers a homeschool program, as well as birthday parties.
REI in the Southside Works has an indoor climbing wall called the “Pinnacle.” The store offers a “Kinderclimb” from 1-2:30pm on Fridays, where children (aged 5 or over 40 pounds) can top-rope with a professionally-trained instructor. The wall is also open for open climb for all (including children) on Fridays from 3-8pm, Saturdays 11-8pm and Sundays 12-5pm. Please note: your family must purchase an REI membership ($20 for your lifetime) to climb the Pinnacle.
Mellon Park Tennis Center
Mellon Park hosts an indoor family-friendly tennis court for children 4 and older. On Friday nights they offer open tennis play for kids over 5 years old from 7-10pm. On Saturdays, the center has children’s classes for kids as young as 4 years old throughout the morning. In addition, courts can be reserved in advance by families if you give the center a call.
Arsenal Bowling Lanes
Arsenal Bowling Lanes is a family-friendly standard 10-pin bowling alley located in Lawrenceville. According to the staff, the best time to bring kids is probably weekend afternoons when they offer a) an All-You-Can-Bowl special for $7 on Saturdays from 12-3pm and b) on Sundays from 1-4pm, there’s a $6 entry fee and then 50 cents for shoe rentals, games, hot dogs and soda. After 9pm, the facility is 21yo and older.
Other city bowling alley options include Forward Lanes in Squirrel Hill, Millvale Lanes in Millvale and Swissvale Arcade Lanes in Swissvale.
There are also several indoor play spaces to nurture the crafty child within the city:
Little House Big Art
Little House Big Art is located in the Spring Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This hidden gem is a haven of creativity for children. It has supplies for many, many creative projects including pottery, sewing, beading, knitting, terrarium-building, painting, watercolors and so much more!
Color Me Mine
Squirrel Hill’s Color Me Mine is a walk-in paint-your-own ceramics studio located on the corner of Forbes and Shady Avenues.
Kiln N Time
Lawrenceville’s Kiln N Time is an upscale paint-your-own pottery studio offering handcrafted pottery that can then be decorated using underglaze colors, stencils, stamps and more. Children are welcome.
Mosaic K Art Studio
Aspinwall hosts kid-friendly Mosaic K Art Studio offering painting, wood crafts, knitting and more.
Also, if you’re interested in taking your children swimming in the colder months, check out the indoor pools at the Kingsley Association and the Oliver Bath House. Daily visitor’s passes are available at these spots. You can also consider getting a membership at one of the many YMCA’s of Greater Pittsburgh or the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill or the South Hills if you would like to use their pool and other facilities.
Finally, there are many community recreation centers in the city’s neighborhoods. Many of them offer indoor gymnasiums with basketball courts, table tennis, game rooms and more. To find a community recreation center near you, check out this list.
Climb North in Wildwood, Photo Courtesy of Climb North
Here are some indoor playspace options in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh:
A family-owned indoor play space in Allison Park filled with giant inflatables available for Open Play. Bring socks!
Wildwood Highlands is a massive entertainment complex in Hampton Township that includes both outdoor and indoor play opportunities for both little and big kids. Kiddie City, a 4-level indoor jungle gym with slides, ball pits, and soft mats is specifically geared towards young children. Bring socks!
Fun Fest Entertainment Center
Fun Fest Entertainment Center is located in Harmar and includes cosmic bowling, arcade games, laser tag, pool, food and more.
Fun Fore All
A large entertainment complex in Cranberry Township with outdoor and indoor activities. Includes a large indoor play space for all ages called Ballocity. Also a separate area for toddlers.
Bounce U of Warrendale
A play space filled with giant inflatables. Offers several different Open Bounce opportunities, including a Preschool Playdate option for children younger than 6.
Fun Slides Carpet Skatepark
“Fun Slides” were invented in the early 2000’s and are basically smooth plastic “skates” that strap under athletic shoes and allow kids to skate on carpets. Although I haven’t visited this Perry Highway facility, I’ve heard many families say it’s a blast! This location includes a flatter area for beginners and more advanced areas for the experienced skater.
Laser Storm is an indoor family entertainment complex on McKnight Road featuring laser tag, arcade games and a climbing wall simulator.
A family-friendly climbing facility, Climb North is located in Wildwood. It has both bouldering and top roping for children 6 and up. They also offer a beginner 8-week class geared toward 6-11 year olds on Mondays from 5-6:30 for $100.
Chuck E. Cheese
Of course, there’s always always Chuck E. Cheese’s off McKnight Road.
Looking for bowling alleys in the north? Check out Pines Plaza Lanes and Perry Park Lanes. If you would like to burn some energy off at an indoor ice skating rink, check out Blade Runners Harmarville and Warrendale Ice Complex and the Ice Connection of Pittsburgh. If you would like to visit an indoor roller rink, check out Romp N Roll in Glenshaw or Skate Castle in Butler. If you would like to play indoor mini golf, check out GlowGolf at the Ross Park Mall.
Finally, if you want to nurture your crafty kid in the North Hills, check out Katie’s Clay Studio, Clayful Pottery, Christine’s Painting Place and The Art Place Studio Wexford.
Snapology in Bethel Park
Now, on to the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh!
The Seesaw Center
An indoor play space geared toward children up to age kindergarten similar to the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, but only open in the colder weather months. The Seesaw Center opens with limited hours on September 15th and then will have a grand opening celebration on September 27th.
Gymsport Athletic Center
Bridgeville’s Gymsport offers Preschool Playtime for children who are preschool-aged or younger. Children can burn off energy on their large Jungle Gym and other age-appropriate equipment.
Lilliput Towne Center
An indoor play space in McMurray hosted by Lilliput Play Homes, makers of some of the cutest kid-sized buildings that I have ever seen. Lilliput Towne Center is a pretend miniature town with a grocery store, doctor’s office, fire station, post office and tons more.
A great Bethel Park spot for children to practice their fine motor skills. Features tons of Lego’s for all ages, an imagination playground, preschool play area, IPads with Lego games, remote slot car racing, and tons more. We visited Snapology last year and thought it was wonderful.
Flight Trampoline Park
Bridgeville’s Flight Trampoline Park is an indoor playspace featuring over 50 connected trampolines, a foam pit, dodgeball, bounceballs and more.
Upper St. Clair Recreation Center’s Aquatic Center
The Upper St. Clair Recreation Center hosts an indoor water park complete with a recreational pool with zero-depth entry, underwater benches, lazy river, slides, interactive water structure, and tiny tots area, as well as a lap pool and a whirlpool. A day pass is available for $12 for 2 year or older. For more info, check out Pgh Momtourage’s recent blog post about it.
This Canonsburg indoor play space is located southwest of the city. It features inflatables, slides, jumps, obstacle courses and more.
Legacy Lanes in the South Hills offers bowling, laser tag and arcade games.
Chuck E. Cheese’s Bridgeville
Chuck E. Cheese’s also has a location in Bridgeville.
Looking for other options in the south? There’s bowling at AMF Mt. Lebanon Lanes. There’s indoor ice skating at the Ice Castle Arena, Iceoplex at Southpointe and Blade Runners Bethel Park Ice Complex. Finally, there’s crafty activities at Color Me Mine South Hills, That Pottery Place, Fired Up Pottery Studio and Silvi’s Art Studio for Kids.
Monster Mini Golf in Monroeville, Photo courtesy of Monster Mini Golf
After publishing last year’s post, I had a number of people ask me about indoor play spaces in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Here’s what I found:
Dave and Buster’s
Dave and Buster’s is a large entertainment complex located at the Waterfront in Homestead. It has hundreds of arcade games, billiards, shuffleboard, bowling, food and more.
Murrysville Sports Zone
Murrysville Sports Zone is a recreational facility in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. It hosts public roller and in-line skating hours, open stick-time on the ice rink and a Party Zone indoor playspace with tunnels, ropes, slides and more.
Seabase Family Fun Center
A Greensburg family favorite–has 2 large indoor play gyms with tubes, mazes, and slides as well as a specific toddler play area.
Fun Slides Carpet Skatepark
Pittsburgh’s second Fun Slides location is located in Greensburg and I’ve heard many families say it’s a blast! This location includes a flatter area for beginners and more advanced areas for the experienced skater.
Monster Mini Golf
Monroeville hosts the very unique Monster Mini Golf. This indoor mini golf course is monster-themed with black lights and spooky props.
All American Baseball Center East
Trafford’s All American Baseball Center East offers indoor manual fast pitching machines in its batting cages. Open to the public from 3-9pm on weekdays and 9-9pm on weekends. Available in 30 minute blocks for $30 or 1 hour blocks for $45.
Chuck E. Cheese’s Monroeville and Greensburg
Also, Chuck E. Cheese’s has two eastern locations in Monroeville and Greensburg.
Looking for more options? The eastern suburbs have Brunswick Playmor Lanes for bowling, Eden Park Roller Rink for roller-skating and Center Ice Arena for ice-skating. They also have indoor swimming at the Carnegie of Homestead Athletic Club and an indoor skatepark called Pipes Skatepark.
Sky Zone Leetsdale
Finally, here are some of the indoor playspace options for the western suburbs of Pittsburgh:
Robinson’s Latitude 360 is billed as an “upscale” entertainment complex. It has over 70 interactive video games, bowling, movies and several dining options. Also, can become a member (starting at $25/month) to get unlimited movie screenings for up to 6 people/day, 2 comedy tickets/month, $25 game card/month, 1 free hour of bowling/month, and points.
Sky Zone Leetsdale
This northwestern play space is an indoor trampoline park offering open jump, a Foam Zone, 3-D Dodgeball, and a basketball court. All ages are welcome.
Island Sports Center
This premier indoor recreational facility on Neville Island has ice skating, hockey, and an indoor driving range with kid-friendly golf lessons.
Xtreme Laser Storm Robinson
Xtreme Laser Storm in Robinson features an extensive indoor laser tag arena, arcade games and a snack shop.
An indoor batting cage located in Greentree. They have coin-operated slow pitch softball and slow, medium and fast pitch baseball on Mondays-Friday 4-9pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11-4pm. $10 for All-You-Can-Hit.
Looking for more options in the west? For bowling, there’s AMF Noble Bowling Lanes and Crafton Ingram Bowling Lanes. For roller skating, there’s Neville Roller Drome and for ice-skating, there’s Airport Ice Arena. And for the crafty kid, there’s Clay Cafe in Sewickley.
E2 Toys 2 Try
Shopping Venue Play Spaces
I have also included a category for shopping venue play spaces. At some of these places, parents can actually drop their children off while they do their shopping. At others, parents must be present.
Most of the local malls have free play areas where parents must stay with their kids. I have frequented some of these with my kids and found most of them to be pretty traditional in design. However, there are a few really creative play spaces, such as the Monroeville Mall’s Play Area modeled after Mister Roger’s Neighborhood of Make Believe. Also, Station Square‘s Freight House Shops has a (very) small train-themed play area with the Station Square Express, a trackless train that winds throughout the building. Finally, I’ve heard that the Ross Park Mall play area is pretty fun, too.
Giggles and Smiles
The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills and the Monroeville Mall also have a play space called Giggles and Smiles. This is a supervised play area where you can drop your child (aged 3-10) off for up to 3 hours while you explore the mall (or even leave if you want). If your child is younger than age 3 then you must stay in the play area with them.
Other Shopping Venue Play Spaces
Eagle’s Nest Child Care at Giant Eagle
Select Giant Eagle locations offer the Eagle’s Nest Child Care option for parents to use while doing their grocery shopping. You can check your 3+ yo child into these facilities and they can play with a variety of imaginative play items, computers, arts supplies, etc. You MUST remain in the store!
IKEA Smaland Play Area at IKEA Pittsburgh
IKEA Pittsburgh also has a free supervised play area in the entrance lobby for children between the heights of 37″-54″ who are potty-trained. Kids can play for up to an hour while you shop! Also, the children’s department in the store has lots of toys available for the kids to play with. We’ve spent lots of time there recently
E2 Toys 2 Try
A unique toy store in Bridgeville focusing on eco-friendly toys that promote creativity and imagination. Has a special indoor play area where children can test the toys while you shop!
Fun Buy the Pound
A unique toy store in Sewickley, where children can play and build with the toys. Then, you can pay for their creations by the pound!
Located in Butler, this massive toy store is built to resemble a stealth bomber with a space age atmosphere inside! They have over 3000 toys to choose from and children are encouraged to try many of them out.
Discovery Basecamp at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Here’s my listing of Pittsburgh’s museums with information about their play spaces geared toward children.
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
The Children’s Museum is an obvious choice for an indoor-type day. The entire facility is geared toward kids and there are plenty of play spaces for children of all ages and with all sorts of interests. To give you some examples: my 4 year old enjoys the Studio and the MAKESHOP. My 2 year old son loves splashing around in the Waterplay exhibit (bring an extra set of clothes).
Phipps Conservatory is one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh and a go-to destination with my kids. They love exploring the entire facility, but in particular they enjoy their indoor play space, the Phipps Public Market. It is a pretend Farmer’s Market where the kids can put food into grocery carts and then pretend to check out at a cash register.
Carnegie Science Center
We have only been to this museum a few times so far, but my kids really enjoyed exploring it. They especially liked the children’s play area called Exploration Station Jr where they played with the water table, practiced some building, played with balls, and lots more! In addition, the Miniature Railroad and Village was unbelievable. Finally, the Highmark Sportworks Complex offers over 30 interactive exhibits where kids can learn about living a healthy, active lifestyle and try their hand at a variety of sports.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
We recently revisited the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and had a blast. Both my kids enjoyed the kid-friendly Discovery Basecamp, where they got to explore artifacts, bones, try out a microscope and tons more. They also enjoyed seeing dinosaur fossils, mummies, natural habitat dioramas and more. The attached Carnegie Museum of Art does not have a specific area for children, but does offer various educational activities geared toward children in its galleries.
The National Aviary
Although the National Aviary does not have its own young child-specific play area, it is a still a great place to wander through with the little ones. It is a nice alternative to the Pittsburgh Zoo on a wet, chilly day.
Although the PPG Aquarium does not have its own specific play space for little ones, my kids still love exploring it. Unfortunately, it does not have its own separate entrance and is located far from the entry gates of the Pittsburgh Zoo at the top of a very large hill. For this reason, we rarely visit it during the colder, wet months.
Heinz History Center
The Heinz History Center has two exhibit spaces specifically geared towards children. Kidsburgh is an interactive two-tier playspace that features a pretend ice cream counter, a build-your-own cityscape with foam blocks, and a Liberty Tunnel slide. Discovery Place features a train table, a “Steel Mill” where kids can wear construction helmets and climb through a make-believe mill, plus a range of hands-on activities (sewing, penmanship, model car racing, pickle jar packing, and hairdressing). Also, at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum kids can try out golf, throw a football, design a medal, see how high they can jump, and pose with sports figures from Pittsburgh history.
Finally, the Mattress Factory of Contemporary Art is a North Side gem featuring room-sized installation art. Although, the Museum does not have a specific area for children, we still enjoy exploring it. The Museum also hosts many child-friendly educational activities.
Although it is currently closed for construction, the Frick Art & Historical Center has a Car and Carriage Museum with a variety of antique vehicles to explore. Please note: it can be tough for the little ones since they are not allowed to climb inside of them.
Other Pittsburgh museums that might be of interest to families include the Toonseum and Bicycle Heaven.
The Shaler North Hills Library
I have spent the last 4+ years exploring many of Allegheny County’s libraries with my kids. Most, if not all, have wonderful children’s departments. Some even have great play spaces for the kids to romp around in. My personal favorite: the Shaler North Hills Library and its wonderful indoor play space and children’s programming. I also enjoy visiting the Carnegie libraries in Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Oakmont and the Mt Lebanon Public Library.
Although I have not personally visited the Northland Public Library or Bethel Park Public Library, I have also heard great things about their children’s play areas.
So, there you go! Enjoy the 2014 indoor play season in Pittsburgh and its neighboring suburbs :).
Also, if I have missed anywhere (and I know I must have), please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add it to the list.