by Janet Jonus
Fall is upon us and our schedules have filled up with school and activities. The temperatures are (supposed to be) getting cooler but there is plenty of time for free outdoors FamilyFun in and around Pittsburgh! (FamilyFunPittsburgh doesn’t move to indoor activities until we absolutely have to. We love the outdoors too much.)
The best place to find FREE Events is on the FamilyFunPittsburgh Calendar here: https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/events/ . FamilyFunPittsburgh has an extensive calendar of events in and around Pittsburgh. Just search the keyword “free” to find free events near you.
1. Ride the T in Town
You can ride the Port Authority’s T downtown all day, every day. Take the T from the First Avenue Station out to the Allegheny Station on the North Shore. Kids love to ride the T and there are plenty of FamilyFun Things to do at each station.
The First Avenue T Station is an above-ground station near the Monongahela River. The Station is a short walk to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail/Great Allegheny Passage. The Trail extends hundreds of miles but you can walk the trail all of the way down to the Point. The Trail follows the Monongahela River, past the Mon Wharf Parking, and through small riverfront parks. It is about a one mile walk. Just a block away from the Station is the Firstside Park. This small city park has an intricate walkway that children love to follow and a collection of sculptures. It is a hidden gem few know about.
The Steel Plaza Station is an underground station in the heart Pittsburgh. The Allegheny County Courthouse is one block away. The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has self-guided Old County Jail Tours on Mondays from 1130AM-100PM through October 31st. Mellon Green Park is just across the street from the T station. The park has pathways and a sculpture water fountain, trees, flower gardens, and benches. Mellon Square is two blocks away. This area has a large park surrounded by eateries and businesses. Mellon Square is also home to concerts and activities.
The Wood Street Station is an underground station in the heart of the Cultural District. The station is on the triangular corner of Wood Street and Liberty Avenue. All of the city’s major theaters are within a few blocks of the station. The Allegheny Riverfront Park is three blocks away. This Park stretches along the banks of the Allegheny River and under the Three Sisters bridges. The Cultural District has many public art installations. There are restaurants from fast food through really expensive, gourmet eateries.
The Gateway Center station is an underground station with beautiful architecture. The station is in the heart of Gateway Center. It is across the street from Gateway Center Park. Point State Park, The Blockhouse, and The Fort Pitt Museum are two blocks away. There are restaurants and hotels nearby.
The T heads under the Allegheny River to the North Shore station. The station itself is in the middle of a sea of parking lots. PNC Park is 0.2 of a mile away. The North Shore Trail is a few blocks from the station. It meanders through the Roberto Clemente Memorial Park that stretches along the shores of the Allegheny River. The Korean War memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Monument, and the Law Enforcement Memorial lie within the park. The Allegheny Commons Park is about a half mile to the north of the station. The Park has a lot of green space, a lake, and a playground. The National Aviary is a bit farther but still accessible from the station. The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is 6/10s of a mile north of the station. Allegheny Landing and the Andy Warhol Museum are about a half mile to the east.
The Allegheny Station is the end of the line for the T. The above-ground station lets you off across the street from Heinz Field. The Carnegie Science Center is a short three minute walk away. The North Shore Riverfront Park is just past Heinz Field and across the street from the tail end of the Roberto Clemente Memorial Park.
The T is free between all of these stops but you have to pay if you head out to Station Square and to points farther south.
Look for the FamilyFunPittsburgh in-depth article about the T coming soon!
2. Fall Festivals
Just because it is fall doesn’t mean the Festivals have ended. Some Festivals charge an admission fee but here are some that are free!
Waterfire Sharon is a day of art and a night of fire, water, and music. The international art event is held on September 22nd from noon until 1100PM. All art, entertainment, kids activities, and Waterfire is free. https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/fire-on-the-water/
The 34th Annual Mars Applefest is on October 6th in Mars, PA. The is food, fun, arts, and plenty of apples for everyone at this free event. https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/mars-applefest/
Fort Ligonier Days are held every year in Ligonier PA. This year’s festival is October 12th, 13th, and 14th. The Festival has vendors, food, arts, crafts, a parade, and FamilyFun. It is a commemorates the 1758 Battle of Fort Ligonier and there are reenactments of the Battle. https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/fort-ligonier-days/
The Monster Pumpkin Festival takes over the North Shore October 20-21. The North Shore park becomes a Giant Pumpkin playground with FamilyFun activities, food, and the Great Pumpkin Paddle – a race in the Allegheny River inside giant pumpkins! https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/monster-pumpkin-festival-north-shore/
Light Up Night is a day of free FamilyFun on November 16th. Head Downtown for numerous Tree Lighting Ceremonies, four stages of musical entertainment, an arts and crafts marketplace, kids activities, food vendors and Fireworks! https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/comcast-light-up-night/
FamilyFunPittsburgh loves to head to the park in the fall, days are still warm enough for play but the oppressive heat of the summer is gone.
There are many neighborhood and community parks around Pittsburgh. Everyone has their favorite. FamilyFunPittsburgh loves to explore new parks. The Playgrounds of South Park are a big hit. The Anderson Playground in Schenley Park has several play areas for little to big kids. The Big Blue Slide at Frick Park is a classic. This in-ground slide has a wonderful, old-fashioned feel but there are plenty of modern play areas all around for the kids to enjoy. The Avonworth Community Park has a large wooden castle playground with lots of passages and tunnels for children to explore. Mingo Creek Park in Washington County has three playgrounds. The best is the new Ninja Warrior Playground with a complete ninja warrior course that you can time using an app on your cellphone. There is a hillside slide nearby. West Mifflin has a large wooden castle playground.
FamilyFunPittsburgh always takes a picnic when we head out to the playground. We spend hours playing, exploring the park, and eating.
4. Explore a new Neighborhood
Pittsburgh has many neighborhoods with their own charm and activities. Here are a few to consider:
Oakland – Oakland has a lot of FamilyFun. Sure it is home to the University of Pittsburgh and many of the UPMC Hospitals but there is much more to see. The Cathedral of Learning is a marvel of architecture both inside and out. The main floor is open to the public and fun to explore. The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History are in Oakland and open free on Thursday evenings through September. Soldiers and Sailors Hall has free exhibits too. Part of the Forbes Field Wall can be seen near the Schenley Plaza near the Carnegie Library. The Plaza has a carousel (for a fee), food vendors, and public restrooms. Kids love to stop at the “O”, an Oakland classic, for a hot dog and fries.
Shadyside is a favorite destination. There are shops, parks, plenty of places to eat, and one of the last wood streets in the world. Highlights include the shopping district on Walnut Street, the playground in Mellon Park, and the restaurants along Centre Avenue and at Bakery Square. Rosslyn Place, off Ellsworth Avenue, is a street made of wooden bricks. The homeowners take care of their unique street and usually welcome the curious but please do not park or drive onto Rosslyn. Park in a nearby lot and walk on over to check out Rosslyn Place. It is truly one of the most unique hidden treasures in Pittsburgh.
Mt. Washington is home to the most amazing view in Pittsburgh but it also has three beautiful parks and a quaint shopping district just off of Grandview Avenue. Emerald View Park, Grandview Park, and Mt. Washington Park encircle Mt. Washington with parks and greenspace. There are walking trails, an off leash area for dogs, and in the summer season, a pool and movies in the park. Of course there are stunning views of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington. For a small fee, families can ride the Monongahela Incline or the Duquesne Incline.
There are many more neighborhoods in and out of Pittsburgh worth exploring including Lawrenceville, Squirrel Hill, the North Side, Mt. Lebanon, Bloomfield, and more.
5. History and Museums
The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History offer Free Thursday Evenings at the Museums every Thursday in September. UPMC Health Plan is the sponsor for September. In addition to free entry into the Museums from 300-800PM, UPMC is offering free flu shots! https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/free-thursday-evenings-at-the-museums/
Celebrate the Treaty of Fort Pitt at Point State Park on September 29th. Watch reenactments of the negotiations and the signing of the Treaty that established an alliance between the newly born United States of America and the Native American tribes in the region. This treaty, signed on Spetember 29th 1778, was the first treaty between the new nation and a Native American tribe. The event starts at 1100AM and ends at 500PM. All of the day’s events are free. For more information, look here: https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/treaty-of-fort-pitt-240th-anniversary-commemoration/
RAD days! The Regional Asset District sponsors many free tours, shows, and open days at regional museums from September 21 – October 14. (For a complete list check here https://radworkshere.org/pages/rad-days-2018
FamilyFun RADical highlights include:
Friday September 21st – FREE tours of the David Lawrence Convention Center plus FREE parking. Tours are at 10AM, 11AM, 12PM, and 1PM. https://radworkshere.org/pages/rad-days-2018
Monday September 24th – FREE Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens 930AM -800PM.
Saturday September 29th – FREE The Andy Warhol Museum 10AM-5PM
Saturday September 29th – FREE Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History 10AM-5PM
Sunday September 30th – FREE National Aviary 10AM-5PM
Sunday September 30th – FREE Children’s Museum 10AM-5PM
6. Star Parties
See the stars with The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh. The AAAP has two Observatories in the Pittsburgh area – the Wagman Observatory and the Mingo Creek Park Observatory. The AAAP hosts monthly Star Parties at both Observatories open to the public and free of charge.
The Wagman Observatory in Deer Lake Park has a 21 inch Manka Memorial telescope and an 11 inch Brashear telescope under a retractable roof. The Craters of the Moon, the Ring Nebula, and the Hercules cluster should also be visible during the Star Parties as well as the planets of our solar system. AAAP members will be setting up their personal telescopes and they welcome members of the public to gaze through them. The Wagman Observatory has a September Star Party on the 29th and October Star Parties on October 13 and 27. The Wagman Observatory end of season Star Party Celebration is on November 10. Star Parties start just after sundown but arrive earlier as they can get crowded.For more information check here: https://3ap.org/category/starparty/wagman-observatory/ . Star Parties are held every month through November, weather permitting.
The Mingo Park Observatory in Mingo Park, Washington County, has a 24 inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope and a 10 inch D & G Refractor telescope. The Observatory also has full planetarium and classroom that is open during Star Parties. Members present full planetarium shows. The Mingo Observatory offers special safe Sun viewing starting around 530-600PM on Star Party days. This part of the Star Party extends until near sunset so if your little children can’t stay up late to see the stars, they can come on out and observe our own special star. The nighttime viewings start just after sundown but plan on arriving earlier as the Parties can get crowded. October Star Parties at Mingo Creek are October 6 and 20, weather permitting. The season wraps up on November 3rd with a special Star Party Celebration. The Mingo Creek Observatory has Star Parties every month through November. More information can be found here: https://3ap.org/category/starparty/mingo-observatory/
The AAAP holds Star Parties at local libraries and other locations. Check out their calendar here: https://3ap.org/calendar-of-events/
7. Round Hill Park and Farm
Round Hill Park and Farm is one of Allegheny County’s parks. The 1100 acre park has a playground, a spray park, seventeen picnic pavilions, a duck pond, walking trails, and a working demonstration farm. Take a picnic and spend the day at Round Hill – and best of all it is free!
Kids of all ages love the Farm at Round Hill Park. The Farm has horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, cows, and more. Every spring the sheep get sheared during a special event. The cows are milked daily and the Park Rangers give a fun, interactive demonstration. There is a demonstration garden too. Kids love to watch the ducks in the duck pond near the park entrance.
The Park also has an accessible playground and a seasonal spray park. There are walking trails, picnic groves, and plenty of green space for everyone to relax and enjoy a day in the country.
Round Hill Park and Farm is open daily starting at 800AM. There is ample parking and bathrooms near the Farm. For more information check here: https://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/round-hill/index.aspx
8. The Fort Pitt Blockhouse and Point State Park
The Block House is the oldest building in Pittsburgh. The Block House is all that is left of the original Fort Pitt. Built in 1764, the Block House was an important part of Fort Pitt. The building was built by the British as a part of the defense of the Fort during the French and Indian War. The British abandoned the Block House in 1772. It became a trading post and then a single-family home after the Revolutionary War. During the 1800’s the Block House became a multi-family tenement. In 1894 the Block House was gifted to the Fort Pitt Society of the daughters of the American Revolution who still own the Block House today. The DAR restored the Block House to its original form. Visitors can view the Block House in Point State year round for free.
The Block House is open April 1 – October 31 from 1030AM – 430PM (the Block House is open Friday through Sunday 1030AM – 430PM from November 1- March 31). Admission is free. The Block House is located in Point State Park. For information call 412-471-1764 / http://www.fortpittblockhouse.com/
Point State Park was built during the 1950’s and 1960’s as a part of the urban renewal of Pittsburgh. It is now the crown jewel of Pittsburgh. Located on the “point” at the confluence of the three rivers, Point State Park is a mixture of history and urban park.
The outlines of Fort Duquesne, established in 1754 by the French and destroyed by the French prior to its fall to a British force in 1758, is outlined by granite bricks in the grassy area of Point State Park. The outline of the British Fort Pitt is also outlined in granite bricks. The Flag Bastion and the Monongahela Bastion have been rebuilt. The rebuilt Monongahela Bastion is home to the Fort Pitt Museum. The original shoreline of the three rivers is also marked by granite bricks.
Families can explore the granite traceries of the Forts, relax and play on the Great Lawn, and walk along the riverfront but the FamilyFun favorite is the Fountain at the Point. The Fountain at the Point sprays water up to 150 feet in the air depending on weather conditions.
9. Walking Tours
What better way to spend a few hours and learn more about our hometown than on a free walking tour? There are several free tours for you to choose from both guided and self-guided.
The Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation hosts a Free Friday Walking Tour. The Tours are led by a guide from the PHLF and take place at various locations in and around Pittsburgh. Each Tour lasts an hour. Expect to be standing and walking the entire time. There is a morning Tour and a Tour at noon every Friday. The Tours in September feature Market Square in the morning and the popular Bridges and Riverfront Tour in the afternoon. The October tours are through the Penn-Liberty Cultural District in the morning and Gateway Center in the afternoon. While there is no age limit for the Tour, FamilyFunPittsburgh recommends these Tours for Tweens and Teens. Younger kids may have a hard time keeping up with the walking. For more information, check here: https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/ . To register for a Tour go here: http://phlf.org/events/category/walking-tours/
Rivers of Steel has TourAnytime Tours. These Free walking tours are self-guided. Just download a printed PDF guide from the Rivers of Steel website and then use a cell phone to call into a number to hear the recorded history of the tour site. The tours can be taken at anytime. Tours currently available are Grant Street, The Frick, Mellon Square, Sprout Public Art, and the Battle of Homestead and the Homestead Steel Works. (Look for the FamilyFunPittsburgh review of the Homestead tours coming soon!) For more information, check here: http://www.touranytime.org/
10. Spend Time Outdoors
Join local herbalist Jen Dalke for a medicinal hike in Mingo Creek County Park on Hemlock Trail. Learn natural plants and herbs that can be used for health purposes. The Hike is on September 20th from 600-730PM. There is no age limit but this event is best for tweens, teens, and adults. https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/medicinal-plant-walk-mingo-creek-park/
Hartwood Acres Hay Day and Green Fest is filled with free FamilyFun activites. Take a hay ride, make your way through a hay maze, make fall arts and crafts, kids can take a pony ride plus face painting, inflatables, puppet shows, balloon artists, magicians, and more. There are food trucks on site too. Hay Day is September 22nd from noon until 400PM. https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/hay-day-family-green-fest-hartwood-acres/
Take a Moonlight Hike in North Park on September 22nd from 630-830PM. The Hike follows trails through North Park under the light of the moon. The hike is for ages 8+ and registration is required. Go here https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/ll-bean-moonlight-hike-north-park/ for details.
Hike Through History with a Park Ranger. Join a park ranger for a hike through Harrison Hills Park based on the life and teachings of Rachel Carson. The hike is about 2 miles long and goes over moderate elevation changes so it is best for older tweens and teens. Registration is required. The hike is on September 23rd from 200-400PM. For more information look here https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/hike-through-history-rachel-carson-harrison-hills-park/
Fall Fun Day at Mingo Creek Park celebrates the fun of fall. The day is free to the public but some activities do have fees. For more information read our calendar entry here: https://familyfunpittsburgh.com/event/fall-fun-day-mingo-creek-park/
Check back for updates on more FamilyFun Free Fall outdoor events!