The week before I returned to work from maternity leave, I got some news I didn’t quite know how to take. My husband had been offered a fantastic job.

In Pittsburgh.

That would mean leaving Washington, D.C. and a great job that I enjoyed as a TV news producer to become, at least for a little bit, a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t know anyone in Pittsburgh. But I did know lots of people from Pittsburgh. Everyone who I called to ask—is this crazy?!—had the same resounding answer: “We’re so jealous. Pittsburgh is the best place to raise a family.”

With a two-year-old and an infant, that’s what we needed to hear. The move made sense for us. So, instead of spending the past couple months covering the circus that is our field of presidential candidates, I have been navigating our new city.

I immediately had tons of important mom questions like: 1) Why is there no wine aisle in the grocery store? 2) Why does a Cold War-era/apocalyptic air raid siren keep blasting through my town in the middle of nap time? 3) Where can high-energy toddlers go to burn off their pent-up energy when it’s 10 degrees outside? The first two questions still have not been answered to my satisfaction, but that’s a conversation for another day. Luckily, when it comes to my third inquiry, Pittsburgh really has it together.

The resounding chorus when we asked where to take our kids was to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, which we did. We signed up for a membership before we left. This place is a wonder for all ages, and really does allow kids a multi-sensory experience filled with everything from art, to climbing, to water play, that is sure to lead to a three-hour nap.

TapeScape at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of the museum.

TapeScape at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of the museum.

While signing up for our Children’s Museum membership, we made the critical error of not, for $75 more per year, adding on the National Aviary membership. Two visits for a family of three more than covers that cost, and the immersive setup allowing visitors to actually enter many of the birds’ habitats was thrilling for my daughter. I’m not sure what stoked her toddler excitement more—trying to feed the birds, or watching to see what (or who) they pooped on next. I still haven’t figured out what baby sloths have to do with birds, but we were repeatedly drawn back to the observation window to watch the adorably lazy new baby sloth take his afternoon nap. My only beef with the Aviary staff—the placement of the gift shop right by the entrance doors. My husband caved to my daughter’s pleading, and we adopted a stuffed penguin.

Our go-to tourist destinations have become the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines.  They combine heights and transportation—two things my plane and train-crazed daughter loves, but they’re cheap and don’t take a huge time commitment, so they fit in perfectly for the attention span of a toddler.  

We have taken every family member who has come to visit us for an Incline ride; the sweeping views at the top really are breathtaking for all ages. Tip:  Don’t use the Duquesne Incline on a Sunday expecting to work lunch into your family outing.  We promised my daughter lunch at the top of the hill, but the only  restaurant open on Sundays does not allow kiddos in the door.  On the other hand, the Mon is surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops at the top of the hill, and the vast array of restaurants that is Station Square at the bottom. 

Activities draw big crowds at the Carnegie Library. Image courtesy of Carnegie Library.

Activities draw big crowds at the Carnegie Library. Image courtesy of Carnegie Library.

Libraries: These places really are wondrous (and free!). Story hours, music, doll houses, train tables, and puppet stages keep the little ones engaged for hours.

The Toy Lending Library: What a fantastic concept! While I don’t think I’ll be borrowing any toys to further crowd my house, this proved to be the perfect rainy day activity. They even sell nutritious snacks on the honor system, which is great because every kid loves food that his parent didn’t pack.

Jump Zone: we discovered this gem in Allison Park on a particularly cold and dreary day. It’s a series of bounce houses, large inflatable slides and obstacle courses where kids can run and jump to their heart’s delight. There is a section for toddlers two and under, but this place would probably be best enjoyed by those 2.5 and older. My two-and-a half-year-old loved every minute of jumping, throwing herself down, and climbing up the ladders and sliding down: “I went so fast mom!” I am pretty sure it was the best workout she has ever had.

My family is just beginning our adventures in this city and we are thrilled for the new frontier of hiking paths, playgrounds, picnic areas, and soccer fields that is springtime. Suggestions welcome!

Looking for more family events? Read our 8 great family adventures in Pittsburgh in April feature.