The month of August is upon us–beautiful days that are hot, lazy, long and bittersweet. There’s really no denying it. Summer is slowly coming to a close. I’m always happy to have August with my children, but I wish it would last forever.
In this month’s article, I have highlighted some of the regional events and attractions that will help your family get outdoors, be active and savor the last bits of summer before school starts in a few short weeks. Here’s my “Top Ten Family Adventures this August in Pittsburgh.”
Exploring the Newly Opened Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
I’m excited to share some of the biggest news in Pittsburgh this month. The Woodlands portion of the 460-acre Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is opening to the public on Friday, August 1. There are five children’s play areas that will be ripe for exploration beginning Friday, including the Bookworm Glen with its Storybook House, a Meadow Maze, a giant Bird’s Nest and a “Let’s Get to the Root of the Matter” area where children can construct habitats with huge Lincoln Logs, build fairy houses, dig in the soil and use magnifying lenses to check out bugs. In addition, the six-acre Farmstead will give visitors a peek into the life of a rural homesteader circa late 1700’s. If you plan on checking out the Garden on August 1, don’t miss the kid-friendly “Forest Stories” programming at 10:00 a.m. A surprise guest will be reading books about nature to the kids.
Being Outdoorsy at the 16th Annual Regatta at Lake Arthur
The first weekend of the month holds another extra special opportunity to get your family into the Great Outdoors. Moraine State Park hosts its annual Regatta at Lake Arthur from August 2-3. The event is considered one of the premier “eco-recreational” entertainment options in the region with kid-friendly instruction in canoeing, standup paddleboarding, dragon boating, windsurfing, fly-catching, rock-climbing and much more. Other highlights: professional sailboat races, model boat-building and a clean sandy beach to enjoy.
Vegging out at Local Sandy Beaches
Speaking of sandy beaches… I’m a real fan. And just because we live more than a few hours from the Atlantic coastline, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy one close to home. The Pittsburgh region has a few day trip spots that can help you fulfill your craving to run your fingers through the sand and take a dip in a natural body of water before summer’s done. First off, if you attend the Regatta at Lake Arthur, don’t miss the opportunity to check out the large Pleasant Valley Beach on the South Shore or the pristine, smaller Lakeview Beach on the North Shore. Raccoon Creek State Park also has a 500-foot sandy beach within easy driving distance of the city. With its concession stand, nice changing rooms and nearby camping, it’s a family favorite. Finally, Laurel Hill Lake in the Laurel Highlands region has a 1200-foot sandy beach. Added bonus: Laurel Hill State Park is also holding its famous Bluegrass Festival near the beach on August 16-17.
Taking a Meadow Wildflower Walk
During August, the fields and meadows of our region are transformed into a blanket of bright yellows and deep purples of beautiful native blossoms. If you’ve ever wandered through a wildflower reserve with your children, then you know our secret. It’s like exploring a little piece of terrestrial heaven.
There are several picturesque spots to experience wildflowers in the Pittsburgh area, including the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden mentioned above. Raccoon Creek State Park also has a 300-acre Wildflower Reserve on the property. With 700+ species of flowering plants and several organized nature walks, it’s an excellent option. Jennings Environmental Education Center, located north of the city, is the home of an unusual relict prairie eco-system, giving visitors a unique look into Western PA’s past of widespread prairie land. The Center’s gorgeous collection of Blazing Star wildflowers are nationally known and will be blooming during the first weekend of August. A kid-friendly guided tour will be held at 2 p.m. on August 3.
If you’d rather stay closer to home, there are also some local parks that have great summer wildflowers including Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, Latodami Nature Center in North Park and the Outdoor Classroom in Boyce Mayview Park.
Celebrating Cycling at BikeFest 2014
Bike Pittsburgh is holding its annual BikeFest from August 8-24. This celebration of all-things-cycling includes several family events. On August 10, there will be a Try-A-Bike Jamboree, where adults and kids can test-drive a wide selection of bikes and trikes on the flat, paved surface of the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Washington Boulevard. On August 10, there will also be a Bike-to-the-Ballgame event, where families can ride together to PNC Park for a baseball game. Finally, BikeFest comes to a close on August 24 with the PedalPGH Family Ride, an organized cycling adventure along the city’s Waterfront Trails. The event starts and ends at the REI Finish Line Festival with live entertainment, food trucks and a bicycling expo.
Even if you don’t make it to the BikeFest events this month, I would still highly suggest checking out the unique vantage point of the city from its bike trails. Don’t have your own bicycles? You can rent some from Golden Triangle Bike Rental. Need route ideas? Check out these maps from Bike Pittsburgh. Feeling more adventurous? Head down the Great Allegheny Passage toward Washington DC. We’re going to try it out this month!
Getting Cultured at McKeesport’s International Village and Other Ethnic Celebrations
August in Pittsburgh also offers several events to connect families with the rich cultural traditions that are woven into our region’s history. McKeesport’s International Village, running from August 12-14, is one of Pittsburgh’s largest and oldest ethnic festivals. This year’s Village celebrates many international cultures, including Asian, Eastern and Western European, Hispanic and African ones. Event-goers are invited to try ethnic foods, enjoy live global music and dance performances and participate in short educational sessions about different cultures.
Late August also features Little Italy Days in Bloomfield and the Ypapanti Greek Food Festival in East Pittsburgh. For more information on ethnic festivals in Pittsburgh, please check out our recent “7 not to miss international events in Pittsburgh this summer.”
Spending Sunday at a Kids Day at PNC Park
There’s no doubt that summertime is synonymous with baseball, especially here in Pittsburgh. PNC Park has consistently been called the country’s most beautiful ballpark and I’m not surprised. It has an absolutely killer view of our magnificent skyline.
During Sunday afternoon home games, PNC Park offers all of its usual perks: home runs, hot dogs, beer, rabid fans, Pierogi races and other cultural treasures. What’s different about these games? They’re also known as Kids Days, where the Pirates invite mini-Buccos to experience the ballpark from a family-centric point of view. Before the game, Federal Street is transformed into a carnival-like environment filled with free fun. Giant inflatables, face-painting, crafts and other kiddie activities are bound to delight little ticket-holders (and non ticket-holders, too). After the game, children are invited to come down to the field and run the bases like a pro. In August, Kids Days will be on the 10th and the 31st.
Going Medieval at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival
The last two weekends of the month mark the beginning of yet another favorite regional tradition: the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival. This event transforms a rural outdoor space in Somerset County into a 16th-Century Medieval Wonderland complete with costumed nobles, lively jousts, wandering minstrels and giant turkey legs.
Labor Day Weekend (August 30-September 1) is known as Children’s Weekend at the Festival, where your little lords and ladies are cordially invited to a “Prince, Princess and Pirate Party.” Children get free admission during these days and they are encouraged to join in with the general merry-making at Court by dressing up in costume, visiting with the nobles and completing a “Royal Quest.”
Embracing Adventure at Venture Outdoors Family Festival
On the last Saturday before school starts, Venture Outdoors holds its annual Family Outdoors Festival. Much like the Regatta earlier in the month, this free event is a great way to enjoy outdoor recreational activities before your kids get back into the classroom. Held in Allegheny Commons West Park on the North Side, this event is a scaled-down, more family-friendly version of the Venture Outdoors Festival earlier in the summer. For older children, there will be a climbing wall, biking, hiking and geocaching. For the younger kids, there will be an organized Tyke Hike and crafts. Finally, children of all ages are invited to participate in a kayaking adventure on Lake Elizabeth. Even the youngest toddlers can ride in a tandem kayak with two adults!
Getting Ready for Back to School!
Finally, the last week of the month brings what is perhaps the greatest adventure of all: the return to school for many Pittsburgh children. This milestone is particularly momentous for children entering kindergarten this year. The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh helps families with this transition at their annual “Kindergarten…Here I Come!” event, held this year on August 9 from 9-1. Each soon-to-be kindergartener plus one parent gets free admission to the Museum on this day. Kids can climb aboard a school bus, meet a crossing guard and visit with Mr. McFeely. Plus, parents can ease some of their own anxieties by chatting with child development experts. If you think your entering kindergardener needs more intensive school-readiness activities, please check out the Northland Public Library‘s free three-day Kindergarten Boot Camp.
Even if your child is not entering kindergarten, there are bound to be jitters before the first day of school. To help, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, A+ Schools and the Carnegie Library branches will be holding Back to School events throughout the month, many with generous school supply giveaways. Finally, if your child is entering high school this year, check out the PPS’s Prep 9 program, running from August 11-15.
I hope this article has given you some ideas for your family’s adventures over the next month. Enjoy August and good luck with the return to school!