Photo ccourtesy of Slide the City

June kicks off the dreamy days of summer when the city is filled to the brim with adventure-worthy things to do and places to explore. This month, in addition to highlighting some amazing singular events, we created this Top Family Adventures as a guide you can refer to again and again as you plan your summer.

Want some ideas for exploring the city with fresh eyes like a tourist would? We have them. Want some ideas for finding outdoor music, movies, frozen treats, strawberry festivals and creative ways to get wet? Everywhere you turn this month, there’s something exciting going on. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Pittsburgh Glass Center at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Experience free music and art at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival

The Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival is a Pittsburgh treasure, exemplifying the city’s commitment to celebrating both the visual and performing arts. Best part? It’s all free! From June 5-14, the festival will feature events and activities in three downtown locations: Point State Park, the Cultural District and Gateway Center. It’s helpful to download a daily schedule of events and a festival map since there’s so much going on.

Start with the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone where local art and outreach organizations will set up hands-on activities and demonstrations. This year, to honor the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activities will help educate visitors about deafness and sign language, including a performance by student group Signshine from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Other Creativity Zone highlights: The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh will lead a huge, collaborative art mural project, the Pittsburgh Glass Center will do glassworking demos and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse will help families make art out of materials like old CDs, bottlecaps and fabric scraps.

Other cool events for families include: a Hip Hop Yoga class, a breakdancing exhibition by Hidden Characters and The Get Down Gang, a 3D printing demo at the CREATE Festival (an art/tech festival that’s part of the main festival), the Miniature Marina, where kids can set wooden sailboats adrift on a transformed water fountain in One Gateway Center, and, if your kids love drums, the midday show by Caribbean Vibes Steelband.

Photo credit: The Snowman Portersville
Unique ways to beat the summer heat. Photo courtesy of The Snowman Portersville

Beat the summer heat with delicious frozen treats

Celebrating the beginning of summer with a cold, sweet treat is a fun way to welcome the season. (Each year on the summer solstice, my kids and I eat our dessert first.) If ice cream is your frozen treat of choice, look through our listing of some of the best ice cream spots around the city.

If you prefer your summer treats with a side of Pittsburgh tradition, then a flavored icy ball from Gus and Yia Yia is your best bet. At this small treat stand on West Ohio Street by the tennis courts in the city’s Northside neighborhood, Gus Kalaris and his wife Stella (known best by her Greek nickname of Yia Yia) have been offering up hand-shaved icy balls with a wide choice of flavors to generations of Pittsburghers and visitors. Gus has owned the stand since he was a young 18-year-old in 1951. This iconic Pittsburgh spot was featured in Rick Sebak’s North Side Story, and, back in 2012, the Pittsburgh City Council even proclaimed April 25 “Gus and Yia Yia Day.” It’s totally worth the trip.

Speaking of trips, if your family is game for a little summer car ride up I-79 North, then you can experience one of the area’s newest and most whimsical options for frozen treats. The Snowman in Portersville, a shaved ice stand in the shape of a giant, smiling snowman, is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh. Try the Yeti which is a mix of flavored shaved ice and ice cream topped with whipped cream. The whole family can fit on the swing that overlooks the horse pasture. And when you’re done with your treat, spend an afternoon at McConnells Mill State Park or Moraine State Park just a short drive away.

Photo credit: Marc Soracco
Crafting at the Summer Reading Extravaganza. Photo by Marc Soracco

Celebrate literacy at the 15th Annual Summer Reading Extravaganza

Even though most schools wrap up in June, studies show that it’s smart to keep kids reading throughout the summer. On June 7, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh kicks off its summer reading programs in a big way with the 15th Annual Summer Reading Extravaganza.

This event offers an impressive slate of activities for kids of all ages, with more than 80 local organizations helping to make the day special. Families will be able to get up close and personal with animals from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, personalize Eat’n Park Smiley cookies, play cornhole with the Pittsburgh Pirates, join in a kids’ yoga class, play with Finch Robots and other educational tech gadgets, and meet a real ballerina from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

In the EQT Performance Tent, families can explore the performing arts with shows by Pittsburgh Puppet Works, Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Timbeleza (a lively Samba band), a performance of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh and the coolest, “geeky” dance show you’ve ever seen by GeeksDanz. Inside the library there will be performances by artists in WYEP’s teen-led Reimagine Media series and, at the music tent outside, kids can engage in even more fun music activities.

Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without some reading and there will be story times throughout the day, including a bilingual one in the Language Tent.  And don’t forget to support the library by checking out its annual book sale and sample items from the food trucks.

Grandview Park in Mt. Washington. Photo credit: Citiparks
Grandview Park in Mt. Washington. Photo courtesy of Citiparks

Enjoy movies outside under the stars

Now that June is here and the nights are warmer, we can say hello to the fun summer tradition of watching movies outside. The Dollar Bank Cinema in the Park series begins on June 7 and it’s a great way to visit some Pittsburgh neighborhoods while taking in free movies with your family. The shows generally start at dusk, usually around 9 p.m., and are shown on varying nights in several of the city’s parks. Just bring a blanket or lawn chairs and any snacks you might want (but, FYI, no alcohol.)

This summer the series offers a mix of older movies, like Wizard of Oz and The Princess and the Frog, and newer movies like Big Hero 6 and The Lego Movie. Bonus? Before some of the shows, there are special events like music performances and line dancing. New this year to Cinema in the Park is a diversity series called Spark! As part of Mayor Bill Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh Initiative, the movies in this series showcase a variety of cultural stories and the hope is that they will “spark” a dialogue with Pittsburghers from all backgrounds. There are six movies in the series, including Disney’s Million Dollar Arm, Selma and The Refugees of Shangri-La. Click here for a listing of parks, movie dates and exactly what movies will be shown throughout the summer. Get weather updates and more via the new Citiparks Events account on Twitter: @citiparksevents.

Did you know that there are several drive-ins around the Pittsburgh area? My family tries to catch a movie or two every summer and it’s easy on the wallet even when you add in snacks from the concession stand. We have enjoyed Dependable Drive-In which is not far from the airport in Moon Township. Twin Hi-Way Drive-In is 20 minutes from town in Robinson Township. The following options are all approximately one hour from downtown: Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Evergreen Drive-In in Mount Pleasant, Comet Drive-In in Connellsville and Brownsville Drive-In in Grindstone.

A Pittsburgh tradition: Icy balls from Gus and Yia Yia on the Northside. Photo credit: Sara Beck Sweeney
A Pittsburgh tradition: Icy balls from Gus and Yia Yia on the Northside. Photo by Sara Beck Sweeney

Stay cool by playing in water

Pittsburgh offers several fun ways to get wet beyond good old-fashioned pools. First up is a wild, first-time-ever Pittsburgh event: Slide the City on June 6 and 7. This event in South Park is an all-ages water party featuring a 1,000-foot, padded slip-and-slide. Check out the website for more details about cost and what you need to do to participate.

Try one of the city’s six spray parks, including the newest addition at Burgwin Playground in Hazelwood. They open daily on June 9.  Spray parks are great for all ages and the variety of water features, like tipping buckets, water tunnels and squirting fountains, is a plus. There are two county spray parks outside of the city in Round Hill Park and Deer Lakes Park which open on June 6.

For a big water park, with slides and different kinds of pools and features, try Sandcastle, which opens with daily hours on June 6. For a smaller version, try Cranberry Water Park. We’ve enjoyed the spray pad, big sandbox, huge pool and concession stands. There’s also a small playground right outside the facility.

For a unique misting water feature, visit the Cloud Arbor in Buhl Community Park outside of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. And if the sun gets too hot, you are guaranteed to get wet inside the museum’s Waterplay exhibit.

Strawberry Picking Photo credit: Soergel Orchards
Pick-Your-Own Strawberries. Photo courtesy of Soergel Orchards

Pick strawberries at the annual Strawberry Festival at Soergel Orchards

Eating a freshly-picked strawberry is a hallmark of summer in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, June 13 from 11-5 p.m., the family-owned Soergel Orchards, located 20 minutes north of the city in Wexford, will hold its annual Strawberry Festival. While you can purchase fresh strawberries in the market, the experience of riding a tractor up to the fields with your ready-to-be-filled container and then picking your very own berries off the vines is a special summer adventure. Cost is variable depending on the crop but it will be determined by weight.

Other highlights include the sale of a variety of strawberry-themed desserts, spring crafts, a butterfly house, two bouncy houses, fun games, a kids’ train for smaller children, tractor rides through the fields, pony rides and a DJ. Food from the outdoor grill will be available for purchase.

Can’t get enough strawberry fun? Try the 26th Annual Strawberry Festival at Trax Farms in Finleyville which is about 12 miles south of the city. On both June 13 and 14 from 10-4 p.m., Trax Farms will celebrate in much the same way as Soergel Orchards, which is to say in style with loads of activities, music and food. Also check in with Triple B Farms because they hold a strawberry festival, too, but the date hasn’t been set yet.

Here are three other popular farms for berry-picking in June: Reilly’s Summer Seat Farm, Simmons Farm and Paskorz Berry Farm.

Photo credit: Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Exploring the Very Eric Carle exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Exploring the Very Eric Carle exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Explore the Eric Carle exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

If you have a child, you’ve likely read Eric Carle’s famous book, Very Hungry Caterpillar.  It’s a delightful book with the most beautiful illustrations. On June 13, this book and four other Eric Carle books will come alive at the opening of the Very Eric Carle: A Very Hungry, Quiet, Lonely, Clumsy, Busy Exhibit. Created by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in partnership with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, this greatly anticipated interactive exhibit will allow children to explore Carle’s books from the point of view of the artist, the reader and the characters within the books.

Taking inspiration from the natural world inside Carle’s books, kids can climb like a caterpillar through a transformation tunnel, weave a web like a spider, compose a night symphony like a cricket and play with a firefly through an interactive video. There will be plenty of pieces to touch and manipulate as well as opportunities to create Eric Carle-inspired artwork of one’s own.

Opening day festivities will include special local celebrity guest readings of Carle’s books and photo opportunities with a costumed caterpillar. The exhibit will run through September 20.

Photo credit: Venture Outdoors
Family Kayaking. Photo courtesy of Venture Outdoors

Celebrate Father’s Day with family kayaking and an ice cream social

June is a perfect month to celebrate outside with the special dads in our lives. On June 14, join Venture Outdoors for its Family Paddle and Ice Cream Social at the North Park Boathouse. Enjoy an easy kayaking adventure on North Park Lake along with other families. The lake is calm and the sight of fish popping out of the water or a Blue Heron on the bank adds to the peacefulness of the event.

Don’t worry if you’ve never kayaked, there’s no experience required. It’s all-ages friendly, too, because even the smallest toddlers can ride in a tandem kayak with two adults. Most often, though, kids under 12 can share a kayak with one adult while those older can paddle solo. Afterward, all families gather at the boathouse picnic tables for an ice cream social where kids and adults alike get to build their own sundae with their choice of toppings.

Register soon to reserve a spot in the group! Not into kayaking? Take Dad to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium or the Frick Art & Historical Center, where he’ll get free admission.

Photo credit: Ray Gerard
Weather Permitting at Shadyside Nursery. Photo by Ray Gerard

Have a picnic at outdoor music festivals and concerts

June marks the beginning of a plethora of outdoor music options that are casual and family-friendly, allowing both kids and parents to relax and enjoy a good time. Attending even one or two of these events can be a fun adventure because not only is your family exploring different kinds of music (jazz, bluegrass, rock, classical) but different parts of the city in the process.

I’ve already highlighted the Three Rivers Arts Festival in this list but it’s worth repeating: 10 days of free music. Also in June, on every Sunday evening from 5 to 9 p.m. except June 7, the Weather Permitting Concert Series at Shadyside Nursery finishes up the weekend on a high note. This series makes it fun for even the youngest crowd with hula hoops, bubble wands, water guns, a sandbox, fun food trucks and more.

Is classical music more your family’s style? Then the free Bach, Beethoven and Brunch Classical Music Series in Mellon Park is the event for you. Click here for details on three more free Citiparks concert series. The Allegheny County Summer Concert Series gets started this month, too, with free shows in two beautiful suburban settings: Hartwood Acres Park and South Park Amphitheater. The Sunday Afternoon Music Series at the main Carnegie Library in Oakland takes place each month during the summer and for a more urban outdoor music experience, try the Pittsburgh International Jazzlive Festival downtown from June 19-21.

Shadyside Academy Junior School in Point Breeze will host a free concert series called Notes from the Playground starting on June 25. The WYEP Summer Music Festival closes out this month of outdoor music with a free event on June 27 in Schenley Plaza featuring live music, an I Made It Market and a dedicated children’s area offering activities and crafts.

Children's activities at the Community Garden Party. Photo credit: Mattress Factory
Children’s activities at the Community Garden Party. Photo courtesy of the Mattress Factory
Children’s activities at the Community Garden Party. Photo courtesy of the Mattress Factory

Be a tourist in your own city: rediscover places that make Pittsburgh worth visiting

It’s easy to take for granted how fortunate we are to have so many creative and engaging ways to spend our time. This month, vow to look at Pittsburgh with fresh eyes and discover the city anew with your family.

During the week of June 13, learn about animals in a fun and interactive way at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Eat’n Park Family Week. Learn about dinosaurs on June 20 at the Super Science Series: Jurassic Days at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. On June 21, the Mattress Factory Community Garden Party has all-day music, children’s activities, magicians, mimes and miniature gardens. Also on June 21, you can name your own admission price at the Carnegie Science Center if you bring a snowball to launch into the Ohio River on its annual Snowball Day.

Rediscover play by running through sprinklers, lounging in kiddie pools and checking out all the exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Kickoff to Summer Free Day on June 28. Check out the new Condor Court exhibit at the National Aviary this month, take time to smell the flowers at Phipps Conservatory’s Summer Flower Show and don’t miss the innovative OpenStreetsPGH event on June 28.

We hope you have a wonderful June and a fun start to your summer in Pittsburgh! We’ll see you back here in July for more family-friendly summer adventures.

Looking for adult events? Here’s our Top 10 Pittsburgh Events Not To Miss In June.

Looking for music? Check this out: Sound Picks: 10 can’t-miss Pittsburgh concerts in June.

Mandy moved to Pittsburgh for grad school and fell in love with the city. She is contributing editor of Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh. Her freelance work has appeared in a variety of publications including Parents Magazine and Blue Ridge Country. She blogs about Pittsburgh family fun at