We barely have time to eat our Halloween candy before Thanksgiving is upon us and holiday music starts playing on the radio. There’s still plenty of fall left this month but we’re rolling into the holidays full steam ahead so it’s time to jump on the train and enjoy the ride. In November’s guide to Top Family Adventures you’ll find a worldly circus, pumpkin-smashing, model trains, volunteer opportunities, Polish food and lots more.

Cossack Riders at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Photo courtesy Feld Entertainment.
Cossack Riders at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Photo courtesy Feld Entertainment.

Run away to the circus!

Come one, come all! The circus offers something for everyone, from captivating stunts and trapeze acts to silly clowns and majestic wild animals. From November 4th through 8th, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will present its new show, LEGENDS, at the Consol Energy Center.

Audiences can expect a showcase of international acts as performers unite on a double-wide flying trapeze and the National Acrobatic Troupe from Beijing dazzles with pole climbing, hoop diving and juggling. Motorcycle riders from Paraguay perform stunts in a 16-foot, steel mesh globe and Cossack Riders perform intricate maneuvers on horseback.

But if you go for the animals, you won’t be disappointed. There will be an act featuring lions and tigers, rescue dogs and an array of animals from almost every continent (think elephants from Asia, kangaroos from Australia).

This year all ticketholders will be invited down to the arena floor for an All Access Pre-show starting an hour before the main event. Meet performers, get autographs, take photos, have a dance party and play with the clowns. Get more info about VIP experiences and circus tickets.

TetrisPlus at the EQT Bridge Theater Series. Photo courtesy Arch 8 and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
TetrisPlus at the EQT Bridge Theater Series. Photo courtesy Arch 8 and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Take in a children’s theater show at Tales and Treats or the new Bridge Theater Series

Tales and Treats, part of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater. Photo courtesy PMT.
Tales and Treats, part of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater. Photo courtesy PMT.

Watching Charlie Brown holiday shows on TV is a tradition for many families this time of year. Now, thanks to the Tales and Treats series through Pittsburgh Musical Theater, families can enjoy Charlie Brown on stage, too. The Tales and Treats series is geared toward children ages four to 10. It is completely student run, from the actors and directors to the set designers and choreographers.

The Charlie Brown & Snoopy show will bring the characters to life on November 7th, 14th and 21st. All performances take place from 12 to 1 p.m. and ticket prices are only $3 for children and free for adults. Kids can look forward to a “meet and greet” with the cast after the show.

Looking for more theater options? Try the new EQT Bridge Theater Series which opens this month on November 5th with Alice in Wonderland. All performances in this series are designed for older children ages seven to 15. Tickets are $10.50 in advance and $12 at the door.

Smash pumpkins at the Carnegie Science Center

Right around the time your jack-o-lanterns from Halloween start to rot, in swoops the Carnegie Science Center with a fun, educational way to dispose of them. On November 7th, head to the roof of the Science Center for the Great Pumpkin Smash. You can send your pumpkins sailing over the edge to the ground (and watch a video of the smash, too). Sounds fun, right? It’s also a perfect opportunity to learn about the physics of why some pumpkins will splatter and some may even bounce.

Great Pumpkin Smash. Photo courtesy Carnegie Science Center.
Great Pumpkin Smash. Photo courtesy Carnegie Science Center.

After smashing your pumpkin, head over to watch how liquid nitrogen can explode pumpkins and then head inside to the BodyStage where you’ll get to taste some pumpkin ice cream after the “Science in a Scoop” presentation. Activities are free with admission and no registration is required.

Appreciate Pittsburgh’s ethnic heritage at PolishFest 2015

One of the year’s best cultural festivals is PolishFest at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Polish and Lithuanian Nationality Rooms and activities are planned for the whole family.

This free event on Sunday, November 8th will feature live folk dancing, cooking and folk art demonstrations, a “make-n-take” folkcrafts area for children, cultural displays, a Polish gift market, polka music, Polish egg decorating and plenty of ethnic food items. Proceeds from the event support the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Room Scholarship Fund.

For more ways to explore ethnic culture in Pittsburgh this month, visit the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh for these events: Voyage to Vietnam exhibit, Mariachi Fiesta performance and Dia de los Muertos crafting in the Studio.

Holiday Show at the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum. Photo courtesy WPMRM.
Holiday Show at the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum. Photo courtesy WPMRM.

Trains, trains and more trains!

If you have model train fans in your family, November is the BEST month ever. On November 14th, the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum, one of the oldest in the nation, opens for the holiday season. Kids will enjoy the interactive train displays on the lower level (including Thomas the Train sets), where they can push buttons and make the trains go. There are also wooden train tables perfect for even the youngest fans.

But the most amazing aspect of the museum is the “A Railroad Journey in Miniature” display upstairs that recreates Pittsburgh as it would’ve been around 1952 or 1953. After a two-year project to improve display lighting, the museum will now feature a day-to-night simulation where the landscape goes from bright daylight through sunset to full moonlight over a period of about 45 minutes to an hour. The popular Friday night Steam at Twilight event will return as well as an updated scavenger hunt.

Can’t get enough of trains? Try these options happening in November: Greensberg’s Great Train and Toy Show at the Monroeville Convention Center, PPG Place Wintergarden train display, Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad and Village and the Phipps Garden Train.

Light Up Night festivities. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
Light Up Night festivities. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Head downtown to welcome the holiday season at the 55th Annual Light Up Night

Light Up Night is truly a magical night in the city and a holiday tradition for many families. One reason why? All the fun activities are free. More details for this year’s event will be announced on November 5th, (stay tuned for an update) but we know that all the family favorites are set to return.

The event will take place on November 20th and highlights include a Holly Trolley, horse-drawn carriage rides, a Kidsplay area for children of all ages which includes arts and crafts, theater games, short films and more. Plus, this night marks the opening of the expanded ice skating rink at PPG Place and the Spirits of Giving Around the World Santa display (along with model trains, gingerbread houses and free concerts). Don’t forget the reindeer petting zoo, Peoples Gas Holiday Market, fireworks and Santa. It’s definitely a not-to-miss, try-at-least-once kind of event.

For even more holiday season kick-offs around the city in November, try these small-town events: Beaver Light Up Festival, Winter Wonderland at West End/Elliott Overlook, Oakmont’s Hometown Christmas, Pine Holiday Dazzle and the Harmony German Christmas Market.

Family Day arts and crafts. Photo courtesy The Mattress Factory.
Family Day arts and crafts. Photo courtesy The Mattress Factory.

Explore contemporary art at the Mattress Factory’s Family Day on November 27th

Don’t want to go shopping on Black Friday this year? Spend the day after Thanksgiving at the Mattress Factory’s Family Day instead. Kids can go on an interactive scavenger hunt through three buildings of site-specific works that often fill up and transform entire rooms.

Other creative activities include playing with light in the Mini-Factory, weaving a collaborative string installation and making a patterned sphere. Get your face painted and enjoy a treat from the hot cocoa bar, too. All activities are free with admission. Check out the museum’s Mini-Factory educational program on November 14th if you have children ages three to five who’d like to learn about art concepts through storytime and collaborative, hands-on projects.

Pittsburgh mascots. Photo courtesy WPXI Holiday Parade.
Pittsburgh mascots. Photo courtesy WPXI Holiday Parade.

Celebrate being Pittsburgh Proud at the WPXI Holiday Parade

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s holiday parade tradition. On Saturday, November 28th from 9 to 11 a.m., the WPXI Holiday Parade will wind its way through the city with a “Pittsburgh Proud” theme (wear your black and gold). Presented by Pittsburgh Public Schools, the parade will celebrate all the people, places and things that make Pittsburgh special.

In addition to parade essentials like marching bands, balloons, floats and dance teams, the 2015 parade will feature appearances by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, and World Cup soccer champ Meghan Klingenberg. Fans of The Voice will enjoy hearing finalist Chris Jamison sing to the crowd. The World Famous Harlem Globetrotters will perform cool tricks along the parade route and all the mascots from Pittsburgh’s sports teams will be weaving through the crowds. Don’t forget to wave to Santa Claus!

Can’t attend in person? No worries, you can watch it live on WPXI.

Volunteers at Pittsburgh Cares, Toys for Tots event. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Cares.
Volunteers at Pittsburgh Cares, Toys for Tots event. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Cares.

Family Volunteering with Pittsburgh Cares and Toys for Tots

Looking for ways to volunteer in the community with young children? Pittsburgh Cares is making it easy to get involved this year through its Family Volunteer Evenings at the Toys for Tots Warehouse. While these events aren’t until December 2nd and December 4th, registration is required and it will fill up.

Each volunteer evening is set aside for families, with attendance capped at 25 per night. Children five and older are welcome to attend and they will be given an age-appropriate explanation of the effect of poverty on families in the region. The football field-sized warehouse will contain 70,000 donated toys and each family will “shop” (based on age/size/gender info given on an index card) to fulfill wishes for local children. “The parents can certainly help but their children are really the ‘subject matter experts’ for shopping for other kids. It is empowering for children to feel like they can help and know what toys to select for the kids,” says Deb Hopkins, executive director of Pittsburgh Cares. Register for a Family Volunteer evening and also check out this Kidsburgh story for more family-volunteering ideas.

There’s more. Here are some other family-friendly events happening in November that are worth checking out:

Poinsettias and Pointe Shoes

Cocoa and Cookie Adventures with Venture Outdoors

Kid City Dance Party at the Warhol Museum

American Girl Fashion Show

PNC YMCA Turkey Trot

Youth Make: Storytelling

Looking for adult events? Check out our 11 Pittsburgh events not to miss in November feature.

Looking for live music? Check out our Sound Picks: 10 can’t-miss Pittsburgh concerts in November feature.

Mandy Yokim

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 mandyyokim.com.