We’re lucky to have so many great museums in Pittsburgh. When it comes to finding things to do in Pittsburgh with family, there’s nothing that captures Pittsburgh better than the H.J. Heinz History Center. It’s a great museum for people of any age, with detailed information about Pittsburgh’s present and future as well as interactive features throughout. I’m a firm believer that kids are never too young to learn about history and the world around them. If you’re visiting the Heinz History Center with kids, the museum does such a great job at teaching history in a way that actually makes it fun for them.
Keep reading for our favorite things to do when visiting the Heinz History Center Center with children of any age.
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Enter Into a Lobby Filled with Antique Automobiles
The History Center is located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District neighborhood with ample parking available in the nearby lots. From the minute we entered the building, we were greeted in the lobby with several antique cars, including a firetruck, one of the original Pittsburgh trolleys and an old Heinz delivery truck. There’s a lot of open space for the kiddos to walk around and explore here, and it was the perfect start to the museum for my son who’s obsessed with both trucks and the color red. Note: The lobby also holds a Cafe, Gift Shop and Kidsburgh play area.
Play Like the Pros at the Western PA Sports Museum
Did you know that the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum is actually part of the Heinz History Center? This huge section of the museum spans over 2 floors and it’s filled with sports paraphernalia throughout. Whether you’re looking to relive the glory days of Pittsburgh sports or you’re visiting with kids who want hands-on fun, it’s a great exhibit that shouldn’t be missed. Here are some fun things to look out for if you’re visiting the Heinz History Center with kids:
- Race the speedboat found on the first floor
- Practice throwing the football to the Steelers football cutouts
- Relive the keystone rivalry in a foosball style hockey game between the Penguins and Flyers
- Play the bean bag toss game to see how many hockey pucks you can get in the net
- Learn about the five food groups with play food and shopping baskets
- Look for the coloring stations set up throughout
Explore Pittsburgh’s Major Contributions to History
Another popular exhibit on the second floor is Pittsburgh’s tradition of innovation exhibit. It’s focus is teaching visitors about Pittsburgh’s innovative contributions to world history. My son loves the displays that capture Pittsburgh’s early days. It includes things like a Civil War era dog, a life-size horse and a little wooden house made just their size. The floor is also a wealth of knowledge of Pittsburgh’s contributions to music and science, with well known icons like Andrew Carnegie and George Westinghouse.
Learn Through Play at the Discovery Place
The 3rd floor houses the new Discovery Place. This fun, hands-on area is geared toward the younger history buffs and science fanatics. My son loved entering the area through a pint-sized bridge, similar to the yellow bridges that Pittsburgh is known for. The first section feels like a gigantic living room, with a huge TV with clips from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Daniel Tiger, both of which have Pittsburgh roots. There are several other exhibits that encourage kids to build and create, while their parents can explain the connection to Pittsburgh’s history.
The second section of Discovery Place has a play area called the Engineering Playground. It has the biggest blue foam blocks I’ve ever seen. Kids can build anything from bridges to towers in a soft play space that’s great for all ages. There are several other science focused stations as well. They include a wind tunnel, interactive light up displays and colored test tubes. For the older kids, there are specific tasks outlined at each station to encourage them to think creatively.
Get Your Ketchup Fix at the Heinz Ketchup Exhibit
The Heinz exhibit is one of the highlights on the 4th floor. It does an awesome job at capturing the history of the H.J. Heinz Company, along with the Heinz family that’s the namesake for the History Center. Once you make your way up the stairs, there’s a huge bottle of Heinz ketchup comprised of tons of regular sized ketchup bottles. This was a favorite of my son’s on our initial visit, and he couldn’t wait to see it when we returned. (I’m pretty sure he thinks Heinz ketchup is a food group. For now I’m totally ok with it if it means he’ll eat more foods as long as they have ketchup.)
The Heinz table with ketchup bottle seats is definitely a favorite if you’re visiting the Heinz History Center with toddlers. From there, we explored some of the artifacts while learning about the history of Heinz along the way. Our favorite part was learning about the global reach of Heinz and how it got started. My son in particular loves the Heinz 57 and the map of the world.
Stroll Through Mister Roger’s Neighborhood
The other major draw to the 4th floor is the Special Collections Gallery. It now includes the Mister Roger’s exhibit at the Heinz History Center with original set pieces from the show. Like many people in my generation, I watched Mister Roger’s growing up. It was awesome to see the real Great Oak Tree, Mister Roger’s entryway and King Friday’s Castle. The exhibit also holds a few of the original puppets from the show.
Be sure to also stop for a break on the rocking chairs throughout the museum for great views of Pittsburgh.
Check out the Smithsonian Special Exhibits
As a Smithsonian affiliate, the Heinz History Center has special exhibits on display throughout the year. Some of which can be great for kids. We were lucky enough to visit when the Apollo 11 mission exhibit was set up on the first floor. The coolest part about the exhibit was being able to see the real Columbia command module up close. While my little future astronaut didn’t necessarily have an appreciation for that, he loved playing in the life-sized command module. Kids were able to climb into it and flip the switches, complete with sound effects.
If you missed the Apollo 11 exhibit in Pittsburgh, you can find it at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.
Discover Kidsburgh and More
Kidsburgh at the Heinz History Center is one exhibit that I definitely plan to check out during our next visit. This two-story play area is located by the cafe in the lobby. It contains games for kids, an Isaly’s play deli, a life-sized mooing cow, and a model of Pittsburgh. There’s also a fun spiral slide to exit the area, known as the “Liberty Tunnel.”
With a little over 2 hours at the Heinz History Center, it definitely wasn’t enough to get through the entire museum. You could really spend the whole day there if you’re someone who loves to carefully go through and read every exhibit.
Know Before You Go: Tips for Visiting the Heinz History Center
- Location: 1212 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh (located in the Strip District)
- Heinz History Center Admission: Adults are $18, Children ages 6-17 are $9 and Children under 5 are FREE. (Additional discounts apply for senior citizens, active military and students.)
- Heinz History Center Hours: 10am-5pm daily
- Parking at the Heinz History Center: There are several parking lots available near the History Center. There’s also street parking available for visits of 2 hours or less. See here for more on parking and directions.
- There’s an on-site cafe with ample seating. It offers a number of lunch options plus snacks and drinks including Starbucks coffee.
- Some areas of the museum don’t allow food/drinks or flash photography. Be sure to check first!
- The Heinz History Center is well laid out with ample space to get around. It also has multiple elevators, making it very stroller and wheelchair friendly.
- If you’re able to take the stairs, there’s an “exhibit” in the stairwells called SmartSteps. If you take the stairs up through all 6 floors, collect your free Heinz pickle pin at the end.
- The bathrooms are equipped with changing rooms if you’re visiting with little ones.
Visiting Pittsburgh with Kids?
Be sure to check out our page on things to do with kids in Pittsburgh for more inspiration. Additional posts to read include the best kid-friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh and things to do with toddlers in Pittsburgh. I’m also including some of the best Pittsburgh hotels for families, based on our personal experience:
- The Westin Pittsburgh has an indoor pool a family suite that’s great for families. It’s located right next to the Pittsburgh Convention Center.
- The Embassy Suites Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh is an all suite hotel with awesome free breakfast and an indoor pool.
- The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh- Downtown is located in the Strip District right next to the Heinz History Center. It offers free breakfast and an indoor pool.
- The Sheraton Hotel in Station Square Pittsburgh is conveniently located across the river from downtown Pittsburgh and right next to The Gateway Clipper. It also has an indoor pool.
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