Three Kids’ Attractions Worth Visiting in Pittsburgh

Wednesday August 28, 2013 at 12:12 PM | 4 Comments

Pittsburgh Science Center

Pittsburgh, PA is one of the most kid-friendly, affordable cities in the US. Known as a sports city, Pittsburgh also offers some fabulous family-friendly attractions that both children and adults will definitely enjoy. Here are three of our favorites:

Carnegie Science Center & SportsWorks

The Carnegie Science Center and SportsWorks complex is located adjacent to Heinz Stadium and includes an Imax Theater, a planetarium, the Highmark SportsWorks building, and the USS Requin Submarine. It’s definitely a place that families could spend the day at – there’s even a cafeteria on the bottom floor.

During our visit, we spent most of our time on the second floor, where you’ll find the roboworld and miniature railroad exhibits. The highlight of the roboworld area is a large basketball court where a robot almost always makes a basket. There are also models of some famous robots in pop culture, including R2D2 and C3PO.

The Miniature Railroad & Village is definitely one of the more popular exhibits. It fills an entire room, and includes lots of different sections. My son and I enjoyed watching the amusement park section, although we definitely could have spent hours exploring the railroad.

After checking out the main Science Center building, head to the next building over – the Highmark SportsWorks. It features trampolines, motion simulator rides, and other sports exhibits, and is a great way to get kids’ energy out. If you have time, go outside to the USS Requim, a World War II era submarine that you can explore.

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is another attraction that you could spend the day visiting (allocate at least a half day). Admission to both the zoo and aquarium are included in one ticket, and the aquarium is actually located right inside the zoo. The entire complex is a giant loop and it’s easiest to start at the beginning and walk straight through. During our visit, we tried to skip around and got lost.

My son’s favorite exhibit was the penguins, tucked away in the second floor of the aquarium. But there are lots of other great things to see here too. In addition to the aquarium, the zoo features many other exhibits including the African Savanna, the Asian Forest, the Kids’ Kingdom, a Bear exhibit, the Tropical Forest, and Water’s Edge. The zoo also offers a food court located towards the back.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

If you are traveling to Pittsburgh with young children, you can’t miss the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. It includes plenty of exhibits great for kids, including the MakeShop (best for kids aged 8 and up), the Attic (with some fun optical-illusion type exhibits), and the current visiting exhibit – Clifford the Big Red Dog (best for younger kids). Bring along an extra set of clothes if you think you’ll visit the Waterplay area, because your child will get soaked! Another fun spot is the Garage, a huge room with parachute, magnet, and ball exhibits. An active kid could easily spend all of their time in the that room.

However, since my son is more interested in art, we spent the majority of our time in the Studio, where friendly museum staff teaches kids how to complete several projects. My son enjoyed learning about how to screen print and I couldn’t get him out of the Studio once we got in there.

If you go:

Pittsburgh offers lots of family-friendly hotels, but budget-conscious families should look at the Hampton Inn Downtown, where WiFi, hot breakfast, and parking are all free.

Disclosure: Our trip to Pittsburgh was comped for purposes of review. All opinions are my own.

This is a guest post by Jodi Grundig of Family Travel Magazine. Photo is courtesy of Jodi Grundig.

Things to See and Do in the Azores, Portugal

Friday August 23, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 8 Comments

Are you visiting the Azores for the first time? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do on the island of São Miguel.

Azores Portugal

Sete Cidades, Azores, Portugal

When I have a visitor from out of town the first place they want to see is Sete Cidades, but I also take them to Furnas – for a more local, authentic experience.

When I want to escape the tourists, my favorite place to visit is Nordeste.

If this is a romantic trip, I recommend Mosteiros during sunset or a carriage ride around Seven Cities for kissing with a view.

Museums are wonderful, but if you are traveling with kids, you might want to go whale and dolphin watching or visit a small farm on São Miguel where children are able to milk the cows, see how local cheese is produced and experience life as the Azorean people did long ago.

Food from the Azores of Portugal

Restaurant Colmeia, Azores, Portugal

Chef’s tasting menu at Restaurant Colmeia, Azores, Portugal

If you are looking for typical Portuguese cuisine from the Azores, I recommend Cantinho do Cais in the Village of S. Brás. I also enjoyed dinner at Alcides Restaurant. The fish soup was flavorful and piping hot!

Another good place to go for typical Azorean cuisine is Colmeia in the sea front of the City of Ponta Delgada. Order the chef’s tasting menu with specialties such as octopus, blood sausage, local cheeses, fish and beef.

Terras the Lave is one of the regional wines that you may find in the Azores.

 Looking for cheap food in the Azores? Go to Adega Regional in Ponta Delgada.

The restaurant Cais 20 in S. Roque village is the spot for late night dining in the Azores.

For an expensive, yet quality meal, go to Anfiteatro restaurant in Ponta Delgada or Paladares da Quinta  in Lagoa, Portugal.

 

 

São Miguel Island

Sao Miguel, Portugal

Sao Miguel, Portugal

When you come to São Miguel Island, get your picture taken in the “Grota do Inferno” lookout.

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of the Volcanic Crater of Fogo.

The Village of Vila Franca do Campo offers great views and the islet of the same name, just off the coast, is the best place to watch or experience “The Red Bull Cliff Diving Event.”

On São Miguel Island, outdoor enthusiasts will want to hike, bike, horseback ride, take a horse-drawn carriage ride or go diving near the island.

Looking for a little exercise? Walk along the trails of Sanguinho or Ribiera Funda in São Miguel.

If you are a museum lover, São Miguel’s best museum is Museu Carlos Machado in Ponta Delgada, Portugal.

Looking for exciting night life? Go dancing at Dinu’s Bar or Conves for live music.

The Acoriano Orientall will keep you posted on what’s happening in the Azores Islands of Portugal.

You can tell a lot about São Miguel from visiting and watching the Festivities in Honor of “Santo Cristo Dos Milagres.”

 

Alcides Restaurant

Alcides Restaurant, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

In the spring you should attend the “Holy Ghost Celebrations.”

In the summer you should attend the “10 Fest Gastronomic Festival.”

Did you know that São Miguel is great for big game fishing? Plan a visit to the big game fishing tournament in the fall.

Come to São Miguel Island for Carnival in the winter.

Insider Tip: I’ll bet you didn’t know that São Miguel is the only place in Europe where tea is produced. Check out the often over-looked tea productions in São Miguel.

On the north coast of São Miguel you can visit Ribeira Grande, have lunch at Alabote.

What are your favorite things to do in the Azores, Portugal?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter and follow VisitPortugal on Twitter.

Thanks to the Portugal Tourism Bureau  and Visit Azores for assistance with this post. Photos and YouTube video courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.

Related Posts:

Things to See and Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Things to See and Do in Pico Island, Portugal

 

Philipsburg, MT: Prettiest painted town with history and more

Thursday August 22, 2013 at 8:08 AM | 15 Comments

Over looking Philipsburg and the Pintler Mountains.

Over looking Philipsburg and the Pintler Mountains.

When I first drove into Philipsburg, Montana, 10 years ago, I knew my family and I had arrived somewhere special. Located along the 64 mile Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route that cuts down from Interstate 90 and rejoins it again between Missoula and Butte, Philipsburg is well worth the trip.

Located in Flint Creek Valley, with the Pintler Mountains as a backdrop,  this once mining town is the county seat of Granite County. Here, small town authenticity is blended with tourist town charm. Its historic, painted buildings have landed it a spot on The Today Show, and placed it on the finalist list of   the Prettiest Painted Places in America.

Even though everything to see and do is mostly within walking distance of  Philipsburg’s one stoplight that blinks red on and off in either direction, there’s enough to do that an overnight or couple days stay is worthwhile. Or, make Philipsburg a day trip from Missoula or Butte if that’s all the time you have.

Philipsberg Brewery is located in the same building as The Broadway Hotel

The Philipsberg Brewery is located in the same building as The Broadway Hotel

Be forwarned, however. You may find, like we did, that Philipsburg is a town that evokes a love affair. One encounter is not enough. Either is two.

After becoming smitten by the hanging flower baskets that festoon the period lamposts in the summer, and the live theater performances at the Opera Theatre House that continue into September, we’ve gone back to Philipsburg every year since our first visit. If I ever miss seeing at least one of the Opera Theatre House’s shows, the rest of the year would not seem right.

Owned and operated by Tim and Claudette Dringle, the Opera Theatre House has the distinction of being Montana’s oldest, continuously operating theatre. Considering it was first opened in 1891, that’s an accomplishment. In the years since the Dringles have owned it, the theatre has been largely restored and rennovated to be handicapped accessible and as lovely as it was when it first opened.

The original backdrops are still used during some performances. Each summer season has three separate shows. One show is always a vaudeville version of several singing and sketch acts that are family-friendly, quirky and belly laugh funny. Show times rotate starting with a Thursday night performance to a Sunday afternoon matinee. On some Philipsburg visits, I’ve caught two shows in one day and have never been disappointed. Show descriptions and times are posted on the Opera Theatre House website.

Inside the historic Opera  House Theatre where  live theater means belly laughs fun

Inside the historic Opera House Theatre where live theater means belly laughs fun

Along with catching a show or two each year, we also visit the Granite County Museum. The museum, across the street from the Opera Theatre House, provides an interesting history of Granite County.  Of particular note is the display that highlights the Chinese settlers who lived in Philipsburg and the exhibit about mining towns of the area.

Each time I visit the museum something new catches my attention but downstairs continues to be a favorite. There is a reconstructed miner’s cabin, an assay’s office and a walk through replica of a silver mine complete with equipment and mining sounds.

Shopping is another Philipsburg must do. Start at one end of town to meander among the bounty. No shop is like another. Some stores feature antiques, others local artists and others are a mix of clothing, jewlery and gift items. Almost all feature items with a Montana theme. If you can’t find something related to huckleberries, you aren’t looking.

Sweet Palace, Montana

A trip to the Sweet Palace in Montana is like going to candy heaven

The biggest draw in the shopping division is The Sweet Palace.  Along with every childhood candy you can think of, the Sweet Palace creates its own confections. There are 50 kinds of fudge, 72 flavors of salt water taffy, 20 types of caramels and several types of hand-dipped chocolate. Plus, name a Jelly Belly flavor and the Sweet Palace probably has it. Each time we come to Philipsburg, our son makes a beeline to browse the Sweet Palace’s jar and bin lined-shelves almost before we’ve turned off our car’s engine.

As with any town that’s worth visiting, Philipsburg has enough restaurants and bars to provide variety at meal times. This summer I had breakfast at Doe Brothers, dinner at The Sunshine Station, drinks at The Silver Mill and coffee at The Daily Grind.  The Silver Mill is where to head for more upscale dining. Unfortunately during this year’s trip, we ran out of time.

Along Flint Creek on the way to Philipsburg

Along Flint Creek on the way to Philipsburg

Although we normally don’t need a hotel during our Philipsburg visits, we have stayed at The Broadway Hotel (103 West Broadway, phone: (406) 859-8000), a boutique-style establishment that includes a deluxe continental breakfast. Each of the 9 creatively appointed guest rooms in this 1890s building has its own clever theme. Guests can use the common lounge sitting room where videos, books and games are available to use. Wifi is free.

One of the newest additions to the Philipsburg scene is the Philipsburg Brewing Company that serves up handcrafted beers. The brewery is below the Broadway Hotel, but it closes at 8 pm. Happily it is open 7 days a week. I highly recommend a stop here.

The area outside of Philipsburg is also worth exploring. Four miles from Philipsburg is Granite, a ghost town that was once a vibrant silver mining town of 3,000 residents. The road up to Granite is doable with a hearty car, truck or SUV—or park part way up the mountain and walk the rest of the way. There are remnants of buildings and signage that provide a glimse into 1890s history.

Boating and fishing can be found at Georgetown Lake, halfway between Philipsburg and Anaconda. If you do go to Philipsburg in the winter, there’s downhill skiing at Discovery Ski Area within an easy drive of Georgetown Lake, Anaconda or Philipsburg.  Check out the ski and stay packages offered through a partnership between Discovery Ski Area  and several hotels and B&Bs.

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, Montana

The Ranch at Rock Creek is where luxury meets dude ranch

The Philipsburg Chamber of Commere website has information about lodging, shops and places to eat. Check it out to help plan your trip. Some of the hours are unexpected. For example, the Sweet Palace is closed on Saturdays and some shops are seasonal.

Philipsburg Insider Tip

If you are looking for a luxury dude ranch experience that is five star, consider a trip to The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana.

Post Courtesy of Jamie Rhein of the Midwest Travel Writers Association.

Philipsburg Brewery, Sweet Palace and Ranch at Rock Creek photos by Nancy D. Brown. Opera House photo courtesy of Philipsburg Chamber of Commerce. (Jamie Rhein took the photo overlooking Philipsburg and of Flint Creek)