Photo: Meg St-Esprit
Bellevue 8-year-olds Naomi McKivigan, Yoselin Ramos, Addison Lott have fun creating artwork at Art Imagined in West View.
Each holiday season, adults find themselves wondering just what they can purchase for the kids in their lives. Many already have an abundance of toys, and it can be hard to decide what thoughtful items to add to their collection. We scoured the city for gifts — and experiences — to make this December special. While some of them are available at larger online retailers, most are able to be purchased right here in Pittsburgh. Why not shop local?
Of course the city that gave us Andy Warhol would have an abundance of art studios where kids can be creative (and contain the mess to someone else’s space). Test out acrylic pouring at Art Imagined (artimaginedpgh.com
) in West View, or book some studio time at Atlas Art Press (atlasartpress.com
) in Wexford to make a tabletop cornhole set. Both studios offer gift bookings as well as take-home art kits, if you would rather have a physical gift to give. Prices vary based on experience chosen.
Even though it's the season of cold, gray slush in Pittsburgh, there are plenty of options to give kids the gift of active fun. From high ropes courses to bike jumps and half pipes, plenty of indoor recreation spaces give kids a place to play. These experiences particularly make great gifts for older kids or teens who have moved beyond the toy phase. Switch and Signal Skate Park (switchandsignalskatepark.com
), Dragon’s Den indoor obstacle course (dragonsdenpgh.org
), and The Wheel Mill indoor bike park (thewheelmill.com
) all have gift cards or online booking that are a great choice this winter. Prices vary based on experience chosen.
Subscription Mail Kits
This gift that keeps on giving (every month, all year!) is particularly easy to give to tiny relatives out of town, but is a great choice for little ‘Burghers, too. There are dozens of companies to choose from, but here are a few we really love. Toca Life boxes (tocalifebox.com
), from the creator of the popular kids apps, are a creative way to pull young kids away from screens by engaging them with characters they already know from their online world. Raddish cooking club (raddishkids.com
) is another great option with a local twist — unlike most adult meal kits that ship with cold packs and ingredients, Raddish sends kids the basics along with a shopping list to choose fresh ingredients. Combine a subscription with a trip to the Strip District to create each unique meal. You might just inspire Pittsburgh’s next top chef. $12 to $24 per month.
Literally a “mom and pop” shop, this store is full of little technology and lots of imaginative toys, with a focus on sustainably made products. Of the thousands of items, we have a few favorites. The Andy Warhol plush ($19.95
) would make a great gift accompanied with tickets to the artist’s North Side museum. And a package of old-school Colorforms available for sale in the shop is the exact set released in 1951, allowing adults to bore their kids with stories of the Olden Days ($29.95
). The kit includes 350 shapes and a history of this iconic toy. 4747 Butler St., Lawrenceville. dragonflycastle.com
Fun Buy the Pound
Over the years running her toy store, owner Brenda Fisk has landed upon a few top items. As a mom of five and grandmother of seven, she has many willing testers at her disposal. For this holiday season, she is excited about a new board game, Breakneck Derby, invented by a father-son duo from the Quaker Valley area ($60
). She also loves Roy Toys, which are made in Maine. Think Lincoln Logs, but better. Made entirely from wood with no plastic, the store has carried this product for years to delight generations of happy little customers (most sets under $11
). Visit the store for a variety of other unique, nostalgic, and popular toys. Fisk loves to market women-owned companies, organic and sustainable products, and companies that promote social good. 406 Beaver St., Sewickley. funbuythepound.com
Mister Rogers’ activity journal for sale at Carnegie Museums stores
Museum Gift Shops
While many adults joke about avoiding the gift shop with young kids when visiting one of Pittsburgh’s many museums, the fact is these retail spaces contain a terrific collection of toys and activities curated specifically by a local crew that loves our local kids. Check out the Mister Roger’s activity journal ($12.99
) available at the Carnegie museums (stores.carnegiemuseums.org
). Stop in the Little Orange Store (pittsburghkids.org
) in the Children’s Museum to grab a mini Mister Rogers’ trolley car ($6
) that fits most wooden train track sets. These are just a few of the unique finds at these specialized stores, and admission is not required to shop.
This futuristic toy store in Butler is worth the drive, particularly because they don’t have an online store. Half of the fun is the experience itself as kids visit the spaceship building and browse through more than 6,000 toys. The staff shared a few of their top picks, including Hey Clay, a bright, colorful air dry clay that encourages creativity ($19.95
). For pretend play, many tiny customers have been delighted by the characters and buildings in Timber Tots land, which is a new take on a classic toy brand. (Prices vary
). 2483 William Flynn Highway, Butler. playthings-etc.com
Card Games Get a Makeover
Playing a game of cards is a pastime centuries old, but these fresh, new takes are a great way to pass the darkest months in Pittsburgh. OuiSi (shop.ouisi.co
) is an open-ended game of visual expression where players match patterns and colors based on what inspires them ($35
). Toss out your sexist old stack of Old Maid for Bold Made (boldmade.com
), which features prominent women in history such as Madame C.J. Walker, Malala Yousafzai, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ($19.95
). Finally, enjoy the food fight game Taco vs. Burrito (tacovsburrito.com
). Invented by a kid, 7-year-old Alex, the game is easy to learn in a few minutes but will keep kids and grownups engaged for hours ($19.95