Family memberships keep on giving

With the holidays just around the corner, many people are scrambling to find and give the perfect gift. Before you pick up another sweater for Aunt Jane or grab another action figure for your nephew, consider giving a family membership to one of the Pittsburgh’s fantastic destinations. There is something for everyone—whether they are a history buff, science lover or artist. Not only will they be thrilled to receive your gift, they will think of you throughout the year as they use it again and again.

Most family memberships include free admission for a year plus invitations to special events and other discounts. As a bonus, many of the memberships listed below also have reciprocal agreements with other facilities across the country. Members get free or discounted admission to zoos and museums wherever they travel. Check out our list of the city’s hottest family attractions. One of them might be the perfect gift for someone on your list.

Carnegie Museums – A membership at one of the four Carnegie museums, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center and The Andy Warhol Museum, gets you access to all four. World-class art, prehistoric dinosaurs, submarines and space expeditions can all be found at the Carnegie Museums. Hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations and eye-popping movies teach how humans and the world work. A family membership for two adults and four children costs $130.

Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium – For the animal lover, why not give a membership to the zoo? Just minutes from downtown, the zoo holds more than 4,000 animals in natural settings. Monkeys, tigers, gorillas, giraffes and elephants all call the Pittsburgh Zoo home. The Aquarium boasts many underwater exhibits and thousands of colorful creatures, including penguins, sharks and octopuses. The new Water’s Edge exhibit gives a fascinating look at polar bears, otters and sharks. A $80 family membership at the zoo includes two adults and their children.

National Aviary – If birds are more your passion, try a membership at the aviary. This building houses a collection of the world’s most incredible birds, including several endangered species. It is one of the only freestanding aviaries in the world. A family membership for two adults and their children costs $75. The Aviary is also running a membership special with the Children’s Museum. Purchase a joint family membership for $144. You’ll save $25 and enjoy member privileges at both facilities.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh – Hands-on exhibits make learning fun at the Children’s Museum. Kids can explore mazes, learn to build a boat, hammer a nail and engage in other real life play. For the youngest kids, each permanent exhibit has a section with activities for infants and toddlers. A one-year family membership for two adults and three children costs $99.

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens – Plant lovers might enjoy a membership at Phipps. At the conservatory, tropical plants bloom in beautiful displays indoors and outdoors. The Discovery Garden invites children to explore plants and flowers. Phipps also features seasonal spring and winter flower shows and a Butterfly Garden. A family membership at Phipps for two adults and four children runs $75.

Senator John Heinz History Center and Sports Museum – Got history buffs and sports fans in the family? A membership to the Senator John Heinz History Center and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum may be just what they want. The History Center is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania. It features six floors of exhibits, including the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Learn about the French & Indian war and relieve exciting moments in Pittsburgh sports history. Members at the History Center get free admission to the Center, the Sports Museum and Meadowcroft Rockshelter. In addition, because the History Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian, members also get free admission to all Smithsonian museums. Family memberships run $85 for two adults and all children.

Idlewild and SoakZone – Idlewild was voted in the top five for families by the National Amusement Park Historical Association and is ranked as one of America’s most beautiful theme parks. Kids will love visiting Storybook Forest and Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood. The whole family will have fun on rides, roller coasters and merry-go-round in Olde Idlewild and on the waterslides, pools and water play areas of SoakZone. A 2010 season pass costs $69.99.

Carla Mooney is a freelance writer from Gibsonia, PA.