It would be easy to quickly drop several thousand dollars at the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show.
Hot tub? Need it. A dozen plants? Add to cart. A cedar pavilion for the yard I don’t even have? Yes, please.
Instead of blowing my savings account, I set out to determine how to have fun for free at the two-week-long expo of all things home, from dining room tables to home stereo systems to pool tables to patios to decorative palm trees.
But first, a few tips for first-timers.
Parking in the Convention Center’s garage ($12 per car) fills up fast. If it’s full, try the Mellon Square Garage, a short walk away. Or park on the North Side for $7 and take the expo’s free shuttle.
Learn from my mistakes. Don’t balk at the $2 for coat check because you’ll regret it when you’ve walked 6,000 steps in a parka inside a stuffy building.
Admission (and re-admission)
Admission costs $10 for adults. Before you leave, stop by the re-entry booth where an attendant will mark your name on your ticket, so you can come back again and show your ID to get in for free any day during the show.
And now, here’s what to do for free (after your admission fee, of course) at the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show.
Pet adorable dogs
Walking into this expo is overwhelming, like navigating the aisles of Ikea. But if you start in the downstairs garden section, you’ll soon be met with some very chill dogs whose energy helps fade away the stress of this place.
Be sure to meet Blue, an eight-week-old adoptable beagle-bluetick coonhound mix, whose ears nearly drag on the ground and whose puppy energy can’t properly be caught in a photograph. Find him at the Humane Animal Rescue booth.
A few booths down, say hello to the dogs from Going Home Greyhounds and the extremely well-trained German shepherd from Sit Means Sit Dog Training who happily posed for this photo.
You can even buy some treats for your furry friends back home. Find the pet booths in row 100.
Gawk at a robotic lawnmower
Think of it like a Roomba for the outdoors. This robotic lawnmower trims the lawn in small increments often — so small you don’t even have to rake the clippings or empty the mower. Check it out in booth 211.
Escape to a garden retreat
Explore lush garden displays, like Gardenalia’s swoon-worthy smattering of ferns, tulips and daffodils in booth 525.
Or check out Bidwell Training Center’s fanciful florals arranged in mugs, on window frames and even inside instruments in booth 1239.
Hone your gardening skills
Whether you’ve got a green thumb or you want to start a houseplant collection, learn the skills of the craft from the experts in presentations at the Everybody Gardens Stage.
Be a kid again
The intricate miniature railroad displays in booth 30 are sure to bring up some childhood glee.
Set in the shadow of an actual railroad bridge, check out ornate neighborhood displays, and watch as model trains speed by.
Challenge a robot to a game of ping pong
Humans vs. Robots: Ping Pong Edition. Sorry to say, but the robot seems to have an advantage here at this booth presented by the Pittsburgh Table Tennis Club. Either way, test your table tennis talents and have a friend take a video for you at booth 3841.
Sample some Pennsylvania wine
You’re probably going to want a drink after that ping pong game, so stop by one of the wineries serving up free samples. Pro-tip: Though Pennsylvania wines are often sweet, the Chambourcin from Mazza Vineyards is a solid dry red (find it at booth 3042).
Get your treasured item appraised
Bring your treasured heirloom, collectible or antique to booth 3821 and hear an appraisal from Dr. Lori, of Auction Kings during her appraisal comedy show. Showtimes are at noon, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; noon and 3 p.m. Sundays; and 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Be sure to arrive 30 minutes before showtime with your item for appraisal.
Find some #KitchenInspo
So many marble countertops. All the custom cabinets. Every updated appliance. #KitchenGoals.
Pick up a bunch of cloth tote bags
Lots of vendors are giving them out. Now, the real test: Actually remembering them when you go into the grocery store.
Clock a few thousand steps
Even just a cursory walk around the 10-acre exhibit space will put you at about 6,000 steps — a good way to beat cabin fever on a chilly day.
It's a little like HGTV irl at the Home & Garden show, which comprises 1,800 exhibits across 10 acres. Check out the technology at the Dream Home Innovation Center and ask all your plant questions at the Garden Resource Center. The show runs daily through March 11. Pro-tip: If you buy your tickets online, you get a free one-year subscription to Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Before you go, check out our list of 11 *actually* free things to do at the show, including sipping wine, petting dogs and gawking at robotic lawn mowers.
Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center at 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd. (Downtown)
When: March 3, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. to March 11, 2018 at 10:00 p.m.
How much: $10