When you’re on a first-name basis with the front desk staff at your favorite children’s museum, you know it’s time to shake up your routine. Luckily, the greater Seattle area is a treasure trove of cool cultural and special-interest institutions. Next time you’re looking for something new and fun for the whole family, try one of these museums just off the beaten path.
9404 East Marginal Way S., Seattle • Admission: $25 for adults, $16 for youth 5–17, free for kids 4 and younger.
There’s no better place to learn about airplanes than Seattle, the city where aviation giant Boeing was founded. The sprawling Museum of Flight’s vast collection occupies buildings located on both sides of East Marginal Way. Favorite attractions are a 1978 Concorde supersonic jet and a 1968 Aerocar III, a “roadable” flying car that, sadly, never made it to mass production. Make sure you go in time to catch the traveling exhibit “Destination Moon,” which features the historic spacecraft that took astronaut Neil Armstrong to the moon: the NASA Apollo 11 command module Columbia. The exhibit will be at the Museum of Flight April 13–Sept. 2.
Need to get some wiggles out? Head straight to the kid-tailored Flight Zone on the first floor, designed so even waddlers can put on their pilot wings.
Discounts: The museum is free from 5 to 9 p.m. on first Thursdays, and will hold free community days to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (dates TBA). You can snag free tickets for four through the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program; and active-duty military personnel and their families get free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day courtesy of the Blue Star Museum program. The very best deal is the Museum of Flight’s Connections enrollment program — it’s like a free membership! Sign up at a special event and get free admission for kids ages 5–18 plus one accompanying adult.
319 Second Ave. S., Seattle • Admission is free.
Gold! Seattle went crazy in 1897 when gold was discovered in Alaska. Some 70,000 fortune-seeking “stampeders” passed through Seattle, the “Gateway to the Gold Fields,” on their way to Alaska, stocking up on supplies and transforming the port city during the three-year-long rush. You’ll recognize some of these prospectors by name, including John Nordstrom and George Bartell. This hidden gem of a National Park museum will get the kids thinking about adventure and danger, and whether it would be worth it for a chance to strike it rich.
The museum is full of historical artifacts, and is perhaps better suited for school-age children. Ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the information desk upon arrival; kids earn a badge after completing the activities. You can also download a scavenger hunt from the museum’s website that is designed for kids in pre-K through sixth grade. Be sure to step up on the supersize scale: It registers your weight in gold!
Want to learn more about Seattle history? Pick up a “Trail to Treasure” map and take a self-guided walking tour of Pioneer Square. Or join Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, where irreverent guides take you under the surface streets to discover what those purple squares on the sidewalk are all about. (Ticket prices run $10–$22; not recommended for kids younger than 6.) While you’re prowling around Pioneer Square, don’t forgo a stop at Magic Mouse Toys, a two-story store brimming with the best toys ever made.
2702 E. D St., Tacoma • Admission: $18 for adults, $14 for students, $10 for youth 6–12, free for kids younger than 6; $5 to park in the museum’s lot.
The sleek, tube-shaped building next door to the Tacoma Dome looks like something out of a sci-fi film. Inside is a heart-revving collection of more than 300 vehicles that is sure to captivate all car lovers, young and young at heart. LeMay — America’s Car Museum, which opened in 2012, includes four levels of exhibits, with a wonderful Family Zone on the lowest level. Kids love to race the slot cars and pinewood derby cars, and the whole family can pile into a 1923 Buick touring car for a free keepsake photo. Time your visit for the third Saturday of each month to take part in the museum’s Family STEAM Day activities.
Discount: AAA members get 10 percent off admission and membership.
1010 Valley St., Seattle • Admission is free.
There’s never a charge to visit The Center for Wooden Boats, a living maritime museum in the South Lake Union neighborhood. With a focus on hands-on education, the center welcomes the public to come and explore its exhibits. In March, the CWB celebrated the grand opening of its Wagner Education Center. The new 9,200-square-foot building, named for center founders Dick and Colleen Wagner, allows the museum to expand from its longtime tiny boathouse headquarters.
The CWB hosts a wealth of wonderful free or low-cost family programming. On Sundays, sign up for a free public sail around Lake Union with volunteer skippers. Part of the adventure is getting a water view of the houseboats, including the one made famous by the film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Spaces are first come, first served, so try to arrive right at 10 a.m. to snag a spot. Boat rides take place every Sunday, year-round, unless winds on Lake Union reach or exceed 13 miles per hour.
Want to captain your own vessel? Reserve a free rowboat rental through the Seattle Public
Library’s Museum Pass program.
If you’re not sure about your sea legs, bring a miniature boat to sail on the 2-foot-deep model-boat pond. It’s open year-round and home to friendly ducks. On weekends from June to September, kids can rent a 39-inch racing yacht to sail in the pond (suggested donation of $5).
Tots and preschoolers will love Tugboat Storytime, held on the first and fourth Thursdays of each month aboard the historic Arthur Foss tugboat (suggested donation $2).
2655 N.W. Market St., Seattle • Admission: $15 for adults, $10 for students and youth (K–12), free for children 4 and younger.
No one knows how to cope with cold, dark days better than the Scandinavians — except Seattleites, perhaps. Last year, the Nordic Heritage Museum (now known as the National Nordic Museum) relocated to a stunning, light-filled new building located in the heart of Ballard — a fitting locale, given the neighborhood’s historically Norwegian heritage.
Settle onto soft rock-shaped cushions in the movie theater to watch a film showcasing the natural beauty of Scandinavia. You’ll leave inspired by the spirit and art of Nordic culture. Don’t forget to browse the wonderful children’s toys in the museum’s shop, and try the personal smorgasbord at the Freya Nordic Café & Bar.
Discounts: Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month, or you can check out a free pass for two tickets from the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program. AAA members get two tickets for the price of one.