Have a marathon day of errands with the kids in tow? There comes a time when singing The Wheels on the Bus one more time or throwing fish crackers into the back seat just won’t cut it to get you through that last stretch. You need a critter fix — a stop somewhere that has animals on site to refresh and entertain the whole crew. It’s free, it’s fun and takes only a few minutes.
Here are my top picks around the Sound for a critter fix. (Tell us yours, too, by posting them in the comments!)
1. Next to Nature – Edmonds, Seattle, Tacoma. Pet stores are plentiful, although some are better than others. My family tends to like the independent, locally owned shops whose employees have a clear dedication to animal welfare. Many shops work with local shelters and foster programs and have animals on hand for viewing. Almost every time we go to Next to Nature in Edmonds, we find a big, beautiful, lazy tom sunning himself by the window, or a mama kitty sprawled across the cash register keys, daring anyone to make a purchase. My kids still think it’s hilarious to find them in odd places, and tracking them down is half the fun. Just recently I went there without the kids — I was having a mommy meltdown and we needed cat food. All I can say is sitting on the floor in the kitten room, covered in curious, batting, biting fur balls, is possibly one of the most therapeutic things I’ve done in years.
2. Animal Talk – Seattle. This little hole-in-the-wall pet shop in North Seattle has a big heart. You never know what you’ll find here. You’ve got the usual suspects, cats for adoption, but Animal Talk is where you can find hedgehogs, Siberian chipmunks, short tailed opossums, guinea pigs, pythons, canaries, and a kid favorite — hermit crabs. The nonprofit Animal Talk Rescue operates from the same location and provides temporary shelter and foster homes for hundreds of abandoned or neglected animals. So you don’t know who you’ll meet there, but chances are it’s furry (or feathery or scaly) and cool.
3. Rabbit Meadows, aka the Best Little Rabbit & Rodent House – Seattle. This modest, tiny store in Lake City is a part of Rabbit Meadows, a nonprofit dedicated to the well-being of rabbits, guinea pigs and rodents. They sell supplies, provide community education and do adoptions. They have recently built a new shelter and sanctuary in Redmond, where the majority of their animals live (it’s open on the weekends by appointment) but the Lake City location still has a small room with guinea pigs, rabbits, and the last time I was in, two huge rats. This option is better for little ones who are content to stand at a baby gate and point at “bunnies!” from a safe distance; older kids might not be as impressed.
4. QT Aquarium – Seattle. Walking into a shop that carries saltwater fish and supplies feels like entering another world. No exception is QT Aquarium in the International District. To add to its mystery, the hours are a little irregular, so getting in can be hit or miss. The sign says they open at 10:30 a.m., but I think it may be safer to head there after noon. I can’t speak for them as a source for purchasing. But there are tanks and fish and coral and squirmy things and gooey-looking things and well, just a ton of “ooh” (and “ewwww,” if you ask me) –worthy creatures and plants.
5. Nordstrom – Seattle. The downtown flagship Nordstrom store has two tanks in their kids and infants departments. The tanks are, not surprisingly, beautifully done. Their most popular attraction is a huge lion fish, but really, you can stand there for quite some time without getting bored. My only complaint is that they didn’t put them in the shoe department.
6. Swanson’s Nursery – Seattle. One of my favorite ways to kill time is poking around a nursery. Swanson’s in the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle is an especially fantastic one, and a good place for a critter fix. If you follow the signs to the café and gift shop (yes, I know, that makes it even more perfect) you will find their gorgeous koi pond. You can sip an herbal tea and the kids can watch the fish and everyone will be so content you won’t want to leave. Just make sure your little ones don’t throw anything, especially food, into the water. Trust me, it’s almost irresistible.
7. Wings of the World – Bothell. My son declared this “The Noisiest Pet Store in the World!” It’s true that walking into Wings of the World is kinda like stepping into a rain forest. Beautiful birds of all feathers line the walls in bright, clean cages, and while we were there a lucky few perched on the shoulders of their owners. Clearly, this is a store where bird lovers flock for supplies, education and camaraderie.
8. Planet Happy – Seattle. This gem of a toy store makes you want to be a kid again. Planet Happy, near University Village in North Seattle, is home to finches and doves living in a refurbished vintage cooler, a living plant wall, and toys galore — trucks, a marble game and a train table, making it an ideal quick stop for the under-six set. Perhaps the star is Buttercup, the African pygmy hedgehog who entertains guests from a converted television console. How cool is that?
Emily Metcalfe Smith lives in Edmonds, WA. She is a writer, a mother of two critter-crazed boys and the current Out & About intern for ParentMap.