Our family is addicted to travel. When we get home from one trip, we start booking tickets for the next one. But our budget is limited, our kids are in school, and, eventually, we have to show up at work.
Our solution has been to find local cross-cultural expeditions. When we take a weekend or even just a few hours to enjoy Seattle’s diversity and heritage, it opens up our world to new tastes, languages, art and celebrations.
After discovering the Japanese Aki Matsuri celebration in Bellevue, for example, we were so inspired that we bought ingredients to create a Japanese meal at home and rented Howl’s Moving Castle by Japanese director and animator Hayao Miyazaki. We woke up on Monday morning in our beds in Seattle, but truly felt we had been spirited away for the weekend.
You, too, can spend your non-travel months hunting down local opportunities for cultural exchange and education. Here are seven fall adventures, each focusing on a particular culture, which will open up the world for your family.
Seattle is home to the only museum in the nation dedicated to the Asian-Pacific-American experience. Located in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown–International District, the Wing Luke Museum is built around the very hotel where many immigrants first began building their new American lives. Museum admission includes a 45-minute guided tour (five times daily) of the exhibits, the hotel and the Yick Fung Company store.
Younger kids will enjoy the monthly family-fun events, held the third Saturday of every month. The museum also runs several Chinatown Discovery Tours, which explore period apartments, back alleys, current stores and local gardens. Read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet with your teens and take the museum’s book-themed walking tour, which brings home many of the historically accurate details of the book. Also don't miss In Motion, an exhibit on the culture of "boarding" and the upcoming exhibition on Bruce Lee (Do You Know Bruce?, which opens Oct. 4.
2. GERMANY: Celebrate Oktoberfest
To celebrate this Bavarian beer festival properly, head east of the Cascades to Leavenworth, where the sun is likely still shining and a traditional Oktoberfest festival takes place on three weekends in October (Oct. 3–4, 10–11 and 17–18). Enjoy Bavarian music, costumes, dancing, lederhosen, schnitzel, and arts and crafts in a setting of beautiful rivers and snowcapped peaks. A free service shuttles you between four venues, and traditional keg-tapping ceremonies take place each Saturday at 1 p.m. You can also celebrate Oktoberfest in Fremont on Sept. 20–21.
.3. MEXICO: Honor Day of the Dead at Seattle Center
Cultural festivals hosted at Seattle Center’s Armory (formerly the Center House) are a super way to learn about cultures of the world. We particularly enjoy “Día de Muertos: A Mexican Celebration to Remember Our Departed,” held on Nov. 1–2 this year. It honors the lives of loved ones who have died, and provides a multifaceted window into Mexican culture that includes song, dance, food and hands-on crafts, such as decorating sugar skulls and paper skeletons. Our kids enjoy practicing Spanish at this bilingual event.
4. INDIA: Celebrate the Festival of Lights
Diwali is a five-day Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil, beginning this year on Oct. 23. Use it as an opportunity to explore Indian food (use our guide) and consider visiting the Mayuri complex, a small mall in Redmond, Wash. (2560 152nd Ave. N.E.), where you’ll find a gorgeous selection of saris, bangles and other Indian imports; a grocery store packed with unique Indian spices, ingredients and prepared foods; a well-stocked Indian (Bollywood) video rental; and a bakery with rows of colorful, sugary desserts. Also explore at the Seattle Children’s Museum, which celebrates Diwali each year as part of its Festival of Lights events. Activities include include crafts, cultural performances and kids’ cooking programs.
5. THE MAKAH: Visit Neah Bay
Impressive coastal storms, spectacular sunsets and a chance to explore Makah culture can all be found at Neah Bay, located at the western tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The Makah people are skilled mariners known particularly for their whaling traditions who have lived in this area for hundreds of years. At the Makah Cultural and Research Center, your kids can explore artifacts recovered from the archeological excavation of a Makah village, and examine full-size replicas of canoes and a longhouse. Closer to Seattle, don’t miss the Suquamish Museum, designed to reflect the traditional Big House architecture of the area.
6. THE DUWAMISH: Visit a traditional longhouse
Located at the mouth of the Duwamish River near the West Seattle Bridge in Seattle, the traditional longhouse of the Duwamish (free admission) is used for cultural and educational events, including traditional cooking classes. The Duwamish also host a craft fair at the longhouse just in time for the holidays (Nov. 28–30). Complement your Duwamish visit with a visit to the Burke Museum, which has a remarkable installation on 17 native peoples from around the Pacific Rim, called “Pacific Voices."
7. THAILAND: Float a krathong
Loy Krathong is a Thai festival celebrated on the full moon of November (Nov. 7 this year), when rivers would be expected to be at their highest. A great place to actually loy (float) a krathong (crown-shaped boat of flowers with a candle and incense in the middle) is at Wat Washington Buddhavanaram, a Buddhist temple in Auburn, the date of this year’s November full moon. Closer to the date, check the temple website for details about this year's celebration. This is not a tourist event, but respectful newcomers are welcome, and anyone who brought a krathong can release it on the pond. This activity is a window into Thai culture and Buddhism as well. Bring respect, patience, and kids who are old enough to sit still for a bit and enjoy the experience.
Photo credit: Day of the Dead festival photo: Alan Krell.
Note: This article was first published in 2013; and updated for fall 2014.