Ready, set, get out of the house! No matter the weather or the season, Puget Sound parents are all about making the most of our natural and cultural environments, which means that we are always looking for the newest park, the most kid-friendly hike or the most engaging museum exhibit. You, readers, also love sharing tips about activities — evidenced by the passionate votes we get for this category every year. So, get out your pen and summer calendar and mark these down.
2016 Activities for Kids — Winners + Finalists:
2016 Golden Teddy Awards — Other categories:
Winner: Caspar Babypants
Anybody else experiencing déjà vu? Caspar Babypants takes the top spot once again. That’s no surprise considering his devoted following and always entertaining performances of original music as well as Beatles covers. Don’t miss one of Caspar Babypants’ live shows (often free); if you’re lucky, he might compose a new song on the spot!
Don’t let the word “children’s” fool you; Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) has something for the whole family, no matter your age. One of the city’s best theater companies (and recognized as one of the top children’s theaters in the nation), SCT produces consistently excellent and entertaining shows. The upcoming season includes the classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Seattle’s self-proclaimed “funniest and most kid-friendly magician,” Xakary the Magician puts on one magical show! See a preview of his work during his America’s Got Talent audition (found on YouTube), during which he saws host, model and mom Heidi Klum in half!
Kirkland-based StoryBook Theater, a branch of Studio East, is known for its original, musical versions of classic tales such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The productions are also short, affordable, interactive and perfect for children ages 3–10. The troupe travels to seven venues around Puget Sound.
Learn science hands on at KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue. Ideal for children younger than the age of 8, KidsQuest exhibits include interactive gems such as The Garage (all things motorized!) and The Tree House (ready, set, climb!). Also exciting: It’s slated to open a brand-new museum facility in downtown Bellevue in 2017.
What happens when three elementary schoolteachers decide to set music to their day jobs? Just a little something wonderful called Recess Monkey. Despite its growing national reputation and fan base, the kooky trio is still a staple at kids’ events around the Sound (you can even book the band for an upcoming family festivity).
You know Evan's Family Variety Show, but did you know he also puts on variety shows featuring jugglers, dancers, hula hoopers and more kid-friendly acts? Check his website for the next upcoming show; they’re often free, and each one is different.
Rainy Day Refuge
Winner: Pacific Science Center
Pacific Science Center offers more than nifty-looking arches. Indoors, you’ll find a butterfly house, hands-on fun at the Tinker Tank and plenty of other interactive exhibits. Outside, try the water wheel and high-rail bicycle for some summertime fun. This summer’s big highlight is the blockbuster Lego exhibit The Art of the Brick.
Open six days a week, Roo’s World of Discovery in Kirkland takes the loud noises and bright lights out of play, offering families a low-sensory haven in a beeping, buzzing world.
Fans of KidsQuest Children’s Museum love the variety offered by this Bellevue destination. Highlights include a giant train table and pipe fountain station (for all those budding civil engineers in the audience). Note: KidsQuest is moving to downtown Bellevue in January 2017.
Located in Factoria Mall, Bellevue’s indoor wonderland Funtastic Playtorium is ideal for children ages 1–10. Funtastic fans rave about the colorful indoor space, ball blaster arena and interactive soft play spot for little ones. Can you say “exhausted, happy kids”?
WiggleWorks Kids in Bellevue and Puyallup offers safe, soft places for the kids to bounce off the walls. Check out Toddler Time at the Puyallup location for tots 3 and younger; Bellevue’s location, meanwhile, sits squarely in the Crossroads shopping center, meaning easy access to plenty of other fun activities to fill the day.
For kids who aren’t afraid of heights, Sky View Observatory offers a 360-degree view of Seattle. Find your way up 902 feet to the 73rd floor of Columbia Center in downtown Seattle —the highest public observatory on the West Coast — with easy viewing access of Mount Rainer, the Space Needle and so much more.
Winner: Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market, the oldest continuously operating public market in the United States, continues to be a top attraction for visitors and locals. It’s got buskers, cheesemakers, flower sellers, fish throwers — as well as a warren of shops devoted to the most arcane of interests, from records to magic. New this year: a weekly evening market on Wednesdays and a real old-time soda fountain, Shug’s, on First Avenue.
Not convinced that looking at a bunch of rushing water can be fun? Think again. Officially known as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, the Ballard Locks celebrates its 99th birthday this July 4. Picnic on the lovely park grounds and marvel at the vessels making their way through the locks. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a salmon or two at the fish ladder.
Wonders abound at Seattle Center. With festivals, fountains and museums galore, this frequently visited hub of Seattle makes day tripping easy. The latest kid-friendly addition is the parking-lot-turned-playground Artists at Play (near EMP), with its crazy-tall climbing tower and musically inclined play structures.
Of course, one of Seattle Center’s crown jewels is Pacific Science Center. There’s something for any schedule, whether you want to play inside or out. Recent and upcoming IMAX showings range from the breathtaking (Galapagos 3D) to the blockbusting (Finding Dory). If a movie doesn’t appeal, check out one of the many engaging interactive exhibits, including the famous Tropical Butterfly House.
If you’ve got a little sailor in the making, step aboard an Argosy Cruises tour. Previous cruise-goers recommend the harbor tour for its unbeatable view of the city, fun trivia and, for those in your party 21 and older, the handy bar below deck.
Nearly 1,000 feet high, Columbia Tower’s Sky View Observatory delights with its panoramic view of Seattle. It’s the highest public observatory on the West Coast; find it on the 73rd floor.
Water Playpark, Pool + Water Adventure
Winner: Lynnwood Recreation Center
A reader sums up why Lynnwood Recreation Center wins this category year after year: “Warm water, slides, water guns, lazy river, family hot tub . . . what more could a kid want?” Add to that an even warmer therapy pool and private family changing rooms and you can see why this is one of the most popular community pools around. Also awesome: You can buy tickets for a public swim session online up to two weeks in advance.
With its convenient (and very obvious) location right off Interstate 5 in Federal Way, Wild Waves and Enchanted Village’s epic water slides and roller coasters offer a summer siren song to overheated families that happen to be driving by. With more than a dozen water attractions, there is one to fit every age, ability and comfort level (don’t miss the Mountain Dew triple slide complex, added in 2015), and when you’re tired of the water, head to the amusement park rides for more thrills.
For epic water play all year long, our readers adore Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, where — once you’re done careening down rides like the Howlin’ Tornado or the River Canyon Run in the 60,000-square-foot water park — you can settle into your own room for the night; some guest rooms even come with a miniature log cabin in the suite! Next morning, roll out of bed and do it all over again. Don’t miss super activities that don’t involve water, such as the MagiQuest adventure game and a glow mini golf course.
Located in one of the Eastside’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods, Crossroads Park’s spray playground has an enchanting Northwest theme: Kids can splash among a climbable orca, spitting frogs and clams, among other spray features. And if some members of your crew want a break from water play, the park also includes a playground, walking trails, covered picnic shelters and even a nine-hole golf course.
The Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion is another favorite, especially for the littlest set, with its mellow lazy river, large shallow wading pool and no spray jets to scare tiny tots.
Just off I-5 in North Seattle, the spray park at Northacres Park has been a big draw since it opened in 2012, and for good reason. Beyond the newish spray park, it boats a shady, two-part playground (for toddlers and older kids), hiking trails, a great hill to roll down and more.
U-Pick + Family Farm
Winner: Remlinger Farms
The word “farm” doesn’t quite describe the hive of family fun that is Remlinger Farms, a 350-acre property in Carnation. With a petting zoo, pony rides, amusement rides, a steam train, U-pick berry fields (in the summer) and U-pick pumpkin patch (in the fall), Remlinger offers something for everyone, and then some.
The beautiful Snohomish River Valley is the setting for Bob’s Corn, Maze and Pumpkin Farm, another favorite family destination, especially in the fall. Pick a peck of pumpkins in the 30-acre patch, shop at the country market, get lost in the 10-acre corn maze, or reserve one of 18 (!) fire pits in the maze for an unforgettable fall gathering.
The only problem with taking your kids to Fox Hollow Farm, located in the shadow of Squak Mountain in Issaquah, is that they will beg to go back immediately. Founded as an equestrian center, Fox Hollow offers a full slate of activities, including a petting zoo (lambs! miniature goats! piglets!), pony rides, playhouses, a tractor track (just try tearing your kids away from driving their very own vehicles), as well as sweet concessions and lovely picnicking along the creek. Summer camps and parties are also available.
Stop by Oxbow Farm and Conservation Center on one of its Family Fun Days and you’ll get much more than a fun day outside. The 25-acre farm in Carnation, which grows vegetables, fruits and berries and runs a robust community-supported agriculture program, is all about educating visitors about sustainable farming in an engaging way. Wander the fields, take a self-guided tour and let the kids play in the Living Playground. In the fall, stop by to pick a gorgeous heirloom pumpkin. Or grow yourself a farmer by sending your kid to an Oxbow summer camp.
Just off I-90 in Bellevue, Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm, a city-owned patch, couldn't be more convenient for a quick pick. When you're done picking wander the trails that wind there way through the wetlands.
A 20-acre working farm in Kent, Carpinito Brothers turns into a pumpkin wonderland, come fall. Find nine acres of corn mazes, hayrides, hay maze, farm animals, as well as concessions including kettle corn, a produce market and much more.
In Snohomish, Mountainview Blueberry Farm offer views of Mount Baker and 20 varieties of blueberries. Blueberry preserves and syrups are available as well. Check the website or Facebook page for updates and lots of blueberry recipes.
Another historic Bellevue blueberry farm, Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm offers a U-pick experience in a lovely setting along a a lake. Shop at the shaded produce stand; or or just put your feet up on the porch swing.
Park or Playground
Winner: Carkeek Park
Wind your way down to Carkeek Park and enter another world — 220 acres of woods, beach and creek that add up to one of Seattle’s most extraordinary natural treasures. Young kids adore the salmon slide at the playground, the train-watching opportunities and the beachcombing. Older kids will love rambling around the trails above Piper’s Creek or watching the salmon fight their way down the creek every fall. There’s even an apple orchard.
Whether your kid’s preferred summer activity is hiking, mountain biking, swimming or playing on a shady, castle-themed playground, 350-acre Saint Edward State Park has something to offer. Located on the grounds of a former Catholic seminary, the park is threaded with miles of trails, many of which lead to Lake Washington shoreline, which beckons one to take a dip on a hot day.
Located on the north end of Lake Sammamish in Redmond, 640-acre Marymoor Park is a perfect outing when you need a different activity for everyone in the family. From a rock-climbing wall to bike trails, playgrounds and even a velodrome for track bike racing, the range of activities is legendary. Look for movies and concerts in the summer, too. Even your pooch can get in on the action: Marymoor has a 40-acre dog park that some refer to as “Doggy Disneyland.”
With spectacular views of Lake Washington, a swimming beach, large children's playground, boating and fishing area, tennis courts, and woods that are rich with wildlife, Luther Burbank Park is a best-kept-secret on Mercer Island. In the summer, also find free Shakespeare in the Park productions at the amphitheater.
Since its renovation and expansion several years ago, Maple Leaf Reservoir Park has become a favorite summer hangout of northeast Seattle families. The upper section, boasting views of Mount Rainier, lids the old reservoir with a .5 mile circular bike path, pickleball and basketball courts, and a field perfect for Frisbee-tossing. Down the stairs, find a remodeled playground and zip line.
The heart of the new, ADA-accessible Miner's Corner County Park in Bothell is the playground and nature-play area, which features, among other things, a lookout tower and play structure that's one of the tallest ramp-accessible play features around. Other awesome features include a stormwater-fed sand and water garden, accessible paths in the woods, playing fields, basketball court and more.
Eastside readers with active kids rave about Funtastic Playtorium, a 1-year-old indoor playspace at Bellevue's Marketplace at Factoria (formerly Factoria Square Mall). Highlights include a ball blaster interactive soft play and a big indoor playground.
The website of Renton's Meadow Crest Playground claims it's the "Pacific Northwest’s greatest playground." The ADA-accessible playground is pretty awesome, with all kinds of play structures — from a giant caterpillar to oversize drums and chimes — that engage and challenge all kinds of kids.
Geek Family Activity
Winner: Pacific Science Center
What’s not to love about the Pacific Science Center? It’s got butterflies. It’s got dinosaurs. It’s got two IMAX theaters. This summer, your family will especially love geeking out over The Art of the Brick, a new Pacific Science Center exhibit of the world’s largest collection of Lego bricks, named by CNN as one of the world’s top 10 exhibitions.
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why Imagine Children’s Museum, in Everett, was a finalist for this category. With hands-on science and math classes and exhibits, Imagine caters to budding scientists ages 1–12. Tip: Admission is free on the third Friday of every month, and half price every Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m.
A beloved family outing in Bellevue, KidsQuest Children’s Museum offers something for every shade of geek. Technology, engineering, science — those are just a few of the exhibit themes you’ll find. And, as mentioned earlier, KidsQuest will be opening a brand-new museum facility in downtown Bellevue in 2017.
As the name suggests, Olympia’s Hands On Children’s Museum wants kids to make a mess and have fun doing it. Interactive exhibits and classes range from boatbuilding lessons to Chinese brush painting. Admission is free on the first Friday evening of each month; and check out its robust free- and reduced-admission programs.
Mox Boarding House offers four things: board games, magic, food and beer. Need we say more? Located in Bellevue, this family-friendly hangout features a full-service restaurant and extensive game library. Grab a seat and a game and your afternoon is set!
Seattle CoderDojo wants to teach kids to use screen time to create. Open to children ages 8–18, regardless of previous experience, CoderDojo offers free Saturday classes for children interested in all things coding. Visit the events page for upcoming classes.
Art is for everybody; that’s the premise behind Northwest Art Center’s Gadgeteers Club, which meets monthly. Kids ages 8 and older tinker and play as they learn how to make projects featuring electronics, LED lighting, wiring, circuits, soldering and more, with help from members of the Duvall Maker Society.
Birthday Party Venue + Resource
Winner: Pump It Up
Pump It Up takes the birthday cake again! And it's easy to see why. From themed parties to brilliant glow-in-the-dark fests, Pump It Up delivers an excess of celebratory fun. Parties are private; it’s just your guests in both the play area and the party room. Find locations throughout the Seattle metro area.
A 1-year-old indoor playspace at Bellevue's Marketplace at Factoria, Funtastic Playtorium offers active fun for kids ages 1–10, with a ball blaster area, interactive soft play and a big indoor playground with obstacles and spiral and wave slides.
Want to wear out your kids and teach ’em some skills before cake? With more than 10 western Washington locations, The Little Gym is your answer, with unique party adventures based on your kids' favorite characters.
In Magnolia, Circle of Art Studios aims to serve as a "safe and enriching community space to indulge in the creative process" for kids and adults, offering classes, art therapy and unique parties where kids work on a collaborate art projects that also serve as keepsakes.
KidsQuest Children’s Museum. Tucked away in Bellevue's Marketplace at Factoria, KidsQuest is a regular Golden Teddy finalist for its indoor play, with a fun pirate treehouse, a water play area, a Peterbilt truck, a tools play area and fantastic educational programs. Its much-anticipated new facility opens in January 2017!
SkyMania Trampolines in Kirkland is a jumping kid's best friend, with many jump times, a special toddler time three days a week and a range of birthday party packages.
WiggleWorks Kids has two spotless, moving playscapes in Puyallup and Bellevue, a perfect wear-em-out birthday activity for kids under 48 inches. Its parties wins raves for the activities and service. A party pass includes an all-day open play on the playscape.
Kid/Family Volunteering Opportunity
Winner: Girl Scouts of Western Washington
Apparently, a favorite way for our readers to give back is by growing the next generation of powerful female leaders. That’s what volunteering at Girl Scouts of Western Washington is all about: Beyond serving as a troop leader, you can mentor a Girl Scout Cookie Professional during cookie season so she can reach her goals; provide behind-the-scenes support; mentor adult volunteers, help out at camp, coach Lego Leagues and much more.
Volunteers are critical to the mission of Treehouse, a Rainier Valley nonprofit dedicated to providing foster kids with necessities, as well as extracurricular activities, summer camps, educational support and other resources. And there’s an opportunity for everyone, from working in the Wearhouse or at the front desk to hosting a donation drive.
Readers love Seattle Tilth, an urban gardening powerhouse of a nonprofit that runs programs including community kitchens, youth gardens, demonstration gardens, a garden hotline and much more. Volunteering opportunities include serving as a wetland steward and helping out at a drop-in work party.
At KidsQuest Children's Museum, the Eastside's STEM-tastic children's museum slated to open an exciting new space in dowtown Bellevue in January 2017, youth volunteers (ages 14–17) have the opportunity to help kids more deeply engage with the museum's exhibits. They can lead hands-on activities, and assist staff at workshops and events. There are volunteering opportunities for parents, too!
Eastside Baby Corner, with two locations, is a nonprofit that provides basic necessities for vulnerable kids from birth through age 12. Volunteers ages 7 and older can volunteer alongside their parents to sort donations and fill clothing orders; families can also help Eastside Baby Corner through clothing drives and fundraisers (lemonade stand alert!).
Kids as young as 6 can help Shoreline's Food Lifeline make progress on its ambitious goal of ending hunger in Western Washington by joining work parties to repackage bulk donations of food for delivery to food banks and shelters. Check out the calendar for upcoming food drives and fun events that will go to benefit the Food Lifeline services and recipients.
Connect with and help homeless families at Mary's Place, located in Seattle, which provides practical tools and resources such as shelters, hot meals, workshops, resources and more. Make a meal, raise funds, serve as a mentor and more.
Duvall's Northwest Art Center is the only nonprofit of its kind on the Eastside, providing a space where students, artists and art supporters can connect and create. Volunteers can help by assisting art teachers and students at program and workshops.
Classic Puget Sound Annual Holiday or Seasonal Event
Winner: Snowflake Lane
Readers love Bellevue's lavish Snowflake Lane show, a holiday music-and-lights performance that takes place around the Bellevue Collection nightly in December, with live tin soldiers, drummers, and "snow." And it's all free!
At four years old, Woodland Park Zoo's WildLights show has become an annual favorite with families, featuring scenes wild animals and exotic destination illuminated by more than 600,000 LED lights. Kids especially love the Snowmazium, with evening story times and "snowball" fights.
Bellevue Botanical Garden's annual Garden d'Lights light show features hundreds of thousands of colored lights twisted into fanciful flower, garden and creature shapes, including a smoking dragon. With free admission for kids, and annual free nights, it's also one of the most affordable light shows in the region.
Sheraton Seattle's Gingerbread Village is another annual holiday must-see for families, where chefs and local architects pair up to design incredible architectural gingerbread creations, with a different theme each year. Can last year's Star Wars theme be topped? Stay tuned. Admission is free, though it is a fundraiser for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and donations are encouraged.
Seattle Center's Winterfest is a one-stop shop for cheap holiday fun, with an elaborate model train village on display in the Armory, ice sculpting, numerous free performances, an ice rink and more.
Choral music, boats and bonfires are the ingredients that add up to the Argosy Cruises's Christmas Ship festival, one of Puget sound's classic holiday adventures. Either book a ride on one of the ships, which features a different live choral concert each night, or set up camp at a local beach and watch (and listen) from shore.
Veterans of KidsQuest Children's Museum's Gingerbread Workshops at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue know to buy tickets early for this holiday season kickoff — they always sell out. Each family gets to decorate a unique gingerbread house, perusing and enjoying the giant candy buffet.
It might not be New York City's parade, but it's still awesome. Every year since 1924, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade marches it way through downtown Seattle with costumes, music and floats, and, of course, Santa, who sets up shop at Macy's for kiddie visits and photos after the parade.
Another classic holiday event is the Fairmont Olympic Hotel's beloved Teddy Bear Suite. a decorated suite stuffed with teddy bears of every type. It's free admission; and the kids also get candy canes.
Place to Grow a Reader (book shop or library)
Winner: King County Library System
Here's a cool fact. According to Wikipedia, the winner of this category, King County Library System, is the busiest library in the United States, circulating more than 22 million items annually. Its numerous programs include mobile libraries and vans, extensive online resources, homework help, museum passes, summer reading programs, story times in many languages, performances and much more. This summer, there's even a mobile programs that brings books to skateboarding parks!
Established in 1890, Seattle Public Library's 26 branches are favorite hangouts of urban families, with extensive programs and services. This summer, families can look for extensive summer learning programs, firefighter story times, free films, outdoor performances and more.
Third Place Books is all about books and community, and this year, it's celebrating the addition of its own third place in Seward Park. The new bookstore opend in April with a children’s area, up to 20,000 titles in stock, a café, full restaurant and a bar.
With local outposts at Northgate Mall, Pacific Place and elsewhere, Barnes & Noble reels in book-minded families with cafes, a huge selection of books and all kinds of programs for kids.
The venerable The Elliott Bay Book Company moved in 2010 from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor. Cozy up with your progeny in the children’s section or in one of the comfy reading chairs sprinkled throughout the wood-paneled, spacious building. Don't forget to check out the awesome reading series, which regularly brings in the nation's hottest authors, and the story times.
Kids dig the sweet playhouse in the children's section at Island Books on Mercer Island, while adults love the literary vibe and well-curated selection. Hurray for independent bookstores!
Many a weary stay-at-home parent has been saved by the free, daily story time at Mockingbird Books in Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood (every day but Sunday at 11 a.m.). The bookstore, dedicated to children, also has a train table and puzzles, espresso for grown-ups, and books for adults.
Another neighborhood bookstore with a loyal following, Seattle's Phinney Books, is only two years old, the successor to Santoro Books. Like many independent bookstores, it specializes in personal service, with owners that can answer all your kid-lit questions, and then some. You can even subscribe to a monthly pick, a service called Phinney by Post where the staff will send you a hand-picked book, and there's a kids' version as well.
Winner: Green Lake Park
Ride your bike, walk the dog, go swimming, play basketball, watch crew races, have a picnic under leafy trees, play in the playground, look for eagles: What can't you do at Seattle's Green Lake Park? And that's just the free stuff: Families also love to paddle-boat, paddleboard, play golf and more. Originally designed by the Olmstead Brothers and once a favorite getaway for city families, the park remains a family favorite.
Readers love Northwest Seattle’s Golden Gardens for its pirate-themed playground, wetland trails, a big beach that’s ideal for digging and grilling, and an unparalleled sunset view.
Discovery Park, at 534 acres, is Seattle’s biggest park, and it truly does have it all: stroller-friendly loop trails, hiking trails, beachfront, a lighthouse and train watching.
Free fun at a shopping mall? Sure, when it's Bellevue Square, which has a fantastic tot play area in its maritime-themed Kids' Cove area on the third floor, with small slides and structures for kids to climb on. "Clean, large space, with lots of space for stroller parking if you have one," says one fan.
Not surprisingly, our readers looooove the opportunity to bring their kids to Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia on the Free Friday Nights held every first Friday from 3–9 p.m. Kids can explore the eight galleries, build driftwood forts outside, or do activities associated with that month's theme, from Gardens & Water (July 1) to Ocean & Sound (Aug. 5).
Seattle Public Library's Northeast library branch is especially loved by readers, with story times, chess club, science nights and fabulous librarians. (And Top Pot Doughnuts is just a short walk!).