Modern parents are rarely accused of spending too little time with their kids. According to Pew Research Center, today’s dads and moms log more hours with their children than they did in the 1960s (yes, even working moms, despite all that guilt). But after we’re done with the homework nagging, chore wrangling and activity ferrying, how many minutes are left for plain old family fun — pinball, pingpong, pizza and the like?
So here's a challenge to set aside the to-do list and plan some pure fun time with your kids. Try one or all of these ten old- and new-school ideas for outings around the Sound, which work as well for one-on-one time as family dates. Blast off!
1. Try a new film spot
Families with older kids should check out the Cinerama, the famous Paul Allen–owned theater in Belltown that just underwent another renovation and boasts rotating lobby exhibits (Star Wars costumes!), reserved seating and cool concessions. More fun flick picks include Pacific Science Center IMAX shows; Seattle’s Central Cinema (try Cartoon Happy Hour on Thursdays); Mommy & Me screenings on Thursday mornings at luxe Lincoln Square Cinemas; or the charming Tacoma Grand Cinema, which offers a classic movie series on Tuesday nights and a free Family Flick on the third Saturday of each month.
2. Take a break (dance)
If you’ve got kids ages 2–6 who love to spin and hop on the kitchen floor, this one’s a no-brainer. Take your budding b-boy or girl to the exuberant Mini Breaks dance class. Organized by “Anna Banana Freeze,” a member of Seattle’s award-winning breakdancing crew Massive Monkees, Mini Breaks takes place in two spots around town. Parent participation encouraged.
3. Hit an arcade
A surefire way of engaging the most jaded tween or teen, arcades offer a chance for kids and parents to show and share favorite games. Head to one of Full Tilt’s five locations (Capitol Hill now open!) for pinball games, Pac-Man and some of the best ice cream in town; the Seattle Pinball Museum in the Chinatown–International District (ID) for a trip down pinball history lane (and more than 50 games); or Dorky’s Arcade in Tacoma for retro pinball and video games, plus classic eats (and the best name ever!).
4. Walk in the snow together
It’s said that shoulder-to-shoulder conversations are the best way to talk to your kids, especially as they get older — and what’s better than a shoulder-to-shoulder tromp through the snow? Snowshoeing is cheap, easy to learn (can you walk?) and you can do it even when snow isn't great. Start by snowshoeing at the Nordic areas of local ski areas. Or sign up for a ranger-led snowshoe walk at the Jackson Visitor Center at Mt. Rainier (for kids ages 8 and up with families).
5. Consider the cosmos
Don’t wait for summer to ponder questions of space, time and whether asteroids are soon to demolish the earth (my son’s recent question). The latest addition to our local galaxy of planetariums is the Science Dome, a digital planetarium at Lakewood’s Pierce College, which offers three shows every Saturday in its 58-seat auditorium [Editor's note: the Science Dome is temporarily closed]. You can also visit the Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus (star viewing on first and third Wednesdays, April through October); Pacific Science Center’s Willard Smith Planetarium for multiple shows a day (they fill up quickly); or attend an outdoor monthly star party at Seattle’s Green Lake or Shoreline’s Paramount Park, hosted by the Seattle Astronomical Society.
6. Wheel-world fun
Recipe for a fab family night: Lace up a pair of four-wheeled skates (aka quads), wobble on to the vintage floor of a roller rink and hang on to each other. If you’re just beginning, try the affordable Friday family skate night at the Bitter Lake Community Center Annex in North Seattle. Other hot spots include rinks such as Southgate Roller Rink (original home to the Rat City Rollergirls), and larger rinks that offer speedier surfaces, such asFederal Way's Pattison’s West. Patrons of Lynwood Bowl and Skate, Skate Tiffany's in Puyallup or Rollin' 253 inTacoma can take advantage of the online Kids Skate Free deal.
7. Get your board game on
In case you haven’t noticed, the Seattle area is enjoying a boom in game stores and cafes — making it easy to while away an afternoon looking for your family’s new favorite way of connecting (and competing). Try Blue Highway Games in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, Meeples Games, a gaming cafe in West Seattle; or Card Kingdom/Café Mox in Ballard or its even more spacious Bellevue cousin Mox Boarding House, where you can try games in real time before you buy while enjoying nibbles and drinks. Locations of Uncle's Games in Bellevue, Redmond and Tacoma also host a variety of gaming gatherings.
8. Go on a treasure hunt
You want to hike, or at least walk outside. Your kid likes technology and treasure. The win-win-win activity (and time-tested alternative to Pokémon Go) is geocaching, a GPS-driven hunt that you can do anywhere in the world, starting with (literally) your backyard. Our geocaching primer outlines basic caching etiquette and local starting points to get your family into the game, from a hike in old-growth forest on Whidbey Island to a history-driven cache hunt in Port Townsend. Want a lower-tech hunt? Try letterboxing, whereby you follow clues to a cached journal, in which you can leave your signature stamp, or this painted rock treasure hunt.
9. See a new museum, for free
Did you know that free museum days extend well beyond first Thursdays? Play at Bellevue Arts Museum or Hands on Children’s Museum on a first Friday; get a dose of the tropics at the renovated Volunteer Park Conservatory on a first Saturday; visit the pay-what-you-can Children’s Museum of Tacoma or the always-free Frye Art Museum in Seattle or Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton on any day. If you are a family with a child on the autism spectrum, a program allows you to explore Pacific Science Center before doors open on the second Saturday of the month.
10. Go to a show
Not to sound smug, but we did some of the work for you on this one. For starters, check out our family fun calendar. Shows that look particularly fun for an upcoming family date include the Moisture Festival’s matinees, featuring a wide range of circus and vaudeville acts, with Hale’s beer on tap for parents or Family Improv Night on Saturdays at SecondStory Repertory in Redmond. Our spring arts guide highlights even more great upcoming shows for families.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated for 2018.