Summer in the City: Seattle Mini-Adventures for 2013
The rest of the world has New Year’s resolutions. We northwesterners have summer resolutions -- camping trips, museum exhibits, hikes, day trips, must-do parks, outings, kayaking, picnics and playgrounds.
It's a tough job to pack it all in -- especially when you have a kid who need things like naps -- but we try our best. To help, we've crafted a list of our favorite local mini-adventures for 2013 — family outings doable in half a day or less. (P.S. We’d love to add your favorite to the list: Post it online or email it to email@example.com.)
Art. Get a dose of art and nature (and a spectacular view) with a visit to Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Starting Thursday July 11, the park kicks off its “Get Out” summer program, with live music, food trucks, and hands-on art activities on Thursday evenings (6–8 p.m). On Saturdays, you’ll find yoga classes, art activities, zumba and more.
Baby giraffe. The Woodland Park Zoo is busting out with babies this summer, including its latest, a 5.5-foot-tall baby giraffe. (And if the giraffe isn't out when you visited, no problem -- there's even a giraffe cam.) Also don't miss the recently opened Bamboo Forest Reserve, starring Asian small-clawed otters, a tropical aviary and new kid’s nature play area, featuring a mini zipline, wobbly bridge and balancing logs. Note: $2 off zoo tickets if you buy online.
Berries. A Northwest summer isn't complete with berry-picking, from strawberries to raspberries to blueberries to foraging for huckleberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries and more. See our ultimate guide to local berry-picking and let us know about your favorites!
Boeing factory tour. An excellent cloudy-day option available seven days a week, the 90-minute tour of Boeing’s production line in Everett — the only public tour of its kind in North America — gives a bird’s-eye view of commercial jets in various stages of assembly and testing. At the Future of Flight Aviation Center, your kids can digitally design an airplane and print out their schematic to take home. Make reservations at futureofflight.org. (Note: Children must be at least 4 feet tall to go on the tour.)
Columbia Center Sky View Observatory. The Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Center offers the tallest viewing area open to the public west of the Mississippi. And starting on July 1, the view will span 360 degrees! (Floor 73 is open to the public every day, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. $6 kids, $9 adults. Kids under age 5 free.)
Discovery Pond/Tacoma Nature Center. Located at the Tacoma Nature Center, a 70-acre wetland habitat in the heart of the city, Discovery Pond boasts a natural play area that includes a tree house, boulder scramble, snag climb and a slide built inside a log. You can also “do a quick, kid-friendly hike around Snake Lake and see wild turtles sunning themselves in the heart of the city,” says ParentMap writer and Tacoma mom Malia Jacobson.
Everett Aqua Sox. We do love our Mariners. But consider the beauty of a wholesome day, or evening, at an Everett Aqua Sox game. You can participate in BECU Family Nights, with field box tickets going for $5, and kids can join the Webbly’s Future Frogs Kids Club. (Kids 12 and under get a free ticket to every Sunday home game, a t-shirt and more, all season long for only $12.)
Farm boat. For free summer fun, it’s hard to beat a farmers’ market — now imagine one held on a steamship. That would be the Lake Union Park Floating Market, held aboard the historic Victoria V on Thursdays. Have a picnic lunch on the boat, and then visit the other gems at Lake Union Park, including the model-boat pond, the Center for Wooden Boats, bridges and walking paths.
Ferry. Discover the thrill of the walk-on experience by ferrying to Bainbridge Island, where you can then walk to Winslow in minutes and visit Kids Discovery Museum (free on first Thursdays), its new neighbor the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, grab a bite in town, and a delish dish of ice cream at Mora.
Gates Foundation Visitor Center. On your way to the Seattle Center someday, stop by the Gates Foundation Visitor Center for an inspiring mini-lesson on thorny global challenges such as sanitation and drinking water. Kids can lift buckets of water, construct an invention to help solve a world problem, and share a cause.
Great wheel. Cheap, the Seattle Great Wheel ain't ($8.50-$13 per person). But as a special summer outing, it's hard to beat a turn on Seattle's new 175-foot, 42-gondola waterfront ferris wheel. Check its Facebook page for updates on summer light shows, which, of course, won't cost you a penny to watch.
Harbor seals. It's always agood time to visit the world-class Seattle Aquarium, but an additional reason this summer is that its two beloved harbor seals have a brand-new home that's both better habitat for them and better viewing for us. (Plus, you can hop over to the Great Wheel right after your Aquarium visit.)
History. In its new digs at Lake Union Park, The Museum of History and Industry has spent serious effort on making itself family-friendly, with a nice price for kids (free), miniMOHAI activities every other Tuesday, Family Labs every Sunday and exhibits high on interaction. MOHAI is free the first Thursday of every month; visit the Center for Wooden Boats (free wooden boat rides on Sundays!) while you're at the park.
Ice cream. The gourmet ice creameries are everywhere — and we couldn’t be happier. Go to Full Tilt for a cone and some pinball. Drop in at one of Bluebird Microcreamery & Brewery’s locations for a pint and, um, a pint, or one of Molly Moon's five locations for some ginger rhubarb sorbet or "Scout" mint. And in more good news: Parfait, a favorite ice cream truck, is supposed to have a new home in Ballard by August.
Jetty Island. Who needs Ocean Shores when you’ve got Everett? Located just five minutes via free ferry from the waterfront, Jetty Island features more than two miles of sandy beach and warm, shallow water that’s perfect for wading, plus free, awesome programs (puppet shows, walks, more) all summer long. The ferry only runs in the summer and closes after Labor Day weekend. Tip: Round up a group of eight or more, so you can make reservations on the ferry.
Kubota Gardens. A gorgeously wild Japanese garden in southeast Seattle, Kubota has a venerable history and is a must-see for visitors and residents alike. Kids will love the pond, the paths that seem to encourage loping, secret bridges, and the fairy-land like feel. Grown-ups and older kids will soak in the oasis-like nature of the garden.
Light rail. Ride the Seattle rails, including Link light rail, monorail and the streetcar! Your kids can practice navigating public transit, and by light rail it’s easy to hop off to explore ’hoods like the International District (Uwajimaya!) and SoDo (Macrina!). Combine a streetcar ride with an exploration of South Lake Union, and use monorail to connect a downtown-Seattle-Center adventure.
Maple Leaf play area. One of a number of awesome Seattle park upgrades in recent years, this play area re-opened in May 2013 to neighborhood acclaim, with a zip line, boulders to climb on, a children's butterfly garden and a loop path that's perfect for scooting/triking/push biking kiddos. Combine with a trip to homey Cloud City Coffee just north a few blocks (sandwiches, baked goods, soft serve) and one of the best-kept-secret toy-and-game stores in Seattle, Math 'n' Stuff.
Mercer Slough. Watch birds, canoe, take a class, go on a guided nature walk or just observe it all from a tree house. These are a few of the mini-adventures available at magnificent Mercer Slough, the largest remaining wetland on Lake Washington. Later in the summer, it's just a hop and skip to blueberry picking at Mercer Slough blueberry farm.
Northwest Trek. It's well worth the drive to spend a day at this unique wildlife park that's 1 hour and 20 from Seattle (45 from Tacoma). Kids will adore the 55-minute tram tour that takes visitors into the park's 435-acre free roaming area to look for "hoofstock," or bison, moose, caribou, Roosevelt elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and native black-tailed deer. You might come across a lone male bison or a herd of huge female Roosevelt elk. Visit also the Cheney Discovery Center, packed with hands-on activities, from puppets to fur pelts. And for adventurous families, Trek's four new Zip Wild adventure courses are a must-do.
Orcas. Spotting an orca, or killer whale, is a thrilling experience and prime orca-watching season in the San Juans is May through September. Learn about this amazing mammal at The Whale Museum on San Juan Island; try your luck on land at San Juan Island's Lime Kiln Point State Park (also known as Whale Park); or increase your chances of whale wonder dramatically by booking a whale-watching excursion on a boat (see the list of operators on this page).
Pacific Science Center. Rainy or sunny day, Seattle's Pacific Science Center's got something for you, from IMAX movies, a planetarium, water table area, wonderful permanent exhibits, and an outdoor water wheel. This summer don't miss Imaginate, a super-hands-on exhibit that lets kids experiment with innovation, invention and imagination (including trying on real "wings").
Rainier Beach Urban Farm. Launched in 2011, this former nursery has been reimagined as a community farm dedicated to teaching people how to grow food in the city. Look for Seattle Tilth’s Farm Camps, garden classes for adults, and opportunities to volunteer. (Seattle Tilth's North Seattle location also boasts great kid programs.)
Seattle Center. If you had to choose just one summer fun destination, there's a strong argument to be made for the Seattle Center: free international festivals almost every weekend, free concerts and movies during the summer. a fantastic fountain for getting wet, museums and exhibits galore, the monorail, much-improved eateries in the Armory, the Children's Museum ... We could go on and on; instead, why not see for yourself?
Spray parks. Summer in the Sound means water play, sunny weather or not. Visit the popularNorthacres spray park in northeast Seattle, the renowned Rotary Spray Park at Les Gove Park in Auburn, which features water cannons, overhead fountains and views of Mount Rainier; the Northwest-themed Crossroads Park in Bellevue; or the newish spray park at Wright Park in northeast Tacoma, which also boasts a new playground. (Find a full spray park guide here.)
Tide pools. On days with unusually low tides — called minus tides — volunteer beach naturalists from the likes of the Seattle Aquarium and Point Defiance are at many Sound beaches to help families like yours understand and explore the richness of intertidal marine life: sea stars, anemones, moon snails and more. Check out our guide to low-tide beachcombing for top tips.
Urban foraging. Ditch the drive to a farm and head to a local park to pick not just blackberries, but thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries, to name just a few. (A recent study of foraging in Seattle found that people were gathering 250 different edible species.) Search Google to see if your local park has been mapped for best foraging spots.
Violins. And trumpets, trombones, guitars, drums, child-size cello and much more to be found (and played) at Soundbridge, Benaroya Hall's Music Discovery Center (at the corner of Second and Union in downtown Seattle). Stop by for some musical experimentation, or musical story time, make-your-own instrument workshops or other class. (Note: Reserve classes ahead of time.)
Water taxi. The King County Water Taxi from downtown to West Seattle is high on the thrill-per-dollar charts. The brief ride on the 77-foot catamaran — free for kids 5 and younger — gets you phenomenal views and maybe even a close-up of sea lions. You can bus or bike to Alki after disembarking, or, as recommended by Seattle blogger Carla Saulter, poke around at Seacrest Park, which boasts a miniature rock beach, a chance to watch scuba divers and nearby fish-and-chips grub.
Youngershoot/Bumbershoot. With a great price tag (kids 10 and under are FREE) and expanded Youngershoot programming, there’s more reason than ever to share your favorite festival with your tots. Kids can create clay sculptures, make a musical instrument, see indie kid-friendly films, do fun science experiments, plus enjoy a special kids' kindie showcase.
Zip lines. Is this the decade of zip lines? Many local parks have now added low zip lines for kids (always supervise closely), and increasingly, sophisticated zip lines and adventure courses are available. For a truly thrilling experience, consider Canopy Tours’ guided zip line tour through a sustainably managed forest on Camano Island ($85, 2.5 hours long), which includes six zip lines through the trees, plus short trail walks and a 47-foot final rappel. Newer zip experiences include Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's ZOOM (two zip lines/challenge courses) and Zip Wild, a series of four zip line/challenge courses at NW Trek in Eatonville. Why so popular? Two words from a tween boy on the Point Defiance course: "Epic fun."
Zoo. Make this the summer when you take the short trip to Issaquah to explore the less-overwhelming “other zoo”: Cougar Mountain Zoo. Specializing in endangered species, it houses residents of 10 “animal worlds” — including cranes, cougars, lemurs, wallabies and alpacas — and offers the chance to hand-feed residents. Take a short hike at nearby Cougar Mountain while you're there.
Elisa Murray is ParentMap’s Out + About editor, the mom of a 3-year-old and the author of a far-too-ambitious annual summer wish list.
This article was originally published in January of 2012 and updated significantly in June 2013.