Winner: Ballard Farmers Market
A huge, year-round Sunday event in the heart of this historic neighborhood, Ballard Farmers Market offers far more than produce. There are dozens of hot-food (and cold!) vendors; artists selling crafts and jewelry; terrific window shopping; and more entertaining folk musicians and street performers than any other market around. “All farmers markets are great, but Ballard is the most entertaining.”
Redmond Saturday Market, a seasonal market at Redmond Town Center, is also beloved for its excellent produce selection, “shady trees for hot days” and overall vibe.
Columbia City Farmers Market, a Wednesday market, wins kudos for its “big but not too big and friendly neighborhood feel” and its location across from a park.
The Phinney Farmers Market, a Friday-night market in Seattle, is known for its great live music and small, “not too overwhelming” feel.
Winner: Public Libraries
A good story time, as we all know, is often so much more: music and drama, physical activity and games. It’s no surprise then that our region’s stellar public libraries collectively won this category hands-down with their huge range of high-quality story times, from toddler hours to pajama story time to musical storytelling. Of the many comments about favorite library story times, special shout-outs were given to Puyallup Public Library (especially its “Toddler Treasures” story time for its “excellent blend of stories and songs”); Bainbridge Public Library (“fun and interactive story times designed perfectly for different age groups”); and to the Central Library in downtown Seattle.
Mockingbird Books, a large children’s bookstore in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, has also won your hearts with its story times, both for their quantity (six days a week) and quality, and with its large play space, which makes the bookstore a top rainy-day hideout.
Winner: Mountlake Terrace Pool
The always-warm, toddler-friendly Mountlake Terrace Pool won again as your top water-play pick. You love the spacious pavilion that houses the facility; the lazy river that moves kids gently around; the “variety of swim spaces” that pleases everyone from infants to adults; the spray toys; and “the padded shallow area for the little ones.” It even offers a cheaper “happy hour” on certain days, perfect for tots who can only last for a bit.
Oh, we love our water areas! The Lynnwood Recreation Center, with its water features, large family hot tub and “clean, huge spray zone,” is part of a three-way tie for next favorite, along with Northwest-themed Crossroads Park, which boasts a “great orca whale to slide down”), and Great Wolf Lodge, the 60,000-square-foot indoor water park near Centralia that’s become a local Disneyland.
Other favorites are Green Lake’s array of water attractions (“awesome pool, slide and beach area”) and the reliably wonderful Seattle Center International Fountain (“great price ― free!”).
Playgrounds and Parks
Winner: Grass Lawn Park
Redmond’s Grass Lawn Park, one of the Eastside’s best-kept secrets, is your top area pick for parks, simply because “it has it all.” The spacious, grassy park boasts two playgrounds, bike paths that are friendly to young kids, hiking trails, waterworks and playing fields, where you can shout from the sidelines or play yourself. It even has “rope structures that are great fun to climb and provide a great chance to work on coordination.”
Not surprisingly, Carkeek Park, in North Seattle, also garnered lots of favorite-park mentions, with its triple-fun combo of nature playground with a view, beach that’s perfect for low-tide exploration and, of course, train tracks to keep an eye on.
Also adored are Golden Gardens, with a brand-spanking-new pirate-themed playground and wetlands trails near the beach; and Saint Edward State Park in Bothell, with its huge playground, “large grassy areas, lots of hiking trails and picnic areas.”
Winner: Remlinger Farms
Talk about multitasking: Remlinger Farms, a farm/carnival/petting zoo in Carnation, could keep visitors busy for a week. Berry picking, pony rides, mini carnival rides, mazes, a produce stand, plus, of course, pumpkin picking in the fall. Oh, and did we mention the steam train? While there is something for everyone, it’s really “perfect for young kids,” says one fan. “Great berries and easy picking.”
The 25-acre organic Oxbow Farm in Carnation also garnered kudos for its excellent education programs and fun features, such as a “living playground,” climbing tractor and children’s garden: “It is a working farm with whimsy for children!”
Kelsey Creek Farm Park, a city-owned farm park in Bellevue with a petting zoo, playground and picnic areas, was summed up by one commenter as “charming, complete (every farm animal a toddler will ask about is represented), well-tended, and totally free.” Don’t miss seasonal events, such as a spring sheep shearing and a fall harvest fair.
Jubilee Farm is a biodynamic farm in Carnation especially beloved for its pumpkin picking in the fall. It also earned raves for kids’ activities, such as “farm school” in July, where children of CSA members can help with farm chores at set times.
Birthday Party Venue
Winner: HappyNest Play Centers
HappyNest, a play space in Redmond started by two local moms, earned top marks for making kiddo birthday bashes fun and hassle free, according to you. With plenty of activities for infants on up to older kids, plus a special party room, it adds up to a “place where kids can celebrate and play,” with “versatile parties, attention to details, great staff.”
Kids, birthdays and inflatables are clearly a winning combination, as our finalists were Pump It Up, with locations in Kirkland, Lynnwood and Tacoma; Jump Planet, another bouncy emporium in Bothell (“Kids can jump, jump, jump …enough said.”); and Kidz Bounce in Issaquah, which one reader says is “worth the drive for the private bouncy party. Work that sugar off!”
Winner: Discovery Park
Discovery Park, a 534-acre park in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, is an urban park extraordinaire, and you can find everything here: stroller-friendly loop trails, hiking trails, beachfront, a lighthouse. Fans rave about the “gorgeous trails and beach,” great family hikes, and the education programs at the Environmental Learning Center. It has “a little bit of everything: beach, meadow, woods, animals, great hiking.”
Carkeek Park ― that versatile North Seattle park ― also has many, many fans (“playground, ball fields, beach, hiking trails, all in one!”).
Mercer Slough, a freshwater wetlands park that’s just minutes from downtown Bellevue, also boasts a top-notch environmental learning center with boardwalks, many trails, an outdoor tree house — even kid-friendly potties, notes one reader.
Another favorite is Seward Park, a park on Lake Washington where you can explore the new playground, hike in old-growth forest and go for a swim — all while looking for eagles and great blue herons.
Winners: Lake Chelan and Whidbey Island
You love this pair of east and west destinations equally. Lake Chelan, a 50.5-mile-long, glacier-fed lake in a region of eastern Washington that boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, is all about the stuff we don’t get on this side of the mountains, such as sun and “warm lake water.” You also love the range of activities for families, with a special call-out for a fun parent activity: wineries.
Whidbey Island, a quick drive north and a ferry ride, is your top pick for a close-in getaway that still lives on island time. “Kids love the ferry, the beaches. Adults love the cool little towns like Langley & Coupeville.””
The kitschy-charming, stunningly set town of Leavenworth is adored for its “fun all seasons of the year.”
Other favorite destinations that received top marks include our most urban Northwest city Vancouver, B.C.; The Great Wolf Lodge water park near Centralia; Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands; Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast; and the nearby retreat of Vashon Island.
Live Entertainment for Kids
Winner: Louie Foxx
He wins again! The fantastic Louie Foxx, a longtime entertainer who does public and private shows all over the state, is magician, comedian, puppet master and bubble man all in one. Above all, although he excels at “getting down to the kids’ level,” he strives to keep all ages entertained: “I enjoyed it as much as my kids!” says one parent. Plus, Foxx keeps it fresh and funny: “He does a fantastic, interactive and educational show that entertains kids and adults alike!”
Seattle’s vibrant kindie scene was represented by Caspar Babypants (aka Chris Ballew), a wildly popular rocker for the preschool set who is beloved for his tunes (“danceable,” “singable,” awesome,” “doesn’t grate on the parents”), his engaging self (“so pro-community!”) and his books.
Redmond’s stellar theater company SecondStory Repertory won virtual ovations for its “super-fun” kids’ musicals, many of them originals and its “baby-friendly all-ages performances on Sundays.”
Tangerine Tales is a face-painting/kids’ entertainment business run by Kelly Ann Moore Hughes, aka “the face-painting lady,” at the Ballard Farmers Market. Miss Kelly, beloved for her high energy and creativity, also takes her show on the road to birthday parties, company picnics and the like (“Kelly is the BEST!”). She also inspired several write-in entries strictly on her face painting alone.
Indoor Play Area
Winner: HappyNest Play Centers
HappyNest Play Centers in Redmond won this category as well, perhaps because parents ― who can use the free WiFi to check email and get their caffeine fix as well ― like going there are much as the kids. Parents cite its affordable price and the variety of activities, from foam structures for infants to play cars for toddlers to gym equipment and dramatic play props for older kids. All are designed to spark young imaginations and wear out young bodies (“clean, friendly, fun, creative, imaginative space!”).
Another favorite is Kids Discovery Museum on Bainbridge Island, a great play spot for both islanders and mainlanders, who can walk off the ferry directly to KiDiMu. You love the “awesome, friendly” staff and “great interactive exhibits and programs.”
Parents also rave about the Zoomazium at Woodland Park Zoo, a nature-inspired play spot that’s perfect for rainy-day fun and learning, with climbing areas, a reading corner, a toddler area and lots of special programs (“just fabulous ― climbing, crawling, reading”).
And when you really want to get the wiggles out, you head to the Seattle Gymnastics Academy, in Lake City, Ballard and Columbia City — a “huge play space with plenty of variety” where “kids can really get their energy out bouncing around.” Just don’t lose your 2-year-old in the foam pit!