Whenever the fog, drizzle and rain start to roll in we begin to scratch our heads about how to keep the kids entertained. Some days they are more than happy to hit the trails for a hike or a junior nature walk. Other days it is just too cold to think about trudging through the mud and that sideways rain that always seems to hit every winter.
Whether you are looking to touch a few sea creatures, get eye to eye with a butterfly or just smell a few flowers, you won’t be disappointed with what the Seattle area has to offer. Here are our top picks for indoor nature fun filled with a few animal friends in the Puget Sound region. Also see our list of rain-friendly hikes and our giant rainy day play list.
1. Pacific Science Center: Tropical Butterfly House
The Pacific Science Center is a wonderful place to bring the kids on a cold winter’s day. Shed a few layers and get up close to a few winged beauties in the Tropical Butterfly House. This 4,000-square-foot exhibit is kept warm and humid; it’s sure to chase a little of those rainy-day blues away.
Cost: Included with admission ($11.75–$19.75)
Location: 200 Second Ave. N., Seattle. 206-443-2001
2. Seattle Aquarium: Life on the Edge
You won’t have to worry about telling little hands not to touch at the Seattle Aquarium. At the Life on the Edge exhibit kids are encouraged to gently explore the sea life that can be found in Puget Sound tide pools. Handlers are available to help your little one learn proper animal interaction if they get a bit rough. If you are looking for a more animated nature encounter grab a peek of the otters and seals during their daily feedings (check the schedule).
Cost: Included with admission ($22.95 adult; $15.95 ages 4–12)
Location: 1483 Alaskan Way, Seattle. 206-386-4300
3. Woodland Park Zoo: Tropical Rain Forest
If you need a break from the Zoomazium at the Woodland Park Zoo on a rainy day just hop down the lane to the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit. Here you can introduce your child to 70 different animals and 680 plant species, all housed in a humid environment that just begs you to take off your coat and stay a while. Sit on a bench as your child tries to spot all the different birds they see flying around. Hint: Keep an eye on the feeding trays and listen for bird calls that point you in the right direction to look. (See this self-guided tour for more info.)
Cost: Winter zoo admission is $13.75 adult/ $9.25 child; if it's a rainy day check for a rain discount.
Location: 601 N. 59th St., Seattle
4. Volunteer Park Conservatory: Greenhouses
You may know Seattle's Volunteer Park for its fabulous new playground and the Seattle Asian Art Museum, but if you haven’t stepped inside the recently renovated Conservatory you are missing out on one of the city's treasures. Leave your coats in the car and run through the doors to check out this greenhouse with cacti, bougainvillea, bromeliads, palm trees and even a lemon tree. You will forget that it is winter and think you took a quick vacation down to Costa Rica, instead of an afternoon stroll through the park.
Cost: $4 adults; kids under age 12 are free. Pay machine in front takes credit card, coins and $1 bills. Exact change necessary. Note: Free admission for all on First Thursday and First Saturday every month. Closed on Mondays.
Location: 1400 E. Galer St., Seattle. 206-684-4743
5. Olympic Sculpture Park: "Neukom Vivarium"
Although most of Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park is located outside, leaving your visit to the whim of Mother Nature, you can take refuge in Mark Dion’s “Neukom Vivarium.” This greenhouse features a sixty-foot long “nurse log” exhibit showing the ongoing decay and renewal that takes place in nature. Parents can help their children look for various life forms using the supplied magnifying glasses. Potential plant, fungi and insect discoveries are displayed on blue and white tiles, acting as a guide in your hunt along the log.
Location: 2901 Western Ave., Seattle. 206-654-3100
6. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium: South Pacific Aquarium
Skip the plane ticket and head to the South Pacific Aquarium within Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. Peer at brightly colored fish your children have only seen in a Pixar film. Then get up close and personal with the six species of sharks in residence (spend a bit more and you can dive with them). If you still need to avoid the rain, pop over to the North Pacific Aquarium for even more fun as you discover a few new fishy friends that call the waters of Washington their home.
Cost: $9.95–$17.95 (ages 2 and younger free)
Location: 5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma. 253-591-5337
7. Poulsbo Marine Science Center: Touch Tanks
Grab your junior oceanographer to experience the aquatic life of the Puget Sound region at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center. Gentle hands can touch several species of sea star, anemone, urchin, crab, shrimp and even a sea cucumber. Say hello to sea creatures in the saltwater displays, and get a sense of what it's like to dive underwater with the help of a the small theater.
Cost: Free, donations accepted. Note: Open ours: Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Location: 18743 Front St. N.E., Poulsbo. 360-598-4460
8. Tacoma Nature Center: Interpretive Center
If it is too damp and cold to tackle the trails at the wonderful Tacoma Nature Center, opt for a day indoors at the Interpretive Center. A reading area for kids plus tanks full of turtles, frogs, toads and snakes will keep your mini-nature trekker entertained all morning. Grab a field guide of all of the alive, painted and stuffed animals to go on a scavenger hunt throughout the room. Animal costumes are available for kids to transform themselves into a few furry creatures, or they can just climb through the log in the small play area.
Location: 1919 S. Tyler St., Tacoma. 253-591-6439
Photo credits: All photos by Keryn Means except for Tacoma Nature Center's and Olympic Sculpture Park's (supplied by the respective organizations), and the Poulsbo photo, sourced through Bing.