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7 Great Children's Museums for Northwest Families

Guide to kids' museums to visit around Seattle, the Eastside and South Sound

Author Elisa Murray

Published on: March 12, 2019

Hands On Children's Museum climbing structure

Interactive, hands-on fun

Confession: I didn’t get children’s museums for a while. My 2-year-old would happily play with Tupperware at home, so why would I pay admission to a kids’ museum just so he could play with fancier toys (and potentially ruin his yen for playing with the Tupperware)?

It wasn’t until friends invited us to Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett when he was about 3 that my light-bulb moment happened. As he moved from delightedly tossing handkerchiefs up the air maze to playing veterinarian to climbing outside to quietly making beaded bracelets in the art studio, I became a convert to the variety of hands-on play experiences that children’s museums offered. (Did I mention that he never, ever did art at home, and that while he bopped around I got some solid social time with my friends?) Children’s museums became an essential part of our play menu, especially in the sun-don’t-shine months.

Now that my kid is 8, we only visit them from time to time, but he still plays with almost every exhibit — there’s nothing like the play stamina of an 8-year-old — and I get a bit misty-eyed watching him climb into the same semi truck cab that enthralled him when he was 3.

This isn't accidental, of course. According to the Association of Children's Museums, early children's museums (the first opened in 1899 in Brooklyn) were part of a progressive education movement that promoted the then-revolutionary concept of child-centered environments and learning experiences. (Think Maria Montessori.) In our increasingly plugged-in world, kids' museums offer a time-tested, real-world antidote to the allure of screen time.

Use the arrows above the image to scroll through great local kids' museums, found in almost every corner of Western Washington, so you can easily combine a museum mini adventure with other attractions in hot spots such as downtown Tacoma, Bainbridge Island, Seattle Center and Bellevue. And they don't have to be expensive (see last page). Here’s your map.

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