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7 Great Geek Conventions for Northwest Families

Cosplay, comics, science fiction and fantasy — geek out with your kids at these awesome cons

Published on: February 19, 2019


There was a time when “geek” and “nerd” were pejorative labels, but it’s not even news anymore that nerd is the new cool. Nowadays, parents don’t wonder who goes to the cosplay-filled conventions that have sprung up everywhere — we wonder which one will be most fun to attend with our kids. When it comes to cons, Seattle boasts an embarrassment of riches. We’ve compiled this list of the area’s best cons to help you plan a 2019 full of geeking out.

1. Emerald City Comic Con

When: March 14–17
Where: Washington State Convention Center, downtown Seattle
Cost: Adults (13 and up): $30–$45 per day, depending on day (see website; Saturday is sold out); superfans age 6–12 require a Kids 4-Day ticket to attend (currently sold out; now only available through the Lyte Exchange); 4-day passes $125 (currently sold out; now only available through the Lyte Exchange). Minors under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent/guardian; be prepared to show proof of age onsite.

In contrast to smaller cons “for and by” the fans, Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) prides itself on bringing fans and creators together. If your kid has a favorite comic book, cartoon or TV show, they can probably meet its creators at Comic Con. Yes, it’s that big. The earliest major convention on the calendar, Comic Con was attended by more than 95,000 people last year. As its name suggests, ECCC focuses on comics and media. The Kids 4-Day tickets are already sold out for 2019, so if you want to bring kids ages 6–12, you’ll have to pay the adult rate or try your luck on the Lyte Exchange.

2. Norwescon 42

When: April 18–21
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton, SeaTac
Cost: Pre-registration is now open; 4-day membership passes are $70 for adults; $50 for ages 13–17; ages 12 and under free. Single day tickets are available at the door.

Now in its 42nd year, Norwescon is for the bookish family, with a primary focus on narrative. Books and gaming rule this con, which bills itself as the Northwest’s premier science fiction and fantasy convention. A specialized youth track in the program keeps planning simple for families (kids must be accompanied by an adult). This year’s theme is “Don't Forget Your Towel,” and features guests of honor Mary Robinette Kowall (puppeteer and Hugo Award-winning author), surreal painter Tran Nguyen, sci-fi/fantasy author Dan Koboldt, librarian and author Nancy Pearl and editor-publisher Neil Clarke. Even if you don’t attend this con, consider joining the Norwescon Book Club as a family. The club meets five times per year at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (check online to make sure the selections are age-appropriate for your next generation.)

3. Sakura-Con

When: April 19–21
Where: Washington State Convention Center, downtown Seattle
Cost: Registration is now open; 3-day entry for adults $70 ($80 at the convention); youth 6–12 receive a 50 percent membership rate discount with their family ($35 preregistered; $40 at the door); ages 5 and under free. Attendees under age 18 are required to have an adult with them at all times.

Weebs and otaku rejoice; this convention brings tens of thousands of attendees to the Washington State Convention Center each year to celebrate all things anime and Japanese pop culture. While smaller than Emerald City Comic Con, Sakura-Con's anime theaters, manga library, gaming, cosplay, cultural panels, dances, concerts, art contests, industry guests and huge exhibits hall can still become overwhelming. Families should stick together and pace themselves.

4. Seattle Retro Gaming Expo

When: June 15–16
Where: Seattle Center Fisher Pavilion
Cost: Adult weekend pass (with early access), $35; Saturday-only adult pass, $25; family pass (good for two adults and two kids of any age), $65

Ready player one? While parents marvel at the technology that goes into modern gaming, many of our kids are geeking out on the video games we played when we were their age. SERG is an opportunity to enjoy those old games together. They focus on giving attendees hands-on experience with classic games and a chance to unearth that long-lost favorite or discover a new gem that only feels old. There’s also lots of fun game-themed merch and information on the history and industry of video games.  

5. PAX West

When: Tentatively, Aug. 31–Sept. 3 (Note: The 2019 dates have not been officially announced and are subject to change; check back closer to the event for updates.)
Where: Held in past years at the Washington State Convention Center, downtown Seattle. The website teases, "We hope to see you next year back here in Seattle where, spoiler alert, we expect to be able to go EVEN BIGGER, with the first new venue opening up to us in quite a while."
Cost: This year's admission prices have not yet been posted to the website. Last year, a 4-day pass cost $110; $51 per day.

PAX West is the home-town stop of the massive, touring Penny Arcade Expo, nicknamed “Woodstock for gamers.” Video games are the heart of the con, but PAX is as big as Emerald City Comic Con in scale, so there’s plenty of room for both major game publishers and independent developers on the expo floor, panels on all things game-related, gaming-inspired concerts, LAN parties, tabletop gaming, competitions and anything else that you can connect to gaming. Passes sell out quickly; this year’s dates and prices have not been announced yet, but plan to purchase passes as soon as they go on sale (usually early June) to get the best price.

6. Aki Con 11

When: Jan. 4–6
Where: DoubleTree by Hilton, SeaTac
Cost: 3-day adult pass, $50; $15–$30 for adult day pass, depending on day

If anime is your jam, but Sakura-Con is too much (or not enough), try this smaller anime fest. In addition to the traditional panels, exhibits and cosplay contests, some of the programming in past years has been pretty quirky — including a spicy ramen-eating contest and an in-character cosplay pageant featuring randomly assigned “talents.” In the past, special programming for kids has included kids-only costume contests, a Pokémon scavenger hunt, arts and crafts and kid-friendly arcade games. 

GeekGirlCon DIY science zone
GeekGirlCon's DIY Science Zone. Credit: Kevin Li

7. GeekGirlCon

When: Nov. 16–17
Where: Washington State Convention Center, downtown Seattle
Cost: Adult day pass, $25; adult weekend pass, $40; $10 per day for kids ages 6–12; ages 5 and under free. 

Inclusivity is trending in the convention world, but cons aren’t always the most welcoming places for women and people of color. GeekGirlCon was founded to empower women and girls to pursue their geeky passions from STEM to comics and gaming; their goal of promoting underrepresented groups in geek culture is in evidence in every aspect of the event, from panel topics to logistic arrangements. GeekGirlCon’s emphasis on safety and inclusion makes it the only one where I feel comfortable letting my tween out of my sight. A quiet “introverts’ room” is perfect for taking a break with napping toddlers or tapped-out kids, and the DIY Science Zone brims with hands-on experiments to keep the kids busy.

Convention tips for families

  • For every convention, preregistration is typically cheaper than buying tickets at the door — and for some, may be the only way to get a pass.
  • Familiarize yourself with the photography policy at the convention; in general, always ask before taking pictures, and be respectful if someone says no.
  • If you cosplay, be sure to look up the weapons policy of the convention you will attend. Rules range from “nothing weapon-like ever” to “real weapons okay if disabled.”
  • Remember that inclusiveness means families are welcome, but doesn’t mean that all attendees must conform to your idea of family values. Be prepared for cosplayers with frightening masks, realistic weapons and/or very skimpy costumes. Consider it an opportunity to teach your kids that treating others with respect is unrelated to their choice of attire.


Editor's note: First published in January 2018, this article has been updated for 2019 events and dates.

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