Modern parents are rarely accused of spending too little time with their kids. But after we’re done with the homework nagging, chore wrangling and activity ferrying, how many minutes are left for plain old family fun? Most of us never forget how much we love our kids, but every once and a while we need to be reminded how much we like them, too.
So, here’s a challenge to set aside the ever-growing to-do list and plan some pure fun time with your kids, perhaps one at a time if you’re a multi-kid family. Think of it like a grown-up-and-kid date.
Try one or all of these 10 old- and new-school ideas for outings around town, which are awesome for one-on-one time but work great as family dates, too.
1. Take a mental health day.
Taking a personal day now and then is something afforded to most working adults. But children, not so much. And that’s too bad, because they often need these reset days just as much. Consider pulling your kid out of school (very occasionally) to indulge in some time together. The best part of this idea? You don’t even have to leave the house! Stay in your PJs for the day, eat your favorite foods (maybe even order your kid’s favorite takeout!) and binge-watch a favorite show or movie, just the two of you. (And if you can’t swing a school day, you can always plan this dedicated together time for a weekend.)
2. Get cookin’.
Cooking classes aren’t just for couples. Kids and their grown-ups can get in on the action, too. PCC offers classes that adults and children can take together, but even when they don’t, you can always create a similar experience at home with online classes through Outschool or easy-to-follow recipe kits such as Raddish Kids and Eat 2 Explore. Bonus? Kids often open up when they’re elbow-deep in kneading bread or mixing cookie dough. So you’re likely to get a chance to connect on a deeper level as you cook together.
3. Start walkin’ and talkin’.
Another way to get them talking? It’s said that shoulder-to-shoulder conversations are the best way to talk to your kids, especially as they get older — and what could be better than a shoulder-to-shoulder tromp through the snow? Snowshoeing is easy to learn and much cheaper than other snow sports, plus you can do it even when snow conditions aren’t that great. Start by snowshoeing at the Nordic areas of local ski areas or on a guided walk. Rent snowshoes at REI or other outdoor gear shops. Not so into cold-weather walks? Keep it local and head for the woods on a close-to-home hike.
4. Roll with it.
Recipe for a fab family night: Lace up a pair of skates, wobble onto the vintage floor of a roller rink and hang on to each other for dear life. Hot spots include rinks such as Southgate Roller Rink (original home of the Rat City Rollergirls), Lynnwood Bowl & Skate or El Centro Skate Rink (formerly Pattison’s West; in Federal Way).
Or make things a little “cooler” (see what we did there?) and head to an ice-skating rink. The Kraken Community Iceplex at Northgate (home of the Seattle Kraken) or Sno-King Ice Arenas (with three locations on the Eastside) offer community skate times, lessons and events. Sprinker Ice Arena serves Pierce County families with all kinds of on-ice fun.
5. Get your board game on.
If you’re in the market for some family-friendly competition, the Seattle area has many game stores and cafés — making it easy to while away an evening looking for your family’s new favorite way of connecting. Try Blue Highway Games in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, Meeples Games, a gaming café in West Seattle that hosts a weekly board game night, or Mox Boarding House with outlets in Ballard and Bellevue, where you can try games in real-time before you buy them while enjoying nibbles and drinks.
If you’d rather stay in for game night, no problem. Find the best new family games at local favorites Uncle's Games, Snapdoodle Toys or Tacoma Games, with experts on hand to help you pick a crowd-pleaser for the fam. My personal recommendation, always: Catan.
6. Hunt for hidden treasure.
You want to hike, or at least walk, outside. Your kid likes technology and treasure. The win-win-win activity is geocaching, a GPS-driven hunt that you can do anywhere in the world, starting with (literally) your own backyard. Our geocaching primer outlines basic caching etiquette and local starting points to get your family into the game, from a hike in an old-growth forest on Whidbey Island to a history-driven cache hunt in Port Townsend.
Want a lower-tech hunt? Try out this popular painted rock treasure hunt, which you can participate in by searching for rocks or painting and placing your own, this nature-inspired scavenger hunt or this beachcombing adventure. (Be sure to wear your rain boots!) At Tacoma Nature Center and select Tacoma parks, check out the Agents of Discovery app for new missions coming up this spring.
7. Visit a new museum, for free (or cheap).
Museum visits can be an expensive (and sometimes short!) undertaking with kids, but if you plan it just right, you can visit many area museums at a discount or even for free. Olympia’s excellent Hands On Children’s Museum offers $1 admission on the first Friday night of the month (reserve timed-entry tickets in advance). The fun and tot-focused Children’s Museum of Tacoma offers pay-what-you-can admission every day.
Visiting The Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union is always free, and you can even take out one of the center’s rowboats for free! The art-packed and engaging Frye Art Museum on First Hill is also free every day.
White River Valley Museum in Auburn and the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor are both regional history museums that are exceptionally kid-friendly. Both offer free admission. Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory offers a balmy break from winter, and admission is inexpensive every day.
8. The show must go on …
Delightful StoryBook Theater presents hit after hit for the tot crowd, with inexpensive shows playing at various theaters around town. Seattle Children’s Theatre’s season is in full swing, as is Olympia Family Theater’s. Or try a comedy, dance or music show staged by Auburn Arts.
For older kids, consider heading to one of many of the awesome shows offered by STG Presents (with venues all around Puget Sound), or check out Ballard Homestead, a revamped former neighborhood church building that now serves as a small concert hall.
A visit to radio station KEXP’s studio and café is a treat for music and radio fans.
9. Score a hole-in-one.
One fun, low-stakes activity that’s super fun for families or as a one-on-one special date with your child is playing mini golf. It’s pretty easy to play, it’s only lightly competitive and it’s just short enough in duration to be fun and engaging the entire time you’re there. Plus, it’s appealing to every member of the family, be it a teen or a preschooler — and it’ll get you all outdoors. On the next semi-clear day, head to Rainbow Run in Redmond or Parkland Putters in Tacoma. For a more spontaneous type of golf, grab a Frisbee from the garage or the store and try out free and fun disc golf at a local park.
10. Plan a movie night.
A night out at the movies is a tried-and-true special outing with a kid. Why not skip the multiplex and try out a smaller movie house for something new? The Grand Cinema and The Blue Mouse Theatre, both in Tacoma, are independent movie houses and both offer special deals at certain times. Seattle’s Central Cinema offers a free Cartoon Happy Hour, and tweens and teens will love its Hecklevision screenings and other fun events. We also like West Seattle’s Historic Admiral Theatre and Ballard’s Majestic Bay, and Shoreline’s Landmark Crest Cinema Center is a go-to for cheap movie tix.
Editor’s note: Elisa Murray contributed to this article, which was published in 2022 and has been updated for 2023.