Rising up on the eastern shores of Lake Washington, downtown Bellevue is the urban jewel of the suburban Eastside, known for its gleaming high-rises, glam restaurant scene and extensive shopping. While all of that may sound like a playground for grown-ups more than littles, the locals know better.
This bustling area offers family fun galore, with plenty of exciting play spots and kid-friendly eats, not to mention what just may well be the coolest playground around. Follow us on an insider’s playday tour through downtown Bellevue’s 10 must-visit attractions.
There is no way around it: The massive, inclusive and awe-inspiring Inspiration Playground, sprawled across the southwest corner of Bellevue’s Downtown Park, is an essential stop for any parent in the vicinity. Designed to accommodate kids of all abilities, the nature-themed playscape is packed with unique elements you won’t find anywhere else: A climbing vine wall, a glider “boat” and swinging benches for caregivers are just a few of the amenities. Once the weather warms up, families flock to the incredible central spray park, complete with a stream, rock tunnels and a realistic waterfall. Afterward, take a stroll around the rest of the park, or head to the huge field for a picnic.
Weather not cooperating for a park day? No problem! Discover endless indoor fun at this beloved hangout that draws families from all over the region. KidsQuest Children’s Museum, located right off the downtown center, is the go-to destination for hours of learning and play. Scale the thrilling two-story climbing structure, explore an old-time grocery store, build with recycled materials or make a splash in the water gallery — and those are only a fraction of the diverse exhibits that await. The 3-and-younger crowd gets its own Tot Orchard room to explore to their hearts’ content without getting run over by the big kids.
Looking to follow up your museum visit with some new reads to take home? Luckily, the awesome Bellevue branch of the King County Library System is located just a few steps away! The third floor hosts the cozy children’s section, which was renovated a few years ago with whimsical murals, fun cloud seats and adorable giant birds. Leisurely browse the extensive selection of children’s titles, explore educational games or check out one of the story times for little ones. There are also various programs and events for the older kiddos, such as Math Club and Talk Time. Don’t miss the library’s unique Makerspace, where you can reserve a time to tinker and create with all manner of STEAM software and equipment, from 3D printers and robotic Legos to crafting supplies; there is even a sound and recording room for your future rock stars.
Drive just a few minutes out of the hustle and bustle of Bellevue’s downtown core, and you’ve swapped an ultra-urban adventure for a chill beach day. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, Meydenbauer Bay Park is a not-so-hidden jewel that was completely redesigned in 2019. Water-play opportunities abound at the gorgeous stretch of sandy beach and swimming area, which includes a 400-foot pedestrian pier and a seasonal boathouse stocked with rental kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards. For year-round fun, head to the adjacent nature-inspired playground, which features skipping logs and climbing rocks. Pro tip: Parking at this popular spot is limited, so arrive early to snag a space.
What goes best with a beach (or park) day? Ice cream, of course! Luckily, there’s no shortage of the cold stuff here, with not one, but two locations of local favorite scoop shop Molly Moon’s. In 2020, Bellevue became home to the ice creamery’s flagship store (and its biggest location), located just down the street from Downtown Park. The spacious shop is stocked with all of the beloved flavors that make it so famous, from classic “always” options, such as strawberry and salted caramel, to funky seasonal choices (have you tried “movie night popcorn”?). An open kitchen allows a peek at the pastry team as it bakes fresh waffle cones. And if the three-minute walk from the park is too far to go for a cone, you’re covered — a walk-up kiosk opens up for the warm season just steps away and across the street from Inspiration Playground!
If your little swashbucklers need to stretch their sea legs, sail on over to the pirate paradise of Kids’ Cove on the third floor of the Bellevue Square shopping mall. This awesome free play space lets the little ones run, climb and slide to their hearts’ content. Caregivers can catch a break from shopping or — dare we say it? — enjoy a cup of hot coffee, while youngsters explore nautical-themed soft-play elements such as boats, bridges and a lighthouse. The fenced and gated play area is furnished with counter seating for grown-ups around the perimeter; the shoes come off to keep the space cootie-free. Need to refuel? Hit up one of the mall’s many kid-friendly eateries, such as Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, or grab a sweet treat from the Lolli and Pops candy store downstairs.
Now here’s “dumpling” to talk about: Famous Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung is a legend when it comes to dumplings. Bellevue’s Lincoln Square North is home to one of the restaurant’s four Seattle-area locations, which are known for lines of diners waiting to gobble up the pillowy pockets of deliciousness. Families flock to it for the large tables and wide variety of choices of the universal-favorite comfort food. The star of the show is xiao long bao — paper-thin soup bundles filled with juicy pork and rich broth. There are plenty of other options on the menu, including wontons, steamed dumplings and more. For a less busy alternative, consider Dough Zone, which serves an extensive menu of tasty dumplings and noodle dishes at its Main Street location in quaint Old Bellevue. (Discover more dumpling destinations here.)
Downtown Bellevue is the region’s mecca for fantastic shopping, high-end dining and glitzy nightlife. The only problem? It isn’t exactly easy for parents of young ones to take advantage of all of these fabulous offerings. Fortunately, there is a convenient solution for caregivers wanting to get away on a shopping spree or much-needed date night. Enter Adventure Kids Playcare. This fabulous drop-in child-care space, located just a couple of blocks away from Bellevue Square, will ensure that your kids have a supervised blast while you enjoy some adult time. Various areas cater to kiddos ages 6 weeks–12 years, offering a range of engaging activities, such as arts and crafts, sports, climbing and plenty of free play — all for an hourly fee. Also on offer are a variety of after-school classes, camps, theme nights and more!
Looking for new family-fun options for your older kids and teens? Get ready to roll at the lanes of Lucky Strike in Bellevue’s Lincoln Square. This glammed-up bowling alley makes for a fantastic weekend outing that will tempt even the most angsty of teens. Cushy seating and funky lighting create cool vibes. Even better, you can munch as you bowl — order pizzas, sandwiches and nachos from the bar, and your server will bring them right to your lane (perfect if you have wee ones who struggle to sit through a meal)! More entertainment awaits in the huge arcade next door, a perfect hangout for your teen and their friends — without mom and dad.
Another Lincoln Square watering hole, Forum Social House restaurant and bar may seem like a surprising addition to a list of family-friendly attractions, but this playful venue hides a surprise inside: a unique Par 1 miniature golf course that welcomes all ages before 10 p.m. Holes feature ultrafun themes such as UFO cows, a soccer net and even a rainbow unicorn to sit on while swinging! An upscale casual-fare menu offers kid-pleasing options for the younger diners, including Texas toast grilled cheese and a mac-and-cheese bowl. For even more playtime, head upstairs to the fancy Topgolf Swing Suite, which can be reserved for your group. Besides golf, the huge projection screens offer game simulations for baseball, hockey and zombie dodgeball.