It seems like those back-to-school ads start sooner and sooner every year. Retailers want you to rev up for fall, but hang on: We still have a few more weeks of freedom. You only get 18 summers with your kids — let’s squeeze in more fun!
Catch a $1 family-friendly flick.
Ahh... air conditioning. There’s nothing like escaping into a movie theater during the dog days of summer. Score $1 tickets to kids’ movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at participating Regal Cinemas (at Northgate, and in Redmond, Issaquah, Renton, Everett, Poulsbo and Port Orchard). Titles include “Despicable Me 3,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” and “Paddington 2.”
Visit a museum on First Thursday.
Trying to figure out what to do with antsy kids? Problem solved (at least for one day): Take part in First Thursday, when a whole slew of Seattle-area museums open their doors for free. Check out a museum you’ve never been to before, because the price is right. Participating museums include the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of History & Industry, the Northwest African American Museum and the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum.
Set sail for Seafair.
Aug. 3–5 Seafair has been a Seattle summer tradition since 1950. This year’s closing weekend lineup includes hydroplane racing, the Blue Angels, wakeboarding, BMX stunt bikes, plus a kids’ zone with inflatables. Tickets are $10–$30, $40 at the door; kids younger than 6 get in for free.
Visit new animals.
Did you hear? Woodland Park Zoo’s former elephant exhibit reopened as the Assam Rhino Reserve, featuring Taj (“Mr. Friendly”) and Glenn (“Mr. Mellow”). These two young males are the zoo’s first rhinos. Also, don’t miss the playful twin sloth bear brothers, who will turn 1 in December.
Scream for ice cream.
’Tis the season for ice cream! If you haven’t tried Salt & Straw yet, stop by for unlimited samples to see what all the fuss is about. Other don’t-miss spots on your tasting tour: Central District Ice Cream Company, Parfait Ice Cream, Cloud Nine Creamery and, of course, Molly Moon’s. A scoop of artisanal ice cream will set you back about $5, making it a cool mini splurge.
Get fitted for a free bike helmet.
Attention, South Sound families: If music and art projects aren’t enough, then come to the Covington KidsFest for a free bike helmet on Aug. 11 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Join the bike rodeo with your properly fitted protective headgear. Other great places for biking: the new loop trail at Washington Park Arboretum and the bike playground in White Center.
Book a beach staycation.
Is Maui beyond the budget? We’ve got lots of warm sand right here in the Northwest, thank you very much. Seattle summertime staples include Golden Gardens, in Ballard, and Alki, in West Seattle (try renting a double surrey for $35 per hour). Farther afield, check out Seahurst Park in Burien and Jetty Island in Everett (tip: gather a group of eight to reserve a spot on the free Jetty Island ferry).
Build a free wooden object.
The Home Depot holds free kids’ workshops on the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to noon. The store provides all the supplies — plus pint-size orange aprons — and kids take home a fully completed project. Your budding Bob the Builder can make bookworm bookends on Aug. 4, and a field goal game on Sept. 1.
Head out to the ball game.
Nothing says summer like the thwack of a ball on a bat. The Seattle Mariners play 81 games at home every season, and the team goes out of its way to make the stadium kid-friendly. There’s a children’s play area, a free kids’ club, a photo op with the Mariners Moose and tons of appetizing food options. Single-game tickets start at $15, with lots of afternoon games to make easy for young families to attend.
Geek out in the Amazon Spheres’ indoor gardens.
Prepare for sensory overload of the best kind when you visit botanical and architectural marvel that is Amazon’s latest addition to Seattle. The two ball-shaped greenhouses are filled with lush rain forest greenery and are designed to be a place for Amazon employees to go and think during the workweek.
On select Saturdays, the building opens to the public. Tickets are free, but they must be reserved in advance. Mark your calendar for 30 days before the public Saturday to snag tickets right when they are released.
Check out Big Day of Play.
Seattle Parks and Recreation throws a big party every year, and you’re invited! The free event at the Rainier Community Center includes live music, cultural events and lots of activities for active kids. Take part from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 18.
Make it a summer of learning at the library.
A free and easy way to prevent “summer slide” is to sign up for the Seattle Public Library’s summer reading club. This year’s theme is nature and the environment, and library branches across the city have lots of fun events about that topic planned. Bonus: The library’s summer reading program comes with a free pass to the Burke Museum.
To cool your toes in a lake, try Lake Washington at Madison Park, or Green Lake, which has a sandy beach. Both swimming areas are located next to fantastic playgrounds. Don’t forget the city’s free wading pools, too, which are open when the temperature is 70 degrees or above.
Get your hike on.
In honor of the National Park Service’s 102nd birthday, visit any Washington state park for free on Aug. 25. Enjoy a beautiful day outdoors without buying a Discover Pass.
Build your own playground.
Adventure playgrounds are popular in Europe, but there are only a few places in the helicopter-parenting, litigious United States where kids are set loose in the woods with hammers and nails. Try out this type of unstructured play at the Adventure Playground on Mercer Island. (For smaller kids, there’s a big, dragon-shaped slide at the adjacent playground.)
Explore South Lake Union.
Before the tech invasion, South Lake Union was a neighborhood of warehouses and boatyards. Hop on for a free Sunday boat ride at The Center for Wooden Boats. You’ll tool by all the houseboats, including the one made famous in “Sleepless in Seattle.” Bring your kite and a picnic basket to Gas Works Park, on the north side of Lake Union, and take in the terrific view of the Seattle skyline.
Plan a city getaway.
Play hometown tourist at Seattle Center.
The Space Needle recently underwent a huge renovation. Check it out by buying a City Pass for discounted tickets to the Space Needle and four other tourist attractions.
Prefer attractions that are free? Keep the kids happy at Seattle Center with the Artists at Play playground, the International Foundation and the Gates Foundation Discovery Center (open Tuesday–Saturday).
Don’t forget summer at SAM.
Pick any summer Saturday to visit the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park and you’ll be rewarded with lots of art activities and fun. Take a tour of the park starting at 1 p.m. There’s also yoga at 9 and 10:30 a.m., and Zumba at 2 p.m. All activities are free.