1. Jetty Island, Everett
We want more of these: The park, indoor play space, beach, pool that you can visit over and over again kids and never get bored. So in search, of new best-kept secrets, we asked Facebook readers about the gems they discovered in 2012.
The most-cited, not surprisingly, was Jetty Island.
Located just five minutes via free foot ferry from the Everett waterfront, Jetty Island features over two miles of sandy beaches and warm, shallow water that appears to go on forever, plus nifty free programs throughout the summer, from puppet shows to nature walks. It's open from July to September. "Always a hit with the kids."
2. Volunteer Park, Seattle
A few things to love about Volunteer Park: A conservatory that's a perfect place to spend a rainy day, the elegant Asian Art Museum, a water tower to climb, playground, wading pool in the summer, lovely trees and paths.
"This summer my boyfriend and I took the kids to Volunteer Park. We got to visit the Asian Art Museum for free, we saw all the beautiful plants in the conservatory, and lastly we took the kids to the wading pool to cool off. Volunteer park is now our favorite park."
3. Kubota Gardens, south Seattle
A stunning Japanese garden in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of south Seattle, Kubota boasts a huge pond, a recreated mountain stream, meadows, a stone garden, a more formal Japanese garden.
"Beautiful in the spring with all the blooms! I take everyone who visits me there!"
4. Crossroads Mall, Bellevue
Everyone who visits knows: Crossroads is a mall in a million. Owned and developed by Ron Sher, of Third Place Books fame, Crossroads is a truly a global gathering spot, with a multicultural food court, a music venue (MarketStage) that hosts terrific free concerts on weekends, and a giant chess board.
Plus, there's a new soft-play indoor play space for younger kids (Wiggleworks), and a playground and spray park outside."Well outfitted for the mom of a toddler!" says one reader.
5. Kandle Park, Tacoma
Newly upgraded, Kandle Park (and pool) in Tacoma’s north end is a family's dream. The redesigned park has an accessible playground, skate options, basketball courts, picnic tables and green playfields.
The outdoor pool, opened to great fanfare last summer, features a gradual beach-like, a one-of-a-kind wave pool, and a separate shallow tot pool and sprayground.
6. Northacres Park, North Seattle
The redesigned Northacres Park and new spray pad was popular almost before it opened, early in the summer of 2012, for good reason. In addition to the new state-of-the-art spray pad, a huge draw in itself, it also has a fantastic new two-part playground (for toddlers and older kids), hiking trails, a great hill to roll down and more.
"Great mid-way meet up for all my Seattle pals since we moved north," says a fan.
7. Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail
If you, like me, hadn't heard of the Route of the Hiawatha rails-to-trails between Idaho and Montana, it's worth going to the website to browse more photos to get a feel for why it's been called one of the most beautiful paths in the world.
The gravel trail, completed in 2001, follows the former path of the Milwaukee Railroad, you ride through 10 tunnels that burrow through the Bitterroot Mountains (including, most famously, the 1.5-mile Taft Tunnel, and crosses seven high former railroad trestles. Dramatic, and, because it's flat, still family-friendly.
8. Cal Anderson Park, Seattle
Named by Forbes.com as one of the nation's best parks, the seven-acre Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill features a fountain, newish playground, open fields ripe for picnicking, racing, or catch, oversize chess boards and more amenities that make it feel like the perfect community-minded urban park.
The north part of the park is built on the lid that covers the Lincoln Reservoir, so visitors can play while suspended over a portion of Seattle's drinking water.
9. Dead Horse Canyon, aka Lakeridge Park
We had to look this one up -- talk about best-kept secret! South Seattle's Dead Horse Canyon, now called the more ho-hum name of Lakeridge Park, is, a lovely, little-known shady ravine of a park near Rainier Beach.
With Taylor Creek running through it, it's reportedly one of the best places to be on a very hot day (remember very hot days?). Think urban oasis.
10. Baker Lake, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
A gem of a lake in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, located off Highway 20, with sweeping views of Mount Baker, Baker Lake is a perfect spot for a multi-day (and multi-family) camping trip.
One favorite (of many people, I'm afraid) is Panorama Point campground, located midway up the lake. Swim, canoe, hike, fish, and just soak in the beauty.
11. Lake Union Park
This is my personal addition, because this is the year that my family discovered Lake Union Park. It's all-season fun. Start a few blocks away at the Portage Bay Cafe for a heaping plate of pancakes plus toppings from the pancake bar, then grab the Lake Union Streetcar to the park. Watch the boats and the float planes, sail a little wooden boat on the pond for $5, or take out one of the real deals from the Center for Wooden Boats. And now, starting on December 29, we'll have MOHAI, too!
Photo: Curtis Cronn/flickr