An argument: The best time to really get to know Puget Sound is not in the height of summer. That’s too easy — postcard vistas of ferries crossing the sparkling Sound, spectacular sunsets and starfish-strewn beaches. No, the time to really get to know our region is in the drippy season, when rubber boots and slickers are the garb of choice and getting outdoors takes some talking-into.
So whether you’re visiting for a few days over winter break or looking for a fresh idea for weekend days, here are four itineraries for exploring the authentic side of greater Seattle.
1. Retro-geek fun in SoDo and the International District
Seattle is a city where preschoolers know the main plot points of the Star Wars saga (whether or not they’ve actually seen the movies), schoolkids learn to program and gaming is something the entire family does together. But whether or not your family flies its geek flag high, here’s an itinerary for vintage-geek fun.
With everyone’s energy level high, stop by the Living Computer Museum in SoDo, just south of the International District. This 15,000-square-foot facility houses a Paul Allen–assembled collection of 60-odd vintage computers that have been meticulously restored and are still functional. Now you can show your kids what it was like to “boot” a computer and use floppy discs; they can also experiment with writing BASIC, play vintage computer games and try a Teletype ($2–$6, ages 5 and under free, open Tuesday–Sunday).
Extra credit: A short drive away in the International District, retro-geek out at the Seattle Pinball Museum, where one admission fee gets you unlimited access to more than 50 games (only for ages 7 and older). In December, finish up with a bang by heading to the Seattle Center to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 3-D at Pacific Science Center’s Boeing IMAX Theater (opens Dec. 18).
2. Hiking in the rain in Bellevue and Issaquah
In the winter, the mom footwear of choice around these parts is a stylin’ pair of galoshes, so we can be ready to drag, er, bring our offspring to the trails no matter what the weather.
But where to go? One of my new favorite winter hikes is Lewis Creek Park, a 55-acre preserve located off Bellevue’s Lakemont Blvd. S.E. that boasts three miles of boardwalk and well-maintained trails that loop through wetland, grassland and forest up and back to the visitor center (there are also two play areas). Rain or not, stop by the beautiful visitor center to learn about critters, talk to rangers about local geology and admire the view. On weekends the center hosts classes on topics from geocaching to animal tracking for next to nothing (no parking fee, open Wednesday–Sunday).
Extra credit: For a more challenging expedition, head just a bit farther south to Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. Park at the Red Town trailhead and pick from trails including the lovely, largely flat two-mile round-trip hike to Coal Creek Falls.
3. Classic cars in Tacoma
If you live in Puget Sound and have a car-crazy kid (or adult) in the family, you’ve probably visited LeMay America’s Car Museum. But did you know about the “other” LeMay museum?
The LeMay Family Collection at Marymount Event Center in south Tacoma is a huge facility that houses more than 1,500 more vehicles from the collection of Harold LeMay, who assembled the largest privately owned collection of vehicles in the world. At any given time, visitors can see hundreds of vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles in various states of restoration in the galleries and giant buildings. Though a do-not-touch policy is mostly in place, the dedicated docents will tailor tours to families, and there is a kids’ play area. ($5–$15, kids 5 and under free, open Tuesday–Sunday).
Extra credit: If you haven’t yet been to the LeMay America’s Car Museum in downtown Tacoma, that’s absolutely worth a stop. Wander through the pristine displays of more than 300 vintage automobiles, race slot cars and pinewood vehicles, and create at monthly STEM Saturday workshops.
During the holidays, rev your engines and visit the spectacular Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park, the largest drive-through light show in the Northwest, located a stone’s throw from the Marymount Event Center. If your kids are train-crazy, too, don’t miss the vast model train layouts at the Model Train Festival at Washington State History Museum (Dec. 21–Jan. 1).
4. Going green in Greenwood
In Puget Sound, a green sensibility starts young: Kids cheer on salmon during fall field trips and lecture their parents on recycling. Spend a green day in the Phinney/Greenwood area of North Seattle with a first stop at innovative Seattle ReCreative, a beloved “creative reuse” center (the only one in Seattle) that moved to its Greenwood digs in 2015. The downstairs is a bright, beautifully cluttered space packed with every kind of material imaginable: buttons, fabric scraps, vintage postcards, old puppets, greeting cards and craft supplies such as glue guns. It also hosts multiple classes a week, from family woodworking to introductory sewing to a “paint playground” for young kids and a Saturday skill share for all ages. Upstairs is a free play space, with fort-building material, a train table and more.
Extra credit: Across the street, stop by G&O Family Cyclery, the local experts in biking as transportation for families.
Green fuel: Right next to Seattle ReCreative, Chaco Canyon is an organic vegan café offering fare that’s both über-healthy and kid-friendly.
A perfect winter outing
Want more fresh ideas for off-season fun? We asked local adventurers for their perfect winter’s day.
The ferry adventure
“One of my favorites is a trip to Bainbridge for ice cream at Mora, no car required! After taking the ferry over, visit the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial and one of the many parks. Also consider a stop at Marché for a visit to the bar (the counter is child-friendly, and you can watch the magic happen) for a quick bite before or after ice cream!” — Donna Moodie, owner of Marjorie restaurant and Mayor-appointed commissioner for the Seattle Center
The culinary adventure
“Here’s a recipe for a fun Sunday: Visit the Ballard Farmers Market — it’s great in the winter because there are fewer crowds. Then head to Fremont for lunch at Revel, where you can eat tons of delicious noodles. Then for the real treat: a 2:30 p.m. kids’ tour at Theo Chocolate followed by a chocolate-themed story time.” — Angela Stowell, restaurateur
The holiday bus adventure
“One of my favorite local organizations is Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association, an all-volunteer group of mostly current and former bus operators who restore vintage Metro and Seattle Transit buses and use them to provide fun, low-cost excursions to the public. One of the most popular is Santa’s Lights, a three-hour tour of the best holiday lights in Seattle, held on Dec. 12 this year, from 7 to 10 p.m. (only $5). Kids will love the novelty of the old-school vehicle, the sense of community fostered by a group excursion after dark and, of course, the beautiful lights.” — Carla Saulter, blogger at BusChick.com
The perfect park outing
“A great park to explore in the winter is the recently restored Montlake Playfield. The gigantic playground offers several unique play structures (the huge obstacle course for older kids is especially amazing, as are the steep slides!). Parents can exercise on adult equipment that overlooks the play area. Turn your visit into a longer outing by finding the hidden wetland trail at the north end of the park.” — Linnea Westerlind, blogger at YearofSeattleParks.com
The best-kept-secret hike
“I like Paradise Valley Conservation Area, a new Snohomish County park near Woodinville that offers a good close-in outdoor escape. Mostly level trails loop through and around the headwaters of Bear Creek, letting you explore among the large trees and wetlands.” — Krista Dooley, Washington Trails Association