Being a parent isn’t a glorious job, but at least — here in the Northwest — we can wipe noses and dry tears against a spectacular backdrop. On a given day, we can head to a park to watch trains, go beachcombing and take a run down a salmon slide; hike to an amazing waterfall; or take a ferry ride with views and room to explore.
Half the fun of taking the kids to a new park or adventure is sharing it with others. So thank you, readers, for sharing your top picks and new favorites for family fun.
2015 Activities for Kids — Winners + Finalists:
WINNER: Caspar Babypants
From Beatles covers to eminently singable pop songs to original lullabies (most recently in his new album, Night Night), Caspar Babypants creates some of the catchiest kids’ tunes around. Don’t miss one of his highly engaging, never overwhelming live concerts, where — if you’re lucky — he might compose a new song on the spot.
As a ParentMap reviewer noted this year, Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) is not just good for a kid’s theater. It is one of Seattle’s best theater companies. SCT’s productions are consistently excellent, entertaining and thought-provoking for any age. And its next season — with a range of shows, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Brooklyn Bridge — is a fantastic lineup.
Magician Evan Reynolds started Evan’s Family Variety Show as a way to showcase a variety of magic and circus arts — from magicians and jugglers to Hula-Hoopers — in a family-friendly format. Check his website for the date of the next show; they are often free, and each one is different.
Want a birthday-party performer who can literally pull a rabbit out of a hat? Xakary the Magician is your magician. Parents rave about his talent, his humor and his ability to absolutely captivate a roomful of kids.
Magic shows are hilarious, educational and as enthralling for adults as they are for kids. That’s what you’re telling us about Jeff Evans, a favorite local magician who specializes in highly engaging interactive shows that he’ll customize for any audience. “Best I’ve seen in years, and I’m no spring chicken,” says one reader. “Best magician ever,” enthuses another.
An ideal show for both preschoolers and older kids who appreciate witty language and twisty storylines, StoryBook Theater is loved by readers for its short, interactive highly entertaining musicals that are riffs on traditional fairy tales.
A small puppet theater founded by the well-known puppeteering family the Carters, Northwest Puppet Center both presents its own original Carter Family Marionette shows and wonderful touring shows.
⇑ Activities for Kids | Geek Fun ⇒
WINNER: Pacific Science Center
From a planetarium to dinosaurs to a butterfly house and hands-on fun at the Tinker Tank, Pacific Science Center could keep kids happily exploring for days — and this is before you get to the outdoor water wheel and high-rail bicycle (open during the summer). This summer, don’t miss a jaw-dropping show at the recently upgraded Boeing IMAX theater, or “Grossology (The Impolite Science of the Human Body),” a hands-on exhibit that answers questions about boogers, burps and other bodily functions at the intersection of “Ick!” and “Cool!”
A tech-y treasure hunt hobby that gets kids outside and families exploring together, geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon that families can do anywhere, anytime (maybe in your backyard!).
Olympia’s Hands On Children’s Museum, in its wonderful space on East Bay, is also beloved for its, well, hands-on fun, from an outdoor driftwood-buildig area to a unique treetop climber/slide that encourages kids to imagine they’re a Pacific Northwest raindrop.
Located in Seattle's University District, Burke Museum is ground zero for making science and native cultures cool for kids, with exhibits on dinos, volcanoes, native arts and more. Don't miss its "80 Days of Summer" special features for families this summer.
The first tip for Emerald City Comicon, held annually in March, is to buy tickets as early as possible. Next: Start planning your costume now, as one of the funnest features of the annual gathering of comic geekery is to costume and cosplay away.
The newest Chuck Jones exhibit — featuring the animation genius behind Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and more — is just the latest reason to visit to EMP Museum, which might be the truest haven of geekery that we have. Don't miss the "Icons of Science Fiction” exhibit, featuring artifacts such as the command chair from Star Trek and Christopher Reeve’s Superman costume.
WINNER: Pacific Science Center
Pacific Science Center wins again! From roaring dinos to a planetarium that will leave kids starstruck, and from the Tropical Butterfly House to the Wellbody Academy, Pacific Science Center delivers science and wonder daily.
Lynnwood’s PlayHappy Café (formerly known as PlayDate Café) is a home away from home for many Puget Sound parents, boasting a bright, toy-packed, 2,000-square-foot play space for kids ages newborn–6 years old, an excellent café for parents (Caffe Ladro drinks, salads, smoothies, sandwiches) and programs ranging from dance classes to a preschool.
Located in a sizzling spot near all the fun of South Lake Union, PlayDate SEA is an 8,000-foot, Atlantis-themed playscape with slides, climbing towers, tunnels, a ball-cannon area and a grown-up-friendly café area. Tip: On the last Wednesday of the month admission is free with a canned-food donation.
WiggleWorks Kids, with locations that include a recently expanded space at Crossroads in Bellevue and in Puyallup, is a spotless, moving, highly engaging playscape where wee ones (kids less than 48 inches tall) can swing on giant balls, chase balloons, run, hop and wiggle away.
Bellevue’s KidsQuest Children’s Museum is another favorite for rainy-day play on the Eastside. Kids can float boats, drive trucks, climb into a tree house and more.
On sunny days, play with the driftwood forts and in the reclaimed-water stream; on rainy days, play in one of the dozen engaging exhibits inside. Olympia's Hands On Children’s Museum does it all.
⇐ Geek Fun | ⇑ Activities for Kids | Birthday Venues ⇒
WINNER: Pump It Up
From a themed party where your kiddo can become a pirate or superhero to a brilliant glow-in-the-dark fest, Pump It Up — with locations in Kirkland and Lynnwood — knows how to deliver the parties kids love. Bonus: Parties are always private; it’s just your guests in both the play area and the party room.
Located in the space on Queen Anne that formerly housed Twirl Cafe, Umbrella Tree) is a bright, mom-owned indoor play area with a large, gated play space, a café and creative classes. Party options abound: You can book the entire studio, including the play space and Movement Gym, for as many as 75 people; and party themes range from cooking to a royal celebration to jungle yoga.
Based out of Snohomish, Moonie Icy Tunes is every kid’s dream: an ice cream jeep that will show up at the party and deliver the sweet goods, with products from Good Humor, Chunks O’ Fruiti and Klondike, as well as premium gelato and sorbetto. “Awesome truck, amazing people and a great experience for everyone,” says a reader.
Want to wear out your kids and teach ’em some skills before cake? With more than 10 western Washington locations, The Little Gym is your answer, with unique party adventures such as “Dora the Explorer,” “Go, Diego, Go” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
WiggleWorks Kids, spotless, moving playscapes in Puyallup and Bellevue, also wins raves for its party pros: "They handle all the set up. I just had to bring my little one!"
"Super-cute party rooms!," raves one satisfied parent of PlayHappy Café's party ethos. Parents like the organic food selection, the friendly staff, and fun activities for littles.
WINNER: Remlinger Farms
Berry picking, petting zoo, miniature roller coaster, steam train, pony rides: It’s hours of fun at beloved Remlinger Farms, a farm/amusement park/berry patch in Carnation. Readers praise the all-inclusive rates at the Family Fun Park, the mini rides and the easy-picking berries for little fingers. It’s “perfect for young kids,” says one fan.
Located in the lush Snohomish River valley, The Farm at Swan’s Trail is fun central in the fall, with a 45-acre pumpkin patch, a U-pick apple orchard, nine-hole putting course, flashlight maze, duck and pig races, and a locally famous Washington state–shaped corn maze.
Stop by Carnation’s lovely Oxbow Farm and Education Center on one of its Family Farm Days to picnic in the meadows, frolic in the Living Playground and learn about sustainable farming and conservation. Oxbow also offers wonderful farm camps and a pumpkin patch with heirloom varieties.
Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm in Snohomish is another fall favorite for readers. Pick a squash from the large U-pick field, get lost in the 10-acre corn maze and reserve a fire pit for an evening gathering (birthday party alert!).
Carpinito Brothers in Kent offers all the fall favorites, too: U-pick pumpkins, tractor-pulled hay rides, two giant corn mazes and yummy harvest snacks like roasted corn on the cob.
Located in the lush Snohomish valley, Mountainview Farm offers a view all the way to Mt. Baker and 20 varieties of blueberries.
Urban Nature Experiences
WINNER: Discovery Park
Wild Discovery Park, a former military base that is the largest park in Seattle, has it all. From the 2.8-mile trail loop through forests, meadows and along bluffs with breathtaking views to driftwood-tossed beaches and even a lighthouse, the range of nature experiences in Seattle’s largest park is astounding.
Follow the winding road down to Carkeek Park and you’ve thoroughly escaped the city. Wander the creekside trails (look for spawning salmon in the fall), study tidal life and climb logs on the spectacular rocky beach, and wear ’em out at the playground with a view (best known for its salmon slide).
On the shores of Lake Washington, Saint Edward State Park is another can’t-miss favorite, with miles of trails, lake swimming and a famous castle-themed playground surrounded by forest (on a hot day, it’s paradise). Keep an eye out for bald eagles and otters.
Incomparable foliage in the fall, a fragrant winter garden from November to March, blossoms galore in the spring: The 230-acre Washington Park Arboretum is a wonderful destination any time of the year. Kids love the wetland trails, hidden ponds and bridges and the nature programs (check out the Fiddleheads Forest preschool).
With farm animals, hiking trails, a playground, meadows and cool "Kids on the Farm" camps and classes, Bellevue's Kelsey Creek Farm is a favorite desination for any outdoorsy family.
Sssshhh! While hordes of hikers crowd the trails at spots such as Little Si and Twin Falls, Bellevue's lovely gem of a park, Mercer Slough Nature Park, remains blissfully undercrowded. Check out the fun nature classes and don't forget to climb the lookout tower.
Old-growth trees, resident eagle nests, shoreline, an amazing playground, hiking trails, an Audubon Center with all kids of cool classes: You could spend months exploring south Seattle's wonderful Seward Park and never get bored.
Water Playparks + Pools
WINNER: Lynnwood Recreation Center & Pool
Once again, families can't get enough of the Lynnwood Recreation Center & Pool,with its water slides, lazy river, water playground and warm-water therapy pool. Don't forget to hang out in the family hot tub.
For epic water fun in any season, Great Wolf Lodge continues to be a magnet for families. From the Howlin' Tornado slide to the more mellow Cub Paw for the little set, kids of every age will find a screamin' good time. Don't forget to check out the MagiQuest adventure game, for out-of-the-water fun.
The orca-themed spray park at Crossroads also brings on the screams of delight. Time it for a Tuesday so you can also hit the awesome farmers market.
The Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion is another favorite, especially for the littlest set, with its mellow lazy river, large shallow wading pool and no spray jets to scare tiny tots.
Just a year old, the Snohomish Aquatic Center has made it on everyone's swimming wish list, with a giant, enclosed water slide, basketball hoops, lazy river and FlowRider surf simulation machine.
The Rainier Beach Community Center pool is another relatively new star in the local indoor-swimming galaxy, with an 85-degree lap pool, a 93-degree leisure pool outfitted with a shallow wading/spray area, a lazy river/whirlpool, a hot tub, and an epic corkscrew water slide.
Tourist in Your Own Town
WINNER: Pike Place Market
From the fish throwers, buskers and Hmong flower sellers in the open-air market to the kitschy magic and comic shops that burrow beneath, the 108-year-old Pike Place Market always offers something new. Enjoy the traditional highlights — visit the gum wall, watch cheese being made at Beecher’s and picnic at view-rich Victor Steinbrueck Park — but also take time to find your own market discoveries.
With award-winning exhibits designed to mimic natural animal habitats, Woodland Park Zoo is one of the top zoos in the country, with a mission dedicated to education and conservation. Don’t miss the tigers and sloth bears in the new Banyan Wilds exhibit, quirkier species such as Komodo dragons and warthogs, and the pigs and chickens at the Family Farm.
Washington State Ferries is the classic cheap thrill for tourists and locals alike, with views, fresh air, wildlife sightings and room to spread out. Take the ferry to Bremerton to splash in the volcano fountains; to Bainbridge for museums and foodie fun; or to Kingston for beach time and ice cream. Or buy some popcorn and Ivar’s clam chowder and settle in for the ride.
Quack, quack! No need to wait for visitors to indulge in Ride the Ducks, a series of land-and-water tours in Seattle that are informative and hilarious. Expect a guide who narrates with jokes, music and funky dancing.
Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks is a fantastic place to take visitors and one of Seattle's most interesting and lovely parks: Beween the drama of the boats moving in and out of the locks, the fish ladder, the well-groomed lawns and gardens, and the free weekend concerts, you can't get bored.
From playful sea lions to an amazing tide pool exhibit to its awesome octupuses, Seattle Aquarium is magnetic for families. Combine it with a spin on the Great Wheel.
Kid/family volunteering opportunities
WINNER: Community food banks
The great thing about volunteering for a food bank with kids is that they get it, immediately: People go hungry and we need to help. And you can often volunteer in your own neighborhood, either by collecting canned-food donations, or by working to package food in the food bank itself. Find information on how to help hungry families in this article, as well as a list of local organizations that accept help and volunteers.
Another great, simple giving-back activity for kids is picking up litter at community parks. Join a local volunteer group, or do it on your own.
Did you know that 22 of NASA's career astronauts are lifelong Girl Scouts? This is just one example of the impact of Girl Scouts and its leadership opportunities for girls. Western Washington serves more than 26,000 girls from kindergarten to 12th grade.
With locations in Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Shoreline and Carnation, Hopelink offers various food-banks volunteering opportunities for families and individuals that are hoping to help give back.
Kids as young as age 6 can volunteer at Shoreline's Food Lifeline, an organization that repackages bulk donations of food for delivery to food banks and shelters.
What a cool opportunity! Teens ages 14 to 17 can volunteer at KidsQuest Children’s Museum to lead hands-on activities, interact with visitors at the exhibits, assist staff, and generally make a difference in kids' lives.
Classic Holiday Events
WINNER: Bellevue Square’s Snowflake Lane
It's easy to see why Snowflake Lane, a lavish music-and-light show that up the sidewalks between Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square daily during the holidays, is such a hit with families. It's free, happens daily, and is awesome; kids especially love the live tin soldiers and other holiday characters.
For only $5 (and free for kids ages 12 and under), you can gain entry to Bellevue Botanical Garden's stunning Garden d’Lights show, with thousands of colored lights twisted into fanciful flower and garden shapes.
ZooLights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is the big kahuna of all the local lights shows, with hundreds of thousands of lights used to create glittering, inventive displays (sharks! Mount Rainier!); kids also love the camel rides, carousel and a peek into the aquarium.
Every year, top local chefs concoct an architectural masterpiece of gingerbread, and display the Gingerbread Village (each year with a different theme) at Sheraton Seattle Hotel. Guests can stop by and view it for free daily during the holiday season.
You can pay to ride on a ship during the Argosy Christmas Ship Festival, where top choral groups sing aboard, and serenade land lubbers at designated spots. Or you can head to a beach to build a bonfire and listen for free.
With over a million lights on display and literally dozens of attractions, you could spend a weekend exploring the North Sound's huge Lights of Christmas at Warm Beach Festival; It includes live music, story-telling, a petting farm, pony rides, train rides, local art, gifts, snacks and Washington State's only talking Christmas tree.
Shake Things Up
WINNER: Pike Place Market
Winter, spring, summer or fall, Seattle's venerable farmers market — the one that started it all — is chock full of surprises. From the magic and knick-knack shops that burrow underneath to the Hmong flower sellers to hidden terraces and see-it-in-action cheesemaking at Beecher's, take a day at least once a year to expore Pike Place Market.
If your family bonding needs a little kick in the pants, Thrillsville is as close as Great Mound, Washington, and the epic slides and spray jets at Great Wolf Lodge.
From berry picking to petting zoo to amusement park, Carnation's Remlinger Farms also has something for everyone, especially the little guys.
On a hot, hot day, only Wild Waves Theme Park will do, right? The plan: Cool off at the Pirates Cove area or wave pool or (for the bigger kids) the new Mountain Dew slide complex. Then thrill yourself silly on the coasters and bumper cars. Then back to the water.
Put this one on your special-birthday bucket list. IFly in Tukwila offers an indoor skydiving experience in a vertical wind tunnel chamber that's so realistic that world champion freefall skydiving team train in iFLY wind tunnels.
⇐ Holiday Activities | ⇑ Activities for Kids | Splurge ⇒
WINNER: Great Wolf Lodge
We can't get enough of the Grand Mound's epic water-full experience, apparently. See our feature article for top tips on what to do.
Not suprisingly, "movies" also rated high for a splurge. Who doesn't love escaping via the big screen with or without kids?
When you've got a few extra bucks and the family in tow, Pacific Science Center is also one of your top choices for what to do: dinosaurs, butterlies, tinkering and hands-on science.
Who needs the big theme parks when you've got places like Edmonds' Family Fun Center & Bullwinkle’s Restaurant around the corner. Free parking and dozens of attractions, from mini golf to rides to batting cages, round out your day of fun.
You need to shop, they want to play (and nosh). You can do both at Bellevue Square, with its Kids' Cove play area and wonderful selection of stores and eateries.