Read more Family Adventure Guide stories! Find a gold-rush vacation, best summer splurges and more
Seattle is famous for having more dogs than children, but this city is just as welcoming to our two-legged critters. It helps that kids, especially the under-6 crowd, are easy to please. For toddlers and pre-kindergartners, a morning at the hardware store or a bus ride around the neighborhood is just as magical as a Space Needle visit, and neither will cost you much. And the youngest kids get the best deals, too: From ferry rides to museums, they are a cheap date.
Here’s a look at top local adventures — many of them free — for the small set. Think of this as a summer bucket list of things to do before your child turns 6. But get moving: The days are long, but the summers are short. They’ll be big kids before you know it.
Admission is always free at the Frye Museum — a small, excellent art museum on First Hill — as is Small Frye, its popular monthly story time and art-making program on the first Friday morning of every month, designed for kids ages 3 to 5. Teaching artists from the Seattle Children’s Theatre act out a story in the galleries with a lot of interactive help from the little ones in the audience. After story time, the museum’s art educators lead a creative project in the studio that is a takeoff from the story.
Tip: Anyone can drop in for the storytelling, but you do have to register online to snag a spot in the art session. Small Frye is every first Friday, from 10:30–11:45 a.m.
Shake up your regular library routine by booking a new story time. Some of the most popular story time librarians around Seattle include Erica Delavan, whose story times are famous for their baby mosh pits, at Seattle Public Library’s Northeast Seattle Branch; Mynique Adams, who is known for her music play list, at Seattle Public Library’s Douglass-Truth Branch; and Destinee Sutton, who wraps up story time with a bubble machine and time to build new friendships, at the Burien Library.
Tip: Another story time for your bookish bucket list is by Linda Ernst, a librarian at the Mercer Island Library. Ernst is an early literacy expert who literally wrote the book about baby story time; find her books on Amazon.
Toddler-size farm fun
While the big kids are still in school, preschoolers get the run of Remlinger Farms, a U-pick farm/mini-amusement park in Carnation that makes a fantastic outing. On select days through mid-June, tickets are half-price for special “Toddler Weekdays” – not all rides are open but there’s still plenty to thrill kids, from rides to critters, with fewer crowds. The weekday special runs May 15 through June 16; and the cost is $7.61 per person (adults also need tickets).
Tip: While there’s a restaurant and snack bar on site, save bucks by bringing your own snacks and eating outside the park at one of the picnic areas.
A ferry tale
Looking for a cheap and easy escape with your small wanderers? Take the ferry from Seattle’s Colman Dock to Bainbridge Island for a family day trip. Tickets are $8.20 for adults, and kids under 6 are free. The Seattle-Bainbridge crossing time is 35 minutes. You get great views of the Seattle skyline and the islands, while the kids explore the ferry. Cars on a boat? It never gets old. Once you arrive on Bainbridge, it’s a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal to the Kids Discovery Museum, complete with pirate tree house and play areas galore.
Tip: KiDiMu is free on First Thursdays, and the family-friendly Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, right next door, is always free.
Bus a move
Maybe it’s sitting in a big-person seat, or maybe it’s the sheer size of the vehicle. For whatever reason, taking a city bus makes getting there just as fun as the destination. In Seattle, for a thrilling ride, take King County Metro Route 13 to the top of Queen Anne Hill (with its famous 18.5 percent grade slope), known for its iconic views of downtown and Elliott Bay. Or bus it downtown to the Central Library, the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Art Museum, without paying a fortune for parking.
Tip: King County Metro buses are free for kids under 6 and only $1.50 for kids 6 to 18 ($2.50 for adults off-peak).
Everybody into the warm water
Starting on May 13, your little guppies can paddle around in the super-warm (94 degrees) little pool at Magnolia’s outdoor Mounger Pool ($3.75–$5.50), which is open seasonally. There are even bath toys for the full bath-time effect. The little pool is designed for kids under 6; there’s also a bigger (but colder) pool for everyone else — with water slide!
Tip: Also try Tacoma’s 85-degree Kandle Pool, an outdoor pool with a zero-depth entry space and an exciting “wave pool,” which simulates an ocean experience.
Wade and splash
For free water fun of the low-key variety, there’s nothing better than a public wading pool in Seattle on a hot day. Germ-a-phobes can chill: The pools are cleaned and filled each day. The super-size Volunteer Park wading pool, located between the Conservatory and a big playground, is an especially good pick for littles who want to go big.
Tip: For more adventurous kids, free spray parks are a thrilling choice; find top spray picks in this article..
Take a joy ride
The Seattle Monorail (free for kids under 5, $1 for kids 5–12, $2.25 for adults) runs every 10 minutes between two key locations: Westlake Center downtown and Seattle Center, right next to the Space Needle. It’s a short and scenic trip, and you get to ride a bit of history. The Monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair.
Tip: Tacoma’s free light rail line downtown through is also a fun adventure; end your ride by exploring the pay-by-donation Children’s Museum of Tacoma, or making art at Tacoma Art Museum’s free studio.
Where kids can be kids
While you’re at Seattle Center, visit the 22,000-square-foot play space in the Armory’s lower level. Seattle Children’s Museum ($9.50–$10.50) contains room after room for kids to explore, with a pretend grocery store, a construction zone, a play mountain and a well-stocked art studio. Deal tip: Admission is by donation during the last hour of each weekday.
A fairytale forest adventure
The Seattle area boasts many tot-friendly hikes, but one of the best is the Pretzel Tree Trail hike on Issaquah’s Squak Mountain trail. At just a third-of-a-mile long, the trail is perfect for little legs, and — even better — it’s lined with storyboards about the adventures of Field Mouse, to spark imaginative play along the way.
Tip: Find the latest trail conditions at here.
Calling all car lovers
Tacoma is the place for little people who love wheels. Admission for kids under 6 is free at both LeMay-America’s Car Museum and the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount Event Center. Both venues are named for Harold LeMay, a Tacoma businessman and (obviously) huge car buff. America’s Car Museum is sleek and modern, with activities including slot car racing and a monthly STEAM day. The LeMay Family Collection shows off LeMay’s personal car collection, the largest in the world.
Tip: Through June 30, America’s Car Museum is offering free new-family memberships for AAA members.
Shop and play
Until kids get savvier about the possibility of buying toys, often it’s enough to hang out in the toy aisle at Fred Meyer or Target. Depending on your child’s interests, the hardware store, Uwajimaya (fish!), Petco (aka the “free zoo”) and IKEA (with a new supersize store) offer hours of fun.
Tip: Some retailers actively encourage loitering with kids. Look for free play zones at the flagship REI, University Village, Bellevue Square and Northgate Mall.
There’s no better place to explore Seattle’s aviation roots than the Museum of Flight, free for kids under 5 ($13–$21 for 5 and up). Little test pilots can get into the cockpit of a Rotorway Scorpion helicopter, a Thorp T-18 homebuilt aircraft and a P-47D replica at the kids zone.
Tip: Take the sky bridge across the street to the Aviation Pavilion, a covered exhibit space that just opened last June and houses, among other historic airplanes, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the only Concorde on the West Coast.
For big and little kids together
How do you entertain the big brothers and sisters when there’s a toddler in the party? These summer activities are good for families with mixed ages and abilities.
Berry awesome: The hardest part of berry picking is getting the fruit into the bag instead of your mouth. Strawberry season usually starts in early June, and blueberries can last through early September. Check ahead, though, because ripeness depends on the weather.
Fishing for fun: The Seattle Aquarium is a better option than the zoo for the littlest ones, because you can get right up close to the sea creatures, but it’s still exciting for big kids. Stroke sea stars and get a finger hug from a sea urchin in the touch pools, and stop by the mammoth underwater dome for its wow factor. Pair the aquarium with a visit to the Great Wheel, free for kids under 3.
Beach bums: Until everyone’s outgrown naps and constant snacking, the easiest recipe for a family daycation is a local beach. Alki and Lincoln Park in West Seattle are just right for biking and digging. Tacoma’s Owen Beach at Point Defiance offers tide pooling and views galore. A trip to Everett’s Jetty Island (open starting in early July) takes legwork and a short ferry ride, but two miles of sandy beach and shallow, warm water make it a hit.
Play putt-putt: Channel your inner Tiger Woods at Interbay’s 18-hole mini golf course, designed with a scenic little river, waterfall and hills. While the bigger kids work on their swing, the little ones can explore the bridges, float a leaf downstream and learn to count to 18. Other mini golf courses to try are Willows Run Golf Course in Redmond, Riverbend Miniature Golf Course in Kent and Parkland Putters in Tacoma.
Right up our alley: Bumpers and ramps make bowling fun for kids of all ages. Just pay for shoe rental and kids can bowl two free games a day all summer at participating bowling alleys when you sign up online here.
This floats our boat: The quad pedal boats at spots such as Greenlake Boathouse or Issaquah Paddle Sports come with four sets of pedals, but you only need one person who can reasonably reach the pedals and power the boat.
More than a garden-variety outing: Take the whole family for a walk through Bellevue Botanical Garden, a beautiful 53-acre park that includes carefully landscaped gardens and natural wetlands. Little and big kids love the suspension bridge over a deep ravine and climbing on the big boulders in the rock garden. The garden is free and open daily from dawn to dusk.