Greenwood Car Show. Credit Michael Brunk via Flickr CC
When my oldest was born, we lived in a condo overlooking Highway 99. The worse the gridlock, the better for examining all the cars outside our window. It’s no wonder my son has loved anything on wheels since birth.
The great thing about having a passion for cars is that you have a lot of company. Almost every community hosts its own car celebration. You can find a comprehensive listing of this year’s Pacific Northwest car events at a website called OldRide. Keep reading below for our own hand-picked, kid-tested guide to car attractions to visit with your family, plus a list of other upcoming car shows, touch-a-truck events and more.
Where: 2702 E. D. St., Tacoma
Cost: $18 for adults; $10–$14 for youth and students; kids ages 5 and under are free; $5 to park in the museum’s lot
America’s Car Museum opened in 2012 and everything inside is sleek and modern. The building is intuitively laid out with gentle ramps winding down to the four levels of exhibits. Pace yourself so you save enough time for the large children’s area on the lowest level.
ACM offers lots of hands-on activities for kids that are included with admission. Snap a photo in a 1923 Buick touring car, race pinewood derby cars and play an interactive touch-screen game in a 1998 Ford Mustang. My kids’ favorite stop in the museum is climbing into a 1922 Dodge Standard A Roadster and pretending to drive. For a small fee, you can also try a racing simulator ($8) or slot cars ($3). New this year is a VIP tour for exclusive up close and personal access ($25–$33).
The museum has more than 300 vehicles on display, from classics to sport cars to just plain unusual, such as the Flintmobile from the 1994 "Flintstones" movie.
Time your visit for the third Saturday of each month, when ACM puts on a family STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) day. Check the website for various ticket packages and deals.
Driving tip: If you need to head north out of Tacoma after your visit, take 509, which runs parallel to I-5, until you get to Fife to avoid the worst of the frequent I-5 jam near the Tacoma Dome.
Where: 325 152nd St. E., Tacoma
Cost: $15 for adults $5 for youth ages 6–17; kids ages 5 and under are free
Tacoma businessman Harold LeMay made his money building his garbage truck empire, and spent it on his passion for collecting cars. While LeMay helped start America’s Car Museum, the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount houses his personal collection. LeMay died in 2000.
The LeMay Family Collection includes some 2,600 cars, officially the largest collection in the world. This venue is harder for kids because nearly everything is for looking, not touching.
Wander through the first building by yourself, then a volunteer docent will personally guide your family through some of the 600 cars on display in two adjacent buildings. The earliest original car at the LeMay Family Collection is an 1899 Baldwin steamer, and the cars go up through the 2000s, because, as our guide told us, “Just like you and me, it’ll be old someday.”
If you're with kids who are dying to touch something, some guides will steer you toward a few vehicles that can be touched and explored. Just ask.
Where: 1501 Pike Place, Suite 525, Seattle
Cost: Free to look
This tiny shop, located on the Down Under Mezzanine, is packed floor to ceiling with toy die-cast metal vehicles. I asked Guillermo Huizar, who was running the store for his brother Jaime on the day we visited, how many cars are in the store’s inventory. “No idea,” he said. “One thousand? Two thousand? Three thousand? Kids’ heaven.” Some of the flashier cars are even featured on revolving displays, just like at fancy-pants dealerships. It’s hard to leave without a new addition to your miniature fleet at home.
Where: 3333 S. 38th St., Tacoma
Cost: Free to look
When you think of taking your car to the mechanic or visiting an auto supply store, you might picture a grease-stained concrete floor and grubby lifts. Nope. The flagship store of Griot’s Garage is sparkling and stylish, designed with a red, black and white retro theme. In the garage, employees will show you how to detail your car like a pro. Attached to the retail store is an auto display room, which is like a mini museum.
Griot’s isn’t for your average Brown Bear customer. It sells a special cleaner to remove bug splats, another one for cleaning wheels (also in heavy duty and chrome formulas), and a spray just for cleaning the car’s undercarriage. Even if you’re not in the market for $249 handmade Italian driving loafers, Griot’s is a fun place for car fanatics to visit.
Store events: Griot’s hosts some kind of car show or gathering nearly every weekend. Check the store's events page for upcoming events, including the Children's Cup car show on Sunday, June 24.
Where: 98 N.E. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah
Cost: Free to look at cars outside, burgers starting at $6.85 (no credit or debit cards accepted; cash or in-state checks accepted)
At Triple XXX Root Beer, you can order a burger the size of a dinner plate, with a fountain drink in a personal pitcher. The sign on the door clearly warns, “Nothing you eat or drink here is good for you.” Fair enough.
The restaurant’s interior is plastered with pictures of cars and car memorabilia. Outside, Triple XXX hosts some 35 car shows a year, pretty much one every weekend over the warmer months. The combination of fun cars and artery-clogging diner fare is alluring. Check the online schedule for show dates and themes. One of the summer’s biggest events, Fenders on Front Street, is a free vintage car show on Father’s Day, June 17.
When we visited a Triple XXX car show, we saw a few other kids, but the scene was more “college spring break in Florida” than “family picnic.” The crowd was mostly guys in their 20s, with clouds of cigarette smoke and dogs everywhere. A car gunned its engine — VRRRRRR! — and even the DJ snickered on his microphone, “Don’t be that guy.” My son was excited to see a tricked-out purple car creeping down the street. There are cars of all shapes and colors waiting to be admired here.
Upcoming car events
When: Saturday, June 30, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
Where: Greenwood Ave. N., between N. 67th and N. 90th Streets, Seattle
Every June, a 1.5-mile stretch of Greenwood Ave. shuts down to traffic and some 700 to 800 classic and custom cars line the street. The Greenwood Car show is Seattle’s largest car show, the biggest one-day car show in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s free. More than 100,000 people attend this annual event.
Last year, we found booths handing out balloons to kids, the fire department gave out plastic helmets, and businesses hung up signs inviting visitors to use their restrooms. At one point, an engine revved loudly, startling my kids to tears. An older man walked by and smiled sympathetically, “That bad man with the loud motor.”
The Greenwood Car Show draws the usual car guys, but it’s also a really fun community event. You’ll see tons of families and strollers. Look for a free play zone for kids at N. 86th Street, and vendors selling food and die-cast metal cars all along Greenwood Ave.
When: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 (tentative date; check back for confirmation)
Where: Museum of History and Industry, 860 Terry Ave. N., Seattle
Imagine if a swarm of kids climbed into your chair at work and rearranged everything on your desk. Seattle firefighters are super nice about letting kids crawl all over their trucks while their parents take a million pictures.
At the annual Fire Day event held at MOHAI, kids can climb onto a real pumper truck and ladder truck outside the museum. Visitors can also see a historic rig from the Last Resort Fire Department. Admission to the museum’s first floor is free for the event. Inside, kids can try on firefighter gear, practice dialing 9-1-1, make crafts and listen to firefighter story time. You’ll go home with a free plastic fire helmet and some very happy junior firefighters.
More upcoming events for car and truck show fans
compiled by Nancy Chaney, Out + About Editor
Fenders on Front Street
Father's Day Car Show
Fife Family Car Show
Classic Car and Truck Show
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated for 2018.