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I-5 Play Stops: 24 Fun Breaks Between Portland, Seattle and Bellingham

Kid-friendly freeway breaks just when you need them

“Are we there yet?” It’s the dreaded phrase of family road trips and around the Puget Sound region, probably most heard up and down the I-5 corridor. I-5 offers an efficient route, but let’s face it — it’s not always the most interesting.

A great solution is to hop off the highway for a quick play stop. Here is a round-up of kid tested pit stops that also offer some family fun along I-5 between Portland, Seattle and Bellingham.

While they won’t make your trip faster, they may just make getting there half the fun — or at least bearable.

I-5 play stops between Seattle and Bellingham

Start here, or jump to our list of play stops between I-5 between Seattle and Portland

Note: Exits refer to a northbound route. If you’re taking the exact same exit, the numbers will be the same either way; however, in some cases a different exit may be quicker if you’re southbound. The top link in each blurb links to a Google map.

1. Lynnwood/Exit 181A (44th Ave. W.): PlayHappy Café

Need to regroup already?! Take Exit 181A and fuel up at PlayHappy Café, an award-winning play space less than one mile from I-5. Parents can enjoy a latte while kiddos in the 6-and-under set roam the shoeless play area. Admission is $10 for the first child and $7 for siblings. Discounted multi-visit play passes are available for frequent visitors. Note that weekend hours are limited. Don’t forget your socks!

PlayHappy Cafe

2. Everett/Exit 186 (128th St.): Flying Heritage Collection

History and aviation buffs will want a return visit to see the Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field, a collection of iconic fighter planes from around the housed inside two enormous hangars. It’s about 15 minutes from the freeway via Exit 186; admission is $10–$14.

3. Everett/Exit 193 (Pacific Ave.): Imagine Children’s Museum

Everett boosters will likely protest the pit stop label, and you may want to return when you have time to linger. The excellent Imagine Children’s Museum is a short jog off the freeway, and worth a visit, although it may be hard to tear your kids away from the water table and the dinosaur dig. Don’t miss the rooftop playground if you visit on a sunny day. Reach it via Exit 193 coming from the south.

4. Everett/Exit 195 (Marine View Dr.): The Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens

The Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens is less than three miles from the freeway at Exit 195, and a stroll around this scenic spot is free!

5. country burger signSmoky Point/Exit 206 (WA-521 W./172nd St. N.E.): Country Burger

There are lots of family-friendly eats near Exit 206. If you’re willing to add a few extra miles into your trip, find Country Burger instead and order a blackberry milkshake. It’s about 5 miles from I-5 in Arlington.

There is a popular rest stop shortly after Smoky Point. Though nothing special, it’s well maintained.

6. Conway/Exit 221 (WA-534 E.): Skagit River Produce

This popular produce stand is just off the freeway. In addition to all kinds of fresh, local produce, they sell homemade pies and other goodies. Openings are seasonal. Much of this area is still farmland, so you may have other opportunities to stop for just off-the-vine goodness. If you see one, take it!

Photo by permission of wordofmouth, flickr
Lion's Park

7. Mt. Vernon/Exit 226 (Kincaid St.): Lions Park

Take Exit 226 to reach Lions Park. This pretty park is on the newish Skagit Riverwalk so the whole family can enjoy the view or a short leg stretch. It’s one of several parks in the city close to I-5.

8. Mt. Vernon/Exit 227 (WA-538 E./College Way):  Big Scoop

If you haven’t had your fill of road treats by now, local mom Lori recommends the old-fashioned ice cream parlor at Big Scoop. Be warned: As the name suggests, everything here is a calorie splurge. 

9. Burlington/Exit 229: Skagit Children’s Museum

Children's Museum of Skagit County Dental exhibit
Courtesy Children's Museum of Skagit County

You’ll see Burlington’s many outlet stores from the freeway. Unless your kids are shoppers, skip the outlets and head to the Skagit Children’s Museum in the Cascade Mall, a venue which recently nearly doubled in size. Admission is a reasonable $6.25 for adults and kids (babies free). You’ll find it just past the outlet stores: Look for Chuck E Cheese and Sears from the freeway. Enter from the S.W. side.  

You’ll also find chain restaurants of every description in the area. Most exits between here and Bellingham have fuel (and espresso, naturally), but other services get sparse, so Burlington is a good place to get gassed up and snacked up for the final leg of your trip.

10. Alger area/Exit 242 (Nulle Road.): Squires Lake Park

A pretty lake and easy hiking trails .75 miles from the freeway? Yes, at Squires Lake Park! If you don’t have time to do a hike, do try to find the beaver dam. 

11. Bellingham/Exit 253 (Bellingham): Downtown Bellingham

If Bellingham is your final stop, you’re in luck. There is plenty to explore in this family-friendly town. If you’re on your way across the border, you may consider taking time to explore the charming Fairhaven district, or one of the town’s many excellent parks. Other stops: Hit the Saturday and Wednesday Farmer’s Market, the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention (formerly the American Museum of Radio and Electricity) or the Bellingham Railway Museum. Time for another treat? You can't go wrong with Mallard Ice Cream downtown or Perch and Play on State Street.

Next: I-5 play stops between Seattle and Portland

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