North Puget Sound families, your time has come! After a month of members-only sneak peeks, Everett’s beloved Imagine Children’s Museum opens its dazzling new addition to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Even if you’re not a North Sound family, here’s a spoiler: You're going to want to schedule a visit to this updated and impressive play space.
Our family loves a good day at the museum, so my discerning 6-year-old and I went to check out Imagine's new space. Here’s what we found:
Look out for the lookout
First off we headed straight into the magical treetop canopy in the Woodlands Adventure Gallery. We’ve hiked to a few fun lookouts in the area, but getting cloudless weather is like winning the lottery. Luckily, the view is always perfect from the new Pilchuck Fire Lookout — and you don’t have to hike five miles on a rocky summit to get there!
Climb a few stairs and bounce across rope bridges to the lookout before venturing over to the bird-watching tower. Beautiful felt versions of Pacific Northwest fowl like the Steller’s Jay and Cooper’s Hawk grace the trees — you can spot them from the canopy or the ADA-accessible space below.
Don’t skip the forest floor, though. A lifelike pond gives kids the chance to “catch” fish using magnetic rods, roast a s’more by a campfire or build a cairn out of colorful blocks. My daughter found this area really engaging; before we could head upstairs, she had to take one last spin through the canopy, climbing next to a Sasquatch lounging in his hammock.
Port Gardner Bay
In the expansion’s second-floor area, we found more interactive spaces. We walked through a gray whale’s ribcage and examined its baleen before playing a memory game featuring local sea creatures.
My daughter took over one of the easy-to-operate microscopes to examine sea shells — the ridges and sandblasted edges are incredible up close! If you need some quieter sensory sensations, take a peek at painted anemones in the mini aquarium, or drag your fingers through the augmented-reality sand table to create ocean-side cliffs.
Toddlers even have their own front-and-center space to climb on squishy sea creature structures.
The Distribution Center area is going to be a clear fan favorite. I saw kids working together to hoist boxes up a vertical conveyor before sending them tumbling down colorful chutes. Caregivers will appreciate that there’s a bench in this space — my daughter made a friend here and they ended up spending a solid chunk of our visit in their own little assembly line.
An interactive video game lets kids balance budgets and time in order to deliver packages around the world. The idea was innovative, but the thrill of sending a box hurtling towards the floor seemed to keep most kids away from the screen.
More on the second floor
The second floor should really count as two floors. A mezzanine level plays host to a port with a block-lifting crane and a tugboat with a realistic-looking radar screen.
One of the things I appreciated most about the museum was the conversation starters around every corner. From the fire prevention strategies and animal track identification tips on the first floor to the life jacket safety information near the mezzanine’s rowboat, families will find many opportunities for bonus learning.
Tinker, create and build
In the art space at the top of the stairs, kids can either choose a designated project — coffee filter parachutes were on the menu during our visit — or make up their own with supplies placed around the room. An almost-complete Tinker Shop will soon allow kids to use real tools for mini construction projects.
My daughter and her new friend eventually tore themselves away from the Distribution Center and headed for the Engineer It! Gallery. Decals on the wall reminded them to embrace failure as they cut out their own paper plate flyers to send through a wind tunnel. Fortunately, there were plenty of plates available as some attempts were more successful than others.
They took a quick seat at the joysticks in the crane cab hanging over the museum’s entrance, but the allure of the outdoor playground was too strong to stick around long.
Up on the rooftop
Don’t miss the legacy exhibits, whether you've visited the museum before or not, among them the popular outdoor rooftop play area. We spent time swinging from the rings in the Tall Timbers play structure and watched other kids play in the Dino Dig area. As fun as the rooftop is on a summer day, it wasn’t long before our tour guide (aka my daughter’s new friend, a veteran Imagine visitor) led us back down to the legacy area of the first floor.
There the kids put on a show at the castle-themed theater, and then we made our way to the Water Works area. There’s space if toddlers just want to splash around, but the gears, pipes and water cannons that distributed plastic balls around made this area unforgettable. It felt like a mini physics lesson!
There are apron-type covers kids can put on to keep dry, and I wish you better luck than I had trying to convince my daughter to wear a “baby” bib. Her mask and shirt were soaked pretty quickly, but she didn’t seem to mind.
The bottom line
Imagine’s new 33,000-foot expansion more than doubles the museum’s previous play space and it shows. At over 60,000 square feet, its current area dwarfs the size of other local children’s museums (which average around 10,000–20,000 square feet). We spent just over four hours in the museum and still only scratched the surface.
Steel yourselves for a corresponding price increase as well — tickets have jumped from $15 to $22 per person (age 1 and older) and memberships now start at $200.
To compensate for the pricey admission fee, plan to arrive around the 9 a.m. opening and spend the day here (or spring for a membership if you’re local). When hunger pangs hit, head to the third floor with your packed lunch or a selection from their Grab and Go Space. This is the only area where eating is allowed in the museum. You can also get a hand stamp at the front desk and head out for lunch nearby.
With so much to explore, this is a good spot to bring a backup pair of hands or set some parameters around meet-up spots if you have more than one child to keep track of. I appreciated the opportunity for some one-on-one time to see what sparked my daughter’s interest, but I’m already looking forward to a return visit with my preschool-aged son this fall.
If you go…
Find it: Imagine Children’s Museum is located in downtown Everett at 1502 Wall Street. Everett is about a 30-minute drive from either Seattle or Bellevue, without traffic. Enter the building from Hoyt Avenue.
Hours: Following the Sept. 7 opening, the museum will be open Tuesday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. No reservations are needed.
Admission: Admission costs $22 per person. Babies younger than 12 months enter free. Show your EBT card and photo ID to receive admission for up to 4 family members for $3 per person.
Parking: Free 90-minute street parking is located around the museum, but you’ll likely need more time to appreciate this gem. There are paid lots nearby (budget about $3 for up to 3 hours and $12 for all-day parking). The Everpark Garage is free on Saturdays and Sundays.
Restrooms: Gender-neutral restrooms are located on each floor; find a water fountain on the second floor.
Age suitability: The museum is geared towards kids ages 1–12, with a maximum allowed ratio of six kids to one adult caregiver. Strollers are not allowed on the exhibit floors and need to be left in the car, but a few carriers are available to borrow from the front desk.
Special Sundays: The museum offers free dedicated playtime on select Sundays, 9–11 a.m., for families in which kids are being raised by a grandparent or other extended family member (1st Sundays), families with a currently or recently incarcerated loved one (2nd Sundays) and families with children who have processing sensitivities (3rd Sundays). Families can also check out the museum’s social story to prepare for their visit.
Nearby snacks and fun: Pick up a coffee at Loft Coffee Bar, a huge pastry at Choux Choux Bakery or some snacks at Sno-Isle Co-Op. If you visit on a Sunday from May through October, don’t miss the Everett Farmers Market right up the street. Watch glass artists for free at the Schack Art Center or pop into the Funko headquarters just down the block. If you need more play time in Everett, check out the newly opened and colorful Emma Yule Park playground or the wonderfully inclusive playground at Forest Park.