Luther Burbank Park | Credit: Taum Sauk
Did you know? Eastside cities got their start as logging or mining towns. They later burgeoned into Seattle’s postwar bedroom communities after the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge across Lake Washington was completed in 1940.
Ahh, the Eastside. While it may not quite have Seattle’s street cred, it certainly draws in families with its picture-pretty neighborhoods, abundant green spaces and plentiful kid-friendly amenities. And though some may think of the suburbs hugging Lake Washington’s eastern edge as one homogenous mass of minivans and chain restaurants, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. From Bellevue’s urban skyscrapers to Fall City’s bucolic charm, each Eastside community boasts its own character as well as amazing independent shops and restaurants, not to mention some of the region’s most gorgeous hikes and thrilling family adventures. The Eastside really has it all for residents and visitors alike, so keep reading for this Eastside mama’s insider’s guide to the best family-friendly fun the 425 has to offer.
Bellevue Inspiration Playground and KidsQuest Museum, Bellevue
This gem may not be quite hidden, but the incredible Inspiration Playground, in the center of downtown Bellevue, is nothing short of, well, inspirational. Surrounded by Bellevue Downtown Park’s sprawling lawns and cascading ponds, this playground was designed to be accessible to all, and offers every sort of playground feature conceivable, from a fairy-tale climbing-vine wall to a natural-rock spray park complete with a waterfall. There are even swinging benches for the grown-ups!
Minutes away, KidsQuest Children’s Museum is another don’t-miss destination, chock-full of endless interactive, educational play possibilities. For a pit stop conveniently located right across from the park, check out Third Culture Coffee, where kiddos can play on the giant indoor swing while moms and dads recaffeinate.
Berry picking and Remlinger Farms, Carnation
Got a picky one on your hands? Put that quality to its proper use with an enticement they won’t be able to resist: sweet, ripe berries — picked with their own hands. The small farming community of Carnation is known for this favorite summer pastime of Seattle-area families, with several farms offering U-pick strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and more throughout the summer season. The best known of these is Remlinger Farms, also the site of the popular Country Fair Fun Park, with its dozens of mellow rides and attractions, a hay maze, a petting zoo, pony rides, and a cute farm café and store. (There’s an awesome pumpkin patch and festival in the fall, too!)
Nearby Harvold Berry Farm and Henna Blueberry Farm are two other family-friendly U-pick options — be sure to check operating hours before going.
Hiking in the Issaquah Alps and visiting Cougar Mountain Zoo, Issaquah
Issaquah is home to some of the Puget Sound area’s favorite hikes, with trails for every age and skill level. Favorite hikes for families in the Issaquah Alps include scaling the ever-popular Poo Poo Point on Tiger Mountain (it gets its name from the sound of a train whistle, not, well, you know … ); discovering nuggets of coal mining history along Cougar Mountain’s Coal Creek Falls Trail; and following storyboard trails to discover tales of pretzel trees and swamp monsters. The Issaquah Alps have no shortage of trails, forests and secrets to explore.
Nearby, Cougar Mountain Zoo is a small zoological park with an incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. That staff works hard to educate visitors about the plight of the endangered animals in its care and to raise awareness of conservation efforts. For another opportunity to meet and greet more iconic local critters, stop by to view the salmon splashing at the state’s Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.
Kirkland’s beaches and downtown, Kirkland
Plenty of charming waterfronts surround Lake Washington, but the sun-dappled shores of Kirkland get our vote for providing the most family-friendly surf-and-sand fun. Awesome playgrounds, cordoned wading areas, volleyball courts and waterplay rentals, plus plenty of places to grab a bite and a chill vibe make beach parks like Houghton, Waverly and Juanita perfect for every age.
Marina Park provides a jumping-off point for fun Argosy Cruises excursions; and downtown Kirkland’s Park Lane, next door, becomes pedestrian-only on weekends for safe strolling; grab dinner and then head to Sirena Gelato for a cone.
Snoqualmie Falls and historic downtown Snoqualmie
Considered by the Snoqualmie Tribe to be humanity’s place of origin, Snoqualmie Falls’ roaring 268-foot-high waterfall draws crowds from inside and outside the state. Viewing platforms, a visitors center and interpretive trails are easily navigable for kids, pets and strollers, and rife with opportunities to learn about Native American culture, local plants and wildlife, and hydroelectricity (the falls generate electricity for Puget Sound Energy). About a mile away is Snoqualmie, a charming town that is home to great restaurants and independent boutiques.
Don’t miss a stop at the old-fashioned Snoqualmie Falls Candy Shoppe and ice cream parlor, or at the Northwest Railway Museum and its historic Snoqualmie Depot for a weekend train ride (currently closed until at least Sept. 1 due to COVID-19).
Luther Burbank Park and Island Books, Mercer Island
Perched conveniently between Seattle and the rest of the Eastside, calm and leafy Mercer Island is home to Luther Burbank Park, encompassing 7 acres of waterfront, green space, trails, a swimming and fishing beach, a hill for kite flying and one of the cooler playgrounds in the area (with zip lines, tunnels and even an elevator!).
After playtime, stop by Island Books, an independent bookstore with an adorable children’s section. All that book browsing can make a person peckish: Take your pick of several delish pizzeria options for dinner, all within a few blocks’ radius.
Mountain biking in Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park, Issaquah
The 120-acre Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park, located between Sammamish and Issaquah, draws daredevils from all over the city to its dedicated mountain biking trails. Here are just a few reasons why this is a must-try outdoor adventure for the family: trails for all levels of ability, from beginner to advanced, with cool names like Voodoo Child; plenty of thrilling elements, such as bridges, berms, jumps and logs; pump tracks for the youngest riders; and a variety of classes, workshops and camps available to set you on the right path. Be sure to check gear and safety requirements before riding off.
Riding the Sammamish River Trail, from Redmond to Woodinville
Seattle and the Eastside have no shortage of bike trails of every length and experience level, but there are several that top our list of the nicest family-friendly rides. Among them is the 10.1-mile Sammamish River Trail: flat, fully paved and running from Redmond’s Marymoor Park through Woodinville, ending at Bothell’s Blyth Park. Its attractions include playgrounds on both ends, plus Woodinville’s cute Wilmot Gateway Park on the way for the kiddos and winery stops for the parents. (Many of the wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, welcome youngsters and encourage picnicking and exploring on the grounds.) The trail does get busy during commute hours, so plan accordingly.
Stop by Woodinville’s The Commons for a bite before your ride back!
Cedar River Park and Henry Moses Aquatic Center, Renton
Stretching along the banks of the Cedar River in Renton, this 23-acre park features several amenities, including paved trails, a community center, a theater and the Henry Moses Aquatic Center. An open-air water park, one of the few in the area, the Henry Moses center attracts nearly 75,000 visitors each summer by virtue of its cool waterslides, wave pools, lazy river (and tubes for floating), tot splashing areas and more, and it is a smaller, more affordable alternative to some of the bigger parks. (Note that the center will not reopen until summer 2021.)
Located nearby in the same park complex, Carco Theatre stages all-ages performances, including productions of the ever-popular StoryBook Theater. It also offers acting and theater classes for youths.