On any given day at Discovery Playtown, a cadre of firefighters can be found shopping at the neighborhood grocery store, sending off letters at the post office, and stopping at the local diner for a bite to eat. Sometimes Queen Elsa and her sister, Princess Anna, join them on their errands through town before everyone dashes up the nearby staircase to whoosh down the big yellow twisty slide.
The two-story slide is probably the only feature of Maple Valley's newest indoor play space that stands solely as a physical play piece, and that's completely intentional. Owners Ted and Beth Peterson designed Discovery Playtown to foster imagination and dramatic play, so the 3,800-square-foot space actually resembles a kid-sized version of Main Street, complete with beauty salon, fire station and engine, pet hospital, grocery store, and diner.
There is even a two-story house with play kitchen, living room and several children's books scattered throughout for anyone who wanted to settle into a mini couch for some quiet reading. Think more of the pretend-play features at Seattle Children's Museum and Imagine Children's Museum in Everett rather than WiggleWorks or Playtorium in Bellevue.
The centerpiece of Discovery's play town is a fire truck with button-controlled flashing lights, a PA system, and a large platform in the rear for kids to climb onto and jostle for a turn in one of the two front seats. Bigger kids rule the truck, though toddlers find it equally irresistible, so make sure you're watching your tots as they scale its near-vertical step ladders.
One more caution: My toddler also gravitated toward the interior staircase of the play house, which is narrow and had an endless stream of older kids running up and down, so keep an eye out there as well.
“We wanted to have something that engages kids more than just physical play.”
Elsewhere, the space features many other moving pretend-play pieces, including costumes, food, barber shop tools, veterinarian equipment, stuffed animals, play money and restaurant items like salt and pepper shakers. They are enticing pieces for little ones to handle and misplace, so staff have the happy (and unending) task of retrieving them. As a parent, though, I find it also provides a nice lesson for those old enough on putting things back where they belong. See a stethoscope in the beauty parlor? Put it back in the pet hospital.
The Petersons created Discovery Playtown to have an indoor play space closer to where they, along with extended family live. Maple Valley, with many bustling young families and a surprising lack of indoor-play options, turned out to be a perfect fit. In the first week of opening, Discovery Playtown has already seen the space fill to capacity (roughly 60 families at a time).
Ted said the couple initially considered a bouncy-house type of space but went in another direction thanks to Beth's background as a teacher. “We wanted to have something that engages kids more than just physical play,” she said. “This is something they can immerse themselves in, and it takes away some of the aging out” that occurs with some of the indoor playground amenities.
A place to join in play with your kids
Though wifi is available, Ted said Discovery Playtown is meant to be “a place for parents to come and play with their kids, rather than escape them. The idea was to take the children's museum concept and scale it down to a retail storefront. We also wanted to create a community gathering place for families with young children to come together and socialize.”
The Petersons have further plans for the space: Visitors will note that there is a lot of open area toward the front of the building, by the "Crawler Corner," designated for the youngest visitors.
Ted said a construction-themed sand play area, activity tables, as well as block play will likely fill some of that remaining space.
Meanwhile, back in Playtown, don't be surprised to find a hairdryer and play makeup inside the fire truck's center console or the fire station's pet Dalmatian taking a trip down that yellow slide.
If you go...
Optimal age: Discovery Playtown is open to kids ages 0 to 10, with earlier hours designated for younger children and those ages 9-10 welcome in the afternoons (see hours below).
Hours: Mondays–Friday, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. for ages 8 and under; 2–6 p.m. for ages 10 and under. Saturdays, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. for ages 8 and under members; 10 a.m.–1 p.m. for everyone 8 and under. (On the first Saturday of each month, the hours apply for ages 10 and under.)
Cost: $10 for the first child; $8 for each additional sibling. Children 1 and under and adults are free. Punchcards and memberships are also available for additional discounts.
Find it: 26545 Maple Valley-Black Diamond Road S.E. (State Route 169), Suite K-150, Maple Valley 98038 (right beside the Grocery Outlet)
Online: discoveryplaytown.com (Tip: Fill out the parental waiver online before you go.)
Food: Assorted snacks and drinks are available for purchase, or visitors can bring their own. There is no food allowed in the play space but visitors can eat in a small dining area right behind the front counter.
Parking: Plenty inside strip mall parking lot.