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August Museum- and Zoo-hopping: What to Explore During the Final Days of Summer Break

From vintage toys to Pokétrek monsters to Legos, how to while away the last hours of summer

Published on: November 01, 2015

It's officially summer's home stretch, and whether you're ready for school to start or wondering where the days went, you've still got hours to fill. How about visiting one of our region's family-friendly museums and zoos? Here are a number exhibits that could serve as a fab foundation for a day of exploring an area such as Mount Rainier or South Lake Union. (Tip: Most of these museums are free or offer discounts at least once a month.)

Revisit your childhood faves at MOHAI


Take a pond boat for sail after MOHAI (on weekends)
Take a pond boat for sail after MOHAI (on weekends)

Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s, MOHAI

This nostalgia-tripping exhibit is as much for the parents as for the kids: Walk (and play) through three living rooms and one garage that take you on a time-traveling journey of of toy trends. Play Nerf basketball in a rec room complete with a Farrah Fawcett poster (the Nerf, by the way, was the world's first indoor ball), walk a Slinky down two sets of stairs, shimmy a Hula Hoop, compete against your pals in a toy trivia game hosted by a former Brady Bunch star (the parents will win), find out why the GI Joe was called an "action figure" and not a doll; and look at the history of subversive toys. 

Be sure to save time for seeing other MOHAI gems, such as the musical multimedia film on the Great Seattle Fire, the World War II periscope on the top floor and "hammering" spikes in the railroad. 

Details: Toys is on view through Sept. 25. Admission is $14–$17, ages 14 and under free; MOHAI also has a reduced cost for first Thursdays of every month ($12–$14 adults). Toys Family Day is Sept. 10.

Deals: MOHAI offers free admission all day Sept. 1 (first Thursday). 

Bonus fun: Right next door, tour the Center for Wooden Boats (if it's a nice day, take a boat for a spin), check out the historic ships wharf, including the Arthur Foss, which holds tugboat story time twice a month.

Baby moose at Northwest Trek. Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek
Baby moose at Northwest Trek. Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek

Poketrek Days and a baby moose calf at Northwest Trek

This isn't exactly an exhibit, but Northwest Trek is offering lots of late-summer fun. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings in August from 4–6 p.m., practice your Pokemon Go skills at Pokétrek Days: Pokémon Go players get half-off general admission (for access to walking trails, not the tram) and there are more than 20 PokéStops. Also, if you do take a tram tour, keep an eye out for Spruce, the growing-up-fast baby moose calf

Details: General admission to Northwest Trek is $21.95 for adults, $10.95–$19.95 for kids and seniors, and ages 2 and under are free. Pierce County residents and military receive admission discounts. 

Deals: Half-off admission to walking trails for Pokémon Go players during select times.

Bonus fun: Northwest Trek is relatively close to the Paradise entrance of Mount Rainier National Park (free entrance from Aug. 25–28) and the Pioneer Farm Museum and Ohop Indian Village; see this Mount Rainier road trip itinerary for more ideas!

One of the exhibits at White River Valley Museum
One of the exhibits at White River Valley Museum

Handmade in Camp, White River Valley Museum

The small, kid-friendly museum by Auburn's awesome Les Gove Park offers a gentle introduction to one of the Pacific Northwest's most disturbing chapters, the internment in camps of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Allowed to bring only what they could carry in a suitcase, Japanese Americans had to make by hand many of the items essential to their daily lives; over 60 of these items will be on display, including furniture, jewelry, tools, paintings, needlework, a scrapbook, games, toys and quilts. Take time to explore the rest of the museum as well, including a restored Japanese farmhouse, a Muckleshoot Indian scene complete with canoe, and more.  

Details: White River Valley Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon–4 p.m. Cost is $5 adults, $2 seniors and children, children age 2 and under are free.

Deals: Free admission on the first Thursday and the third Sunday of every month. On first Thursdays, the museum offers free “late play dates” from 6–8 p.m. with themed crafts and activities. 

Bonus fun: Next door, find popular Les Gove Park, with an awesome seasonal spray park. The nearby Mary Olson Farm, which closes Aug. 28, is free and fun. See the restored farm buildings and have a picnic on the grounds. 

'The Art of the Brick' at Pacific Science Center.

The Art of the Brick at Pacific Science Center

If you've been waiting all summer to see this exhibit of the world's largest collection of Lego art, it's time: It ends Sept. 11. The Art of the Brick is a career-spanning exhibition of of artist Nathan Sawaya's Lego sculptures divided into eight galleries. The works range from Lego renditions of classic paintings to more sculptural pieces (including a 3-D re-creation of Klimt’s famously flat The Kiss). Although it's hands off (sorry, young Lego builders) the presentation is child-friendly. 

Details: Exhbit ends Sept. 11. Ticket prices: adults $20.75–$28.75 (which includes admission to the rest of Pacific Science Center), or $7 for members. Buy tickets online.

Deals: It might be a good time to consider a family membership to Pacific Science Center, $109 annually.) 

Bonus fun: Find tons more to do in our age-by-age guide to Seattle Center. 

'The Wild Nearby' at the Burke Museum

The Wild Nearby (and a wild T. rex skull) at the Burke Museum

In honor of the National Park Service's centennial (Aug. 25), the Burke Museum has organized a

Don't miss the plaster-encased T. rex skull in the lobby

quietly fascinating exhibit about the science of our most rugged, least-explored national park and its environs. Kids can climb into a full-scale replica of a fire lookout and peer through telescopes, learn how and why scientists study things like feather color variation across a bird species, go face to face with a fierce wolverine and hold a coyote skull. And don't miss the Burke's newest resident: a plaster-encased T. rex skull in the lobby, uncovered this summer on a Burke archaeological dig in Montana. 

Details: The Wild Nearby is on view until Feb. 5, 2017; the T. rex skull through Oct. 2. Admission is $10 for adults, $7.50 for youth ages 5–18, and ages 4 and under free. 

Deals: The Burke is free the first Thursday of the month (Sept. 1).  University of Washington staff and students with ID also receive free admission.

Bonus fun: Give kids a taste of contemporary art (and an amazing permanent installation in the James Turell space) at the Henry Art Gallery, a short walk away; pick up school supplies and great book discounts at the University Bookstore; or take a canoe or kayak out at the UW Waterfront Activities Center on Portage Bay. 


Lauren Kelly

Posing Beauty at NAAM

Do you have older kids currently enthralled with selfies? Take them to see this provocative photographic exhibit that asks viewers to redefine the concepts of “posing” and “beauty.” Featuring more than 70 photographs that span more than 100 years of history, Posing Beauty explores how African-Americans have historically been seen and how they wished to be seen. You’ll find elegantly composed photos of cultural icons such as Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and Michael Jackson, as well as works such as Richard S. Roberts’ double portrait of a woman or photographer Lauren Kelley's self-portrait, where she dons a crown of hair picks over her afro.

Details: The exhibit ends Sept. 4. Admission is $5–$7 (kids 5 and under free). Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11am-5pm
Open late on Thursday until 7 p.m.

Deals: NAAM is free the first Thursday of the month. 

Bonus fun: NAAM is located in south Seattle, just a block from the awesome Seattle Children's Playgarden, and very near the International District. 


Watch a monarch at Woodland Park Zoo's Butterfly Garden
Watch a monarch at Woodland Park Zoo's Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden, Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo's new seasonal exhibit, which focuses on butterflies native to North America (unlke the tropic-focused butterfly exhibit at Pacific Science Center), allows kids and families to see, up close, all details of a butterfly's life. Most dramatic: Head over to the eclosion shed to see newbies emerge from their chrysalis, warm their wings and then take their first flight. Then wander the 3,000 square foot garden-shed, landscaped according to four zones of the Pacific Northwest, and watch 500 butterflies soaring, feeding and perching; and get ideas for making your yard more butterfly-friendly. 

Details: The Butterfly Garden is open through Sept. 13 (then open again next summer). Included with admission to Woodland Park Zoo. 

Deals: Save $2 if you arrive by transit; find other deals here.

Bonus fun: Play at the awesome playground at West Woodland Park Playground, just north of the zoo; nosh and sip on a microbrew while your kids play at the train table at Phinney Market; or slurp a great scoop at Nutty Squirrel Gelato, another 10 blocks up Phinney Avenue. 


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