Ballard's new indoor play space, HECA Play Lab, gets its name from its goal: to be a "heck of a" play space. The just-opened spot is a family-owned, family-run business, so it’s fitting that HECA is also an acronym of this family of four's first names: Hugo, Eva, Cara and Alyssa.
On weekdays, you’ll see dad Hugo Yu at the front desk of his brand-new "office," along with 2-year-old daughter Alyssa Yu. Hugo's wife Eva Yeh runs the place on weekends; this supermom works full-time in HR during the week.
Hugo and Eva came up with the idea for their play lab because they needed a place for Alyssa to go while older sister Cara, age 4, attended preschool. Somewhere without screens and instead with lots of parent-approved toys. They bought the storefront, located along Ballard's busy 15th Avenue corridor, and opened it on Jan. 16. For a neighborhood teeming with young families, a new, happy and inviting indoor play space is just the thing.
Walk in the front door and hang up your coat on the raindrop-shaped hooks. Leave your shoes and diaper bag in a cubby, sign the wavier and you’re all set to play. You can bring your own nut-free snack, or buy toddler-fare like juice boxes and string cheese.
The space used to house a computer-repair shop, and you’ll still see tons of (child-proofed) outlets and phone jacks. It’s newly painted a cheerful green and now features a CedarWorks climbing structure. There’s a train table by the sunny front window, a pretend grocery store and ice cream stand, and a comfy couch where parents can chill while their kids play. Through a set of French doors, you’ll find a dress-up station, an art area and lots of cushions for building forts or lounging.
If you’re a regular on the indoor play space circuit, you know there are certain ones where everything you touch is sticky and grimy. Not here. Even during HECA Play Lab’s busy opening day, the owners were careful about sweeping up crumbs and wiping up spills. Everything is new and super-clean, which won major points with this germ-o-phobe mom.
As the parents of two active kiddos, the owners thought of loads of child-friendly details. Corner-bumpers on the front desk protect little heads, and an extra carpet at the bottom of the slide softens the landing. There’s a potty seat in the restroom with a changing table just outside.
HECA Play Lab is aimed at kids ages 2–8, and younger waddlers would have a blast here too. I was initially skeptical about what big kids would do, but my 6-year-old loved racing down the slide and sprawling out on a boulder-sized beanbag.
Admission is $10.50 for one child and up to two adults, which is a good notch less than other recently-opened indoor play spaces (such as Jumping Beans in Redmond at $18–$20, and Safari at Southcenter at $13–$15). But what makes the cost a little thornier here is that there’s a free indoor play space at Ballard Church, just two blocks away. It’s hard to beat that price.
So what sets HECA Play Lab apart?
It's open six days a week (helpful as you can't predict when the rain will pour down or you'll be desperate to get out of the house). In addition, HECA Play Lab will start offering yoga and art classes in February, and possibly Mandarin classes in mid-March. (Check the website for updated information.) Eva is a native Mandarin speaker originally from Taiwan, and she’s raising her daughters to be bilingual.
Also, birthday party rentals start at $200 for up to 40 people. If you’ve obsessively shopped around for birthday party venues like I have, you know that is a heck of a deal.
The bottom line
HECA Play Lab is super clean, super cute. It’s well worth the admission price to go check it out.
If you go...
When: Open Tuesday–Friday, 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and Saturday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Cost: Admission is $10.50 for one child and up to two accompanying adults. Each additional child is $7 and additional adult (beyond two) is $5. Babies under 12 months are free. Annual memberships are available for $99.
Getting there: Street parking around HECA Play Lab is free or hop on the Rapid Ride D Line for easy bus access.