Under Pacific Science Center’s familiar arches, go wild playing with the Water Works features. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
After more than two years, Seattle’s beloved Pacific Science Center has finally reopened!
The sprawling, five-building complex, which sits right under the Space Needle, was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. It closed in March 2020, along with everything else. While other institutions and attractions got back up and running, the science center has been mostly closed for almost two and a half years.
A tiny part of me was terrified that the Pacific Science Center would never reopen. Pre-pandemic, it was basically our family’s second home during the wet and dark months. And the IMAX theater was a cool refuge on hot summer days. (Ahhh, A/C.)
The science center hosted a temporary traveling exhibit about hockey last winter and resumed laser shows and movies earlier this year. But the exhibition spaces remained closed — until now.
The bulk of the Pacific Science Center finally reopened on July 1, 2022, and we went to check out. Here’s what we found:
What’s open, what’s not
If you’ve never been, the Pacific Science Center campus is enormous. Exhibition spaces are spread out over four buildings. Buildings one and two are mostly open, but three (the one at the Denny Way entrance) and four (which used to house special exhibitions) are currently closed. It’s a non-profit, and it’s reopening in baby steps.
The water works in the courtyard are turned on and very fun. Human water wheel, need I say more?
The IMAX theaters, laser dome and planetarium are open. Tickets to the IMAX movies cost extra, but planetarium shows and daytime laser shows are included with general admission. Just ask for a ticket at the booth when you pay for your admission, or ask at the information desk inside.
Many favorites are back
Live science shows are back! These are very cool drop-in demos on a small stage. They do fill up, so show up a little early to snag a seat up front.
Our absolute favorite place in the science center, the tropical butterfly house, is fully open and filled with tons of butterflies.
The Tinker Tank Makerspace moved to a new location outside the tropical butterfly house. It’s filled with hands-on engineering materials like Teva planks, Legos and circuits.
All throughout the exhibits, we saw signs saying, “Coming soon!” Some will be coming next week, some in the fall, and some over the next year. Part of me thought ... you guys had two-plus years to do this and it’s still not done? The other part of me is just glad the science center is finally open again.
So why was the science center closed for so long?
Every time I’ve asked this question, the staff at the science center touts its virtual programming, virtual field trips and Curiosity at Home activities.
Not speaking for everyone, but if you were a caregiver to school-age children during 2020 and 2021, there’s a very good chance you are completely over virtual anything.
One change that took place while the buildings were closed to the public is right there under your feet. The icky old carpet came up and all the glue underneath was scraped off. Polished concrete floors are much easier to keep clean.
There’s also a new website, and a new ticketing system. Were there hiccups on the first day? Yes, but the staff was kind and helpful. Show them some grace as they figure things out.
There’s a new maze set up where the old Tinker Tank used to be. It chronicles water’s extreme journey from a raindrop to the sea. My kids were delighted to find a hand-held monorail tucked into the maze.
We were sad to learn the popular naked mole rats got rehomed during the pandemic, but there’s a new bug exhibit coming in that space.
I was surprised more exhibits weren’t refreshed, but we were happy to visit familiar favorites. Some oldies but goodies: the astronomically big number, finding your weight on different planets and the ever-popular fossilized dinosaur turd.
The Pacific Science Center’s Just for Tots area brought up feelings of nostalgia for me — I must have clocked a thousand hours in there — but in the two-plus years since our last visit, my kids have aged out.
Changes and updates to note
I noticed that the visitor policies on the new website says that backpacks and double-wide strollers are not allowed, but I also noticed lots of visitors wearing backpacks. Turns out the lockers aren’t working just yet. To be safe, plan on using a shoulder bag and a single stroller.
If you had an active membership in March 2020, the science center froze it when it closed so your membership is valid now for whatever length of time you had remaining at the time of the closure. It’s now considered a “historic” membership.
New memberships will include discounts throughout the science center, but there are no more IMAX tickets included. Free movies were a sweet perk but a financial drain on the science center. Stop by the info desk and they can look up whether you have movie tickets remaining on your membership. You have to use them up by the end of July.
Also, the science center is moving away from plastic membership cards toward a digital membership ID.
The bottom line
My kids got to visit the butterflies, see a planetarium show and watch an IMAX movie for the first time in more than two years. We are so, so glad the Pacific Science Center is back.
If you go…
Find it: Pacific Science Center is located on the Seattle Center campus at 200 2nd Ave. N. in Seattle. Use the north entrance to the Science Center (across from the Seattle Children’s Theater). The Denny Way entrance is closed.
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. The last admission is at 4 p.m.
Cost: Same-day general admission is $27.95 for adults 18–64; $19.95 for youth ages 3–17; and $25.95 for seniors ages 65 and older. Tots ages 2 and younger enter free. Purchase your general admission tickets online at least one day in advance for a 20-percent discount.
General admission includes all exhibits, including the tropical butterfly house, and unlimited planetarium and daytime laser shows (free timed tickets required).
Parking and transit: Several garages offer parking nearby. The closest is the Claypool Garage at 2nd Avenue North and Denny Way, where you can expect to pay about $13 for up to five hours of parking. Limited street parking in the Uptown neighborhood is less expensive (and free all day Sunday).
Many Seattle Metro buses run to Seattle Center, including routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 13, 24 and the D Line. You can also take the Monorail from downtown, where you can connect with buses and Link light rail. The Monorail, Light Rail and Metro buses all accept ORCA cards.
More at Seattle Center:
More summer fun with kids: