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Seattle’s Pacific Science Center Reopens for Hands-On Family Fun

Iconic science destination under the Space Needle back open after two-plus years

Published on: July 05, 2022

Boys play under the iconic arches of Seattle's Pacific Science Center, back open after more than two years
Photo:
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 young boy looks up at a robotic allosaurus dinosaur in the dinosaur exhibit at Seattle’s reopened Pacific Science Center
Making friends with the allosaurus. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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. 

Pacific Science Center in Seattle reopens after a two and half year pandemic closure; visitors look at the Science on a Sphere exhibit
Science on a Sphere. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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 outdoor Water Works exhibit is back open at recently reopened Pacific Science Center in Seattle
Water Works! Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Original outdoor dinosaurs greet visitors to the Pacific Science Center, back open in summer 2022 after a two and half year pandemic closure
Familiar dinos greet visitors in the courtyard. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Pacific Science Center’s tropical butterfly house, a family favorite exhibit at the reopened science center
The tropical butterfly house. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

The Lego table in the Pacific Science Center’s hands-on Tinker Tank, back open but in a new location
The popular Lego table in the Pacific Science Center’s Tinker Tank. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Another view of Pacific Science Center’s Tinker Tank hands-on play area
The Teva plank table at the Tinker Tank. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

What’s new

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.

Boys play in the "Water’s Extreme Journey" new exhibit at Seattle’s just-reopened Pacific Science Center
Playing on the hand-held monorail in Pac Sci’s new water journey exhibit. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Close-up view of popular fossilized dinosaur poop at Pacific Science Center in Seattle
Who doesn’t love an up-close look at a fossilized dino turd? Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Old favorite "find your weight on different planets" interactive exhibit at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center
How much would you weigh on a different planet? Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Just for Tots preschool play area at Pacific Science Center in Seattle
Pac Sci’s Just for Tots play area is ready to welcome the next generation of kids. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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.

Kids play on instruments in the Carnevali Pavilion, now housing a piano, singing bowls and a giant guitar
Don’t miss the music lab in the Carnevali Pavilion, the former Tinker Tank space. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

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:

  • You’ll find plenty of food options in the Armory building (probably shouldn’t tell the kids that before it held a Starbucks, this spot was chock full of carnival rides).
  • Kids of all ages love the unique and thrilling Artists at Play playground east of the Armory.
  • The Seattle Children’s Museum, on the lower level of the Armory, also reopened recently.

More summer fun with kids:

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