Our wet, dark winters can seem especially long with children at home. We can outfit ourselves in Gore-Tex and rubber boots and make brave forays to soggy parks and playgrounds, but that's not always possible. Keeping kids entertained when the weather's poor requires imagination and ingenuity: After a while, it's easy to fall into a rut of visiting the same places, boring the kids and us. Since this is the perfect time of year to check out new locations, we asked ParentMap staff and contributors for their favorite indoor activities. We hope that one or two of them will make it onto your family's favorite list, too.
1. Downtown Seattle Library. The Seattle Public Library system's shiny new Central Library is an ideal day-trip destination with kids of almost any age. Parking is easy (there's a validated lot under the building), the architecture is eye-catching and "the kid section is huge, well-enclosed and (has) tons of books, puzzles, computer games and story times throughout the day," says Advertising Sales Manager Toddy Dyer. Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m. 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle. 206-386-4636, www.spl.org
2. Kid-Friendly Coffee Houses. You enjoy a good cup of coffee or tea while your child plays -- and you don't have to worry about getting the evil eye from other patrons when you stroll in with a baby. Contributor Kathleen Miller likes visiting Sassy Tea, in Redmond (16244 Cleveland St. 425-885-3581, www.sassyhouse.com, look online for hours), which provides a play area, complete with toys, books and television, Out & About Editor Kris Collingridge's current favorite way to banish winter gloom is Verite Coffee's new location in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood (2052 N.W. Market St., 206-782-9557, www.veritecoffee.com, look online for hours); its cupcakes frosted in pastel colors and decorated with retro-looking candies and other toppers are an ideal way to keep the kids busy for a half hour or so. The addictive little cakes make for an inexpensive afternoon out at $2 apiece, and you can get a smaller Babycake for $1.
3. Uwajimaya. Staffer Michelle Auer says that her daughter and friends -- in the 9- to 12-year-old age range -- "are so crazy about all things Japan these days that they LOVE going there." The store, a longtime destination in Seattle's International District, is packed with Japanese groceries and a live seafood department full of unusual fish. "We eat at the food court, which stocks all of their favorite Manga characters' favorite foods," says Auer, "and then we go to the bookstore, which is one of the only places in town (where) you can find authentic Japanese Manga comic books." Look online for directions. Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 600 5th Ave. S, Seattle. 206-624-6248, www.uwajimaya.com
4. All for Kids Books and Music. A weekly toddler story time (Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m.), well-chosen selection of books, knowledgeable staff and a two-story wooden playhouse/climbing structure for kids make this bookstore near University Village one of contributor Paula Becker's favorites. "A visit to All for Kids is truly a respite from a wet day," she says. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m. 2900 N.E. Blakeley St., Seattle. 206-526-2768, www.allforkidsbooks.com
5. Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art. The Eastside museum keeps a low profile, but its collection of 1,200 dolls from all eras, plus teddy bears, dollhouses, toys and other child-friendly items, makes this a good place to while away a rainy morning, according to Publisher Alayne Sulkin. "(My daughter) loved the museum!" she says. Adults $7, children (5-17) $5, (4 & under) free. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. 1116 108th Ave. N.E., Bellevue. 425-455-1116, www.dollart.com
6. Pump It Up. For days when the kids just have to expend some energy in a really big way, Advertising Account Manager Kathy Moffett McDonald recommends this play space filled with indoor inflatables. Pump It Up hosts weekly morning drop-in playtimes for kids 6 and under; look online for days and times. First child $6, siblings $4/each, parents play free. 11605 N.E. 116th St., Kirkland. 425-820-2297, www.pumpitupparty.com
7. Bellevue Aquatic Center. Kathleen Miller calls the Aquatic Center, which has won an Excellence in Aquatics Award from the National Parks and Recreation Association, "a hidden gem." The center's two pools host a daily open swim; choose between the larger pool, which features a diving board and 10-foot slide, and the warm spring pool, a smaller pool with a higher water temperature that's perfect for smaller kids (adult supervision in the water required). The warm pool also has a long ramp designed for wheelchair access, which doubles as a shallow play area for tots. Thursdays are discounted swim days ($2.50); call for other open swim times. Adults (12 & over) $4, youth (under 12) $3. 601 143rd Ave. N.E., Bellevue. 425-452-4444, www.ci.bellevue.wa.us
8. Discovery Park. On wet days when a hike is out of the question, Kris Collingridge still makes the drive to Seattle's 536-acre Discovery Park with her preschooler. The park's Environmental Education Center features a large, light sea-themed playroom stocked with books, tables for coloring, a large puppet theater and a sand sensory table. Tuesday-Sunday 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. 3801 W. Government Way, Seattle. 206-386-4236, www.seattle.gov/parks
9. studioK. Want to get crafty with the kids and bypass the mess? Take advantage of the new Bellevue arts and crafts studio's drop-in times for impromptu crafting sessions. "I've been by to visit," says Kathleen Miller, "and (the owner) has a wonderful collection of art supplies for kids to create with." Kids over age 8 can craft alone as long as they have emergency contact information on file. Visit the studio's Web site for drop-in crafting hours and for a list of other monthly events. Adult crafters/children with helper $8, children crafting alone $11. 10220 N.E. 1st Place, Bellevue. 425-637-8558, www.studiokbellevue.com
10. Malls. A trip to the mall is an almost universal favorite, and the region boasts several malls packed with opportunities for play. Contributor Jolene Gensheimer says that her kids' favorite local destination is Factoria Mall in Bellevue (www.factoriamall.com), which features a boat to play on, "lots of little 50-cent rides," a Toys 2 Cool store with two train tables set up and a PetSmart where kids can watch dogs getting groomed. Factoria is also the home of the KidsQuest Children's Museum. Toddy Dyer recommends SuperMall in Auburn (www.supermall.com) for its breakfast-item play space: Kids can jump on a bowl of cereal with blueberries, plus bacon and eggs, toast or waffles.
More ideas for indoor fun
Paula Becker suggests that families with kids eight and up "soak up some Seattle history on the Seattle Underground Tour" under Pioneer Square (www.undergroundtour.com), followed by a stop at Grand Central Bakery (214 First Ave. S., Seattle. 206-622-3644). She also recommends taking in a movie at The Grand Illusion in the University District (1403 N.E. 50th St., Seattle. 206-523-3935). A movie at the 70-seat theater "offers kids a very different cinematic experience than the local multiplex," she says; plus, "the candy selection is first-rate, and the popcorn is delicious."
Bellevue Square's tug boat play area, and its ferry boat play area (perfect for smaller kids) on the second level near J.C. Penney's, are favorites of contributor Laurie Thompson. "To make the outing even better," she says, "Paula's Hallmark store gives free balloons to kids." (425-454-8096, www.bellevuesquare.com) She also recommends Crossroads Bellevue for its "great" central food court, frequent music performances, coin-operated rides throughout the mall, its King County Library extension and "lots of wide-open space to run through." (15600 N.E. 8th St., Bellevue. 425-644-1111, www.crossroadsbellevue.com)
Advertising Account Manager Kim Schmidt takes her son to the Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center's open gym on Wednesday mornings from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; it features "cars, sports stuff and a jumping inflatable." (6535 Ravenna Ave. N.E., Seattle. 206-684-7534, www.seattle.gov/parks) She also recommends Top Ten Toys for its two train tables set up for kids to play with.
(104 N. 85th St., Seattle. 206-571-2635, www.toptentoys.com. Open Saturday-Tuesday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.)
Contributor Tracy Romoser suggests taking the kids to visit downtown Seattle buildings such as the Smith Tower to "look outside from a different vantage." (508 Second Ave. at Yesler Way. 206-622-4004. Observation deck hours vary; call before visiting. $6.) She also recommends Henry Gallery (15th Ave. N.E. & N.E. 41st St. 206-543-2280, www.henryart.org. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. $8, 13 & under free) and the Burke Museum (17th Ave. N.E. & N.E. 45th St., 206-543-5590, www.burkemuseum.org. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $5-$8, 4 & under free) both on the University of Washington campus, "since they are rarely crowded but offer world-class exhibits."
One of Toddy Dyer's favorite places is the REI Seattle location. Her son "loves the slide and tunnel in the kid section," she says, and "this is a great place because of World Wrapps being right there for lunch treats." (222 Yale Ave. N. 206-223-1944, www.rei.com. Open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.) She also recommends the Seattle Symphony's Soundbridge, a small museum of symphonic music that features daily musical story times and a chance for kids to explore instruments in a hands-on way. (Corner of Second Ave. and Union St. 206-336-6600, www.seattlesymphony.com. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. $5-$7, under 4 free.)
Libraries are always a sure bet for indoor fun with kids, and Michelle Auer recommends the year-old Capitol Hill Branch Library of the Seattle Public Library. "The cool thing about this library," she says, "is that you can get anything there that any of the other branches carry, but it always has parking and is never crowded." (425 Harvard Ave. E. 206-684-4715, www.spl.org. Check Web site for open hours.)