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The votes are in: The best places to eat, shop, play + go

Imagine you're driving down the highway, minivan stuffed to the gills, hour four of a family road trip adventure. The kids are bickering in the back; Goldfish crackers are flying. You can hear somebody whining - and it's coming from the front seat! Suddenly you realize: You are thoroughly, decidedly lost.

Parenting can be like that. One minute, you're humming along on cruise control; the next, you're whizzing past your exit while squinting at a map. To negotiate the wild ride that is parenting, what you need - what we all need - is a little advice from friends; dialed-in, been-there parents who know the scoop and don't mind dishing.

Enter the crazy-wise readers of ParentMap. This year's PM readers' choice awards drew the biggest response yet, and brought a few surprises.

So here they are: your Gold Compass Awards - a little help as you navigate the trip!

- Kristen Dobson



Kids' bookstore

We begin our journey with a visit to a monument: Seattle's venerable, beloved All For Kids bookstore. For the fifth year running, PM readers brought the love in buckets to this quiet little store, now scheduled to close for good by July 1 (as is Issaquah's lovely little Lilypad Books). But don't despair! Your GPS points you to three other brilliant bookstore options.

PM readers love Mercer Island's Island Books for its free shipping and gift wrapping, fabulous staff and great kids' section - complete with playhouse and kid-friendly bathroom (3014 78th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, 206-232-6920).

Ballard's Secret Garden Books gets high marks for its friendly staff and "frequent flier" book card (2214 N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-789-5006).

Another worthy stop: Seattle's Queen Anne Books has a staff so well read, you wonder how they find the time to go to work! Bonus points for location next to an awesome full-octane coffee shop (1811 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-283-5624).

Toy store
A tremendous treasure trove of nonviolent toys is just a turn off I-5 in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. For the fourth year in a row, you voted Top Ten Toys your fave place for playthings. Park it here for more than 7,000 square feet of fun - and a philosophy that parents love: "We love less violent, more multicultural, more educational and ecological toys, but we will always admit to having lots of toys that are just plain fun," Top Ten's website says (104 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206-782-0098).

A new, larger location - and a growing book section - put Izilla Toys on our readers' radars. Here's a fun, beloved store that also favors nonviolent, creative playthings. Its website has a nifty blog, too (1429 12th Ave., Seattle, 206-322-8697).

Other great stops on the toy highway: West Seattle's Curious Kidstuff (4740 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-937-8788) and Seattle's hip new Urban Kids Play, which also scored high with readers for its great selection of kids' shoes (1805 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-285-PLAY).

Kids' clothing
Navigate over the West Seattle Bridge and you'll find the gorgeous Georgia Blu, our readers' fave for kitting out their kidlets. The serene ‘n' swanky newcomer features creations from local artists (4707 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-935-4499).

Free lattes and cookies? Moms' Nights Out? Our readers just won't stay quiet about Hush Baby, a locally owned franchise that hits all the right notes with parents. It has locations in Redmond (7303 164th Ave. N.E., 425-558-3835) and Gig Harbor (4729 Point Fosdick Drive N.W., Suite 200, 253-858-4874).

Hipster high fashion hits the highway at Pop Tots, with kid clothes so cutting edge, you'll wish they came in your size. Get your Marley and Ramones onesies here (6405 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle, 206-522-4322).

Kids' shoes
Last year, we left this category out, but you were having none of it (hey, we had just gotten our learner's permit!). Your 2007 write-in candidate once again floors it in the passing lane: Seattle's Shoe Zoo. With a 19-year history in Seattle, this landmark shoe store - with its huge selection and raved-about fitting policy - is well worth a detour (Seattle's U District, 2920 N.E. Blakely St., 206-525-0073).

At the intersection of "me time" and "them time," you'll find Sole Food, a family shoe store with a drool-worthy selection of trendy, comfy styles. Get Junior fitted for some stylin' sandals, then turn him on to the toy bin while you slink around on your new to-die-for Fryes (2619 N.E. University Lane, Seattle, 206-526-7184).

A little shoe shop called Nordstrom (perhaps you've heard of it?) is also a favorite stop in this category (multiple Puget Sound locations).

Hair cut
Plug Dooz into your GPS and you'll wind up at a crazy-fun clip shop that kids absolutely love. Go in for a trim, come out with braids, sparkles and a prize from the talking prize machine (7650 S.E. 27th St. #136, Mercer Island, 206-232-DOOZ).

Beach Comber gets raves for its huge play room and drop-off child care (6417 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle, 206-783-1554). Another fave is Seattle's Kid's Club (2630 N.E. Village Lane, University Village, 206-524-2553).

Rockin' togs for mom
Responses in this category were packed with laughs, from "For what?" to "No idea - I haven't rocked since 1993," letting us know that some of you are livin' it low-maintenance. Those who do Jimmy Choo choose gorgeous little neighborhood boutiques, and voted in droves for Nordstrom.

Check out West Seattle's Sweetie Boutique (4508 California Ave. S.W., 206-923-3533), Queen Anne's Undies and Outies (2212 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-286-1024) and Mercer (2670 University Village Drive, Seattle, 206-388-3029; 3046 Issaquah Pine Lake Road S.E., Sammamish, 425-392-2955).


Kid-friendly coffee shop
Our readers like their coffee close to home; this category brings more different answers than any other. Seems you're fiercely fond of your daily grind - if it's served up local and kid-friendly. Perennial fave My Coffee House in Seattle's Madison Park scores high this year (2818 E. Madison St., Seattle, 206-568-7509), as does Ballard's Firehouse Coffee (2622 N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-784-2911). Both feature kids' play areas. West Seattle loves Coffee to a Tea with Sugar - the "sugar" part being gorgeous, locally famous little cupcakes (4541 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-937-1495).

Kid-friendly restaurant
Locally-based chain Red Robin landed in the lead by a landslide, but there are plenty of smashing independent haunts that cater to the sandbox set. Readers adore Vios for its great Greek food, family-style menu and kids' area, stocked with books and toys (Seattle's Capitol Hill, 903 19th Ave. E., 206-329-3236). No stranger to this list, Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria again scores high (three Seattle locations: 4918 Rainier Ave. S.; 4411 Stone Way N.; 2200 Westlake Ave., Suite 112). And, new to the list this year, the Elliott Bay Brewery Pub, with its huge menu loaded with kid-friendly choices (West Seattle, 4720 California Ave. S.W., 206-932-8695; Burien, 255 S.W. 152nd St., 206-246-4211).

Kid-friendly breakfast
Fill up your tank at Queen Anne's beloved 5 Spot, which serves up a jammin' breakfast with a tad of attitude: "It's 5 Spots, not 5 stars." (1502 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-285-SPOT) Other fave places for a short stack? The Sunflour Bakery Café (3118 N.E. 65th St., Seattle, 206-525-1034), Julia's (three locations in Seattle; one in Issaquah, 375 N.W. Gilman Blvd.) and Bellevue's venerable Chace's Pancake Corral (1606 Bellevue Way S.E., 425-454-8888).


Indoor play area
The best route to rainy-day fun takes you straight to Zoomazium, our readers say. The Woodland Park Zoo's indoor play area boasts a mountain cave, rope bridge and a super-climbable 20-foot tree. Plus, there's lots of quiet activities to explore, just for tots (5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle, 206-684-4800).

Other great indoor destinations: The Children's Museum (305 Harrison St., Seattle, 206-441-1768) and KidsQuest Museum (4901 Factoria Blvd., Bellevue, 425-637-8100). This year, readers also gave props to PacSci -  Pacific Science Center - with its supercool "no car" summer discount (Seattle Center, 200 Second Ave. N., 206-443-2001).

Outdoor play area
West Seattle's killer (whale) park gets the top award in this category. Whale Tail Park sports a lighthouse, boat, climbing rock wall, slides, swings, sandbox and more (5817 S.W. Lander St., Seattle).

Also beloved by readers: Seattle's Green Lake Park (North Seattle, 7201 E. Green Lake Drive N.), Warren G. Magnuson Park (7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle) and Carkeek Park (950 N.W. Carkeek Park Road, Seattle). In the North End, parents love St. Edwards State Park (14445 Juanita Drive N.E. in Kenmore).


Best family day trip
Steer your car right onto a ferry for the no. 1 readers' fave family day trip. Seems anywhere those gorgeous old green-and-whites goes is fine - we're happy to be along for the ride (!

We rugged Northwesterners also love hiking and skiing, which tied for second place. Favorite hiking spot: Seattle's Discovery Park and the "Issaquah Alps." Fave local ski area: Summit at Snoqualmie, just a half-hour or so from Seattle. Could we live in a better place?

Best weekend getaway
Chart your course for a family blast in Vancouver, B.C., voted best place to get away for a couple of nights. Leavenworth came in a close second, with its charming Bavarian-themed shops and great hiking or skiing nearby. And here's a surprise: Tying for second place - get this - camping! Seems our readers love to get the little critters around a cozy campfire. Also scoring high is our beautiful laid-back sister city to the south, Portland. (You'll find great ideas for family fun in Portland on our Web site.)

Best family vacation
When our readers plan a big family getaway, they book a flight for the sunny islands of Hawaii (which is heading for a high of 82 degrees as I write this in late May). Closer to home, the windswept beaches of the Oregon coast take second place, and the bronze goes to - where else? - Disneyland.



Our readers rave
Hot tips from ParentMap readers

• The first Thursday of each month is free at several local museums.

  • The Sno-Isle library system has great story times, wonderful programs, and it's all free!
  • We LOVE the free third Thursday admission to the Washington State History Museum, Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum. You can visit the Museum of Glass late in the evening (free admission after 5 p.m.) after splitting the day between the other two museums.
  • I take my kids to the Ballard Locks during the summer; they love the music, watching the fish and boats, and best of all, its free!
  • We like to go to a local pet store to watch fish, birds, dogs in daycare or getting dog hair cuts - free and fun!

• Always ask about sales and special events when you are leaving a venue or store.

  • The Seattle Aquarium's Toddler Time during the winter months only costs $3 per child, and includes storytelling, small touch tanks, "fishing" for felt sea creatures and painting.
  • Georgia Blu in West Seattle has great sales, great kid area, and fun events! Smallclothes in West Seattle has great sales on used clothing twice a year.
  • Angelinas is a great neighborhood restaurant. Kids eat free on Mondays!
  • A few times a year, Kids Club will have a 70-percent-off rack. It is always in the back and hard to see from the outside window.

• We love the Snoqualmie Train Museum; riding the train on weekends.

  • Take the kids on tours: Theo Chocolates, Boehms, Seattle Times plant tour, Boeing... the kids will learn something and have a fun outing!
  • Going to the zoo on a chilly, rainy day when no one is there.
  • The Museum of Flight has a really delicious cafeteria...a great grassy outdoor area...outdoor exhibits, is interesting to any age, has a great gift shop, reasonable entrance fee, easy parking, kids' activities, special exhibits, and even a theater with flight films.
  • We love roller skating at Skate King in Bellevue.
  • Spotted Cow tour (free ice cream and coffee!); Central Market tour (free cookies for the kids).
  • We loved the Scratch Patch in Seattle, where children can sit/walk/roll in a room full of polished gemstones and gather up their favorites.
  • The Sammamish River Trail is great for family fun on wheels, with lots of great parks along the way.
  • We like to go to the troll under the Aurora Bridge - it's a favorite stop after the zoo or before Gasworks Park.
  • Seeing a movie at The Blue Mouse theater...great prices on movie tickets and snacks.
  • Summer nights at the Valley 6 drive-in. $7.50 for adults and kids under 5 are free! Get in your jammies, bring a pillow and a blanket, grab some snacks and go! It is a blast!
  • We love the Pike Place Market - listening to musicians, eating snacks, watching ferries.
  • We love going to the Ballard Farmer's Market, especially in the summer. Pastries or fresh berries make for happy kids; coffee and browsing make for happy adults!
  • Discovery Park Visitor Center: free parking right by the entrance, free entry, indoor/outdoor, great puppet theater, special sand table, always empty.
  • Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center: never crowded, easy to let kids run free and explore.

• My favorite new restaurant for mom's night out is Sip in Issaquah. The food & wine list are great!

  • Jack's Cellars in Maple Leaf has wine tastings every week.
  • Happy hour at Hale's Ales and Famous Dave's.
  • The Gene Juarez Advanced Training Salon in downtown Seattle is the place for stylish moms on a budget.
  • Check out the half price sales at Posh on Main Street in Bellevue.
  • Three words: Nordstrom Personal Shopper!

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