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A Local Mom’s SEA Airport Survival Guide

The best places to play, snack and relax with kids at SEA airport

Krista Tsai

Published on: June 20, 2024

The window wall at the Central Terminal at SeaTac airport is fun to check out with kids
The window wall at the Central Terminal at SeaTac airport. Photo: Krista Tsai

I love to travel with my family, but things don’t aways go as planned. For example, a quick flight might suddenly shift, leaving everyone “stuck” at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) longer than planned. What can you do to fill the time and keep the kids entertained?

Whether you find yourself suddenly facing a long layover, or your flight gets delayed or canceled, read on for my SEA airport tips and tricks to help you survive your travel hiccup, and even have some unexpected fun.

What to do at SEA airport

SEA airport is full of hidden gems like local eats, public art and music, a sensory room, and Little Free Libraries. First things first, download the interactive FlySea app to help you navigate the airport smoothly.

Places to play at SEA airport

The primary children’s play area is tucked away across from Gate A1 with its own attached family bathroom and nursing room. Let your children (who must be shorter than the posted height limit) run free within the enclosed play place with structures to climb, crawl, slide and jump. Benches line the wall for caregivers to sit back and relax.

"A Little Free Library and Play Area A1 are great things to do with kids at SEA airport"
A Little Free Library and play area by Gate A1 are great things to do with kids at SEA airport. Photo: Krista Tsai

Another new play area near Gate D25 is a small alcove of space with soft rubber surfacing and a colorful floor representing the topographical hills of the Palouse. The small stepping stone mounds give it a “floor is lava” feel. A few more elements are scheduled to be added to this play area this summer.

Grab a book (or leave one!) at the two Little Free Libraries. The children’s focused library is just outside of the play area near Gate A1. The general Little Free Library is above the A train station.

As part of SEA airport’s 75th anniversary celebrations, they have an official scavenger hunt highlighting history, art and favorite places at SEA airport. Download a copy on your phone or pick up a copy at the information desk in Concourse A. Check off as many locations as you can and return to the information desk for a 75th anniversary memento. Tip: The information desk also offers free coloring books and crayons.

Seek respite at SEA airport

There are a few spaces to escape the hustle and bustle of the airport. The rocking chairs are a hot commodity at the window wall in the Central Terminal, but the front row view of the runway is worth the wait. You can also relax by visiting the therapy dogs, known as SEA Pups, at the Central Terminal or Concourse N. My kids like to collect their trading cards. 

Sit back and enjoy live music from up-and-coming artists and headlining names. Keep your ears open for celebrity automated announcements by Seattle favorites like Macklemore, Quincy Jones, Andrés Muñoz (in Spanish) from the Mariners and retired Storm player Sue Bird. The Museum of Pop Culture also has music-themed art exhibits, like the popular Pearl Jam display in pre-security.

"A man, Joshua Red Uttech, playing the guitar and singing at SEA airport"
Joshua Red Uttech providing some live music at SEA airport. Photo: Krista Tsai

The quietest spot in the airport is the sensory room, located on the A Train level. This oasis of a room was created in 2021 for neurodiverse populations, but anyone feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated by the airport is welcome to decompress here. Lights can be dimmed, the calming starlit sky glows overhead and waves of a water-like art mural line the walls. Various cushions, rocking chairs and rock pillows serve as an opportunity to regulate overstimulated senses before embarking on a flight.

The ability to spread out and know your kids are contained are some of the perks of going to an airport lounge. All are welcome to purchase a pass at the Club at SEA near Gate A12 and in Concourse S above Gate S10.

"A girl having a quiet moment in a sensory room at SEA airport"
Find a quiet moment in the sensory room at SEA airport. Photo: Krista Tsai 

Public art at SEA airport

The Port of Seattle has been committed to displaying public art since the 1960s; over 100 works of art are sprinkled throughout SEA airport. Take a notebook as you explore the art so your kids can draw or paint pieces they find inspiring, or create their own unique SEA airport inspired work of art. 

One of my favorite pieces of art to point out to my kids are the “Folded Stories: Second Series I” by Humaira Abid. From afar, the carvings look like folded silk shirts, but as you get closer, wood grain and intricate details emerge. Abid seeks to inspire us to learn and share the stories that we tend to fold and tuck away. These are displayed on the gallery wall outside of the all-gender restroom in D gates (which is another easy place for families to use the bathroom together).

The infamous 180-foot long “High Wire” mural by Michael Fajans sits high above Security Checkpoint 2 in Concourse A as it depicts local Seattle magician, Jonathan Docter. This magical act unfolds in a series of photorealistic paintings as Docter’s eyes follow you from end to end. The artist connects the magical experiences found within this act, walking a tight rope, and traveling by plane — all of which start in one place and end in another.

Follow the winding stream of 300 bronze salmon (“Flying Fish” by Judith and Daniel Caldwell) embedded on the floor throughout Concourse B. See who can spot the fish that is not like the rest — the whimsical fish carrying a suitcase!

Where to shop at SEA airport

Low on necessities? SEA airport has you covered. Check the FlySEA app to locate your nearest Baby Foodie or Lightly vending machines. These machines stock almost anything you may need for your young children, including diapers, wipes, pacifiers, formula and snacks. The Hudson stores throughout SEA airport also stock baby essentials, as well as medication.

Peruse the aviation gifts and toys at Planewear in the Central Terminal. If it’s in your budget, the children’s section is one of the best in the airport with a wide selection of items to keep kids occupied. Paint by Sticker books, coloring supplies, books and puzzles could keep your littles busy while you wait.

PlaneWear children’s section at SEA airport"
The children’s section at Planewear offers lots of treats and entertainment. Photo: Krista Tsai

SEA airport restaurants

Since you’ve got time, bypass fast food options like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Wendy’s to sit down for a longer meal experience. We recently had lunch at one of SEA airport’s newest restaurants, Smith Cove, by Gate S1. Smith Cove has Pacific Northwest coastal flare with menu items that include Pike Place clam chowder, locally sourced fish and chips, and a salmon and spinach salad. I appreciate the flavors in some of the more complex menu items such as the braised beef mac and cheese and the crispy Brussels sprouts; but don’t worry, your kids can still order from a standard kids menu.

Other favorite family-friendly restaurants at SEA airport include: Beecher’s by Gate N11 where you can get your Pike Place Market favorites right in the airport. Salty’s at SEA airport provides a more upscale dining experience with a rotating Seattle water view above their bar. I crave the chicken banh mi sandwich from Bambuza by Gates N19, and my kids love their wonton dumpling soup.

"Digging in to a great meal at Smith Cove at SEA airport"
Kids digging in to a yummy meal at Smith Cove restaurant at SEA airport. Photo: Krista Tsai

Sweet treats at SEA airport

Sweeten your day with a special treat (or tuck some away for future bribery) from one of SEA airport’s candy or cookie shops. Check out the three women-owned local businesses that currently line Concourse A as a part of the short-term lease, small business kiosk program. The Confectionery boutique candy shop has a wide assortment of gummies, sours, chocolates and the viral Swedish candies.

Lowrider Cookie Company has three rotating seasonal cookies, as well as staples including Brown Buttery Triple Chocolate Chip. A box of Lady Yum macarons makes a fun gift for someone you’ll visit on your travels.

Seattle Chocolate (a woman-owned local company) near Gate C2 has truffles for everyone. You can customize a bag of your favorites from their bulk assortment. Natalie’s Candy Jar near Gate N20 is the largest candy shop at SEA airport with hundreds of options including bulk candies, nostalgic sweets and gift items. My kids are big fans of the Sweet Waffle Fish at Lucky Louie Fish Shack in the Central Terminal.

"Confectionery at SEA airport is a great thing to do with kids."
The Confectionery offers plenty of sweet treats at SEA airport. Photo: The Confectionery

Get caffeinated at SEA airport

Is your travel day fueled by caffeine? Beyond the four Starbucks at SEA airport, there are some great local spots to fill your cup. Customize the chocolate in your mocha or hot chocolate from extra dark to white chocolate at Dilettante Chocolates and Mocha Café. Neighborhood Bubble Tea and Coffee is off the beaten path (near Gate D5), which means you may get to drink your Filipino-inspired beverages in a more peaceful setting with lots of natural light. The black sesame latte and mint mojito coffee are my favorites.

Floret by Café Flora brews Stumptown Coffee and their barista’s choice lattes are always tasty. You can also get local Rachel’s Ginger Beer on tap here — a refreshing non-alcoholic bubbly delight.

"Neighborhood Bubble Tea and Coffee a SEA airport"
Keep yourself caffeinated at Neighborhood Bubble Tea and Coffee at SEA airport. Photo: Krista Tsai

General tips for any airport layover

When my children were just babies, I learned the power of packing a few latex balloons (I inflate them after security and pop them before flying). They’re small to pack, inexpensive and a novelty toy that can be used to encourage movement and play. My Bluey fans like to play “Keepy Uppy!” Punching balloons, balloon car racers, balloon rockets and balloon helicopters are also entertaining. Find a mostly empty gate and have some fun!

Playing a game such as “Simon Says,” “Red Light, Green Light,” “Mother, May I?” or creating your own scavenger hunts can also help burn time and energy. Airport trams, moving walkways and escalators are also engaging for kids and give everyone a bit of exercise.

"Little girl playing with a purple balloon at SEA airport"
A simple balloon can provide a little fun at SEA airport. Photo: Krista Tsai

Overnight accommodations near SEA airport

Should your delay or flight cancellation impact your night, there are loads of hotels close by. If you don’t need an airport shuttle, the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington is less than 10 miles away and its amenities are sure to make up for your travel stresses. Splash in the indoor pool and walk to dinner at the family-friendly dining at Dock and Drink. Treat your kids to the “Glamping Package” to make this unexpected hotel stay a special memory with a faux campfire, tent, s’mores kit and scavenger hunt. This hotel also neighbors a great park and playground for families: Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park.

"Kids having a pretend campfire at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington hotel"
When a delay turns into a layover, a nearby hotel stay just might cut down on your travel stress. Photo: Hyatt Regency Lake Washington

For a hotel option with a complimentary airport shuttle, Cedarbrook Lodge is only five minutes away from SEA airport and offers its guests a retreat-like feel with its tranquil location in the midst of 18 acres of protected wetlands. Community living rooms offer snacks and games, and lawn games are available weather permitting.

If you need to rent any gear like strollers or car seats, BabyQuip delivers to airports and hotels. Luggage storage through Smart Carte is available at baggage claim.

No matter what surprises your travel plans throw at you, don’t forget to take a deep breath and remember the challenge is temporary. Then grab yourself a coffee, a few bags of candy and head to the nearest play area. You got this! 

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