There is a magical place where wall murals, pop songs and vintage arcade games never die. Disco balls spin, mom is allowed to wear her sequined beret, and kids can order a soda that includes every flavor of the fountain, called a “graveyard,” or spend a quarter on a gobstopper the size of Barbie’s head. Yes, it’s your local roller rink.
For active family fun, the local rink is nothing short of miraculous — especially if you are dealing with high-energy kids, or entertaining a gaggle of surly tweens. Where else can you burn calories, build balance and lift everyone’s spirits? At the rink, dad can sing along to Taylor Swift and show off “shooting the duck” — and nobody dies of embarrassment.
Getting your boogie on
Like riding a bike, roller skating is a coordination-building exercise: The more you skate, the better you roll. Very few beginners instantly take to skates and blaze laps like Olympian speed skater Apolo Ohno (who began his speed skating career on quads at age 6!), so remind kids that, like riding a two-wheeler, roller-skating takes practice.
The key is exposure. “Give them every opportunity to be on skates,” says Sara Girard, a former roller derby queen (IRockit of the Throttle Rockets) and the mother of two young skaters.
“Falling is learning” is Girard’s zen mantra. “Put them in pads and helmets, and encourage them to try new things.”
When to start: The prevailing wisdom is that if you can walk like a duck (around ages 3–5), you can learn to skate. Many rinks have a beginner’s class before family skate sessions on weekends, and some have a tot skate for little ones and caregivers during the week.
Quads versus in-lines: Traditional roller skates, or quads, have four wheels and a toe break; for many people, quads offer more stability than in-lines, the most well-known brand being Rollerblade. (Quad wheels can be tightened on tot skates so that they don’t turn as quickly — ask staff for assistance.) In-lines are lighter, offer more rigid foot and ankle support than quads, and have a heel break. In-lines also are typically more expensive than quads to rent.
Sizing skates: Both quad and in-line skates should fit snugly. You can’t skate well if your foot is sliding around inside the boot. Rental skates are only available in whole sizes, so size down if you need to. Lace quads up tight and stow lace ends inside the boot.
Safety gear: Bring your own helmets, kneepads and wrist guards. Helmets and kneepads may be overkill for social skating, but wrist guards are wise, especially for parents whose livelihoods depend on deft mouse and keyboard skills.
Learning to glide: All of the Seattle area’s local rinks have classes, and some offer private instruction — but here’s a quick tip: Focus on the glide. The basic motion of the glide is to slide your right foot forward at an angle, shift your balance, and repeat with the left foot. Mastering the smooth right-left-right-left rhythm is more important than speed.
‘Fall small’ and other life lessons
Skating well depends on finding your center of gravity. Often when you are feeling shaky on your wheels, all you really need to do is tuck your tummy and steady yourself from your core. Skating well socially means being aware of everyone around you. When you fall, “fall small” (i.e., don’t bring others down) and get up quickly.
Sooner or later, everyone falls. Freak accidents do occur, but most of the time you can pick yourself up and skate on like it never happened. It’s good practice for dealing with life’s small failures.
When my kids started skating, we often went to the family skate on Friday nights at the Bitter Lake Community Center Annex in North Seattle. Most of the action was in the big gym, but there was a smaller room open just for beginners where we got over our nerves. For my family, having a small, judgment-free environment to learn to fall was almost more important than learning to skate with the pack.
For some kids, smaller rinks, such as Bitter Lake’s weekly session and Southgate Roller Rink, might be good places to learn, while more proficient skaters may prefer the super-smooth wheel-feel of larger rinks that offer similar amenities — from disco lights to arcade games to gumball machines. Each is unique, so try out a few before you settle on a favorite.
Where to roller skate with kids around Seattle:
Like Xanadu, many of these magical places have limited hours; so be sure check the schedule. Also, some local rinks (such as Lynnwood Bowl & Skate) offer free passes for kids through the Kids Skate Free program.
13040 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle
This is the best skating deal in town. One night a week — Mondays this spring — the Bitter Lake Community Center Annex in northwest Seattle turns into an awesome family-friendly roller rink, with no video games in sight (but plenty of fun games run by the emcee). Lessons are available before skating begins. Important note: The Bitter Lake Community Center Annex is not next to the Bitter Lake Community Center; it’s behind Broadview Thompson K–8. Follow the address.
For current sessions, call the community center or click on the brochure at the link above and search for the word “skate.”
9646 17th Ave. S.W., Seattle
The original home of the Rat City Roller Derby, this White Center venue has serious rink cred, a full bevy of snacks and refreshments, and is close to other White Center hot spots, such as Full Tilt Ice Cream. Specials include family skate sessions. Also find school holiday special sessions and birthday party packages.
6210 200 St. S.W., Lynnwood
You can bowl and you can skate at this Lynnwood rink, which also offers video games and refreshments. Specials include all-ages skate sessions and Saturday “learn to skate” sessions. Also find birthday party packages.
2101 W. Mildred St., Tacoma
Visit for public skating on Tuesdays and Thursdays–Sundays. Need more practice? Skateworld offers “Skate School” on Saturday mornings for all ages.
34222 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way
The nonprofit organization El Centro de la Raza purchased this roller rink, formally Pattison’s West, in 2022. The rink is open for family skate sessions, adult skate sessions, birthday parties and roller skating lessons. Head over and get rolling!
2725 12th Ave. N.E., Olympia
Check out the after-school skate and afternoon skates on the weekend. Birthday party packages are available.
7313 Fourth Ave. N.E., Marysville
Check out Homeschool skate (all are welcome) for a daytime skating option on Tuesdays. See the full schedule for more family skating options as well as info about birthday parties.
Skate out: 5 roller-friendly parks
Skate-friendly parks and paths abound in the Seattle area. Rat City Rollergirls founder and veteran trail skater Jennifer Warnick recommends wearing safety gear while trail skating, and — if skating with quads — getting outdoor wheels.
3801 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle
Enjoy views of downtown Seattle, the Duwamish and the Olympics while skating the paths around the playground and at the skate dot (a small skate park). Along with many nice, flat stretches of pavement for beginners to test their wheels, there are also gentle slopes for those who have a need for speed.
1020 N.E. 82nd St., Seattle
This lid park boasts stunning views of the city, the Cascades and, when it’s out, Mount Rainier. The outer loop on the upper park is about a half-mile around and makes a reasonable lap; also, there is a circular paved path at the renovated playground (in the park just south of the reservoir park) that is great for beginner skaters.
7400 Sandpoint Way N.E., Seattle
You will find many quiet places to skate at this former naval base, but you can really get your boogie on via the beach walk, the paved path that extends from Magnuson’s boat launch to the northwest gate of the off-leash dog beach.
907 Upper Park St., Tacoma
This historic Tacoma park has changed a lot since 1901. Recent upgrades reward skaters with smooth sidewalks around the skate plaza and two playgrounds.
1702 Alki Ave. S.W., Seattle
Skating at the beach! On a sunny day, walkers, cyclists and skaters throng to this paved trail — so, depending on skating ability, you may want to wait for clouds and lighter traffic.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published many years ago, but roller skating remains ultracool, so it’s just been updated for 2023.