Skip to main content

Seattle With Kids: 16 Top Family Adventures

Your guide to summer in the Emerald City

Published on: April 24, 2014

Seattle Center International Fountain | istockphoto

Ferries and Ferris wheels, science fiction icons and sculpture parks: favorite Seattle summer outings are by turns thrilling, eclectic and enlightening. The downtown waterfront — in the middle of a grand redevelopment project — boasts a new landmark, the Seattle Great Wheel. The gleaming neighborhood of South Lake Union beckons families to learn at the Museum of History & Industry and play in its surrounding parks and lake. Transit options from water taxis to streetcars help connect the dots on this frontier city and remind us that most of the fun is in the journey.

MORE: What to eat in Seattle, 5 insider tips, Seattle tours and transit adventures, 5 nearby urban gems, Amazing adventure giveaways

Pike Place Market | Tim Thompson

WHAT TO DO: 16 top family adventures around Seattle

1. Pike Place Market
1501 Pike Place • Free to browse 

“It’s the soul of the city,” Market historian Alice Shorett has said of Seattle’s 107-year-old Pike Place Market. From the fish throwers, buskers and Hmong flower sellers in the open-air market to the kitschy magic and comic shops that burrow beneath, the market is all color and chaos. Enjoy the traditional highlights —visit the gum wall, watch cheese being made at Beecher’s and picnic at view-rich Victor Steinbrueck Park. But find your own new favorite corners, too.

Pair with: A walk to the whimsical, unconventional Seattle Public Library’s Central Library (1000 Fourth Ave.). Then, a few blocks away, be whisked to the top of the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center, the tallest viewing area open to the public west of the Mississippi (701 5th Ave., $9–$12.50; kids 5 and under, free).

2. Pioneer Square
100 Yesler Way • Free to browse

Seattle’s National Historic District is a compact treasure hunt of a neighborhood, with a hidden garden (Waterfall Garden Park, 2100 Second Ave. S.), art galleries, sunny plazas and a gem of a free museum, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (319 Second Ave. S.). Pick up a self-guided walking-tour brochure, or, if you have older kids, pay for the well-worth-it Underground Tour (608 First Ave., no strollers or high heels), which takes visitors on a zany, fact-packed historical jaunt below ground through 19th-century Seattle.

Pair with: Coffee and treats at Zeitgeist Coffee (171 S. Jackson St.), across from the Klondike museum; a spin through grandly restored King Street Station (303 S. Jackson St.); and a stop at Milepost 31 (211 First Ave. S.), a free information center that tells the anything-but-boring tale of Seattle’s Highway 99 tunnel project.

3. Wing Luke Museum
719 S. King St. • $8.95–$12.95; ages 5 and under, free; free on first Thursday and third Saturday • 206-623-5124

The nation’s only museum dedicated to the Asian Pacific American experience, the Wing is housed in a historic, multilevel, light-filled building in the International District that began its days as a hotel where new Asian immigrants stayed. Admission includes a 45-minute guided tour of the hotel and the Yick Fung Company store — if you have older kids, do not miss it.

Pair with: Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave. S.), the huge Asian grocery-department store selling trinkets, anime and exotic produce, plus an epic food court; the Danny Woo International District Community Garden (620 S. Main St.), where the elderly and children garden side by side; and the Pinball Museum (508 Maynard Ave. S.), with 53 pinball machines ready for play.

4. Seattle Center
305 Harrison St. • Prices vary • 206-684-7200

Seattle Center | Howard Frisk

The city’s arts-and-entertainment hub, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, can keep an adventurous family busy for a week. Start with the Pacific Science Center (planetarium, dinosaurs, butterfly house and a super-cool spy exhibit through Sept. 1) and continue on to the Frank Gehry–designed EMP Museum (one-of-a-kind science fiction and fantasy artifacts, music-making galore). Hungry? Refuel at the Armory’s foodie court: Try Eltana Bagels or Bean Sprouts Café. Sunny day? Splash amid whooping kids at the 137-jet International Fountain or admire the shredders at the Seattle Center Skate Park. Rainy day? Settle in at the super-interactive Children’s Museum. Ready to splurge? Head to the tippy-top of the Space Needle or to the inventive displays at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Tip: Check the Seattle Center website for free international festivals, concerts and movies.

Pair with: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center — across the street from EMP Museum — for inspiring mini-lessons on global challenges (440 Fifth Ave. N., free). Every kid should pick up the 16-pound bucket of water and consider what it’s like to walk several miles with it (or even several steps).

Fun at Lake Union Park | Elisa Murray5. Museum of History & Industry
60 Terry Ave. N. • $12–$14; kids 14 and under, free; free on first Thursday  • 206-324-1126

From knee-high-level programs to its truly awesome digs in the Moderne-style Naval Reserve Armory, the new MOHAI has made history more relevant than ever. Kids can hand crank iconic Seattle artifacts, “hammer” railroad spikes to simulate the transcontinental railroad project and get a 360-degree view of Lake Union through a periscope from a World War II–era submarine. A new exhibit on chocolate should be a sweet draw (June 14–Sept. 28, with tastes!).

Pair with: Lunch at MOHAI’s Compass Café; run through the fountains at Lake Union Park; or sail from the Center for Wooden Boats (free boat rides on Sundays). Next, hop on the Seattle Streetcar for downtown destinations.

6. Volunteer Park
1247 15th Ave. E. • Free 

A 107-step water tower with one of the best free views in the city; a recently updated playground and large wading pool; a conservatory that’s a tropical refuge on cold, wet days; lily ponds and old-growth trees: You’ve struck it rich with a visit to this 48-acre city oasis in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s worth a pop into the wonderful Seattle Asian Art Museum, also located in the park, if only to admire the gorgeous Art Deco architecture (free on first Thursday or Saturday, with family programs).

Pair with: For Bruce Lee fans, a stop at Lee’s gravesite in next-door Lake View Cemetery. For lunch, nosh at homey Volunteer Park Cafe (1501 17th Ave. E.); or pick up picnic food at gourmet general store Cone and Steiner (532 19th Ave. E.).

The Great Wheel | Elisa Murray7. The Seattle Great Wheel
Pier 57 • $8.50–$13; ages 3 and under, free • 206-623-8607

As a special outing, it’s hard to beat a few rotations in a glass-bottom gondola on Seattle’s two-year-old, 175-foot waterfront Ferris wheel. Follow the wheel’s Facebook page for updates on summer light shows, which you can check out for free as you wander the kitschy-fun waterfront. Pier 57 also offers a vintage carousel and an arcade.

Pair with: The world-class Seattle Aquarium (Pier 59), featuring a touchable tide pool exhibit, excellent octopuses, a unique underwater dome and an updated harbor seal exhibit area.

8. Olympic Sculpture Park
2901 Western Ave. • Free • 206-654-3100

Get a big dose of art, nature and views at Seattle Art Museum’s spectacular waterfront park. Pose your kids against the backdrop of sculptures such as Anthony Calder’s Eagle as you wander down the pedestrian paths that connect the upper park to the waterfront. Don’t miss the greenhouse–nurse log installation called Neukom Vivarium or two new installations, a dramatic 46-foot-tall sculpture titled Echo and an interactive sound sculpture by Trimpin.

Pair with: Beachcombing at the sculpture park’s small beach; on low-tide days volunteer naturalists are there for starfish education. Or walk or bike on the scenic Elliott Bay bike-and-pedestrian trail at the bottom of the park.

Think fast! Cheetahs at Woodland Park Zoo | Ryan Hawke9. Woodland Park Zoo
750 N. 50th St. • $11.75–$18.75; ages 2 and under, free; $2 discount for transit riders • 206-548-2500

With award-winning exhibits designed to mimic natural animal habitats, Woodland Park Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals and 300 species. Charismatic megafauna such as lions, grizzlies and jaguars draw the crowds; but fascinating lesser-known species such as Komodo dragons, warthogs and sloths are worth seeking out. In the summer kids can pet critters at the Family Farm; on rainy days, the indoor Zoomazium is a fun, wear-’em-out option. New this summer: two cheetahs, the fastest land mammals on the planet.

Pair with: Lunch a few blocks north at the super kid-friendly Phinney Market Pub & Eatery (5918 Phinney Ave. N.), starring gourmet pub food and a train table where kids can practice their sharing (or grabbing) skills.

10. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
University of Washington campus, 17th Ave. N.E. and N.E. 45th St. $7.50–$10; ages 4 and under, free; free on first Thursday • 206-543-5590

This wonderful small museum truly serves all ages, from show-stopping mastodon and sloth skeletons to a walk-inside volcano exhibit and a permanent exhibit about Pacific Rim cultures. Most weekends have family activities; this summer, don’t miss an exhibit that spotlights some of the stars of its huge collections, such as a mammoth tusk recently found in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Pair with: A University of Washington campus tour for teens and tweens; or kayaking and Mexican food at Agua Verde Café and Paddle Club (1303 N.E. Boat St.) a few blocks south of campus on Lake Union (go during off-hours and weekdays to avoid waits).

Fremont Troll | Elisa Murray11. The Fremont neighborhood
N. 34th St. and Fremont Ave. •  Free

Funky Fremont: Isn’t it just like you to solve urban blight under a bridge by designing a troll? After climbing around the giant concrete-and-steel Fremont Troll under the Aurora bridge, visitors to the “center of the universe” should tour Theo Chocolate, the nation’s only Fair Trade organic chocolate factory (3400 Phinney Ave. N.), and, on Sundays, browse the large, European-style Fremont Market (3401 Evanston Ave. N.). On a rainy day, shred (or watch) at Seattle’s only indoor skate park (3500 Stone Way N.).

Pair with: Kite-flying at Gasworks Park (2101 N. Northlake Way), a green space with a cool story: In the 1970s, this former coal gasification plant was converted into a park with industrial art. It’s about a half mile south of Fremont via the Burke-Gilman trail.

12. Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
3015 N.W. 54th St. • Free • 206-783-7059

Ballard Locks

See salmon run! The Ballard Locks, as it’s called, is the link between saltwater Puget Sound and fresh-water Lake Union. Watch the boats move up and down through the locks as you make your way across the swinging walkways (leave the stroller behind) to eventually reach the fish ladder at the other end, where from June to October you can marvel at salmon fighting their way home. Look for free concerts on summer Sundays on the expansive lawns of the park.

Pair with: Ballard, a hipster haven a few blocks east. Browse the lively Sunday farmers market; splash or skate at Ballard Commons Park (5701 22nd Ave. N.W.); and try out a board game or two at Card Kingdom (5105 Leary Ave. N.W.), with next-door Café Mox providing treats and table space.

13. Elliott Bay Book Company
1521 10th Ave. • Free to browse • 206-624-6600

Seattle’s 41-year-old temple of books moved in 2010 from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor, helping cement the microhood’s growing reputation as one of the most walkable and interesting in Seattle. Cozy up in the children’s section or in one of the comfy reading chairs sprinkled throughout the wood-paneled, spacious building.

Pair with: A scoop at Molly Moon’s (917 E. Pine St.); a banh mi or other super sandwich at Baguette Box (1203 Pine St.); and people watching, chess playing and wading at Cal Anderson Park (1635 11th Ave.), voted by Forbes.com in 2009 as one of the nation’s best parks (the area can be sketchy after dark, though).

14. Alki Beach Park
1702 Alki Ave. S.W. • Free  • 206-684-4075

The view from Alki/West Seattle | Elisa Murray

Alki is Seattle’s answer to California, with a long beach strip, a wide pedestrian-bike path, a stunning view of Seattle’s skyline and all the beachy fun you’d expect: volleyball games, inline skaters, kids digging to China. A fun outing is to start downtown, take the King County Water Taxi to Seacrest Park and bike the flat two miles to Alki.

Pair with: Classic fish-and-chips at Spud Fish & Chips (2666 Alki Ave. S.W.); or pork sliders at stupendously yummy Marination Ma Kai (1660 Harbor Ave. S.W.) at Seacrest Park.

15. The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way S. • $11–$19; ages 4 and under, free; free on first Thursday •  206-764-5720

Located in a south-of-downtown Seattle neighborhood that’s a hub of industrial activity (trains, planes, big trucks), this museum thrills transportation-crazy kids before they even arrive. Take a spin in a flight simulator, peer at a Blackbird (the world’s fastest spy plane) and the original jet-powered Air Force One, and tour the only full-scale mockup of the space shuttle orbiter astronauts used in training (make online reservations for a space shuttle tour).

Pair with: The funky-artsy neighborhood of Georgetown, minutes away. Pose with the famous Hat ‘n’ Boots sculpture in Oxbow Park (6430 Corson Ave. S.); shop for treasures at the Georgetown Trailer Park Mall (5805 Airport Way, open weekends); or sample Georgetown’s historic brewing tradition at the Machine House Brewery (5840 Airport Way S.), which welcomes kids and outside food.

16. Columbia City neighborhood
Along Rainier Ave. S., between S. Orcas St. and S. Genesee St. • Free to browse

Take the light rail a few stops south of downtown to explore this walkable community that’s part of the nation’s most diverse zip code (98118). Play or swim at Genesee Park on Lake Washington. Shop for two-wheelers at Bike Works (3709 S. Ferdinand St.), a unique nonprofit that teaches kids to fix up and sell used bikes, or for toys (and a haircut!) at Retroactive Kids (4859 Rainier Ave. S.). At lunchtime, head straight to Tutta Bella (4918 Rainier Ave. S.) for superb wood-fired pizza, huge fresh salads and wine.

Pair with: A visit to nearby Seward Park, one of Seattle’s most extraordinary natural areas, with a swimming beach, old-growth trees, a nature-themed playground and excellent Audubon Center.


Hammering Man | Tim Thompson

5 insider tips for Seattle with kids

MORE: What to do in SeattleWhat to eat in Seattle, Amazing adventure giveaways

1. See museums for free. Many of the region’s best museums offer monthly free-admission days, such as first Thursday or first Friday. And many have deals for kids every day (Seattle Art Museum is free for kids ages 12 and under; MOHAI is free for ages 14 and under).

2. Buy a CityPASS. This discounted combo pass lets you pay one price for tickets to five attractions, including Space Needle (two visits), Seattle Aquarium, an Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, EMP Museum or Woodland Park Zoo, and The Museum of Flight or Pacific Science Center. The cost is $44 (ages 4–12) and $64 (ages 13 and up), a 45 percent savings. 

3. Coupon cool. Chinook Book and the Seattle Entertainment Book have many “experience” discounts. Check for discounts with AAA, airline or hotel loyalty memberships and at local stores such as Costco and Fred Meyer. Look for brochures from Seattle Attractions and Visit Seattle, which contain coupons to top attractions. Teen Tix offers teens last-minute $5 tickets to major museums and performances. 

4. Use reciprocal memberships. The Woodland Park Zoo and the Pacific Science Center offer reciprocal membership privileges with museums and zoos in several other cities, such as the Oregon Zoo in Portland and Telus World of Science in Vancouver, B.C.

5. Find daily fun and freebies at on ParentMap’s online calendar, including many free events.

— Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh


Digging in to Molly Moon's | Elisa Murray

What to eat: 5 Seattle food adventures

Are you a vegetarian? Asian food aficionado? Fish-and-chips fanatic? Seattle’s vibrant, cross-cultural culinary scene has it all. Here’s a family-friendly must-nosh checklist.

MORE: Seattle insider tips, What to do in Seattle, Amazing adventure giveaways

1. Play-full cafés

Why: Because sometime the kid mosh pit is your salvation — and Seattle has loads of cafés with play spaces.

Find it: Vios, a pair of restaurant cafés on Capitol Hill (903 19th Ave. E.) and in the Ravenna neighborhood (6504 20th Ave. N.E.), combines delectable Greek food with toy-packed play areas that keep kids busy. Cafe Flora in Madison Park (2901 E. Madison St.) offers some of the city’s best vegetarian food in a gardenlike setting with a play area. In the middle of Seattle’s vibrant Queen Anne neighborhood, Twirl Cafe (2111 Queen Anne Ave. N.) boasts a large jungle-themed play space for kids ages 9 months to 6 years (small fee to play, some free play times) and a decent meal/coffee/wine menu. (See more restaurants and cafés with play areas at parentmap.com/cafes.)

2. Awesome Asian

Why: Seattle’s hundreds of Asian eateries — serving everything from dim sum to dumplings to conveyor-belt sushi — allow families to dip into wide-ranging Pacific cultures.

Din Tai Fung | Sharon Chang

Find it: Try a kaiten sushi spot — such as Blue C Sushi (located in Alderwood Mall, downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Fremont, Southcenter, University Village) — for a small-plate meal that’s instant and entertaining as only conveyor-belt cuisine can be; Swish Swish (14603 N.E. 20th St.) in Bellevue for Japanese hot pot; or Din Tai Fung in Bellevue (700 Bellevue Way N.E.) and Seattle’s University Village (2621 N.E. 46th St.) for legendary, Taipei-style dumplings. In the International District, try Shanghai Garden for barleygreen handshaven noodles (524 6th Ave. S.) and Jade Garden for dim sum (424 7th Ave. S.).

3. Go fish

Why: Grilled Copper River salmon, Dungeness crab cakes, mahimahi tacos, fish-and-chips . . . should we go on?

Find it: Pike Place Market’s Steelhead Diner (95 Pine St.), serves Market-inspired seasonal cuisine, sustainable seafood and views. Chinook’s at Fisherman’s Terminal (100 W. Nickerson St.) dishes fresh catch, family-friendly style and an entertaining setting (boats, trains!). Head north to Edmonds for the ultimate, kid-friendly seafood experience: Anthony’s Beach Cafe (456 Admiral Way) offers patio dining — sunset views, ferry and boat watching — with a long sandbox for kids to play in.

4. Gourmet pizza, please!

Why: Wood-fired pizzerias are booming in the Emerald City, pleasing both plain-pizza–loving kids and their foodie parents.

Find it: Tutta Bella, with five locations (Crossroads Bellevue, Columbia City, Issaquah, Wallingford, Westlake), is a winner, from the Wikki Stix handed to kids to perfect pies. Seek out Veraci’s inventive pies at farmers markets or its cozy Ballard location (500 N.W. Market St.). Foodie families with older kids should check out Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie downtown (316 Virginia St.) or nationally famous Delancey in Ballard (1415 N.W. 70th St.).

5. I scream, you scream . . .

Why: In a mere five years or so, Seattle’s gourmet ice cream scene has boomed.

Find it: With six locations, Molly Moon’s (Ballard, Capitol Hill, Madrona, Queen Anne, U Village, Wallingford) is the queen of the gourmet ice cream craze. If you’d like an old-school pinball game and new-school microbrew with your scoop, Full Tilt is the place for you (Ballard, Columbia City, U District, White Center). Other standouts include Bluebird Microcreamery and Brewery (Capitol Hill, Fremont, Phinney Ridge) or Fainting Goat Gelato (1903 N. 45th St.) in Wallingford.

 

Share this article with your friends!

Leave a Comment