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Play Dirty! Messy Play Spots for Seattle-Area Kids

Get downright messy with slime, splatter paint and mud puddles

Krista Tsai

Published on: June 25, 2024

Kids getting messy and having fun at KidsQuest Museum
Getting messy and having fun at KidsQuest Museum in Bellevue. Photo: Krista Tsai

It’s a lot easier to embrace messy activities with your kids when they don’t take place in your home. And not just because it lightens your load. Let the experts do the planning, setup and, most importantly, the cleanup! At the following nine places to get messy, all your kids need to do is show up ready to exercise their creativity and have fun.

KidsQuest Children’s Museum, Bellevue

All of my kids, ages 3–7, love splashing, pouring, constructing dams, experimenting with various objects in the spinning Water Vortex (also known as the tornado), and dumping the water in the Water Gallery, an ongoing exhibit at KidsQuest Children’s Museum. While water play isn’t necessarily messy, it does involve some extra planning.

KidsQuest has additional opportunities for messy play through its summer programming:

  • Experiment at the Super Science Station, which offers STEAM activities. (Mondays through Fridays, June 17–Aug. 28 at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.)
  • Cool off with art and a frozen treat at Arts and Otter Pops. (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 2–3 p.m. in July and August)
  • Get some fresh air while baking up some mud pies at the Mud Play Day. (Wednesday, Aug. 28, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.)
  • For extra water fun, splash in puddles at the first Waterfest. (Wednesday, July 31, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.)

My kids’ favorite weekly “messy” programs, Play with Paint and Play With Clay, will return this fall.

Location: 1116 108th Ave. N.E., Bellevue

Cost: These activities are included with admission. Admission for babies 1 and younger are free; guests 1 year old and older are $16 per person. You can also reserve a free pass through your King County library card. Discounted admission is also available.

Good for ages: Infant–10

Parent tip: If you have time to explore multiple exhibits at the museum, save the messy activities for last. We often save the Water Gallery as our final activity and wear either rain boots or sandals that can get wet. Pack extra clothes for a dry ride home.

Free play at Seattle PlayGarden, Seattle

Seattle PlayGarden lives up to its slogan, “A garden for everyone.” Kids of all abilities and their family and friends are invited to play together in the nature-rich environment, guided by friendly staff during the free play sessions. Free play programming includes seasonally themed activities, such as gardening, cooking classes, music classes, dance movement activities, art, construction and more. Summer free play is held on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in July and August.

Embrace the value of muddy play in the mud kitchen, trails and garden. Enter the Wild Zone, where kids may be inspired to look for bugs, dig or play hide-and-seek. Make a visit to the wheelchair-accessible tree house and the water feature, say hello to a few farm animals, and explore all that this special park has to offer.

The PlayGarden’s inclusive and completely fenced-in 1-acre park is open year-round, daily from dawn until dusk, even during preschool hours. However, it is closed to the public during summer camp hours, Monday–Thursday, 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. during July and August.

Location: 1745 24th Ave. S., Seattle

Cost: Free

Good for ages: All ages and abilities

Parent tip: While the PlayGarden and its free play sessions are inclusive of everyone and open to the public, one might consider going somewhere else if it’s busy and you do not have a member of your group who has a disability.

Splatter art at Wicked Rae’s, Seattle

At Wicked Rae’s you can step into an art studio experience that encourages mess! Splatter art is just what it sounds like — spraying, flicking, splattering and squirting paints. The freedom to create while making a mess from floor to ceiling (and we did!) had us losing track of time and lost in creativity. My kids’ favorite part of splatter art was smashing and spraying paint-filled water balloons over their canvases. We all walked away with paint-covered ponchos and our own canvas masterpieces. I had just as much fun as my kids did!

Location: 3220 California Ave. S.W., Suite 128, Seattle

Cost: Packages start at $35 per person per session

Good for ages: 2 and older, and adults; solo or as many as 6 people per session

Parent tip: Even with shoe coverings, ponchos and shower caps, some washable paint inevitably gets on your skin, clothing and shoes. Wear dark clothing and pack extra clothes just in case. Wear easy-to-clean shoes such as Crocs, sandals or Native Shoes.

Wicked Rae’s also offers themed Parents’ Night Out events (ages 6–15), various art and acting workshops, Sensory Exploration Art Classes (ages 2–7) and outdoor art classes.

"Messy play Wicked Raes"
Splatter art at Wicked Rae’s. Photo: Krista Tsai 

Messy-time fun, a sensory experience at The Heybrook, Kirkland

Allow your little one to explore new textures and materials through sensory play at The Haybrook. The Messy-time fun class begins with a themed circle time and 35–40 minutes of sensory play. We visited during the Dinosaur Dig week, and some babies ate a meal’s worth of the “dinosaur mud” — made of chocolate pudding mix, corn starch, whole milk and water. This sensory-rich class is not just a fun activity. Babies and toddlers socialize, as do the caregivers and parents. This class fosters connectivity and community, especially for its regulars.

Materials can be placed in a sealable plastic bag for younger babies to manipulate safely or for kids with allergies. All materials used in the sensory play are taste-safe, nontoxic, and just might make a delicious “snack.”

Location: 10415 N.E. 37th Circle, Kirkland

Cost: First Heybrook class is free; drop-in rates are $35 per class, or you can purchase a punch card or membership for savings

Good for ages: Infant–3

Parent tip: Babies who have been introduced to solids (versus younger babies) seem to get the most out of this class since they are able to freely explore the materials, tastes and textures. Bring extra clothing, wipes and/or a towel, and extra clothes for yourself if you plan to go somewhere besides home afterward. For kids who don’t like to get as messy, The Heybrook offers a “squeaky clean sensory time” for a mess-free environment that is still rich in sensory input.

Drop-off classes at FrogLegs Cooking School: Kirkland, Seattle, Redmond

Save your kitchen floors and your patience by allowing FrogLegs Cooking School to stretch your child’s mind, creativity and kitchen skills. Drop-off class themes are ever changing, catering to various interests and skill levels.

My kids took the Groovy Tie Dye Sweets and Treats class. The instructors, who had whimsical names like “Ms. Firefly” and “Ms. Ginger,” made the experience educational, fun and inspiring. They mixed teaching proper techniques with dashes of fun, such as when they demonstrated how to make “sugar waterfalls.” They even made the baking time fun by offering some activities such as coloring and an invitation to play in their play kitchen (how fitting!). My kids walked away with a bit more kitchen confidence, a new way to crack eggs and some yummy treats to share with the whole family.

Aprons are provided, but some of the ingredients might make it home on your child’s clothing. Besides the treat of having a couple of hours to yourself during these drop-off classes, your little ones might be inspired to hone their kitchen skills at home and cook for you someday!

Locations: 501 Market St., Kirkland; 2643 N.E. University Village Ln., Seattle; 7430 164th Ave. N.E., Suite B240, Redmond in Redmond Town Center

Cost: $65 and up, per child

Good for ages: 4 and older

Parent tip: The Redmond and Seattle locations also sell to-go kits, such as cookie-decorating kits, take-and-bake kits, cookie care packages and catering packages. The University Village location scoops up edible cookie dough. These are great options if you can’t make it to a class or want to host your own party at home.

A child makes a cupcake at a sensory play spot in Seattle
Get that culinary masterpiece just right at FrogLegs Cooking School. Photo: Krista Tsai 

Toddler Tuesdays at Infinity Farm, Issaquah

Every Tuesday (9:30–11 a.m.), rain or shine, Infinity Farm opens its gates for Toddler Tuesday, when families get to feed the farm animals, engage in structured activities, dig in the sandbox, and climb on the farm’s nature playground and tree house. Expect to get your boots dirty as you roam the farm and meet new friends. Each month the themed structured activities rotate. We’ve enjoyed painting crafts, making giant bubbles and exploring sensory bins. It’s always a bonus when there are baby animals to celebrate (and snuggle!) and occasional food and drink vendors.

Location: 16523 Issaquah-Hobart Rd. S.E., Issaquah

Cost: $30 per car

Good for ages: 1–8

Parent tip: Reserve your spot online as these Toddler Tuesdays often sell out. We always wear rain boots and bring a towel and extra clothes, just in case. On your way out, check the farmstand for fresh eggs and other local goods for purchase. It accepts cash and Venmo payment.

The Slime Factory, Bellevue

Allowing slime in your home can be controversial because of the mess factor, but two things are certain: Kids love slime and it’s fun to make! The Slime Factory offers you a fun, educational experience while avoiding the invasion of slime into your home — if you can convince your kids to leave their creations behind. Persuade them by suggesting they contribute their works of slime art to the Slime Wall (think Seattle’s Gum Wall, only cleaner). My kids witnessed the chemical reaction before their eyes as they mixed their creations. Each child gets to customize their two slimes by adding glitter, charms and scents like marshmallow and strawberry. While I used to cringe at the idea of slime in our home, I have grown to appreciate how slime entertains my kids for hours.

Location: 3929 Factoria Square Mall S.E., D4, Bellevue

Cost: $25 per person on weekdays, $34 per person on weekends

Good for ages: 4 and older; children younger than 14 must be accompanied by an adult

Parent tip: If you allow slime in your house, you may need this slime-removing tip for most clothing items: Scrape off as much slime as possible with a dinner knife, apply white vinegar and let it sit for 10 minutes. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub off any slime remnants and once all slime is removed, launder as usual.

Redmond Art Works, Redmond

Creating art can be a family affair at Redmond Art Works. Even if you’re not sure what you want to create, reserve an art table in the studio for as many as six people, and studio staff will present your creative options upon your arrival. Choices may include painting pottery, a kid’s crafting station, hand-building ceramics clay, pottery painting, painting workshops, resin pouring and more. Degrees of messiness vary by class, and you may want to bring extra clothes for little ones.

Location: 6825 176th Ave. N.E., A-110, Redmond

Cost: $15 or more per person

Good for ages: All

Parent tip: Look out for the weekly Creative Toddlers class, expected to return this fall. Creative Toddlers, designed for kids ages 18 months to 4 years old, features stations for making art, coloring and sensory play, such as kinetic sand or slime. Each month has a new theme, and crafts change weekly.

A little girl making an art project with paper, glue and wooden shapes is messy play
Redmond Art Works offers the space and time for some great messy, creative play. Photo: Krista Tsai 

Visit a beach or explore tide pools with the experts, various locations

Exploring tide pools is a quintessential Pacific Northwest activity, and with our mild winter temperatures, kids can play at the beach year-round. Pack your sand toys, a beach blanket and towels, and visit a beach to dig in the sand. You can hope that most of the sand will remain at the beach, but I always have grainy reminders of fun beach days in my car.

If exploring tide pools is your activity of choice, check out Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program. Volunteer beach naturalists are stationed at various Seattle-area beaches at very low tides during the summer and on a few winter nights, to help you safely explore and learn about the marine life of Puget Sound.

Location: Some of our favorite local beaches for playing and digging are Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, Golden Gardens Beach in Seattle, Alki Beach in West Seattle, Juanita Beach Park in Kirkland, Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island, Meydenbauer Bay Park in Bellevue and Idylwood Park in Redmond.

Beach naturalists are stationed on scheduled days at Carkeek Park, Constellation Park, Dash Point State Park in Federal Way, Des Moines Beach Park, Golden Gardens Park, Lincoln Park, Olympic Sculpture Park pocket beach, Redondo Beach and Saltwater State Park in Des Moines, and Seahurst Beach in Burien. All of these are also great beaches to explore on your own during low tide.

Cost: Free. Remember your Discover Pass if parking in a Washington state park.

Good for ages: All ages

Parent tip: Pack extra clothes, towels and hand sanitizer, and don rain boots or protective sandals. For a safe and impact-free experience, follow these tide-pooling guidelines: Gently touch creatures using only one finger. Observe animals where they are. Don’t remove anything from tide pools (except trash). Walk carefully to avoid stepping on creatures.

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