Before the kids start chanting “I’m bored,” grab this list and make some summer plans. Or better yet, let them pick their favorite activities or new things they’d like to try.
From swimming to mini golf to free concerts and movies, the South Sound offers a bounty of fun. These suggestions here have been divided into what you outdoors and rainy-day activities. They should keep your family busy!
Swim in an outdoor pool. Tacoma's outdoor pool options include Kandle Pool, with a gradual beach-like entry allowing easy access for everyone, a one-of-a-kind wave pool, and a separate shallow tot pool and sprayground. Kandle Park also features an accessible playground, skate options, basketball courts, picnic tables and lush green playfields. Stewart Heights Pool, also in Tacoma, offers a 160-foot water slide, lazy river, bubble pool, water basketball and tumble buckets.
Enjoy free concerts. Rock out to free outdoor concerts at Skansie. on the Gig Harbor waterfront Tuesday evenings from June 25–August 20. From 6:30 p.m.–8 p.m. listen to the sounds of The Beatniks, Kim Archer Band, The Army National Guard Band, Bump Kitchen, Rye and Barley and more. Don’t forget your chair and blanket to optimize the enjoyment.
Touch a sting ray. Two new interactive exhibits at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium opened this year. Sting Ray Cove lets visitors touch the various sting rays in a 1,000-gallon tank. Watch for the opening of the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive. It gets you into the water with 17 sharks and offers views like never before. Don’t worry, the zookeepers will make sure you’re safe. Both certified scuba divers and non-certified guests can experience the shark dive. The Zoom Zip Line/Challenge Course opened earlier this year with choices for everyone from 5 years of age to adults. There are also lots of new babies at the zoo, too, including seal pups, a Sumatran tiger cub and a clouded leopard cub. And: Pierce County residents receive a discount on admission prices.
Tacoma with a view. Located in front of the Port of Tacoma Administration Building, up three flights of stairs, the Port of Tacoma observation deck offers a magnificent view of the ships in the Port loading cargo. It's open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and is free.
Go wild at Nisqually. View river otters, minks, red-legged frogs, mallards, wood ducks, tree swallows and more in their natural habitat at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. Four miles of trails provide views of wildlife and offer access to observation platforms, a tower and blind. Indoor exhibits include films geared to younger children that teach them about local wildlife. Take a guided walking tour most Saturdays this summer and on a few Sundays. Check the website for dates and times.
Take up letterboxing. Blend a craft with a sport by letterboxing. Here’s how it works: Letterboxers hide small weatherproof boxes, containing a logbook, hand-carved stamp and an ink pad; in public places like parks and post clues online about how to find the box. When a finder locates a letterbox, he or she makes an imprint of the letterbox stamp on his/her personal logbook and imprints a personal stamp on the letterbox’s logbook. Unlike geocaching, GPS devices aren’t used; instead you use maps. Log onto letterboxing.org where you’ll find directions on how to carve your own stamp without using a sharp knife.
Beachcomb. Join naturalists on local beaches in and around Gig Harbor for hands-on interpretive programs, called “Get Your Feet Wet,” that bring awareness of the area’s marine life to light. You can also participate in “Tiptoe Through the Tidepools” on July 20 on Titlow Beach at low tide, or head to Point Defiance's Owen Beach for its Explore the Shore program for ages 5 and up. Comb the nooks and crannies at Kopachuck State Park or Penrose Point State Park on your own, but leave what you find and just take photos instead. Rocks and empty shells make good shelters for homeless marine life.
Practice your putt-putt. Mike N Terry’s Outdoor Fun Park in Puyallup offers two different miniature golf courses where you can practice your swing. If you keep score, try to find the one person in your party who doesn’t cheat. You can also try your hand at batting in one of their batting cages or older kids can drive go-karts. Bring cash — this park doesn’t take checks or credit cards. More mini golf at Parkland Putters in Tacoma and Marvin Road Mini Golf in Olympia and just in case of a rain forecast take the kids to Tower Lanes for indoor putting.
Walk or run. Help kick off Auburn Good Ol’ Days by running, walking or strolling in their Friday Night Stampede on Main St. Take your mark at 7 p.m. on August 9, then enjoy barbecue after the race.
Visit the newly opened Foss museum. Foss Waterway Seaport Museum recently reopened after a two-year hiatus. The glass-fronted building now houses exhibits and the “Discovery Wharf” exhibit with hands-on activities for children that teach about the Puget Sound, sea life, the Port of Tacoma and boating safety. The Seaport also offers summer camps.
Pick berries. What better way to teach kids about where their food originates and tire them out in the process. Strawberries are ripe now and can be plucked at Picha Farms in Puyallup. July brings out blueberries at Linbo Blueberry Farm in Puyallup and Tacoma’s Foxberry Farm offers raspberries in July and thornless blackberries in August. Be sure to call before you go as crops don’t always ripen according to schedule.
Camp out at a farm. Mary Olson Farm, a joint venture between the city of Auburn and the White River Valley Museum, lets everyone in for free on Saturdays and Sundays from June 22-August 25 from noon to 5 p.m. The Farm Snooze Campout on July 20 and 21 guarantees you a tent spot for $20 per camper plus hot dogs, s’mores and much more.
Feed the animals at Lattin's. Show your kids where their food comes from. Buy a bag of animal food at Lattin's Country Cider Mill & Farm, a favorite Olympia-area farm, and let the children feed the baby animals — goats, chickens, pigs, calves, bunnies, lambs and more. If you get there early on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, savor a melt-in-your-mouth apple fritter. Lattin's overflows with fun and you can shop for fresh vegetables, apples, peaches, berries, plums and pears plus already-made pies.
Do the Puyallup, er, Washington State Fair. This year the name changes to the Washington State Fair and it runs from September 6-22 — not quite summer, but definitely an event kids love, with free entertainment, a trout fishing pond, food on a stick, farm animals to talk to and watch, roaming characters, thrill rides and more. New this year, is an inversion-looping roller coaster that reaches speeds up to 50 mph and has a plus-5.8 gravity force, located next to the iconic wooden coaster. Entertainment celebs include CeeLo Green, Cheap Trick, Larry the Cable Guy and the Carnival of Madness Tour.
See a cheap movie. Federal Way’s Cinemark Century Theatres will run G- and PG-rated films for kids every Wednesday at 10 a.m. through August 21. Regal Cinemas, with many theaters throughout South Sound offer cheap flicks ($1 admission) on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings during the summer. Watch classics like Yogi Bear, Happy Feet Too, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days and even Parental Guidance.
Swim at a great indoor pool. At the Fife Swim Center, the main pool, the two-foot deep wading pool and the hot tub are all chlorinated with salt water, eliminating the need for harsh chemicals. The Federal Way Community Center has both a lap pool and a leisure pool. The leisure pool showcases a two-story water slide with banked turns plus an interactive play structure with water sprays and a smaller slide for the younger set.
Explore marine science. Discover what’s going on in the surrounding underwater communities at Highline College's Marine Science and Technology Center. See and touch starfish the size of steering wheels, sea stars, urchins, anemones, snails, black-eyed hermit crabs, moon jellyfish and much more underwater life in 11 large flow-through tanks. Open Saturdays from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Free. Soon, you can also visit a marine life discovery center in Olympia with both a saltwater and freshwater aquarium, interpretive and interactive exhibits. The South Sound Estuarium opens July 11 and closes August 25. Admissions: $2 for those 12 and over, $1 for those 6-11 and anyone under 6 gets in free.
Experience history. When you enter the Washington State History Museum with a child, he or she is given a fun treasure hunt flyer; if she completes it, she'll earn a prize upon leaving. Be sure to visit the History Lab Learning Center on the fifth floor, where you’ll find tools to help you think like a detective and try to solve a history mystery. Admission is free on every third Thursday, June 20, July 18 and August 15. Active military personnel and their families get in free every day through Labor Day (September 2).
Do it all at the Star Center. Welcome to the newest recreation center in Tacoma, where you can take advantage of the indoor and outdoor playgrounds, cooking classes, a fitness room, kinesis studio and more. This year you can also grocery shop at the Sunday Farmers Market, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. while the kids play.
Read for prizes. Visit your closest Pierce County Library to join the summer reading program. Enter weekly drawings, win prizes and attend events. Each library holds its own events — you can read to a dog, plant a word garden, see real fossils, make music — the possibilities are endless.Everyone who completes the program receives a tote bag, two free games of bowling and a ticket for two to the Summer Reading Celebration at Point Defiance Zoo on August 17.
Watch a drive-in movie. Want to get nostalgic at a a drive-in movie? LeMay Car Museum's drive-in series begins at dusk; on July 13 it’s The Flintstones” and on August 17 you’ll see The Love Bug. Free entrance, but donations gladly accepted. If you want to come early and get a good parking place, then visit the museum, it stays open until 8 p.m. those evenings.
Heather Larson, a writer in Tacoma, enjoys visiting kid-friendly places in Washington with her grandchildren and then writing about the experience. She originally wrote this article in 2012 and updated it for 2013.