Our Ages & Stages section this month is a special Northwest family travel round-up by Lora Shinn, the author of ParentMap’s newest book, Northwest Kid Trips. We asked Lora for her expert opinion on local travel fun with kids, and she delivered! Read on for great ways to play — without getting on a plane — at Northwest Kid Trips.
Toddlers love learning through hands-on exploration. Luckily, Pacific Northwest museums, aquariums and zoos — full of science, art and history — are accessible to even the tiniest fingers. Here are eight of the Northwest’s best, from Portland to Vancouver, B.C.
1. Vancouver Aquarium
845 Avison Way; 604-659-3474
Even if you can only visit once every few years, do it. See child-size arapaima fish and sleek sharks in the Tropic Zone. Watch your kids get lost in quiet wonder indoors or catch a splashy beluga show outdoors. Awesome 8-and-younger “Clownfish Cove” contains a stuffed-seal hospital, Venus flytraps and miniature tunnels. Adults/$22; youth (13–18)/$17; children (4–12)/$14; younger than 3/free. Open 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
2. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Portland)
1945 S.E. Water Avenue; 503-797-4000
Play with light in the laser and holography lab, climb inside a cochlea (ouch!) or feel the earth move in the Earthquake House, with settings for a medium-size earthquake or a more severe one. Toddlers and preschoolers love the upstairs — that’s where they’ll find the Science Playground’s sand, dress-up, water and art explorations. Regular hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Summer hours: 9:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Adults/$11; children (ages 3–13)/$9.
3. Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle)
750 N. 50th Street; 206-548-2500
The Northwest’s top zoo, this wild place displays more than 1,100 animals in lush landscapes of more than 57,000 plants, trees and shrubs, set on 92 acres. On cool days, park by the zoo’s west entrance and visit the kid-designed Zoomazium: Climb a giant fig strangler tree, spelunk in a rock cave and zip down a slide. Out in the zoo’s wilds, head for a favorite continent (Africa, Asia, North America, South America or Australia) and visit lions, tigers, bears, piranhas or really cute little parrots, oh my. October-April: adults/$11; children (3–12)/$8; 2 and younger/free. May–September: adults/$16.50; children/$11; 2 and younger/free. Open October–April: 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. daily; May–September: 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.
4. Science World at Telus World of Science (Vancouver)
1455 Quebec Street; 604-443-7443
Check out the Eureka! Gallery with waterfalls, a kid-cranked windmill, and other ways to explore sound, light and movement, plus the eco-themed “Our World” garbage slide. Toddlers have their own area to ramble and roam, behind a chest-high staffed (and shut) gate, where there are also a bathroom and a private nursing room. The staff keeps exhibits clean and in good working order; the frequently changing traveling exhibits mean that there’s always a new section to explore. Adults/$19.75; teens (13–18)/$16.25; children (4–12)/$13.75; families, up to six people/$71.50; OMNIMAX film/$10. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
5. Royal BC Museum (Victoria)
675 Belleville Street; 250-356-7226
Three floors of history, science and nature engage the senses. In the Natural History wing, a kid’s senses of sound, smell and touch are in full force; children will cower before a thundering woolly mammoth and delight in the fresh, salty air next to a re-created seascape, complete with a miniature tide pool. Kids love running through the Victorian-era Victoria area: climbing stairs into the fanciful hotel, watching a silent-era comedy or listening for the oncoming chug-chug of a steam train. Adults/$15; children (6–18)/$9.50; 5 and younger/free. Summer prices (May 1–September 30): Adults /$27.50; children (6–18)/$18.50; 5 and younger/free. Open daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
6. Museum of Flight (Seattle)
9404 E. Marginal Way S.; 206-764-5720
Calling all plane-crazy tots! This six-story building is one of the largest flight museums in the world and offers lots for families, including a children’s area where kids can run around, miniature riding planes and an air traffic control tower replica, so kids can pretend to direct traffic. You won’t be able to miss the fighter planes hanging from the ceiling in the Great Hall, but also wander down below, so you can see the odd little plane-car, born of some flight of fancy. Adults/$14, youth (5–17)/$7.50, children (4 and younger)/free. Open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
7. Portland Children’s Museum
4015 S.W. Canyon Road; 503-223-6500
Inspired by the cutting-edge Reggio Emilia philosophy (imported from Italy), the Children’s Museum wants kids to touch, build and experiment. Children of all ages can put on a play, steer a ship, dig with construction vehicles in the foam-rock chips or walk through a slightly spooky dark forest. March–Labor Day: open daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. September–February: open Tuesday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Ages 1–54/$8; with military ID/$7; younger than age 1/free.
8. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (Tacoma)
5400 N. Pearl St.; 253-591-5337
The only combination zoo/aquarium in the Northwest, PDZA packs more than 350 species into its 29 acres, including sharks, Asian elephants and a walrus. A tot-friendly Marine Discover Center allows kids to get up close and personal with fascinating squishies; A Seahorse Odyssey features oodles of pot-bellied oddities, including leafy sea dragons. Open most days from 9:30 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays in winter. Check Web site for current hours. Adults (ages 13-64)/ $13.50; seniors/$12.50; youth (ages 5-12)/$11.50; tots (ages 3 and 4); $7.50; babies are free; Pierce County residents get a discount.