Heading to the International District to ring in Year of the Monkey by watching a thrilling lion dance, noshing on Asian sweets and popping in to Uwajimaya for New Year supplies? Why not make a day of it by exploring some of the hidden treasures of one of Seattle's most interesting, historic and walkable neighborhoods?
Here are 10 ideas for exploring the International District around Lunar New Year and beyond; all are located within a few blocks of each other. Did we miss your favorite thing to do in the I.D.? Post it in the comments!
1. Be thrilled by Lion Dancers at a Lunar New Year celebration
Year of the Monkey officially begins on Monday, Feb. 8, but the following two Saturdays offer the most dramatic celebrations in the International District.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Wing Luke Museum hosts — just outside its doors on King Street — a celebration that includes a Lion Dance and special guests (including the mayor), followed by a New Year fair at the museum with New Year stories, face painting, a scavenger hunt and raffle prizes. (Kids are free on Feb. 6, but adults pay regular admission.)
On Saturday, Feb. 13, Hing Hay Park (S. King St. and Maynard Ave. S, a block from the Wing) hosts the Chinatown-International Distict's Lunar New Year celebration from 11 a.m.–4 p.m.. This festival, the region's biggest, includes Lion and Dragon dances, Taiko drummers and many other performances. Kids can show off their best New Year outfits, at a traditional kids' parade, and participate in crafts and cultural activities. A higlight is the $3 food tasting walk, where you can nosh on nibbles from 20 restaurants, from Phnom Penh Noodle House's renowned sweet garlic pepper chicken wings to Purple Dot Cafe's dim sum.
Note: Part of Hing Hay Park is currently under construction as part of an expansion project.
Tip: Lion Dances typically start with firecrackers and Taiko drumming. In other words — they are loud! Bring headphones or step away with young kids who are sensitive to noise.
2. Learn about Bruce Lee and local history at the Wing Luke Museum
The nation’s only museum dedicated to the Asian Pacific American experience, the Wing Luke Museum 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. It's always worth exploring the Wing's permanent exhibits on the pan-Asian Pacific American immigrant and refugee experience, but of special interest is the Wing's Do You Know Bruce? exhibit, in year two of a three-year series that explores the superstar's Seattle roots and his pioneering role in breaking Asian stereotypes in Hollywood. Young martial artists will love it (it includes a one-inch punch interactive station). Admission to the Wing also includes a fascinating 45-minute guided tour of the hotel and the Yick Fung Company store.
Tip: Kids 12 and under can earn free admission to the museum (and half-price for accompanying adults) by participating in the Year of the Monkey coloring contest.
3. Try out the new streetcar line
Seattle Streetcar, known for its short but scenic South Lake Union line, is piloting another streetcar line from Pioneer Square through First Hill and to Capitol Hill, and its bright cars shoot right through Chinatown-International District on Jackson Street. Best of all, because it's still in its pilot phase, it's free to ride for now. Pick up the line at S. Jackson and Sixth Ave. S, head to Capitol Hill for some time at Elliott Bay Book Company or Cal Anderson Park (where the line ends) or head straight back.
4. Bubble tea, manga, calligraphy and Ellenos at Uwajimaya
You could, of course, spend a day just exploring Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave. S.), the huge Asian grocery-department store selling trinkets, imported foods and exotic produce, with a fantastic bookstore loaded with manga and anime, and an epic food court. But even if you have just a few minutes, it's worth stopping in to pick up New Year's supplies, a dish of heavenly Ellenos yogurt and bubble tea or dumplings at the food court. Look for New Year calligraphy demos on upcoming Saturdays and Sundays.
5. Eat some very sweet Asian treats
Golden mango cheesecake, red bean pastries, macarons: All these and much, much more are available for sweet-treating your kids at one of the I.D.'s yummy bakeries (one of our favorites is called Yummy House Bakery, 522 Sixth Ave. S). We also like Piece of Cake Bakery (514 S. King St.), a bright Hong-Kong style bakery offering many varieties of bubble tea, pastries and a full Chinese menu; and, a block away, the elegant Fuji Bakery (526 S. King St.) serving Stumptown coffee and many handmade delicacies, such as green-tea Danishes and macarons.
6. Break and pop with your mini b-boys and girls
If you’ve got kids ages 2–6 who love to spin and hop on the kitchen floor, then this weekly class in the International District is for you. Every Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m., “Anna Banana Freeze,” a member of Seattle’s award-winning breakdancing crew Massive Monkees, leads a Mini Breaks dance class at a studio (664 S. King St.) just a block away from the Wing Luke Museum. It's popular, so show up early. There is also a Mini Breaks class on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. Cost is $13–$15 for a class, plus a one-time $20 registration fee.
7. Play 53 pinball machines
Also just a block from the Wing, next to the hip Eastern Cafe, teach your kids about pre-video gaming culture at Seattle Pinball Museum (508 Maynard Ave. S.). Boasting 53 pinball machines from the 1960s to now, this hands-on museum is “dedicated to the preservation of pinball for future generations.” Pay a daily entrance fee and play unlimited pinball games.
Note: Only kids 7 and over are welcome because of the fragility of the machines. $10–$15; open daily except Tuesday.
8. Eat some of the city's best Asian fare
Confession: I have been eating at the same Chinese restaurant in the International District for 15 years: Shanghai Garden, one block from Uwajimaya. The dishes are dependable and delicious (hand-shaved barleygreen noodles and pea vines are favorites), the large, round tables are ideal for big groups, and the level of noise just right to whitewash any kid drama. If you have a household of sushi fanatics, another favorite, and historical, spot to try is Maneki (304 Sixth Ave. S.), the oldest sushi house in the city, which also has private rooms for groups. For Vietnamese, head straight to Green Leaf Cafe (418 Eighth Ave. S).
9. Visit an extraordinary garden
Want to escape the firecrackers and drummers and noise of Lunar New Year? Your oasis is just a few blocks from Hing Hay Park — across Jackson, to S. Main Street — at the Danny Woo International District Community Garden (620 S. Main St.). Danny Woo is a 1.5-acre garden where the elderly and children raise food side by side. Located in an unlikely spot next to the freeway, this wonderful 40-year-old garden was designed so that immigrants could practice agriculture from their home countries, as well as teach their art to young adults and youth. It includes picnic benches, public art and walking trails, and a lovely children’s garden.
10. Walk through history at the Panama Hotel
Refresh and take in more history at the Panama Hotel (605 1/2 South Main St.), a 106-year-old hotel designed by Japanese architect Sabro Ozasa, which, for decades, served as a home for generations of Japanese immigrants, Alaskan fisherman and International travelers. Located across the street from the Danny Woo garden, the hotel's cafe is also a small museum, with a display that explains how the internment camps affected this community. Drink any kind of tea you can imagine, nibble and wind down your day. For kids, there is a little play area with a dollhouse.
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