The fern house at the Volunteer Park Conservatory. Photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Who’s up for a budget tropical getaway?
For a quick escape from a dreary day, head to the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s a historic greenhouse with a stunning indoor botanical garden. Admission is dirt cheap, just $4 for adults, and kids 12 and younger enter free.
The Conservatory, built in 1912, is a Victorian-style building modeled after London’s Crystal Palace. It's one of many attractions contained within Volunteer Park (more on those below). The greenhouse showcases tropical and subtropical plants and is maintained at a balmy 65 to 80 degrees. Ahhhhh….
Lush, curated rooms
Each of the Conservatory's five rooms features a different group of plants: bromeliads, ferns, palms, cacti and a seasonal display house. My kids and I oohed and ahhed over the exquisite orchids and the humongous air plants. It’s also fun to point out the giant jade tree that started from a cutting in 1916. Kids will get a kick out of the carnivorous plants: Venus flytraps, sundews and pitcher plants. (Look, but don’t touch!)
The Conservatory is typically quiet on weekday mornings, and busier on weekends. Leave the stroller in your trunk if you can, and note that only service animals are allowed inside. The walkways are narrow, so please don’t block aisles or doorways. Groups are encouraged to spread out.
Formal photography shoots aren’t allowed during regular public hours, but casual photography and artwork are okay. Everyone we saw was taking pictures. The flowers are so pretty that it’s impossible not to!
All visitors 12 and older must show proof of full vaccination or a negative PCR test to enter. Masks are required inside for everyone over the age of two.
More to love at Volunteer Park
Seattle’s Volunteer Park was designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers; take a walk and soak in the scenery. There’s an iconic photo op in front of Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun sculpture, plus a view of the Space Needle. If the water tower is open, it’s well worth the 107 steps up to the observation deck for terrific — and free — views of the city.
Kids can ride the stately Bactrian camel statues at the entrance of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. (It’s totally fine, the camels are replicas.) This gorgeous Art Deco building was the original home of the Seattle Art Museum. The Asian Art Museum underwent a massive renovation just before the pandemic hit. The back of the galleries were bumped out and opened up to views of the park, and now there’s a fabulous family art studio on the lower level.
The Asian Art Museum is currently open Friday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Again, show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test and wear a mask to enter. Admission is $15 for adults if you buy in advance, $18 at the door. Kids ages 14 and younger enter free. Pro tip: You can reserve free admission tickets online for the last Friday of every month.
Volunteer Park’s recently-renovated playground features two big play structures, a zip line and a cool sculpture to climb. The wading pool is one of the bigger, deeper ones in the city. It’s closed for the season, and so make a mental note to come back in the summer.
You can see Lakeview Cemetery through the chain link fence on the north side of the playground. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, the cemetery’s entrance is off 15th Avenue East. Inside, you’ll find the grave of Seattle icon Bruce Lee and that of his son, Brandon.
Parents should know
Basic park restrooms are located next door to the Conservatory.
There isn’t any food for purchase inside the park, but just two blocks away is the Volunteer Park Café & Pantry (1501 17th Avenue E.). This beloved neighborhood bakery re-opened in August 2021 under new ownership. Do not miss the killer pastries — they’re made by Crystal Chiu, the former executive pastry chef at Canlis.
If you go...
Hours: The Conservatory is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., year-round, including all non-Monday holidays.
Cost: Adults (18 and older) $4; youth (ages 13–17) $2; kids ages 12 and under free. Free admission days are temporarily suspended.
More city adventures with kids:
Editor's note: This article was originally published a few years ago and was just updated for 2022.