Paul Grygiel, 1, plays in the ball pit at Pinwheels. Photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
What’s new in White Center? The diverse, interesting neighborhood between West Seattle and Burien recently opened two indoor play spaces and a bike playground, so I took my two little ones (ages 1 and 5) to try them out. Here's what we found.
When I pulled up to Lil’ Bug Studio, I wondered if I’d gotten the address wrong. The building is wrapped in a chain link fence topped with barbed wire, and the studio’s sole window is covered with metal bars. I was suspicious, but then I saw a mom with two little ones head inside.
Once you get past that forbidding façade, the inside of Lil’ Bug Studio is a mecca for little kids and their caregivers. There’s a big comfortable sectional to the side, like someone’s living room. I was wishing this were my living room, because all the toys inside are mom-approved. No Disney, no Pokémon, no noisy plastic junk. Instead, there’s a giant wooden playhouse, all kinds of building materials, a train table, a rocking boat and more. It’s like a hippie toy store exploded. A rock-climbing wall, swing and monkey bars entertained the bigger siblings. The play space is targeted to kids from 6 months to 9 years old, and there’s something for everyone in that range.
I appreciated that the woman at the front desk asked everyone coming in to wash their hands. Expecting mamas and mamas nursing new babies hung out while the kids played happily. Occasionally I’d catch a whiff of a ripe diaper, but that’s part of the experience with this crowd. Even though it was a busy rainy day, the studio was spacious enough we didn’t feel cramped.
Good to know: Lil’ Bug Studio, which opened in December, focuses on open play. There’s a story time on Tuesday mornings and occasional other classes, and Saturdays are set aside for birthday parties. The studio is not drop off. You can bring your own snack (no nuts, please), or choose from the studio’s small selection of pouches, crackers, cheese and oranges.
Details: 10007 13th Ave. S.W., Seattle; open Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5 p.m. Check the Facebook page for upcoming events.
Cost: $10 per child over 6 months. Free street parking
Just two blocks away from Lil' Bug, Pinwheels is a play space, conveniently located in White Center Plaza, which opened more than a year ago. It's decked out in bright primary colors with scores of pinwheels (duh) attached to the ceiling. The play area includes a dress-up station, a train table and some miscellaneous Matchbox cars. But the real stars here are the inflatables: a bouncy house, a ball pit, a big slide and a jumper.
The 1,100 square foot space feels a little claustrophobic with all those big squishy things, but it’s a great spot for kids to work off energy on a rainy day. Pinwheels is designed for kids 0 to 6 (though older siblings are welcome). Most of the kids we saw were right in the middle of that range, toddlers and preschoolers.
Tip: Don’t make the same mistake as us by going on a wet, holiday morning. The place was packed and the cubbies overflowing, though the crowd thinned out considerably at noon for lunch and naps. Pinwheels does offer drop-off (for $10 an hour), but most parents seem to choose to stay with their kiddos. The high parent-kid ratio means the place can be crowded, but the kids were well-supervised and well-behaved on the day we went.
Drop-offs: The drop-off option is pretty affordable, just know that the person working the front desk is the same person watching your kid. If you’re comfortable with that situation, spending that extra $3 could mean getting a lot of errands knocked out. You can drop off kids for a maximum of three hours, or two hours if they’re not potty trained yet.
Good to know: Pinwheels is located in a shopping plaza that also includes a hair/nail salon, a pastry/bubble tea shop, a pho restaurant and a for-real Asian grocery store (complete with unusual cuts of meat). Pinwheels also offers camps, child care options and Parents Night Out. You can buy pre-packaged crackers and juice boxes there, or bring your own snack from home.
Details: 9988 15th Ave. S.W. Suite B, Seattle; open-play hours are Wednesday, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. and 4–7:30 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m.–1 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m.–noon.
Cost: $7 plus tax per child for open play, $3 open play on Thursdays with canned good donation. Babies are free until they are mobile. $10/hour for drop-off. Free parking lot.
About a mile south of Lil’ Bug Studio and Pinwheels, there’s a new bike playground where kids can practice traffic safety for riding in streets. The White Center Bike Playground, which opened this past October and is the state's first such playground, is a flat, paved area the size of a couple of tennis courts. Lanes, crosswalks and other road markings are painted on the ground. I had envisioned traffic signs and maybe some flags and lights, and was a little bummed to find just an open space. The kids didn’t mind, though. They were happy to scooter and bike around while committing all kinds of traffic violations.
The park has an adjacent playground, so the kids won't be bored. Be aware of flying Frisbees while walking through the park – it’s also a popular disc-golf course.
Good to know: Google maps and some signage still refer to Dick Thurnau Memorial Park by its old name, Lakewood Park. The bike playground isn’t clearly marked. Pull in to the parking lot off 10th Avenue S.W. and look for a tall chain-link fence to the northeast.
We passed up the park’s Port-a-Potty and went to the White Center Library (1409 S.W. 107th St.) instead. It’s less than a mile away, and also new to the neighborhood (opened last May). The library is worth the detour for clean restrooms and an inviting children’s section.
Details: 11050 10th Ave. S.W., Seattle. No admission.