Discover family-friendly Seattle hotspots that will fill your Pacific Northwest getaway with thrills, learning disguised as adventure + creative exploration.
One of the trendiest cities in the world - at least for those that say down with The Man, are in a love affair with Patagonia gear, and turn up their noses at coffee that isn't artisan - Seattle is a multi-layered cultural playground that can captivate everyone from easily distracted toddlers, to been-there-done-that adults.
Part of the city's allure is the fact that it seems to exist in the future, as it's always on the cutting-egde of, well, almost everything. This vibrant innovation emanates from many of the following Seattle destinations, meaning you'll likely be going full bore the majority of your trip because there's just so much to experience. You'll thank yourself for saying yes to this urban adventure.
Gas Works Park
On the shore of Lake Union is the 19-acre Gas Works Park that was morphed out of the former Seattle Gas Light Company plant that closed in 1956. The award-winning industrial-meets-nature wonderland that was crafted after the city acquired the site in 1962 is composed of a play barn, big grassy hill ideal for high speed rolling and kite flying, a sundial, and awesome views for picnic backdrops.
If you’re concerned about toxins, know that the landscape architects introduced oil-degrading enzymes to breakdown toxic contaminants in the soil. This site is now a compelling fusion of wholesome and eerie.
Seattle Bouldering Project
If you haven’t already heard, it rains a lot in Seattle. So much so that it’s prudent to always have a handful of indoor activities in your back pocket, or rain poncho pouch, when visiting this wet city with kids. Climbing at Seattle Bouldering Project should be one of those activities, as it features a kids and families climbing area and hosts numerous programs catered to little ones. After climbing on these trendy walls and foam-bottomed bouldering areas, go drink trendy coffee at the gym’s West Wall cafe.
Dunthie Hill Mountain Bike Park
120-acres of rolling terrain, and a 2.5-acre central clearing surrounded by forest, make up this family-friendly mountain biking park that accommodates all levels of riders. And for the navigationally challenged (were looking at ourselves), take heart that it’s near-impossible to get lost on these trails, as many are loops that start and end in that aforementioned clearing, or are straight shots from and to local parks or parking lots.
The ideal paths for beginners are the Access Trail, which leads from a parking lot to the central clearing, the short but sweet Honey Badger trail, and the one-mile Bootcamp loop. Intermediate mountain bikers will enjoy the Deuces Wild and Step It Up Trails. If you want to make this an all-day endeavor, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy between wheeled excursions.
A favorite spot to rent mountain bikes is Progression Cycle, as it’s within riding distance of Dunthie Hill.
Seattle by Foot Kids’ Tour
A two-hour walking tour created by two Seattle moms, Seattle by Foot Kids’ Tour stops at kid-favorite spots in Pike Place Market, explores architecture that’s interesting to littles, journeys through the Seattle Art Museum and dives into a special location that houses over a million books. All tour stops are 2-3 blocks from one another, but it’s still wise to bring a stroller if you have sloth-walkers, or really-little-ones.
This tour is a great way to get insight into Seattle highlights and discover where you want to spend more time. And if your child is craving a fellow child to play with, this could be an excellent way to meet other families seeking playmates.
Opened in 1977 on Seattle’s Elliott Bay waterfront, this treasured non-profit aquarium features hands-on marine experiences, conservation education, and a window into the lives of the world’s most captivating critters, like otters, jellyfish, tufted puffins, dogfish, eels and giant clams.
A few highlights include the jaw-dropping Underwater Dome, Family Activity Center that facilitates a journey into the challenges of orcas, an otherworldly octopus feeding, and the Marine Mammals area where you can hear daily talks and witness feedings.
If you’re at the Seattle Aquarium on the weekend, check out the Diver Show through the window on Washington Water. Plan to spend around two hours here. When you’re done, head to...
The Seattle Great Wheel
Score epic views of Mount Olympus and Seattle’s waterfront district in a gondola attached to this 175-foot Ferris wheel. The ride includes three full revolutions and allows those with a fear of heights to be distracted by the sights and the thrilled giggles the kids will inevitably erupt into.
If you want to go all out, get VIP tickets that let you cut the line (the dream of many a child), and ride in style in a gussied-up gondola that features leather bucket seats, a stereo system and (drum roll please) a glass floor. You’ll also get VIP t-shirts and wonderfully cheesy photo-booth-prints.
For those there on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening, hang around for the light show, which consists of 500,000 LED lights on the Ferris wheel doing crazy stuff.
Woodland Park Zoo
1,100 animals from 300 species live at this 92-acre zoo that is divided into bioclimactic zones, with natural habitats ranging from humid tropical rain forests to coastal deserts. The most popular residents at this wildlife sanctuary include rhinos, hippos, an arctic fox named Hudson (!), a snow leopard, wallabies, brown bears, and our favorites, the red panda and lemurs. Other fave stops in this zoo include the Historic Carousel and the fabulously ethereal butterfly garden that's open seasonally.
As zoos have been getting lots of flack regarding animal treatment (and rightly so), zoos like Woodland Park are putting in serious effort to not only adhere to strict protocol regarding animal treatment and habitats, but are also putting in the work to support wildlife conservation worldwide.
Seattle Children’s Museum
A fun place for kids up to 8-years-old, the 18,000-square feet that make up the Seattle Children's Museum are filled with hands-on exhibits, educational programs and activities, and staff who eagerly engage with visitors. Open-ended learning is a large part of the museum’s philosophy, inspiring a child’s creativity and curiosity to shine during their visit.
Popular exhibits include the Bijou Theater where kids can get a taste of theater life, from a backstage dressing room to the bright lights of a decorated stage, the aptly-named Construction Zone, the art-centric Imagination Studio, and The Market where kids can fill their cart with goods and pay with play money. While older kids might get bored, little kids will be blissed-out by this interactive wonderland.
The most iconic structure in Seattle, the Space Needle was constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair and offers the best views of the city, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges. If you’re up for a mild thrill, step out on The Loupe, the needle’s revolving glass floor that’s perched 500-feet above the city.
After you’ve Louped and posed, head to Seattle Fudge or The Confectional for dessert. Both sweeteries are located in the Seattle Center.
Pacific Science Center
With a mission to ignite curiosity, discovery, experimentation and critical thinking, the Pacific Science Center offers a dynamic platter of exhibits and experiences that easily fill up a full day in Seattle.
Prime zones for super youngsters include the Gravity Well, the dinosaur exhibit (although it scares some) and the Just for Tots exhibit (obvi.) Older kids will enjoy the outdoor area that features a water-cannon they can use to hit various targets, a water wheel to walk in, and a massive granite ball they can try spinning. There's also a Tinker Tank maker-space where they can craft electrical circuits, launch rockets and do other science-y stuff.
And let’s not forget the Virtual Reality experiences, allowing adults and kids 5 and older to engage in a lunar adventure, save the universe from evil with some sweet dance moves, explore Van Gogh's Starry Night painting (Hudson's favorite), and walk with penguins.
Areas that are a hit for all ages include the Tropical Butterfly House (wear red or yellow if you want a better chance of butterflies landing on you), the Salt Water Tide Pool, and the Planetarium where you can enjoy the 15-minute show developed for preschoolers, or the standard 30-40 minute show. Both have an in-person presenter who shares fascinating stories about the cosmos as the shifting images on the dome’s screen make you feel like you’re floating through said cosmos.
Another unique experience at the Pacific Science Center are the laser shows, which are housed in the Laser Dome and composed of mind-bending light features set to the tunes of greats like the Beatles, Queen, Gaga and more. And finally, don’t miss a 3D movie in their state-of-the-art IMAX theater.
Tip: If you're coming with a large group, purchase the annual family pass, as it will likely save you money on entry, provide unlimited tickets to the Laser Shows, and offer other perks.
Another Tip: If you're in-between checking into a hotel, or getting on an airplane or cruise ship, they'll usually allow you to store your luggage in the Guest Services office. Lockers are also available for smaller goods.