By David Robert Hogg – Updated August, 2014
The 31 Best Things To Do With Kids In Seattle
Seattle is our hometown and I’ve picked the best family places to eat, play, and explore with kids.
1. Museum of Flight
A great museum for all ages, you’ll see airplanes spanning the first 100 plus years of flight. Get a look inside a Concorde, the first 747 ever built, the original Air Force One, fighters, bombers, and, well, pretty much anything that has wings or propellers. There’s a Kids Flight Zone, several flight simulators, and always changing featured exhibits. The museum is located 10 minutes by car south of downtown Seattle. There’s lots of free parking available. Bus #124 will also get you here from downtown. If you own your own plane there are 5 fly-in parking spots available. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm every day.
2. The Future of Flight (Boeing Factory Tour)
For a different perspective on airplanes – focused on how they’re built rather than how they fly – visit the Boeing assembly plant 30 miles north of Seattle. The tour is geared towards adults (and you have to be over 48 inches) but anyone over the age of 7 that has an interest in airplanes should be thrilled. You see the assembly line where 747′s, 777′s and the new 787′s are constructed. Visit on weekdays to see the factory humming at full speed. Tours begin every hour from 9am to 3pm.
- Future of Flight official website
- A Tour of The Future of Flight – great pictures and tips from a travel blogger
- Reviews of the Future of Flight Tour on Tripadvisor
- Directions to the Future of Flight
3. The Pacific Science Center at Seattle Center
A museum full of hands on science fun. Great for kids aged 3 and up. (There’s a special play area for toddlers.) The museum has become a bit rundown and in need of some updating, but the kids notice the engaging exhibits, not the cracking paint. The Tropical Butterfly House and IMAX theater (movies currently showing) are probably the highlights. Located on the grounds of Seattle Center where there are lots of places to eat. You can easily take the Monorail here from downtown Seattle. It’s closed Tuesdays, open from 10am to 5pm Monday, Wednesday to Friday, and 10am to 6pm Saturday, Sunday, and holidays.
4. The Seattle Children’s Museum At Seattle Center
An absolutely wonderful place that is more an imaginative indoor playground than museum. Get there when the doors open and you can have the place to yourself for an hour or so – even on weekends. Superb for ages 10 months – 10 years. Located 2 minutes from the Pacific Science Center. It’s in the same building as the Seattle Center Armory and all its restaurants. Taking the Monorail here from downtown Seattle is a good option. The museum is open 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday.
5. Museum of History and Industry (Mohai)
Recently relocated and completely refurbished, this is one of Seattle’s best museums and a fantastic destination for both kids and adults. The exhibits are hands-on, detail rich, and very well done. The museum charts the history of the region though the development of major companies and industries. Located next to Lake Union and easily accessible by the South Lake Union Trolley. There’s a good restaurant within the museum. Children 14 and under are free. Open 10am to 5pm daily, open until 8pm on Thursdays.
6. Woodland Park Zoo
This is a great zoo (within a relaxed and beautifully laid-out park) so be prepared to spend a good part of a day here. Elephants, monkeys, gorillas, Komodo dragons and giraffes are the big draws with my kids – but there’s so much here you could easily have a totally different greatest hits. There’s also a fun indoor climbing playground for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Several restaurants within the zoo are decent. You can also bring your own food and have a picnic on one of many grassy areas. Bus #5 goes from downtown Seattle right by the zoo. The zoo is open 9:30am to 6pm from May 1 to September 30, and 9:30am to 4pm from October 1 to April 30.
7. Ride the Duck Tour
Yes, locals will laugh at you for riding an amphibious duck through the city. But so what! This is a lot of fun. The tour takes you around a collection of the city’s sightseeing highlights and the bus-boat does indeed enter the water and takes you around Lake Union. The driver tells stories throughout and has particpants singing songs and clapping hands. Kids love it.
8. Music, Food, and Cultural Festivals
Bumbershoot, Northwest Folklife, and SeaFair are 3 of the most popular festivals – and all are very family friendly. The Maker Faire is also very cool for kids and adults into tech and innovation. Check out the full list of festivals by month.
9. Swim at a Beach
Seattle has several great beaches. My favorites are below. All have public restrooms.
- Matthews Beach on Lake Washington – Located on the Burke Gilman bike trail. A nice swimming spot with life guards on duty during opening hours. (Like all beaches you can swim anytime at your own discretion.)
- Madison Park Beach on Lake Washington – Located in the Madison Park neighborhood with a half-dozen restaurants, a Starbucks, and beautiful playground within 3 blocks of the beach. Life guards on duty and a raft with a diving board is moored 100 feet out into the lake.
- Green Lake Beach – The warmest place to swim and my personal favorite. There are 2 different beaches on opposite sides of this small lake. A very popular walk/bike path (2.5 miles around) circles the lake. Life guards on duty and a raft with a diving board is moored 100 feet out into the lake. Lots of restaurants, a wading pool, and a playground are found at the north end of the lake. Rent boats, paddle boats, kayaks, and paddle boards at Green Lake Boat Rentals (on the sunniest weekend days there can be a 30+ minute wait for rentals but most of the time there’s plenty of stock).
- Golden Gardens on Puget Sound – The water is cold here so not great for swimming but this is still one of Seattle’s most popular beaches. Barbecues are scattered along the beach and free for using (first come, first served). There’s a creek here that’s fun for kids to divert and dam. Located on the western end of the Burke Gilman bike and pedestrian path (about 1.5 miles from Ballard neighborhood). There aren’t any restaurants right at the beach (though there are 2 within a short bike ride).
10. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (on the UW campus)
Not as hands on as the Science Museum at Seattle Center, this small but well laid out museum on the University of Washington campus has a more truly scientific bent. The U-District is just a few blocks away and is filled with great (and cheap) places to eat. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
11. Rent a Boat or Kayak
There are a number of different shops that rent boats, canoes and kayaks to paddle around Lake Union and Lake Washington and even little Greenlake. The best are the Center for Wooden Boats, Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club, UW Waterfront Activities Center and Greenlake Boat Rentals. They all supply life vests for kids and adults.
12. Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is a Seattle institution and even though it attracts a lot of tourists it retains its charm. Locals still shop here and the seafood, fruit, vegetables, and flowers are top notch and fairly priced. The market is open from early morning until early evening but is at its best just before lunch. Kids will love the freshly made donuts (delicious) and gum wall (disgusting).
13. Ballard Farmers Market
Pike Place Market is great but if you really want to experience one of Seattle’s famous local markets then head to the Ballard Farmers’ Market (year round on Sundays). It’s a great spot to wander, shop and eat. Ballard is one of Seattle’s hippest neighborhoods and there are restaurants, cafes, and Ballard’s brand new library (with story hours for kids) within a short walk of the market.
14. The Seattle Aquarium
Located on Seattle’s wonderful waterfront and recently refurbished the aquarium is a good stop for 90 minutes to 2 hours. (Some visitors arrive expecting a lot and leave disappointed.) Kids can touch starfish and sea anemones and (with a bit of luck) see different animals during feeding time. The scuba divers that swim in a large tank – and do show and tell wiith different sea life – are a hit with many kids.
15. Go for a Bike Ride
Seattle might not be Portland when it comes to bike friendly infrastructure but it has enough bike paths and bike lanes to give the casual bike visitor plenty of routes to enjoy the city. There are a couple of places to rent bikes and helmets. Downtown is not the best place for a ride, instead head to the Burke Gilman Bike Trail that runs through the popular Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and Fremont – and continues out through the U-District and northeast Seattle for 20+ miles. It’s all relatively flat so it’s good for kids or parents pulling a trailer. Definitely keep a close eye on the kids and encourage them to keep to the right as some cyclists can ride the path at a pretty good clip. Recycled Cycles, Montlake Bike Shop and Dutch Bike Co. – all on or near the Burke path – are good options. Call ahead to see what’s available and reserve what you need.
16. Explore the Fremont Neighborhood
The Fremont neighborhood is one of Seattle’s funnest and most unique neighborhoods (it’s also smack in the middle of the best stretch of the Burke Gilman path) – and is a great place to walk around, grab a bite to eat (numerous restaurants are sprinkled around the neighborhood) or shop for snacks and picnic supplies (PCC Natural Market). On Sunday there’s a huge market with lots of food and flea-market style vendors. The Urban Beer Garden at the Fremont Brewery is family-friendly and a great place to have a couple pints of a local Seattle beer. You’re welcome to bring outside food into the brewery.
17. The International Fountain at Seattle Center
It looks so simple. The large half-ball of a fountain looks like something you’d walk by, glance at for a minute or two, say “neat” and continue on your way. But the fountain has a way of pulling you in and lulling you into an afternoon of watching water jets shoot into the air in tune with the blasting music – leaving visitors wondering where their day went. When it’s hot kids have a blast.
18. Visit A Wading Pool or Swimming Pool
The city opens a number of wading pools that are a fun and relaxing way to cool off and play on one of Seattle’s 3 annual hot days. My favorites are at: Volunteer Park, Greenlake, Wallingford Park, and the East Queen Anne Playground.
19. Jump Around At An Indoor Gym
The Academy in Ballard offers an open gym time to jump in the foam pit, bounce on the trampoline, run and swing and flop. It’s a lot of fun but only for kids 5 and under. Runs from 12:00 to 1:00. (There is also a Lake City location if you’re looking for an activity in North Seattle.)
20. The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum
There is just enough at the EMP Rock N’ Roll museum to keep kids aged 5 to 10 occupied for about an hour. Older kids might stay engaged for another 90 minutes. If the EMP is something the adults in the family are excited to see you need not avoid it, but it could easily be scratched from a busy schedule. The Science Fiction Museum (connected to the EMP) has 30 minutes worth of Star Trek souvenirs, Star Wars artifacts, and scary scenes from numerous Sci Fi movies and books.
21. Go Camping
Seattle is blessed with dozens (maybe hundreds) of great camping spots within 2 or 3 hours of the city. Read a quick overview of camping options in Washington State.
22. Go Cabin Camping
Not up for pitching a tent – or packing all the equpipment. The cabins at Cama Beach (pictured above) or the yurts at Tolt MacDonald Park are great for families. But book early as these places fill many months in advance.
23. Ride the Ferris Wheel on the Seattle Waterfront
Great views of the waterfront from the brand new Seattle Great Wheel. Gondolas are fully enclosed (don’t worry about the rain) and hold up to 8 people.
24. Go For A Hike
There are lots of great hikes in and near Seattle. Here are 10 of the best hikes in the Seattle area for families.
25. Hit A Trendy Cafe
Seattle is know for its awesome cafes and coffee. Most are kid friendly. Cafe Diablo on Queen Anne (pictured above) is one of our favorites. Caffe Ladro (Fremont, Capitol Hill, downtown, and near Seattle Center) and Macrina Bakery (Belltown, Queen Anne, SoDo) are also great.
26. Stroll Through The Sculpture Park
The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park displays large pieces of sculptured art along the waterfront, halfway between Seattle Center and downtown. Great views of the sound, mountains, and ferries. The museum’s main location is downtown (near Pike Place Market) and makes a good effort at being kid-friendly. The Old Spaghetti Factory is not my favorite place to eat but it is close to the Sculpture Park and very kid friendly.
27. See a Play at the Seattle Children’s Theatre
The Seattle Children’s Theatre in Seattle Center puts on wonderful performances that are (often) just as entertaining for adults as for kids.
The Children’s Theatre is now off for the summer but will be back in the fall of 2014.
- The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi
September 25 – November 9, 2014
For Ages 5+
- Dick Whittington and His Cat
November 13 – December 21, 2014
A Holiday Musical for All Ages
January 22 – February 15, 2015
For Ages 9+
- Goodnight Moon
March 5 – April 19, 2015
For Ages 3+
- Robin Hood
April 16 – May 17, 2015
For Ages 8+
28. Play Video Games at Gameworks
A huge 2-level arcade filled with old and new video games. Gameworks is located in downtown Seattle and a short walk from Pike Place Market, the Monorail, and Westlake Mall. Bonus: Adults can order beer (though it’s expensive). Food is served in the arcade and there’s a Cheesecake Factory directly across the street. A multiplex movie theater is on the floors above.
29. Do a Seattle Food Tour
These are a lot of fun. 2 to 3 hour walks that take in some of Seattle’s best food. The tour guides are out-going and entertaining. The food is delicious and while it might not suit the palette of all kids I think most will – at the very least – find it interesting. Savor Seattle’s 2 most kid-friendly tours are Pike Place Tour and Chocolate Indulgence Tour.
30. Tour the Seattle Underground
The Underground tour takes visitors around Pioneer Square and down through the maze of buried alleys and storefronts that were once the surface streets. Kids and adults both find it fascinating. Tours start on the hour between 10am and 7pm from April to September, 11am to 6pm from October to March.
31. The Ballard Locks and Fish Ladder
The locks help boats get from sea level up to the level of Lake Union. The fish ladder does the same thing for spawning salmon allowing them to return to the lakes and rivers around Seattle. There’s a viewing area where you watch the salmon swim by. It’s pretty neat to watch. There are also free one-hour tours of the locks.
Best Hotels for Kids
- Four Seasons Hotel Seattle – Wonderful hotel, steps from Pike Place Market and walking distance to the Monorail, waterfront, shopping, and loads of restaurants. A heated outdoor swimming pool with nearby fire pit overlook the Puget Sound and passing ferries.
- The Westin Seattle – Close to the Monorail, restaurants, and shopping. The best views of any hotel in Seattle and a large indoor pool with hot tub.
- Maxwell Hotel – A block from Seattle Center and close to many restaurants and a grocery store. Along with the Hampton Inn the Maxwell is good if you need a break from the frenetic pace of downtown but still want to be close to the action. There’s also a small indoor pool.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle-Downtown – King suites sleep 4 and 2-bedroom suites will fit a family of 5 or 6. Walking distance to the Monorail, Seattle Center, a grocery store, and a handful of restaurants.
- Courtyard Seattle Downtown/Lake Union – Indoor pool and jacuzzi. Close to a park, the superb Museum of History and Industry, and several restaurants. Large buffet served for breakfast and dinner.
Large basement apartment in Wallingford – This is a great space for longer stays. Kid-friendly vibe with friendly owners. Great Seattle neighborhood with easy access to the University of Washington and several bus routes. (Full disclosure: the owners are friends of mine.)
The Best Places To Eat with Kids in Seattle
If you want to eat at some terrible chain restaurant like Olive Garden, Red Robin or The Old Spaghetti Factory these places abound. However Seattle has a ton of cool restaurants that serve great food. With a few accommodations and some adventurous parents the whole family will have a great time. (Remember: don’t blame it on the children – it’s usually timid parents that underestimate their kids and order boring food.)
Here are my favorite places to eat in Seattle:
Tutta Bella – They don’t serve a whole lot else beside their thin crust pizza – not even any pasta – but what they do offer is delicious. Great desserts: tiramisu and gelato, and good espresso. Four locations: Westlake (between Downtown and Seattle Center), Stone Way (between Fremont and Wallingford), Columbia City, and Issaquah.
Red Mill – A couple different locations at Interbay (between Queen Anne and Magnolia) and the original on Phinney Ridge (just north of the Woodland Park Zoo). If you’re downtown Li’l Woody’s is the almost as good.
SushiLand in Queen Anne is a delicious and cheap conveyor-belt sushi place. Seattle has some top notch (and very expensive) japanese restaurants but for great sushi in a relaxed setting nothing beats this SushiLand. The seared salmon is incredible. Located walking distance from Seattle Center.
Coolest Place You’re Still Allowed to Take Your Kids To
Alibi Room – OK, this is pushing the definition of Kid’s Restaurant to the absolute breaking point. The Alibi Room might also fall under the category of Singles Bar or Pick Up Joint. But it’s got great food and beer, and the happy hour specials are incredible. It’s loud enough to absorb any noise and it’s very dark, so other guests might just think you’re dining with some very short adult friends.
And regardless it’s more an evening spot so if you visit at lunch or early afternoon you could be the only ones in the place.
It’s a little tricky to find but that keeps all the tourists away. To get there find the famous pig in Pike Place Market, descend the stairs just a few feet away to Pike Alley and walk down the lane about 100 feet. The Alibi Room will be on your right, directly opposite Gum Wall – a collection of gum that people have plastered on one of the alley’s walls. Kids love it. Parents of good taste and upbringing find it repulsive.
Top Pot Doughnuts – Locations all over the city (Upper Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Downtown Seattle, Wedgwood, Bellevue, Mill Creek and Qwest Field). Yummy! If you’re in Pike Place Market eat some of the freshly made donuts at Daily Dozen Doughnuts.
Trophy Cupcakes – If anyone tries to recommend Cupcake Royal to you, thank them politely and then remove them from your Christmas card list — Trophy is the indisputable cupcake champ. Locations in Wallingford, University Village, and Bellevue.
Best Ice Cream
The best cookies (chocolate oat peanut butter chip is my fave), breads, cakes and scones can be found at Macrina Bakery in Upper Queen Anne, Belltown and Sodo.
Caffe Ladro serves the best espresso drinks in the city. (Locations in Upper and Lower Queen Anne, West Seattle, Fremont, Capitol Hill, Downtown and some suburban locations like Edmonds, Bellevue and Kirkland.) Caffe Fiore (Upper Queen Anne, Sunset Hill and Ballard) has the coolest vibe. And Irwins (Wallingford) has that laid back neighborhood vibe that Seattle has come to define.
Best Cafes with Playrooms
The best playroom/cafe combo in the city is at Mosaic Coffee House in Wallingford (just behind the Dick’s Drive-in). Their huge playroom is great for ages 6 months to 6 years. Don’t go out of your way to visit Firehouse Coffee in Ballard but if you’re in the area and need a latte, it does have a decent playroom for the kids.