(Or: A Seattle-born mom shares a few cherished Seattle memories with her kids, and makes a few new ones.)
Beautiful Seattle, known since the 1980s as the “Emerald City,” is a family-friendly city in Puget Sound surrounded by striking natural areas. (Spoiler alert, I’m a bit biased, because I was born here.) Although I’ve lived and traveled elsewhere, Seattle remains one of my favorite cities to explore with and without my kids, because it is a manageable size while still offering top-notch cuisine and culture. These are a few of my favorite outings downtown and fairly close to the urban core.
(1) Visit Pike Place Market. (Free!) No trip to Seattle would be complete without a trip to Pike Place Market, one of the oldest markets in the U.S., and a Seattle institution for 113 years. Snapping a picture with the famous bronze pig Rachel, watching the flying fish at Pike Place Fish Market, and simply browsing stands are fun activities year-round. I have enjoyed the market every season since I was a preschooler, but it is especially festive during the holidays. COVID-19 update: Click here for more information on steps the market is taking to keep everyone healthy.
(2) Learn about sea life at the Seattle Aquarium. The Seattle Aquarium, located on Pier 59 in downtown Seattle’s central waterfront just west of the Pike Place Market, provides educational fun for the whole family. I still remember my trips as a child, especially the touch tanks and wave machine. The aquarium is undergoing renovations with the waterfront facelift, and will eventually offer a 350,000-gallon shark tank that is visible to people walking below. Exiting! COVID-19 update: The Seattle Aquarium is open with timed ticketing and limited attendance. Click here for more information about visiting the Seattle Aquarium during the coronavirus pandemic.
(3) Take a spin on the Great Wheel. Seattle’s Great Wheel on Pier 57 along the waterfront is a relative newbie to the Seattle scene, having opened in 2012, but it is the tallest wheel on the West Coast and is becoming a recognizable part of the Seattle landscape. I am not a big fan of rides myself, having had a few bad experiences as a child, but I enjoyed a spin on the wheel and felt very secure while enjoying nice waterfront views. COVID-19 update: It’s open!
(4) Appreciate art at the Olympic Sculpture Park. (Free!) If you appreciate art but find navigating museums with kids in tow to be challenging, Olympic Sculpture Park is a great compromise, where the whole family can stretch their legs and enjoy outdoor art. The park was created by Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and spans nine acres boasting great views of the Space Needle, glimpses of Elliott Bay, and the largest downtown greenspace in the city. COVID-19 update: The PACCAR Pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture is closed until further notice, but the outdoor park is open to the public.
(5) Ride the Monorail to Seattle Center. The Seattle Center Monorail, a much-loved Seattle landmark, and the country’s first commercial monorail system, provides a short but memorable ride from Westlake Center Station (5th Avenue and Pine Street) to Seattle Center Station (near the Space Needle – and all that Seattle Center has to offer). COVID-19 update: The monorail is operational but requires face coverings and –important! – does not accept cash.
(6) Spend the day at the Seattle Center. My dad, Seattle born and raised, remembers the 1962 world’s fair and all the exciting changes that it brought to the city. Today, Seattle icon the Space Needle remains a highlight, as well as the sprawling 74-acre arts, educational, tourism, and entertainment center. The center has changed and evolved, with some icons of the past (such as the needle and the musical international fountain) standing tall, as well as featuring new additions like the “Artists at Play” playground. The Seattle Center features plenty of free activities – such as walking the grounds, enjoying the playground, and cooling off in the fountain – as well as favorite local museums for a full day. COVID-19 update: The Seattle Center is open with a few changes. Unfortunately, the “Artists at Play” playground and the Seattle Center Armory are presently closed, click here for more information.
(7) Summit Smith Tower, a cultural icon, with beautiful views of the city. Built in 1914, the historic Smith Tower was the city’s first skyscraper and the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and it still boasts great views. (Surpassed, in 1962, by the Space Needle during the world’s fair.) In the 35th floor observatory, there is a great speakeasy bar, where you can enjoy a craft cocktail if you can get away for a kid-free evening. (For future reference, make sure to add Sky View Observatory to your list when it reopens, it features the – arguably – best views in the city.)
(8) Rent a boat at the Center for Wooden Boats. At this living museum, learn about maritime heritage, and get out on the water to enjoy the beautiful Lake Union and surroundings. (Available boats include sailboats, rowboats, canoes, and double kayaks.) COVID-19 update: Both the Center for Wooden Boats and boat rentals are open. Click here for more safety information.
(9) Enjoy Seattle skyline views and the playground at Gas Works Park. (Free!) At Gas Works Park, a 19.1-acre public park located on the north shore of Lake Union near the Wallingford neighborhood, you can experience a piece of Seattle’s history while enjoying outdoor fun. Gas Works Park was created on the former site of an oil plant, the Gas Light Company gasification plant, which was once used to produce synthetic gas from 1906 on. The area has been repurposed into a lovely city park with colorfully painted industrial relics, a children’s playground, a hill for flying kites, beautiful views of Lake Union and the Seattle skyline, and reservable picnic areas. (As a special bonus, it is also a great spot for watching seaplanes taking off and landing, sure to please the kids.) Click here for a great article about Gas Works Park’s interesting history. Gas Works Park visits are among my earliest memories.
(10) Visit one (or more!) of the wonderful museums. (For something a little different, try the National Nordic Museum, where you can learn about Nordic history and culture.) Have you heard of a farmor, krumkake, or Æbleskiver? Whether or not you have an ancestor that hails from one of the Nordic countries, chances are, you will find a family trip to the National Nordic Museum to be interesting and fun. According to 2010 census data, about 739,043 people claimed Scandinavian ancestry in Washington state, from one of the five Nordic countries. Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, a former fishing town where the museum is located, celebrates this Nordic heritage. The museum is a great manageable size for a family day trip, and as a bonus, they have a wonderful café – Freya Café – that offers pre-order and the grab-and-go Nordic fare including children’s items. COVID-19 update: The National Nordic Museum is open under Washington State’s “Safe Start” protocols, and timed tickets must be reserved before you enter. More information here.
Where To Stay in Seattle
We have loved our stays at the Sheraton Grand Seattle downtown, located on 1400 6th Avenue, a hit with everyone in the family. This upscale hotel features a nice indoor pool (with a view!) and is in the heart of downtown and an easy eight-minute walk to Pike Place Market and close to the Westlake Center shopping mall for the monorail.
Holiday Tip! If you can book a stay during the holiday season, another perk of staying at the Sheraton Grand is that it is the host of the annual gingerbread village competition, a local tradition since 1992 where architects, chefs, and children come together to build jaw-dropping gingerbread creations in support of Type 1 diabetes awareness. COVID-19 update: Sadly, I just learned that the competition will not take place in 2020 due to COVID-19 health concerns, but be sure to mark this one down for the future.
6 Ideas of Where To Eat in Seattle With Kids
The truth is, Seattle has such an amazing restaurant scene, I try to make use of (kid-free) date nights when I eat out in Seattle. (I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in this foodie town.) That said, here are a few ideas of where to go, with the kids in tow.
- Beechers Handmade Cheese, located in the historic Pike Place Market, is a great place for kid-friendly mac & cheese, hot soups, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Contactless ordering available.
- Bucca de Beppo, your “neighborhood Italian restaurant” located on Westlake Avenue, is a local chain where the whole family can enjoy abundant “family style” Italian entrees. I’ll be honest, the last time I went I found it to be rather overpriced and very cheesy (no pun intended), but the plentiful Italian-American menu will keep the kids happy. As a special bonus, due to its location on south Lake Union, you can watch seaplanes taking off and landing while you eat. Online ordering available.
- Le Panier, located in Pike Place Market, is a classic French bakery where all products are baked fresh onsite daily. From croissants to macarons to many more, grab a treat here while you are strolling the market, you won’t be disappointed! Curbside pickup and delivery are available.
- Din Tai Fung has two locations in Seattle, one in the university district, and one downtown (in Pacific Place). We had been wanting to try the coveted international Taiwanese dumpling chain ever since it opened in the area, and finally did. The scrumptious potstickers, hand-folded dumplings, bun and more will please the entire family.
- Ivars, a favorite local fried fish and chowder house since 1938, has several locations but I prefer the Salmon House location on Lake Union. (Unless, of course, I am waiting at the Mukilteo Ferry terminal heading to Whidbey Island.) There is a classy lakeside restaurant with a view, but I prefer the casual grab-and-go fish and chips out on the deck when I am out and about with my kids. On a nice day, you can enjoy a lovely view of the lake and the Space Needle, and watch boaters coming and going.
- Cafe Arta & Pub at Third Place, a wonderful casual Greek/Mediterranean pub located inside Third Place Books at Ravenna (near the U-District), may not pop up on many lists of where to dine in Seattle with kids because it is not near the touristy areas. That said, the cuisine is delicious for both adults and kids, and it features a kids’ menu with favorites such as hamburgers, fish and chips, and chicken strips. When our kids were little, they enjoyed the children’s play area, and the whole family can browse the bookshop for treasures to take home. COVID-19 update: The restaurant is open under limited capacity seating , and the children’s play area is currently closed.
Seattle, the city of my birth and the city of my heart, is a place I will return to again and again. If you haven’t visited the Emerald City, do, you won’t be disappointed! (And, if you have, odds are you’ll return.)
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