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. Read on for a few of my favorite outings downtown and fairly close to the urban core.
(1) Visit Pike Place Market
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 114 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. COVID-19 tip: 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 exhibit. The aquarium is undergoing renovations with the waterfront facelift, and will eventually offer a 325,000-gallon shark tank that is visible to people walking below. Exiting! COVID-19 tip: The Seattle Aquarium is open with timed ticketing and limited attendance. Click here to purchase tickets and learn more.
(3) Take a Spin on the Great Wheel
The Seattle Great Wheel on Pier 57 along the waterfront is a relative newbie to the Seattle scene, having opened in 2012, but it was the tallest wheel on the West Coast when it opened and is becoming a recognizable part of the Seattle landscape.
(4) Appreciate Art at the Olympic Sculpture Park
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. This award-winning 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. As a special bonus you can pop down to little Pocket Beach for some great tidepooling.COVID-19 tip: 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 tip: 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. Seattle icon the the Space Needle remains a highlight at the sprawling 74-acre arts, educational, tourism, and entertainment center. The Seattle 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.
(7) Summit Smith Tower, a Cultural Icon, With Beautiful Views of
Built in 1914, the historic Smith Tower was the city’s first skyscraper and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, and it still boasts great views. In the 35th floor observatory, there is a great speakeasy bar, where you can enjoy a full menu and craft cocktails.
(8) Rent a Boat at the Center for Wooden Boats
At the Center for Wooden Boats, a living museum, learn about maritime heritage, and get out on the water to enjoy the beautiful Lake Union and its surroundings. (Available boats include sailboats, rowboats, canoes, and double kayaks. The Center for Wooden Boats is also offering a free daily one-hour boat rental through its Public Peapod Program (PPP). Click here to learn more.
(9) Enjoy Seattle Skyline Views and the Playground at Gas Works Park
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 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
Seattle has so many great museums it can be hard to choose. As a child, I loved the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), and it is open to the public with advanced timed tickets required. The Museum of Flight, the largest independent nonprofit air and space museum in the world, is great for all ages and now open. The Burke Museum, located on the University of Washington campus, has undergone impressive renovations and includes dinosaur bones and a lovely open-air café. For something a little different, you might want to pop by the National Nordic Museum in Seattle’s trendy Ballard neighborhood, where you can learn about Nordic history and culture and look at a replica Viking ship.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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), offers tasty options for kids and adults and is now featuring weekend brunch.
Best Time to Visit
Unless Seattle’s well-known rain and gray skies are part of the appeal, the summer months (late June to August) will boast the best weather, with pleasant conditions often persisting into fall. For information about getting to and around Seattle, the Visit Seattle page offers many details, including downloadable maps of the city and the Puget Sound region.
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.)
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2020 and updated in June 2021, and will be appearing in ROAM Family Travel Magazine in June 2021.
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