Seattle’s stereotypical reputation as a rainy and grey location may dissuade families from checking out the abundance that the city has to offer. However, don’t let a little drizzle get you down. Seattle has so much that will entertain kids of all ages. There’s more than you could possibly even pack into a weekend in terms of things to do in Seattle with kids.
From gorgeous sculpture parks and beautiful playgrounds to top tier theater productions that are specifically targeted towards younger viewers, Seattle is chock full of things to do with kids and as a family. The best part is that parents will also have a great time playing amongst themselves at the Pinball Museum or sampling delicious foods at the iconic Pike Place Market.
Visit the Seattle Public Library
The Seattle Public Library system is amazing and there are locations all over the city. First, they have tons of free activities for kids including story time for kids age preschool and younger, free performances, movies, music and more. Learn more about what the Seattle Public Library system offers for kids here.
The second thing you need to know is that the library system gives away free museum passes each month. You have to sign up for a museum day well in advance but if you are able to plan ahead, that can be a great way to save money on some of the museums listed below. You can find out more about free museum passes here.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, also called the Ballard Locks, were built with the intention to move boats from sea-level up to the water level of Lake Union so they could pass through without incident. The Fish Ladder that is also housed here does the same thing for spawning salmon and allows them to return to the lakes and rivers around Seattle throughout their life. There is a viewing area where you see the huge salmon swim by during the spawning season as well as a free one-hour Locks tour on offer. If you’re looking for more to do in the area, feel free to check out the surrounding botanical garden which is pretty to stroll through.
The best time to go see the Locks is in July when the fish are visible in the viewing area. We recommend eating at the kid-friendly breakfast cafe, Portage Bay, for a bite to eat before visiting the locks. The cafe is located right next to the Locks and has high chairs. The Locks and the surrounding park are stroller-friendly and free but you have to pay for parking.
National Nordic Museum in Ballard
The Nordic Museum in Ballard is a smaller museum that is stroller-friendly and tickets are $10-$15. You can park on the nearby residential streets. Since the museum is so small, it’s perfect for a 90 minute visit or when you don’t have much time. They also have a great event for Julefest which is an annual Christmastime event where they have craft vendors, music, and other festivities. For that reason, we think December is the best time to visit this museum. Although, it gets super crowded for the event so it may not be the best with a newborn or kids who you think won’t do well in large crowds.
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
This natural history museum includes a hands-on exhibits with windows between the public and private areas that give it a hands-on look at what scientists are up to behind the scenes. Think classic Jurassic Park!
Also, it’s the only place where you can see real dinosaur fossils in the entire state of Washington, including one of the best-preserved T. Rex skulls in the world. This small and well laid out museum on the University of Washington campus has a more truly scientific focus.
The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. However, if you’re looking for more to do in the area, the center of the U District is only a few blocks away and filled with lovely and affordable places to eat. You can also take the viaduct down to nearby University Village.
The Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union
The Center for Wooden Boats is self-labeled as a living museum and it’s easy to see why. Children and adults can touch, build, sail and learn about wooden boats at this museum. Feel free to rent a rowboat or pedal boat with no boating experience required or, if you have experience, take your time to explore South Lake Union in a canoe, kayak or sailboat.
If this lovely museum on South Lake Union appears small, it’s because all the best parts are out on the water. It’s always free to walk the docks and explore, and there a myriad of water vehicles for rent at all times.
In addition, the Center for Wooden Boats hosts free public sailings on Sundays (you’ll want to get in line before 10am) and a maritime-themed story hour (aboard a tugboat that is a hundred years old) every Thursday from 11am to 12pm.
We would encourage you to pair your visit with a chance to see the Museum of History and Industry next door. The Center for Wooden Boats is accessible via bus and streetcar and has a small number of parking spots available. Boathouse and rental hours are abbreviated in the off season so be sure to check the website before you go.
This would definitely be an event to go to with older kids versus babies and in good weather.
This park, which is conveniently located in the heart of Seattle, is home to a conservatory, a Seattle Asian Art Museum, a well-maintained playground, and one of the city’s largest wading pools. While in the area feel free to check out the Water Tower, which happened to be the highest point on Capitol Hill, where people can climb 107 stairs in order to take in 360 degree views of Seattle.
Museum of History & Industry (aka MOHAI)
At MOHAI the history of Seattle comes alive. Kids and adults will appreciate the fascinating exhibits that show how the Northwest’s environment and diverse population have influenced its evolution.
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Despite the hype, the ballet is more than The Nutcracker, which is a popular wintertime attraction for children. This Pacific Northwest Ballet has entertaining programming all year long with performances that include classics, such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.
Artists at Play Playground
Just outside of the MoPOP and Seattle Center, this music themed playground includes a mountain of innovative equipment that lets kids run free. There is also a separate toddler area with an accessible swing, a 35 foot climbing tower and a long tube slide.
Right next to this playground, The Museum of Pop Culture is a fun way to spend some time and kids love this museum’s focus on contemporary culture. Be sure you don’t miss the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame as well as the constantly rotating, temporary exhibits.
There is enough at MoPOP to keep kids between 5 to 10 occupied for around an hour. Older kids might be interested for another 90 minutes. Science fiction fans will appreciate the Star Trek souvenirs, Star Wars artifacts and scary scenes from several science fiction movies and books. If you’re looking for a museum to satisfy your nerd dreams this is the one!
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Seattle Center Monorail
If your child loves transportation and trains, feel free to hop on the Seattle Monorail. You get to ride above city streets and trains run every 10 minutes. It is an easy way to get back to the Seattle Center or downtown. There is also lots of seating in the front so your children can pretend they’re driving the train.
The Arboretum is across the water from University of Washington east of downtown. It is stroller-friendly and a perfect place to take a baby in Seattle. Parents can walk around the oasis in the city looking at the trees and taking in nature. The only hiccup is that parking is limited and it gets crowded early on weekends.
The Arboretum is preferred to Discovery Park which is in Magnolia and West of downtown. Discovery Park is beautiful but because of the muddy paths, we don’t think it’s stroller friendly. The Arboretum is much better for babies.
Seattle Children’s Museum
We have a soft spot for children’s museums and the Seattle Children’s Museum is a great option when rain forces you inside. From barely crawling to school-aged children, kids can explore physics in COG City, sculpt a masterpiece in the art studio, or pretend to be an optometrist in the eye clinic.
Located 2 minutes from the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Children’s Museum is in the same building as the Seattle Center Armory and many 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.
Seattle Children’s Theatre
Another awesome attraction in the Seattle Center, the Children’s Theatre, offers beginner drama lovers the chance to see performances tailored just to them. Check the calendar for specific events be sure you don’t miss the organization’s drama school and summer camps.
Pike Place Market
As you most likely know, Pike Place Market is a bit touristy, but there’s a reason everyone who visits Seattle has to hit this spot. Kids will love the samples available, such as Sweetie’s Candy and Daily Dozen Donut Co.
Pike Place Market is a Seattle institution and despite its hub as a tourist attraction, it still retains its charm. Locals still shop here and seafood, fruit, vegetables and flowers are absolutely top-notch and fairly priced.
The market is open from the early morning until the early evening, but is at its best just before lunch. Stop by and be sure to pick up a map at the information booth at First and Pike St. The volunteers who work there are very friendly and can answer basically any question.
Some of the must sees for kids around the market include: The Gum Wall in Post Alley, The Giant Shoe Museum that is inexpensive and ridiculous in a circus side-show sort of way and Golden Age Collectibles which is a one stop shop for comic books, trading cards and action figures.
Ideally located on the waterfront is the Seattle Aquarium. It was recently refurbished and the aquarium is an appropriate place to pass 90 minutes to 2 hours. Kids are allowed to touch starfish and sea anemones and see different animals during feeding times.
There are also scuba divers that swim in a large tank and do show and tell with different sea life for the kids that seem to be a big hit. Also don’t miss Life on the Edge, which is an exhibit that lets kids touch sea cucumbers and hermit crabs while learning about the tide pools of the Puget Sound.
Seattle Central Library
Libraries are amazing in Seattle both for their architecture and the books inside and the main branch of the Seattle Library system is a complete gem. It is located downtown in an award-winning building featuring modern architecture and offers gorgeous views from the 10th floor in addition to lots of public art as well as fun and technology-filled rooms that are geared toward children and teens.
We mention this specific location for kids because of the size and activities for kids.
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Seattle Pinball Museum
The Seattle Pinball Museum has been open since 2010 and has over 50 vintage and modern arcade games included with the price of admission. Children need to be seven years old or older to play, but there are also sodas, snacks and craft beers available on site. Feel free to leave the quarters at home. All the games within the Pinball Museum are free to play after the entrance fee.
Pacific Science Center
Even toddlers are able to enjoy science at this museum in Seattle Center because of the plethora of hands-on exhibits. There’s an IMAX theater, a butterfly exhibit and the largest and longest-operating domed laser theater in the world.
This is a museum full of hands-on, science based fun and it’s great for kids age 3 and up. There’s even a special play area for toddlers. The Tropical Butterfly House and IMAX Theater are a must see.
Olympic Sculpture Park
For everyday enjoyment, be sure to visit Olympic Sculpture Park. Children will have a great time checking out this free 9 acre park that is located on a newly renovated section of the Seattle waterfront. It includes a multitude of places to sit and enjoy a picnic, different art to view and even a fun maze.
The Seattle Great Wheel
It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s sunny outside, these gondolas are fully enclosed. Children love the Seattle ferris wheel, which is conveniently located at Pier 57 downtown along the waterfront. It’s also a lovely choice at night to take in unique city views and lots of colorful lights.
Seattle Bouldering Project
This popular indoor climbing gym not only provides everything you need to get your climb on, but also a lovely lower level that features an entire area for kids to safely work off some of that boundless energy. It’s even available to rent out for birthday parties. This would obviously be an activity in Seattle for older kids.
Woodland Park Zoo
The zoo is great year round but we especially recommend going during the holiday season to see the zoo lights. The entire zoo lights up while the animals are asleep. As soon as it gets dark, take the whole family to the zoo and enjoy the spectacular light display. Now, tickets to the Zoo during this time are not cheap but they are worth it.
Parents can get a coffee or drink while walking along the stroller-friendly path and kids of all ages will enjoy the fun displays. Consider putting little kids who can walk in light reflective jackets because it does get dark and a bit crowded. You want to make it easy on yourself to keep an eye on them!
Seattle is a great place to visit with kids
So if you’re looking for places to take your kids during a visit to Seattle, look no further. The city has more than its share of entertainment for children of all ages and there are so many free and cheap things to do. So check the weather and pack a rain jacket and give Seattle a try as a family.