Rain-washed Seattle, that beloved bastion of ’90s grunge, is these days all grown up: an eminently likable, get-aroundable city of diverse, characterful neighbours packed into a strip of land between Lake Washington to the east, and, to the west, the waters of the Puget Sound. Not quite as hipster as Portland to the south, or as outdoorsy as Vancouver, BC, to the north, Seattle sits comfortably somewhere in the middle: great restaurants, enticing markets, offshore islands, a bustling commercial core, plenty of kayaking and biking, and a wealth of child-oriented pastimes (including a fabulous world-class zoo) make it a easy city in which to spend time, whether as a long weekend away, or as part of a larger West Coast road trip. And never fear: despite its cloudy, moody image (especially for parental fans of The Killing), the sun does come out…sometimes.
- Riding the slightly terrifying (to grown-ups, in any case) Ferris wheel on the waterfront (see SEE & DO)
- Something tells us it’s all happening…: communing with nature at Woodland Park Zoo (see SEE & DO)
- Checking out the kooky Giant Shoe Museum in Pike Place Market (see SEE&DO)
- Wandering the Fremont Sunday Market and Vintage Mall, for treasures and yummy snacks (see SEE&DO)
- Splashing about in the rooftop pool at the Four Seasons hotel, with views of Puget Sound (see STAY)
- Making like a summertime Seattlite with a wander along the Alki Beach shoreline (see SEE&DO)
Seattle centres on its pleasant, hilly Downtown and adjacent Belltown, combined home to all the usual big-name stores and a number of the city’s major attractions: the Seattle Art Museum, Aquarium, Ferris Wheel, and Pike Place Market (see SEE & DO below) are all here. From the piers lining the Puget Sound waterfront, you’ll also find ferries heading out to outlying Bainbridge Island, and the clipper service to the San Juan Islands (see OUT OF TOWN).
Directly north of Downtown you’ll find Queen Anne, a lovely lived-in area of homes, curated stores and cute coffee places, and, to its east (on the opposite side of Hwy 5) Capitol Hill, where the action centres on Pike and Pine, Broadway, and 15th St. North from Queen Anne, across the Lake Washington Ship Canal, lies the hip district of Ballard and, to its east, Fremont, our favourite for its quirky-cool. Moving further east from here, you’ll hit the University District. South of Downtown, meanwhile, between the Industrial District and the airport is little Georgetown, a steadily growing district of cool bars, restaurants and vintage stores, housed in atmospheric premises.
SEE & DO
If you’re planning on hitting a number of the city’s major attractions, consider springing for a CityPASS, which allows entry to six Seattle attractions at deeply discounted prices: $74 for adults and $49 for children will gain you access to the Space Needle, Aquarium, Pacific Science Centre and EMP Museum, along with a harbour tour and the choice between Woodland Park Zoo or The Museum of Flight. A great deal if you’re serious about the Sights.
(FREE) The perfect place to grab snacks-on-the-go, the covered Pike Place Market at the very heart of Downtown is one of the most quintessential Seattle experiences. Filled with bustle, bagels, yelling fishmongers, craft sellers, and little specialist stores, it makes a great place to soak up the experience. Keep a tight hold on tinies during the weekends, however, when it gets pretty packed. Highlights here include the Magic Shop downstairs (with an Elvis fortune-telling machine and an old-fashioned sideshow ‘Giant Shoe Museum’), and, for grown-up lovers of Seattle’s favourite export-to-the-world (excepting Nirvana), the first ever Starbucks, just across the street. If you’re planning on grabbing coffee here, there’s always a queue. Watch cheese being made (and taste samples) at Beecher’s, which sells arguably the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the city.
One of the biggest in North America, this Ferris Wheel is not for the claustrophobic, as it makes its three or four slow revolutions, revealing, up top, stunning views of the city and coast. Children love it; parents quell panic attacks in order to look brave in front of their offspring. Down below, on the pier, you’ll find arcade games and an old-fashioned carousel for those who prefer their pleasures terrestrial, or imaginary.
Close encounters with the underwater world are up for grabs here, where you’ll meet many of the creatures inhabiting the waters of Seattle’s Puget Sound. Stroke a sea cucumber in the tide pools, watch luminous sea jellies glide about, seek out the giant Pacific octopus (“attempted” feedings at noon and 4pm) and step into the cool underwater dome to watch a Puget Sound fish-feeding frenzy at 1.30pm daily.
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)
There’s always something worth seeing at the Seattle Art Museum, both in its permanent and visiting exhibition galleries, even just for a quick whizz-through. Though admission can seem quite steep for adults (suggested $19.50 donation), entry is free for under-12s and is free to all on the first Thursday of every month. Check the online calendar for family programs.
(FREE) The weird and wonderful forms of this 9 acre open-air sculpture park make for a fun wander on a warm or sunny day. The third Saturdays of some months see family programs running in the mornings; check online for dates.
It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, (the website, for instance, suggests you don’t forget your “Wacky Quacker Noisemaker”) but if you’re ready to sacrifice every last ounce of pride for the amusement of your children, a trip on board this WWII amphibious landing craft as it explores the roadways and waterways of the city might be just the ticket. And hey, you’ll even get to see the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat. Quack, quack.
Yet another of Seattle’s manifold means of getting a bird’s eye view, the Sky View Observatory, on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center in Downtown, is apparently the “tallest public viewing area west of the Mississippi.” On a clear day you can see forever…
(FREE) Admittedly of minor interest to children, Pioneer Square is oft-touted in town for its air of Olde Seattle, with its ‘Renaissance Revival’ architecture. Worth a quick look, and check the website calendar to see if there are events going on; First Thursday evening art walks happen here from noon to 8pm, and the Department of Transportation also runs free tours from here (for over-13s only) to see Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine. So now you know.
This 74-acre park, built for the Seattle World’s Fair of the ’60s, is today a goldmine of rainy-day fun, with a whole host of restaurants, theatre companies and arts destinations in residence, as well as a number of Seattle’s biggest attractions. There are frequent world-class concerts, too, along with a skatepark, the Seattle Children’s Theatre, the sweet Neototems Children’s Garden, and an ice rink in winter.
Probably the city’s best-known landmark, this 1962 World’s Fair Space Needle (which our children prefer to call “The Jetsons’ House”) will have you zipped up to the 520ft-high Observation Deck, from which you’ll get the staggering views of the city, harbour and Mount Rainier. Although they suggest pre-booking online to save money (tickets $19 adults/$12 children/free under-3s) and choose your ‘launch time,’ it might be worth only doing so on the morning of your visit, since on a particularly cloudy day, the views from the top aren’t quite so spectacular. There’s also a revolving restaurant (with a pretty progressive menu, if you leave out the children’s choices) if you’re looking for the ultimate in 60s high-tech. You can also buy combined tickets for the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass (see below).
If Willy Wonka owned a botanical gardens, it might look something like this. Right next door to the Space Needle, visitors rave about this museum, dedicated to the gorgeous, massive-scale glass artworks of local artist Dale Chihuly. And although glass and children aren’t necessarily two things you’d instantly put together, little ones are captivated by the floaty, flowery forms. Especially worthwhile a visit if you’re combining entry with the Space Needle (above).
A tropical butterfly house. Live science shows. An Imax cinema. Solar-powered flowers. Naked mole rats. The perfect hands-on diversion, in other words, for a rainy day at the Pacific Science Center, originally built for the 1962 Worlds Fair, and still going strong. Situated right next to the Space Needle.
Experience Music Project (EMP Museum)
Situated in an unmissable Frank O. Gehry-designed building (note the spectacular curvy silver walls), this museum dedicated to popular culture will be especially appreciated by parents and older children, who will love its cool spaces and even cooler exhibitions (where else can you see exhibitions on Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Dr. Who, and horror movies?).
22,000 square feet of fun at this hands-on museum, where you can learn about cause-and-effect at Cog City, create large structures at the Construction Zone, get messy with paints and clay at the Imagination Studio, and build a fort at Fort Adventure. Little ones will like Discovery Bay, with activities set up just for them.
This is probably Seattle’s funnest area for family exploration; particularly if you’re in town on Sunday, when the market springs into being (see below). Grab a free map from stands on the street, and go looking for the amazing ivy-clad diplodocus family, the controversial Lenin, the space rocket and the rings of Saturn, all Fremont landmarks that give this neighbourhood its wonderfully whimsical character.
Make like Charlie Bucket with a visit to the Theo Chocolate Factory, the first organic, fair-trade chocolate factory in North America. Tours last about an hour and cost $7 per person (not recommended for under-7s; closed-toe shoes required), allowing you to experience the full journey from cacao fruit to chocolate bar. For those more interested in the product than the process, the factory shop has lots and lots of yummy samples up for grabs (along with coffee or water to wash them down). Try the mint or orange chocolate; little tasters should avoid the chocolate-chilli.
(FREE) Every Sunday, come rain or shine, part of Fremont is closed to traffic, to make way for a sweet street market that’s part farmers’ market, part vintage emporium, part craft fair and part food-fest. There’s also a cavernous vintage market, which is well worth exploring. Pick up something yummy (the falafel is a perennial hit with our little market-goers) and eat whilst strolling the stalls.
Not too far north of Fremont, nestled inside pleasant Woodland Park (with skatepark, playground and photogenic summer rose garden), you’ll find this top notch, conservation-minded zoo, home to more than 1000 animals and some very inventive play-and-learn areas, including the indoor Zoomazium for littler ones and a replica East African village, complete with schoolroom. Bring along your own items from the natural world to exchange at the Nature Exchange, and don’t miss the daily Humboldt Penguin feedings or the opportunity to feed the parrots seedsticks at Willawong Station. Our other favourites are the red pandas and the orangutans.
Elsewhere in Seattle
(FREE) Yet another of Seattle’s wonderful green open spaces, Lake Union Park, with its historic boats, summer children’s water-play area, beach and model boat pond, is a firm favourite among locals. Easy accessible from Downtown by way of the South Lake Union Streetcar (see GETTING AROUND below), it’s a great place to spend an easy sunny afternoon. There’s a cafe, and often a food truck too, for waterside snacks.
(FREE) For a playground-free family stroll in lovely surroundings – just the thing after one too many child-oriented activities – head out to one of the trails at this university arboretum, especially beautiful in Autumn when the fall foliage gleams. Little birdwatchers will enjoy the Waterfront Trail, which takes you out past Duck Bay to spot coots, cormorants, grebes and herons taking to the waters. There’s also a beautiful Japanese Tea Garden (which has an entrance fee), where you can watch or take part in a traditional tea ceremony.
(FREE) Seattle has more than half a dozen lovely seasonal farmers markets (a second link, to several more, here) , and some that run year-round – great for perusing, tasting samples, and picking up goodies for picnics on sunny days. Of the year-round options, one of our favourites is the Ballard Farmers Market (Sunday, 10am-3pm, Ballard Ave), along with the large Saturday University District Farmers Market (9am-2pm), Seattle’s oldest.
(FREE) Seattle has plenty of playgrounds, from the popular Golden Gardens on the Puget Sound to the huge Junior League Playground at Magnuson Park on the Lake Washington shore. Check out Red Tricycle’s list of the Top 10 Seattle Playgrounds to find the closest place to frolic; there’s also Gas Works Park on Lake Union shore, with a large playground and good views of the city. Also check this local government link for a list of summertime wading pools.
A good old-fashioned museum of animals and anthropology (with some great stuff on dinosaurs), situated on the University of Washington campus, with family events on many weekends. Admission is free on the first Thursday of every month, and under-4s are always free.
(FREE) One of Seattle’s favourite parks, this big green space is perfect for lazy summer days: a playground, wading pool and two swimming beaches among its many attractions, bring a picnic from Pike Place Market (see above) and stay all day.
(FREE) Still another Seattle outdoor gem, this 2 1/2 mile waterfront strip makes for a lovely beachside stroll. Come at any time of year to witness a glorious sunset, huddle around a beach bonfire, spot seals bobbing about in the water, or simply soak up the Seattle vibe and the wonderful views of Downtown. Bikes (including tandems and fun multi-person Surreys) can be rented at Wheel Fun Rentals.
Hotel 1000 A swanky address on 1st Avenue – easy walking distance from Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market – the sleek, modern 1000 makes for a fun, friendly, luxe stay. Service is tip-top and children are welcomed warmly: the suites, in particular, have lots of space for families. But the best part? Those bathtubs – sure to inspire a “the water comes from where?” moment.
Four Seasons Seattle Situated steps from the Pike Place Market right at the very heart of Downtown, this Four Seasons is as luxe as you’d expect, and extremely child-friendly to boot. Expect personalised treats, pint-sized bathrobes (not to keep) and a cuddly gift or two awaiting your little ones in your room; there’s also a heated rooftop pool and hot tub, with great views over the Puget Sound, and a DVD collection for the borrowing. Only beware that (as with most Seattle city hotels) if you’ve more than two children, you’ll need to take either a suite or two adjoining rooms, pushing the price-tag up considerably.
Ace Hotel We love the Ace for its easy, hipstery, and extremely family-friendly charms. This, the first Ace ever, is no exception, though small rooms mean you’ll have to take two if you’re bringing more than baby. Standard rooms share bathrooms down the hall (deluxe rooms have their own); DIY breakfasts include waffles, juice and Stumptown coffee. Ask for a room at the back – and not above the bar – if you’ve light sleepers amongst you, and not beside those shared bathrooms.
Alexis Hotel Kimpton Ahh, the Kimptons. A hotel chain that actually feel as though it’s not. Chic, plush rooms with a classic sort of twist, a daily wine hour, free internet, bikes for borrowing and the downstairs Bookstore Bar (have a whisky, buy a book), with free cots or playards provided for tinies. Some rooms have two queen beds; all rooms have yoga mats for a spot of morning Sun Salutation or Downward Dog before bedtime.
Hotel Monaco Kimpton With similar facilities to the Alexis (wine, yoga, bikes and the like) the Monaco makes another great child-friendly choice, with its “Queen Queen” rooms sleeping four, and cots available for free. Also located centrally, in Downtown Seattle, just across the road from the Hotel 1000 (see above).
Inn at the Market A popular choice for its location – right at the Pike Place Market – this very popular 70-room boutique style place offers two-bed rooms (though these aren’t the water-view ones) and laid-back luxury. Children are welcome, though there are no child-specific facilities.
Hotel Andra Another boutiquey Downtown place, Andra’s soothing Scandinavian design makes for a stylish stay. Room service here offers a decent children’s menu (from 6.15am for early-risers), along with the option of pizza delivery from yummy local Serious Pie. Both regular and superior rooms have the option of two queen beds; some of the Lux corner suites have queen sized sofa beds and the perk of twice-daily maid service. Now, if we could only get that at home…
The Pink Door A bustling old-fashioned Italian place right beside the Pike Place Market in Post Alley, The Pink Door makes for a lively lunch, often with the accompaniment of a band, or the services of a wandering tarot card reader. Little ones will like the hearty pastas and the grilled Beecher’s cheese sandwiches with cups of tomato soup; grown-ups might want to try their famed Lasagna Pink Door.
The Crumpet Shop A great place for a Downtown breakfast or mid-morning bite, English crumpets are baked fresh and fluffy-centred, to be topped with cheese, smoked salmon, ricotta, or even peanut butter and jam. Real Anglophiles young and old, note that Marmite is also on the menu.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Watch squeaky cheese curds being made in large vats behind the windows; test out a piece of Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar, then stand in line for a gorgeous, gooey grilled cheese sandwich. There’s seating on one side, so you can munch on site; it’s situated just across the street from the Pike Place Market.
The Five Point Cafe Though their slogan – “Alcoholics Serving Alcoholics Since 1929” – might not seem eminently child-friendly, this good old rough-and-tumble diner actually is. Open 24/7, and dispensing all-day (and night) breakfasts, skillets, French dips, pot roasts and blue plate specials, it’s a Seattle institution, which some love and others…not so much. At least, given its sometime rowdiness, you won’t be telling your children to ‘shhh.’
Starbucks What? You’re recommending a Starbucks? Well, we wouldn’t if it weren’t the one that started the whole thing off, back in 1971. With the original signage still outside, it’s the place for a quick photo opp, and, if you’re in need of a parental coffee fix, the spot to fight through the hoards of tourists to grab a cup of joe.
Ohana Tiki-themed sushi, anyone? That’s just part of what’s on offer at this kitsch little Japanese-Polynesian restaurant, where you can also get Mahi-Mahi tacos, salmon and tuna poke, and Hawaiian-style roast pork. But the best bit: children under 7 eat free on Sundays, between 11.30am and 6.30pm.
Veggie Grill Healthy fast-comfort-food in the heart of Downtown: 100% plant-based (ie. vegan) burgers, salads and bowls galore. Munch on a veg. cheeseburger with chipotle ranch or a ‘crab’ cake with tartar sauce, with a side of cauli-mashed-potatoes or sweetheart fries. Kids’ meals, including dessert, side and drink, go for a bargain $4.95.
There are lots and lots of scrumptious eats at the Sunday Market (See SEE&DO above); the huge Indian garlic naans at Tandoozy (who “make food for naan-believers) and moist, tahini-drizzled falafel from Falafel Salam are both surefire child-pleasers, whilst farm stands vend heirloom cherry tomatoes, fruits and other yummies.
Bluebird Icecream With a couple of locations about town (3515 Fremont Ave N in Fremont; 1205 E Pike St in Capitol Hill) Bluebird’s the place for a cool treat on a warm summer day (or even a rainy October one). Try a scoop of old-fashioned vanilla bean, or a more sophisticated salted caramel. Yum.
Sweet and Savory Pie That ultimate of comfort foods, served up here in myriad sweet and savory forms, with a menu that changes daily. Try the melty Mac-n-Cheese-with-Peas pie, or a gluten-free Curried Veggie, and top it off with a Berry Awesome, or, if you’re all full up, a Peanut Butter Chocolate Mini-Mini. Check the day’s menu for the latest.
Lucky’s Pho (3414 Fremont Ave North; 11am-9pm daily) A warm, slurpy bowl of noodle soup is just the thing on a wet mid-week lunchtime, and little Lucky’s delivers a delicious one if you’re out and about exploring Fremont. A great veggie version, and the unembellished version is mild enough to cater to sensitive little palates. If this little place is full, but you’re still craving Pho, head to Than Brothers (N. 34th, btwn N Fremont & N Evanston Aves) just around the corner.
Paseo Grab a Cuban sandwich, bowl or full chicken dinner at little Paseo, which caters to younger visitors with its customizable spice-level on some dishes (choose between one and five stars), and to veggies with its garlicky tofu and rice-and-beans. There’s a second location on Seaview Avenue in Ballard; it’s cash-only, so come monetarily prepared. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Von Trapp’s With a name like this, how can it not be child-friendly? Little ones are welcome in the front dining room of this fun German-styled beer-hall and biergarten in Capitol Hill, where the menu leans towards wursts (including veggie ones) and Wiener Schnitzels. The biggest draw, however, is the added bonus of a game of bocce bowling on one of its indoor bocce courts.
Plum Bistro Stylish, modern Plum is an oasis for all things vegan, and is child-friendly to boot, with high-chairs, vegan children’s menus, and crayons for colouring. The hot Ruben sandwich is particularly scrumptious (especially, for parents, when accompanied by a local Fish Tail ale), topped off with a warm brownie sundae.
Skillet Diner Open 7am to midnight, this welcoming diner – an offshoot of its original street food Airstream trailer – makes for a fabulous any-time-of day stop. Plump for the chilaquiles, a creamy kale caesar salad, doughnut holes and roasted beets, while the little ones can choose a grilled cheese with the crusts cut off, and a pint-sized chocolate milkshake.
Bastille Cafe & Bar Bring your little lovelies for Sunday brunch at this French-inspired eatery, where challah French toast, dijon dumplings and chanterelle omlettes are the order of the day. Alternatively, come for an early dinner, with a cocktail for the grown-ups and a non-alcoholic version (elderflower Rickeys, anybody?) for the younger generation. Not a classic child-friendly choice, but great nevertheless.
Delancey Delicious wood-fired pizzas from 5pm, in all the classic conurbations. Don’t miss an Eton Mess for dessert (closed Mon & Tue).
La Carta de Oaxaca If your little ones happen to like spice, stop in for tostadas and tamales at what’s considered by many to be Seattle’s best Mexican place. It can get packed to the gills at dinnertime, so best to stop in for lunch with little ones, when the waits for your food to arrive will be infinitely shorter.
Though food trucks haven’t quite taken the city by storm so much as in Portland just down the coast, there are plenty of yummy things to be found in four-wheel form. A good street food locator for when your troops don’t want to take a seat can be found here. You can plug in the neighbourhood you find yourself in (or choose by day or cuisine), and see what’s open. Look out for Satay Seattle, which has great Roti Canai, Mie Goreng and satays.
Cafe Flora The perfect family spot for Sunday brunch (or lunch…or dinner), this large, bright and airy veggie cafe in Madison Valley hits every imaginable spot. Sip a morning cocktail (Earl Grey gin with simple syrup and champagne sound good?), and indulge in a gooey vegan cinnamon roll (we promise: you’d never know) while your little ones play in the cute little indoor play area. A table near the bubbling water feature is good; don’t miss the Southern-style breakfasts with Hoppin’ Johns, biscuits and gravy, and collard greens. Flora’s desserts are the stuff that childhood dreams are made of.
Travelers Thali House It might not be the friendliest establishment around – don’t expect big smiles and warm greetings when you show up (with or without kids) but the food here is worth the clunky service and quiet new-agey vibe. Huge Indian thalis (a meal consisting of lots of little dishes, served in individual containers on one big plate) are authentic and delicious – oh, and all vegetarian to boot – and there are high chairs for little ones. Just note that some of the dishes can be pretty spicy: our children enjoy the simple roti and paratha breads instead, washed down with a sweet mango lassi.
Dick’s Drive-In If you’re driving through the city and the twin urges for a burger and nostalgia strike simultaneously, pull into one of the city’s six retro Dick’s Drive-Ins, for burger classics at pre-21st century prices (a hamburger for $1.25?). It may not be “America’s most life-changing burger” (though it was so-named by Esquire) but for a photo-op it’s fantastic. Veggies, stop in for fries and a shake. Cash only.
Burgermaster If, after Dick’s, you’re still in the mood for more retro and more beef, look out for a Burgermaster, dispensing buns since 1952. At its Aurora Avenue location, they’ll clip your tray to your car window, so you don’t even have to unbuckle your little darlings.
Pizza Pi Though pizza is to be found in abundance in Seattle, there’s only one Pizza Pi, which serves up the most amazing array of vegan pizzas to the hungry veg-and-non-veg masses in the city’s University District. Vegan ricotta, buffalo chicken, and ranch sauce are all on the menu, as are Cheesestix and French Onion Soup, at really great prices. Finish off with a vegan cookie pizza. Closed Mondays.
For all your big-store needs, Downtown is your port of call: H&M, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Gap et al are all clustered here. If your brood is in the mood for a spot of vintage shopping, peruse the tightly-packed shelves of the Fremont Vintage Mall, where treasures even for little ones (vintage lunchboxes, old-school toys) are to be found, before hitting the samples bowls at the Theo Chocolate Factory and the sweet toy stalls at the Sunday Market (see SEE&DO above). Alternatively, check out the little row of fabulous (if pricey) vintage stores in up-and-coming Georgetown, not far from the airport. At Pike Place Market (see SEE&DO) you’ll find a number of little toy stores, including The Great Wind-Up (for, as the name suggest, wind-up toys) and Dragon ‘s Toy Box for good educational toys and games. Meanwhile, if you happen to be in the area, drop into Alphabet Soup (1406 N 45th St), a lovely little children’s bookstore beloved of Seattle families, to buy a tome or two for the onward journey.
Skip taking the kids on a tour of important locations in Kurt Cobain’s life, in and around Seattle; some are seedy, others are just dull and dreary, and all will likely put your little ones off Nirvana for life. Likewise the grave sites of Bruce and Brandon Lee and Jimi Hendrix at the Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton. Unless they really insist. Or you’re bribing them.
TIPS FOR BABIES & TODDLERS
Seattle’s an easy city to explore with baby-on-board: streets are geared up for pushchairs (strollers) and you’ll find most cafes, restaurants and stores fairly child-friendly. All your baby essentials (powdered milk/formula, nappies/diapers, wet wipes) can be picked up at any pharmacy or supermarket, and most restaurants have a baby chair or two. If you’re arriving by plane and don’t want to bring extra equipment along with you, rent your crib, cradle swing, car seat or stroller from Happy Little Traveler, which can deliver to your hotel or car-rental location.
CALL THE SITTER
If you’re staying in Downtown, there’s no need to leave the area to have a night out on the tiles while your little treasures slumber. Check what’s playing at the historic Moore Theatre, who’s onstage at Showbox at the Market, an excellent live-music venue, or what’s on at the Crocodile Cafe, where Nirvana and Mudhoney once belted out the tunes. Swing by the Alibi Room in Post Alley, just behind Pike Place Market, for a stiff drink and a Green Eggs and Ham Alibi Pie pizza. Then hit bars of the good old grungy kind: Shorty’s, with a back room entirely devoted to pinball games, or the Lava Lounge (2226 2nd Ave, btwn Blanchard and Bell Sts), with a Tiki theme, sweaty atmosphere and shuffleboard. Of course, if you’re feeling fancier, there’s always the acclaimed vegan cuisine on offer at superb Sutra (not just the best vegetarian place in the city, but often ranked one of its best restaurants overall), or the seven-course tasting menu at Canlis: set away from the city on Aurora Avenue N, with stellar views of the city and even stellar-er food, it’s the place for a romantic getaway (though there’s no sweat, or pinball).
OUT OF TOWN
If you’re in the city for a few days, it’s easy enough to visit either Vancouver, Canada (119 miles/190km), or Portland Oregon (144 miles/230km) for a day-trip. Start out early, and if you’re heading north to Canada, shun the main Blaine/Peace Arch border crossing in favour of the Sumas/Abbotsford crossing to the east; it might be further out of the way, but it’s far quicker – as in, often an hour or more quicker – to get across….welcome news with “Are we there yet”s from the back seat.
About 25 miles north of the city, interested young aviators can take a 90-minute peek into a real-live aeroplane assembly plant, to watch Boeing 747s and the like being created right in front of them. Reserve tickets in advance online, and note that this isn’t one for babies or toddlers: there’s a strictly enforced height limit for children of 4ft tall or over.
A stunning series of islands just off the coast of Northwest Washington State, if you’re in the region for a longer period, these beautiful, bucolic places, where the pace of life is sleepy and the sealife bountiful, are ripe for the exploration. Ferry services are available to the four largest: Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw, and there’s whale-watching, kayaking, hiking, and lots more on offer: you could easily spend several weeks island-hopping. A list of child-specific activities on the San Juans can also be found here. For a day-trip from Seattle, hop aboard the fancy, passenger-only summertime Victoria Clipper catamaran, which sails to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, departing at 7.45am and returning at 7.15pm. If you’re in it for the wildlife, you can add on a 2 1/2-hour guided”Whale and Sealife Search,” an option probably best suited to slightly older little ones, since it means a total of about 8 hours onboard in one long day.
54 miles southeast of Seattle lies this enormous active stratovolcano, which last erupted in the 19th century. Hike (through incredible wildflower meadows in summer), horseride, scenic drive or, in winter, snowshoe or sled: it’s close enough for a day-trip, with enough to do for a week.
Another active volcano some 2 1/2 hours south (300km) from Seattle (this one last erupting in 2008, though the biggest eruption in recent history was in 1980), there are hikes, scenic drives, and an observatory at Johnston Ridge, the centre of the 1980 “blast zone” (how’s that for a daytrip with kids?), with great views of the volcano. Be sure to check the weather before you set out; it’s only really worth the trip if there’s good visibility. Children might like a peek at the Volcanocam webcam, or, for more scientific types, this youtube clip on the 1980 eruption and this sweet, longer, old-fashioned one, “This Place in Time.”
Nearly a million acres of wilderness, you say, encompassing 73 miles of Pacific coast; that would be Olympic National Park, where there are easy hikes, rainforests, beaches and tidepools, camping, whale-watching…the list goes on. Look here for a list of child-friendly hikes and activities, in this wonderland of the natural world. As with most national parks in the region, you’ll need a car to explore fully: driving options from Seattle include hopping on a ferry.
Filming locations of Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure
This is really only one for the parents, but neither film location is too far from Seattle. You can get a damn fine cup of coffee – sort of – at the (slightly weird) Twede’s Cafe diner in North Bend (though it’s only recognisable as the Twin Peaks diner from the outside), and, in Rosland, see the outdoor Roslyn Cafe mural that appears in the Northern Exposure titles. If you’re so inclined.
WHEN TO GO
Seattle’s a fun city at any time of year, though if you’re after sunny picnics in the park, come in July or August, whereas if it’s snowballs on Mount Rainier, December and January are better options. If you’re in town in May or July, consider heading on over to the super, family-friendly Sasquatch! Festival in the Columbia River Gorge (a 3 -hour drive from Seattle), whose 2013 line-up included Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, The Postal Service, Andrew Bird, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. In town at the Seattle Center, the Bumbershoot Festival – north America’s largest urban arts festival – happens at the end of August; but at almost any time of year there’s some sort of something going on: check this month-by-month list for a full line-up.
Getting about each individual district of Seattle (even hilly Downtown) is easy enough on foot, though to hop quickly from district-to-district, it’s most convenient if you’ve a car. If not, public transport is plentiful. If you’re travelling between Downtown and the Seattle Center, the Seattle Center Monorail, which departs Downtown from the Westlake Center Station at 5th Ave/Pine St is the way to go; under 4s ride free, 5s-12s cost $1. Similarly, if you’re hankering for the great outdoors, Lake Union Park (see SEE&DO above) is easily accessible from Downtown by way of the Seattle Streetcar. A list of the most popular Downtown bus routes can be found here.
If you’re headed out to the San Juan Islands, Washington State Ferries run regular services from a variety of jumping-off points; if you’d like to head on to Vancouver, Canada but not by car, consider travelling on the Amtrak Cascades Train, which delivers you to central Vancouver.
It’s now 20 years (gulp) since Seattle legend Nirvana recorded its MTV Unplugged in New York album, which still makes the perfect – if melancholy – accompaniment to any family exploration of the rainy city. With Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, the Foo Fighters, Death Cab for Cutie and the legendary Jimi Hendrix all being locals, too, you’ll have plenty of loud sound inspiration for car drives. A good grunge-era playlist on Songza can be found here.
Meanwhile, for a quick trip through Seattle’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, click here, and don’t forget to get your fill of local-boy Macklemore (be sure to play the clean version of Thrift Shop to the kids). For something mellower, follow up with the dreamy, jangly Fleet Foxes or a bit of Bing Crosby, who hailed from Spokane, just up the road.