By Amy Suski
Our family recently visited Seattle for the first time and although it was a relatively short visit we managed to pack in a some very special experiences. With its famously relaxed vibe, getting around Seattle with kids is low-stress. Dad enjoyed sampling the microbrews, I loved the natural beauty of the Puget Sound and the mountains, and the kids got a kick out of the colorful street life (e.g. the Gum Wall, which has since been scrubbed clean and is in the process of being 're-gummed'). As a down-to-earth, kid-friendly city, Seattle gets ten thumbs up from our family of five. In no particular order, here are some highlights from our trip:
1. Puget Sound: Looking for an inexpensive 'tour'? Although not officially a "tour", we really enjoyed taking a round-trip ferry ride to get a better look at the water and city skyline. As a bonus, you may even see some marine mammals. The views were amazing, the kids were happy with the onboard cafeteria, and we even saw some harbor seals swimming by, so it was cool way to spend a morning without spending too much. If we're every able to visit during the spring or summer, I'd love to do a proper whale watching tour or trip to the San Juan Islands. [Note: perpetual house-hunters will also enjoy a peek at some of the big-money homes along the sound, a fair number probably owned by Amazon and Microsoft royalty.]
2. Space Needle: Every since it was built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Jetson-like Space Needle has been a must-see landmark for any visitor to the city. From 520 feet up, the 360 degree view of the city, water, and mountains is spectacular. New interactive touch screens also allow you to identify famous landmarks in the city from above, including locations from movies and TV shows (e.g., Gray's Anatomy, Sleepless in Seattle, 50 Fifty Shades of Grey). Kiddos will especially love using the Spacebook App for a unique views of Seattle and cool photo ops around the Observation Deck. [Note: we saved money by purchasing a combo ticket including admission to the space needle and the adjacent Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit (pictured below).]
3. Chihuly Garden and Glass: When it comes to introducing your kids to art, sometimes a super-sized museum can be too much of a good thing. That's why smaller, focused galleries like the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit are a great way to engage kids. Our kids were genuinely excited by the bright colors and fantastical forms of the gorgeous glass. After exploring the inside galleries, the kids were equally happy to skip around the gardens and take their own pictures.
4. Museum of Flight: As the hometown of Boeing, Seattle knows airplanes and their Museum of Flight is one of the world's best. Here kids can ride flight simulators, climb aboard real planes, and learn about aerospace through hands-on exhibits. The giant hangar is full of historic airplane and space vehicles and there is even an indoor tot-friendly play area. Our kids had a blast experimenting with air rockets in the space exhibit and we especially liked being able to board a real supersonic Concorde and retired Air Force One.
5. Pike Place Market: After surveying Seattle from the Space Needle, to get a feel for the city from the ground, there's no better place than Pike Place Market. Here you can wander the aisles, sample artisanal cheeses, and gawk at the fresh seafood hauled from the sea. After the markets closed, we had a really good casual dinner at the steelhead diner, which offers a selection of local specialities which on the night we visited included Quinalt River King Salmon, Painted Hills Grass Fed Beef Burgers, Totten Inlet Pacific Oyster Po' Boys, and Olympic Mountain Pear Cider Sorbet. Nearby attractions include the Seattle Great Wheel, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Seattle Art Museum.
6. Birthplace of Starbucks: Seattle has become the de facto coffee capital of the world, with dozens of specialty coffee places sprouting up in the wake of Starbuck's success. To see where the international phenomenon of Starbucks began back in 1971, be sure to stop by the Starbucks at 1st and Pike Streets (directly across from Pike Place Market, where the first Starbucks opened). Here the original bare-breasted logo is still proudly displayed and you can pick-up a one-of-a-kind pike place mug as a souvenir.
7. REI: Another Seattle-based flagship store definitely worth a visit is REI. Here families can shop a huge selection outdoor gear, gather intel about local outings, and climb the REI Climbing Pinnacle. Because climbing times vary, be sure to check the website for walk-in times, classes, and reservations.
8. Fresh Fish in Ballard: It would be a crime to visit Seattle and not enjoy some of the freshest, best seafood in the world. To sample Seattle's offering, head over to the artsy Ballard neighborhood, one of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods and home of the Ballard Locks. Maybe it was the excitement of the trip, but for the first time we were able to get our youngest to sample sushi at Moshi Moshi. Granted, the kids favored the cucumber rolls over the sashimi, but I was impressed that they were willing to eat a whole bowl of pickled seaweed. For more familiar choices, on another night we headed over to Ray's Boathouse, a classic seafood spot with all the ingredients for happy kids: waterfront tables, a kids menu, and crayons.
9. Daytrip to Mount Rainier: Finally, one of the best things we did was drive out of town to visit the iconic Mount Rainier. At 14,410 feet, this icy volcano is the highest peak in the Cascade Range and a natural wonder you won't want to miss. The drive through ancient forests, past fields of wildflowers, and mountain lakes is simply stunning. Once at the National Park there are many different areas to visit, but since we were pressed for time we did a short 1.2 mile loop hiking trail at the base of the mountain which provided spectacular views of the mountain range and glaciers. For more family-friendly day hikes see the park's website.
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