Seattle with Kids: 10+ Things to Do at Seattle Center

Just a Monorail ride away from downtown, Seattle Center is a 74-acre emporium of educational amusement, amusing education and more than a few free things to do. Seattle Center is home to many of our city’s kid-friendly attractions—The Pacific Science Center, The Children’s Museum, The Chihuly Museum and EMP|SFM – all sheltered under the 605-foot-tall Space Needle.

No one can see all the Center’s sights in a day, so our family advises visitors to plan a Seattle Center-ic day appropriate for the age of your child or children, and your budget.

10+ Things to Do with Kids at Seattle Center

1. Climb, scramble, swing and thrill at the brand-new (2015) Artists-at-Play outdoor playground, featuring innovative equipment (inspired by real kids’ suggestions) such as a labyrinth, a kid-powered carousel, an enormous slide, tall climbing platforms (nets keep kids contained) for big kids, and a smaller toddler-friendly playground as well. This downtown Seattle playground can be a real zoo around lunchtime, so go early or go late. It’s free. 

Seattle Center Playground

Artists at Play outdoor playground: Photo courtesy Jodie Marks-Dias

2. Babies through preschoolers love the 22,000-square-foot Seattle Children’s Museum. Toddlers enjoy kicking back in a Japanese tatami-lined living room, producing a lightening-lit and thunder-enhanced play, serving up a plastic-taco feast in the Mexican restaurant or assembling a deli sandwich (mm, felt!) in the mini-grocery. There’s a baby-play area as well, so don’t worry about little sibs. On the downside, some exhibits have been looking a bit tired lately.

3. Animatronic dinos, Jersey-accented talking bugs and naked mole-rats are the teachers at The Pacific Science Center, and there’s no test afterwards. In the butterfly exhibit, docents ask visitors to check their reflections in mirrors, because the blue morphos often try to hitch a ride out. There’s also a well-padded toddler and baby play area in the Science Playground (in fact, big kids aren’t supposed to play in this zone, and staff keep an eye out for trespassers), so baby sister will be busy scrambling on the toys and splashing in the water.

Pacific Science Center Toddler Area: A fun thing to do with kids

Pacific Science Center Toddler Area

4. Preschoolers through big kids thrill when riding the gold capsule elevator to the top of the Seattle Space Needle. Visiting is something most Seattleites do once every 10 years or so — the view from up here is pretty impressive, and gives a good sense of the city’s layout. However, it’s not a cheap thrill.

5. The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum’s design inspired a lot of debate. Many Seattleites compare Frank O. Gehry’s building to wadded-up Christmas wrap…which happens to be a child’s favorite under-the-tree gift. The interior is worthwhile for music-savvy older kids and teens: paying homage to Hendrix’s Woodstock Fender Stratocaster, learning to play drums or piano in a (thankfully) soundproof room, or becoming a full-fledged rock star in the “On Stage” activity, complete with smoke, stage lighting and thousands of adoring fans.  Kids 4 and under are free.

6. Older kids and teens will also love the fantastic shapes (and great Instagram opportunities) inside the Chihuly Garden and Glass, where a rainbow of spires, swirls, orbs and mobiles decorate the museum’s interior. It can be a challenge to visit with younger kids. Because, let’s face it, that glass looks irresistibly touchable. King County residents should bring proof of address, and they’ll pay less.

Chihuly Museum with Kids

Chihuly Museum with Kids

7. Families with more time at the Center can play “chicken” with the free International Fountain (outfitted with over 150 nozzles and jets) on sunny days. Free. 

8. See a production created, directed and dramatized just for kids at the Seattle Children’s Theatre in auditorium-style seating, and seek out matinee tix whenever possible.

9. Catch Seattle’s beloved, family-friendly women’s pro basketball team, the Seattle Storm.

10. Snag seats to hear a Top-40 singer at KeyArena (those nosebleed seats are seriously high — I’ve taken teens to concerts here), although prices can be high.

11. Inside the free Seattle Center House, you’ll find the Armory, which offers moderately priced international cuisine. I’ll be honest — the food court’s food was once not great, but it’s become much better, with high-quality options.

12. If you’re lucky, a (free!) Festal Event will be going on: I love the dance and music performances, and fascinating booths full of treasures from around the world. Get cash, so you’re prepared if desserts and foods are for sale.

13. The Seattle Center also hosts some of Seattle’s best family events, including summer’s Movies at the Mural and Northwest Folklife Festival.

14. In winter, check out Whirligig (read my tips on saving money at Whirligig).

If you don’t want to ride the Monorail, inexpensive street parking can be found NORTH of Seattle Center, often. Not always, as the parking situation depends on events. But often.

About Lora

Lora Shinn writes about travel for regional and local publications, including AAA Journey, National Geographic Traveler, Bankrate.com, Natural Health and Whole Living.

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