No Hotel Rooms? No Problem.

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

I’ve recently been contacted by readers, despairing that my top hotel picks are either priced out of reach or unavailable for the upcoming summer. Family hotels in Portland, Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle are booked solid, sold out and too expensive!

Well, no surprise — I’ve dealt with the same situation, even as a travel writer. Here’s what I typically do when faced with sold-out hotel rooms, a planned trip and kids.

1. Set up in the suburbs. Now, some suburbs are better than others. For example, many suburbs of Vancouver offer the SkyTrain option into downtown Vancouver, so I’ll look for hotels near the SkyTrain. Portland offers this as well. Seattle is still working on getting their transit act together, so that’s not as much fun — but I’ve done it. Worst case scenario, I resign to driving into the city and paying for parking.

2. Use Priceline’s “Express Deals” tab. If it’s a heavily-booked weekend, I probably won’t hook a successful, low-priced bid for a decent hotel in my desired destination. But the “Express Deals” usually work at hitting the sweet spot of price and location. The potential downside: because you don’t get to choose your bedding type, you may end up with one King, three kids, and no sleep. To circumvent this, look for “Bed choice available” in the text of the express deal. This can allow you to choose two Queens, two doubles, or whatever you need. OR arrive very, very early in the morning, and you may end up with a bed choice (this has always worked for us, but we arrive at 9 a.m.).

3. BYOB (bring your own bed). With a teen and a kid (who will not share a bed with one another), I bring an air mattress for my younger child, or build a “sleep nest” out of pillows, cushions, blankets, and more pillows. This allows me some flexibility in the kind of bedding arrangements we can find, or which type of Priceline stay we reserve.

4. Get very creative or expand the budget. Home swaps? VRBO? AirBnB? Non-reservable, last-minute camping spots? Hostel rooms — there are family rooms available, but often booked far in advance; with teens you might find the bunk options reasonable? Vacation swaps? Petsitting or housesitting stays (I’ve found great petsitters through, although I haven’t used it as a traveler, yet.)?

5. Ask about a waitlist. If I have my heart set on a specific hotel, I might call 24-48 hours in advance of a stay and ask if there have been any cancellations. Or I’ll call earlier and ask if there’s a waitlist of any sort. Smaller hotel owners may be willing to work with a family — they want their hotel or inn filled for the weekend.

6. Reschedule the trip. This is the worst option, but sometimes necessary. Look for a weekend that isn’t insane — weekend festivals can pack Northwest hotels. This only works if I’m driving, not flying. I’ve done it many times. I’m unwilling to pay $150 for a one-star hotel room in the grottiest part of town, and there’s always another weekend that could work.

Sea Monsters, Star Wars and SNOT: This summer’s museum attractions for families

If making plans for summer, check out these new and upcoming kid-friendly museum exhibits in Seattle, Vancouver or Bend — the exhibits may inspire a day trip, weekend excursion or week-long adventure.

Sea Monsters Revealed
Vancouver Aquarium. Vancouver, BC.
March 5 to September 7, 2015

From now through the end of summer, discover what lies beneath the sea’s deepest reaches, where few humans have ventured. Sea Monsters Revealed uses plastination (seen in many human anatomy exhibits) to preserve the bodies of deep-sea creatures and ocean oddities, including a mako shark and a car-sized sunfish.

Vancouver with Kids, Summer 2015: Sea Monsters

Vancouver with Kids, Summer 2015: Sea Monster Exhibit. Photo courtesy Vancouver Aquarium.

GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science Of The Human Body
Pacific Science Center. Seattle, Washington.
June 20 to September 7, 2015

Two words: burp machine. This summer, animatronic exhibits and (probably too much) information edifies on snot, stink and other disgusting things that entertain kids. For example: The “Gas Attack” pinball game, “Urine: The Game,” a kidney-riffic experience, and a “Tour du Nose.” Despite being somewhat gross, it’s all in the service of teaching kids cool stuff about biology. Also, maybe, not to pick their noses so much. We’ll see.

Ultimate Dinosaurs
Science World. Vancouver, BC.
Opening Saturday, May 30.

Meet dozens of dinosaurs that evolved in the Southern Hemisphere, in the flesh (or close to it). The exhibit combines augmented-reality tech with fossils to create realistic Southern-Hemisphere dinos rarely found in North America, including those that outsize the toddler-beloved T. Rex.

Disguise: Masks and Global African Art
Seattle Art Museum. Seattle, Washington.
June 18 – September 7, 2015

This exhibit will include 50 masks and 10 costumes from SAM’s African art collection and about 100 objects on loan. The masks imitating and replicating animals are particularly fascinating for children.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume
EMP/SFM. Seattle, Washington.
Open January 31 to October 4, 2015.

If your kids are going through a Star Wars Phase (it’s a thing!), check out the 60 costumes at this traveling exhibit. Costumes cover the movies’ greatest hits; your Chewbacca, your Leia, your Darth Sidious, and so on, and there’s also an opportunity to see how illustrations become costumes and interactive pieces that encourage kids to touch fabrics. Who knows, it may inspire a costume design (or two) at home, as well.

Titanaboa: Monster Snake
Burke Museum. Seattle, Washington.
Aug. 22, 2015 – Nov. 15, 2015

He measured 48 feet long. He weighed up to 2,500 pounds. He was Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake in the world. This exhibit reveals more about the 60 million year old remains found in Columbia, along with other post-dino Paleocene critters. Skittish? It’s only a full-scale model of Titanoboa; the real thing is extinct. Whew.

Growing Up Western
High Desert Museum. Bend, Oregon
Through July 26, 2015

Kids at the turn of the 20th century — did they have it easy or rough? View kids’ clothes (like wooly chaps, kid-size saddle and Chinese shoes), learn about children’s work and play, and visit a replica of a child’s 1900 bedroom.

Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC
Royal BC Museum. Victoria, BC.
May 13 through October 31, 2015

Understand more about why some people traveled continents to seek a fortune. See BC’s largest existing gold nugget (The Turnagain Nugget), indigenous, pre-hispanic gold art treasures from Columbia and a million-dollar coin (May 13 to June 14 only).

Seattle Restaurants for Families (Take the Kids!)



My kids are pretty good at eating — if there was an extracurricular award for it, I’m sure we’d be putting it on future college applications. So I’ve tried a ton of restaurants with them from babyhood to the tween years. Here’s my mega-list.


Breakfast for Families
Family Coffeehouses and Cafes
Desserts for Families
Seafood for Families
Kid-friendly Seattle Restaurants

Seattle Breakfast for Families

So, for breakfast, I really feel like Portland and Victoria count their eggs, hatch them, and then make them

The Crumpet Shop (Downtown Seattle). Right around the corner from Pike Place Market, this homey storefront serves organic crumpets with savory (pesto and cheese) and sweet toppings (like walnuts, honey and ricotta) . The scones are topped with lemon curd or raspberry preserves. Super delicious but a three-wet-wipe cleanup. Opens at 7 a.m.

Daily Dozen Doughnut Company (Pike Place Market). The “doughnut robot” makes an automatic process out of making mini doughnuts, whether you like them topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, brown sugar or just plain. Opens at 8:30 a.m.

Hi Life and other Chow Foods (Ballard). I’m not a huge fan of this chain for meals other than breakfast, but wow, they know how to serve up a kid-friendly Seattle breakfast. A children’s menu accompanies adult menus, with perfectly proportioned plates available, along with crayons (don’t eat those). Adult meals are filling and could be split with toddlers or preschoolers, if you can bear to share. Some outdoor seating, and all of the Chow Foods restaurants are kid friendly (highchairs, high tolerance for children, etc).

Honore (Ballard). Say oui to awesome French pastries, savory tarts and other breakfast goodies. Kids will go nuts for the brightly colored macarons that come in a dozen or so flavors, filled with a delicious creme. Other French options: Cafe Besalu (downtown Ballard) and Bakery Nouveau (West Seattle).

Original Pancake House (Ballard).  The variety is worth a visit — pancakes, dutch babies, crepes and gluten-free ‘cakes  make an appearance on the menu. Kids love this place and the all-sorts of toppings  (nuts, cinnamon apples, berries, etc. etc.) that come with your flour extravaganza. I find the pancakes just OK, but lots of people do love them — and you might too. I do enjoy the fully wood-paneled appearance of the Ballard restaurant, a throwback to vintage-flavored Pacific Northwest (yes, I think there might be a maple syrup smell cooked into the walls, at this point).

Portage Bay Cafe (Ballard, University District, South Lake Union near Downtown). Really, kids love this place for The Breakfast Bar, where you can load-your-own pancake with a buffet-style layout of fruits, nuts, maple syrup and whipped cream.

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Seattle Family Coffeehouses and Cafes

We’re in a friendly rivalry with Portland and Vancouver for coffeeshops-per-capita. Well, someone’s gotta stay awake to take care of the kids, right? Head to one of these places for a pick-me-up that kids can enjoy too.

Fresh Flours (Greenwood.) Japanese pastries and green-tea lattes near the so-wonderful Woodland Park Zoo. That is all.

Twirl Café (Queen Anne). A play area takes up half of this cafe, perfect for hungry kiddos under age 6. Head here for early morning breakfast and free play (7-9) before Seattle Center opens, or come for an open play session ($5/child) and a lunch or dinner sandwich featuring gourmet Northwest ingredients like Zoe meats, Tillamook cheese and Macrina bread.

Coffee to a Tea (West Seattle). Cupcakes, tea, coffee, muffins, scones… and a train table. Afternoon tea by reservation.

A few more cafes with toddler/preschooler play spaces that serve OK food: Firehouse Coffee (Ballard), Serendipity Cafe (Magnolia). Some coffee shops in Seattle also have petite areas dedicated to children (and amazing coffee), such as Espresso Vivace.


Seattle Desserts for Families

Seattle families love all kinds of desserts, from ultra-carby cupcakes to tangy custard ice cream to pie. Here are my favorite restaurants for dessert-time.


Getting a scoop at Molly Moon's

Getting a scoop at Molly Moon’s

Bottega Italiana (Downtown/Pike Place Market). Creamy, classic gelato right next to Pike Place Market.

Beard Papa (International District). Puff pastries filled with heavenly amounts of vanilla cream (or chocolate cream). Each is filled fresh, right before your eyes.  The Papa serves doughnuts too, but really, those cream puffs are particularly good.

Fuji Bakery (International District). East meets West at this tiny bakery, where you can pick up a salmon brioche, Japanese milk bread and other savory and sweet surprises.

Cupcake Royale (Ballard, Capitol Hill, West Seattle and more). Cupcakes were sort of a trend for a while, and now, maybe they’re not — kids don’t care. Kids love cupcakes.

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream (Capitol Hill, Wallingford). Fancy flavors like maple walnut, honey lavender and salted caramel.

D’Ambrosio (Ballard). Great Italian gelato made from scratch. Teeny-tiny seating area, so plan to get your scoops to go (Marvin’s Garden is a few steps away).

A La Mode (Greenwood). The best pie shop in Seattle. Giant slices can be shared between two kids, or one kid and an adult, or go one of the kid-sized “pie babies.” Near Woodland Park Zoo.

Peaks Frozen Custard (University District). The tarted-up version of gelato, IMO.  Limited flavors (check the daily calendar for today’s recipes) but good stuff. Kid tables. Beware poor imitations…

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Seattle Seafood for Families

Seattle’s waterfront neighborhoods often means the fish was literally caught right on the restaurant’s doorstep — or at least not hauled far. Here are some great seafood restaurants that offer children’s menus, or kid-friendly picks like fish and chips. Nom.

ck seattle seafood with kids

Ivar’s Acres of Clams (Pier 54; multiple locations). Okay, this place can have the reputation of a tourist destination, but it’s a solid choice when on the pier, if you want a quick bowl or fish ‘n’ chips (watch out for greedy seagulls who demand you share, share, share.) Go inside for the more carefully prepared meals, which are surprisingly good, fresh and locally focused. Yes, really.

Pike Place Chowder (Downtown Seattle/Pike Place Market). With flavorful broth and big chunks of seafood served in a bread bowl or regular bowl, this restaurant is an award-winner and kid-pleaser. One bread bowl is enough for two, if you’re looking for ways to save money while eating out with the kids. I like the smoked salmon chowder.

Chinook’s at Salmon Bay (Interbay, near Ballard and Ballard Locks). Half of the draw is the view — giant plate-glass windows look out over fishing vessels and Salmon Bay, a passageway between Puget Sound and Lake Union. The food is fine, too, with a children’s menu coloring placemat and seafood-centric options. A great place to go after a hike at Discovery Park.

Little Chinook’s (Interbay, near Ballard). The cheaper, to-go counter version of Chinook, with a focus on items like fish ‘n’ chips and salmon tacos. Kid-friendly booths for eating.

Ray’s Boathouse Cafe (Ballard). Sustainable seafood in a four-star location. The upstairs portion of the restaurant (the cafe) is often filled with families and highchairs, and where I would recommend eating. Make a reservation in summer, and cross your fingers you’ll get an outside table, which overlooks a sparkling blue bay, crisp white boats and active sealife. One of my very favorite Seattle seafood restaurants to take kids.

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Kid-friendly Seattle Restaurants

Downtown/Seattle Center/ID

Piroshky Piroshky (Pike Place Market). Russian. Piroshky is a thick, fist-sized pocket of dough wrapped around an infinite variety of fillings (but usually involving meat, potatoes, cheese and maybe broccoli). Kids like the familiar flavors; parents like the easy-to-eat aspect.

Tutta Bella (Multiple Locations; Westlake is near downtown Seattle in South Lake Union). Pizza. Fancy thin-crust Italian pizza where waiters may also give you balls of dough or wikistix for the kids to play with, if you ask nicely.  Tip: Sign up for the restaurant’s e-mail notices — they send great coupons.

Wild Ginger (Downtown Seattle) Thai. Upscale pan-Asian restaurant where kids are welcomed with their own children’s menu, which offers dishes like skewered chicken ($3.50) or fried rice and chicken. It’s fancy enough to feel special, but not so fancy as to exclude kids.

Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant(ID/Chinatown and Belltown). Vietnamese. A tiny two-story restaurant that will give you children’s plastic plates and cups and serves well-flavored fresh veggies, noodles and meat dishes. Try to ask for upstairs seating at the International District location, where you dine on unusual wooden benches with wheels on each side (like a wagon bench).

Pagliacci Pizza (Multiple locations). Pizza. We have a lot of pizza restaurant chains in Seattle. This is one of them. Thin-crust, zesty toppings with Northwest ingredients, and kids like the make-your-own-pop touch-screen machine at the Queen Anne location, which allows them to make perfectly disgusting drinks that never existed…until now.

McMenamins (Queen Anne/Near Seattle Center). Sit-down restaurants that welcome families aren’t so common Lower Queen Anne (near Seattle Center). It’s more of an upscale or nightlife destination. I like McMenamin’s for the dependable food and children’s menu (with vegetarian options for kids), and because honestly, I really like the Ruby Red ale.

Armory (Seattle Center). Multiple options at this food court for families, including Skillet (think fried chicken and burgers), Kabab (vegetarian and meat-eating mideastern fare) Bean Sprouts Cafe (kid size portions and fun),  and MOD Pizza (my favorite), with $3.88 personal pizzas.


Central/South Seattle Restaurants

Cafe Flora (Madison Valley). Vegetarian. A long-time Seattle institution, this vegetarian restaurant welcomes children with a super-healthy (but delicious) children’s menu, books and toys. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free kids items available. Near the Seattle Arboretum.

Louisa’s Cafe & Bakery (Eastlake). Bistro. Half off the kids’ menu on Wednesdays, cozy bistro food seven days a week, although the location may be a bit out-of-the way. Nearish to South Lake Union if you’re driving.

Vios (Capitol Hill and Ravenna). Greek. Two locations, two kid-friendly play areas inside the restaurants, one great Greek restaurant. Head to the Ravenna location if you’d like to combine bookstore shopping with your dinner; to Capitol Hill if you want an after-downtown dinner or Sunday morning brunch with kids. The play area can get a little noisy.

Randy’s Restaurant, is what would happen if a Boeing jet flew into a 1970s-era Denny’s and made itself comfortable. For your transportation-obsessed toddler, this restaurant puts 
vintage plane paraphernalia on the walls, grilled cheese sandwiches on
 the menu, and retired Boeing engineers in the seats. Very close to the Museum of Flight.

Ballard/Fremont Restaurants

La Carta De Oaxaca (Ballard). Mexican.  Authentic Mexican fare in an informal environment. You won’t find cheese-smothered enchiladas on the menu, but kid pleasers like homemade corn chips, quesadilla fritas and tostadas are all well represented.

Uneeda Burger (Fremont). Yummy grass-fed burgers that come dressed in a variety of ways — or plain, or with veggie patties. A wonderful outdoor dining space (on picnic tables, no less) welcomes families in summer. Young kids may not like the spicy house sauce. Near the Woodland Park Zoo, and a great post-zoo stop.

PCC Natural Markets (Multiple locations, but the Fremont, Green Lake and West Seattle locations are most convenient for kid activities). It’s a grocery store, but PCC’s deli demands a stop if you’re in a hurry. Pick up a quick sandwich, salad, burger or dessert and take it to any one of Seattle’s parks for a picnic. Throughout the store, the “Kid Picks” logo indicates child-approved foods (yes, the store really tests the items!).

Pho Than Brothers (Multiple Locations). Vietnamese. Let’s face it, kids really just want to come here for the cream puffs, one per customer, served for some reason at the beginning of the meal. Getting some inexpensive pho in them is an extra. YMMV.

The Yard (Greenwood). Mexican. It’s a bar, it’s a Mexican restaurant, it’s super yummy and it lets you bring kids in. There’s even a large outdoor seating area with heaters. What’s not to love?


U District/North Seattle

Agua Verde Cafe (University District). Mexican. Amazing Mexican food — my son tends to take over the guacamole and chips and make it his meal. Some children may find certain selections too spicy, so ask waitstaff which options are literally not-so-hot (the mango quesadillas w/o the chiles are a good pick). The best part about dining here is the outdoor patio, which is heated in winter and open-air in summer. However, there can be a loooong wait for an Agua Verde table in summer, so you might need to order from the to-go window and sit outside at a picnic table.

Taste of India (University District). Indian. Other than a near-intrusive institutional need to constantly refill everyone’s water glass, this restaurant is a great place to take the kids for first-time Indian food. A pages-long menu creates infinite variations on traditional Indian staples, and the chefs will make your kids’ korma as mild as necessary. Lots of seating.

Chaco Canyon Cafe (West Seattle, U District). West Coast. Organic, gluten-free and often raw. Yet, the smoothies and sandwiches are pretty darn good. The West Seattle location offers a small play area for kids, and a healthy menu for children.

Blue C Sushi (Multiple Locations, including Fremont, Downtown Seattle, University District). Japanese. Although I’ve found the choices to be inconsistent lately, the novelty of picking your own avocado roll off of a conveyor belt makes kids happy — three cheers for instant gratification.

Old Village Korean BBQ (North Seattle). Korean. In-table charcoal burners allow you to grill your own beef or pork, which you’ll eat with white rice and an assortment of sides, including kim chee, green beans…(and potato salad?!). Because of the in-table burners, this might be a better choice for well-behaved kids or older kids — but what fun it is. Also available: hot pot (cook your own food in a pot of boiling soup).


Old Village Korean BBQ: for families

Old Village Korean BBQ

Outside Seattle

Mayuri Restaurant (Bellevue). Indian. If you’re ready to stray beyond the typical Indian menu, this restaurant dishes up dosas (flat, pancake-like wraps stuffed with savory fillings) and other North and South Indian dishes. Worth a drive over or if you’re headed home from the Cascade Mountains.

Facing East Restaurant (Bellevue).This Taiwanese restaurant serves dishes similar to Chinese cuisine, so most children will feel comfortable — but different enough to interest adults tired of American-style Chinese food. Delicious, fresh buns stuffed with pork, sweet potato pancakes, and a truly impressive sweets menu (kids will like the Everything Shaved Ice, although they might not be able to recognize all the ingredients).

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Hey readers, what are your favorite kid-friendly Seattle restaurants suitable for families and why do you like them?


Whale Watching in Washington State with Kids: Seattle, San Juan Islands & Beyond

Whale watching tours near Seattle

Orca Whales. Photo via NOAA.

Three resident orca whale pods (family groups of whales) circle our waters  June through September — along with visiting orcas in April, May, and late September and early October. Minkes, humpbacks and gray whales also pop up here and there, along with smaller whales such as white-sided dolphins. Whale-watching trips are fun for creature-crazy kids — the tours’ naturalists also point out the wild variety of birds, deer and other island or sea residents. Here’s a quick rundown of whale-watching trips in Puget Sound (Washington only), including prices and ages welcome aboard.

With young children, look into the short trips; older kids and teens can (probably) handle the longer cruises. Most of the excursions listed here are on bigger sightseeing boats (not the zodiac-style inflatables that are not typically recommended for young children).

Questions to ask about taking children on whale-watching trips:

  • Do children often ride the boat? (More to get an idea of the kid-friendliness of the tour company)
  • How many people do you take on outings?
  • Do you have kids’ activities on board, such as coloring books, toys, etc.
  • Is there a naturalist or marine biologist on board?
  • Is there a heated indoor space?
  • Is there an on-board restaurant?
  • Are there changing tables or a place to change my baby or child?
  • What do you suggest we bring with us? (Binoculars, route maps, snacks, bird ID guides — or are they supplied?)
  • What’s your cancellation policy?
  • What if we don’t see any whales? Do you offer a free trip or money back (or just tissues for the kids, boo hoo).

Whale Watching Options in Puget Sound (Seattle, Friday Harbor, Orcas Island, Bellingham) :

San Juan Excursions
Departs from: Friday Harbor, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids ages 3 –12: $59
Tours last: 3-4 hour trips
Kid extras:  A children’s library, coloring crayons and books, a $1 snack bar, complimentary binocular use and a visit to the wheelhouse where they can “drive” the boat with the Captain.

San Juan Safaris
Departs from: Friday Harbor, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids ages 2-12: $55
Tours last: 3 hours

Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours
Departs from: Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington State.
Ages: All ages on Western Prince II; Kids 6+ only on Western Explorer
Kids on WP II 2-12: $56; Kids on Explorer 6-12 $76
Tours last: 2.5-5 hours
Kid extras: On-board snack bar, coloring sheets, toys, two naturalists on boards who are kid-friendly.

Clipper Vacations
Departs from: Seattle, Washington State.
Ages: Age 6 and up. Clipper Folk Say: “The day is long, nearly 12 hours with all but 2.5 hours onboard the vessel.  It is a lot of sitting time to keep young kids entertained.  Although we often see whales along the way, the whale watch excursion itself is 2.5 hours including to/from the dock.”
Kids under age 12: $20
Tours last: All day (12 hours).
Kid extras: An experienced, family-friendly naturalist is on board; three decks seating up to 200 people; rent binoculars for $5/pair; changing table in washroom.

Puget Sound Express
Departs from: Port Townsend, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 2-10: $65
Killer Whale Tour lasts: 4 hours
Kid extras: Coloring offered to children; kids can accompany parents to the bridge to meet the Captain  (weather and conditions permitting).

Island Adventures
Departs from: Anacortes, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 3-12: $49+ (lots of deals though)
Tours last: 3-6 hours
Kid extras: Guests receive a 64-page color-photo wildlife viewing guide, free binocular use while on board.

Mystic Sea Charters
Departs from: Anacortes, Washington State
Ages: All ages
Kids 3-17: Start at $49
Tours last: 5-6 hours

Island Mariner
Departs from: Bellingham, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 4-17: $49
Tours last: 6.5 hours

Deer Harbor Charters
Departs from: Orcas Island (Rosario & Deer Harbor), Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids under 17: $42 & up
Tours last: 3.5 hours

Orcas Island Whales
Departs from: Orcas Island Ferry Landing, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 12 & under: $59
Tours last: 3.5 hours

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.

Seattle Airport with Kids: Play Areas, Rocking Chairs and More

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is one of the biggest in the Pacific Northwest, with non-stop flights daily to places like Paris, Dubai and Amsterdam. Whether you’re jetting for a distant land or coming into Seattle to enjoy the salmon and (evasive) sun, the Seattle Airport offers great play areas and one of the best central terminal areas I’ve seen in the world. Pull a rocking chair up to the massive windows and enjoy the view.

Seattle-Tacoma Airport Rocking Chairs with Kids

Play Areas for Kids at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The airport’s cute play area attracts families to the intersection of the A and B concourses. (Here’s a map of the Seattle airport) It’s a lifesaver if a flight is delayed, or you need to check in extra early for an international flight. There’s seating for adults, and plenty for toddlers and preschoolers to do — kids love playing on the giant toys shaped like airport mainstays.

Children's Play Area at Sea-Tac

Children’s Play Area at Sea-Tac


In the restroom, there’s a child-sized step to make using the bathroom a little easier.

If you’re looking for a slower pace, the “Quiet Zone” at the B4 gate might be perfect for the family who’s seeking some peace from a hectic airport. Curl up with a book or a sleeping baby.

Family Restrooms at the Seattle airport

All restrooms have children’s changing facilities. There are also 13 family restrooms: one at the North Satellite, four at the South Satellite (including the train level), five on the A Concourse, two on B Concourse, one on D Concourse.

Areas for Nursing Moms at Sea-Tac

The play area offers a nursing room with a rocking chair.

Of course, in Washington State, moms are free (and encouraged) to nurse wherever they like, whenever they like. I’m not making it up — it’s a Washington State law. While it’s fine if you don’t breastfeed, breastfeeding in public is very normal throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Rocking Chairs at Sea-Tac: Fun for everyone

Near the gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling central terminal window, Sea-Tac offers wooden rocking chairs, so you can rock a toddler and watch the aircraft on the airfield. Or let the kids rock while you eat lunch (this area is essentially the dining area for the food court).

Seattle-Tacoma Airport Rocking Chairs with Kids

Central Terminal Sea-Tac Rocking Chairs: Fun with Kids

“The central terminal debuted in 2005 and the rocking chairs became so popular they were virtually loved to death,” says Perry Cooper, airport media manager at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “Our carpentry shop kept having to repair them when they broke to get them back out in the area. Since then we’ve ordered more than two dozen more and they are now found throughout the airport at different gates looking out the windows – even though they are supposed to be just for the central terminal.”

Family Extras: 

Like many airports in the U.S., Sea-Tac airport’s TSA also offers a time-saving family lane — look for it when you join the security line, or ask someone for help in finding it, particularly if you’re pushing a stroller.


Thanks to Perry Cooper for background information. Photos Courtesy Port of Seattle/Don Wilson.

Seattle’s New Kid-Friendly Museum of History and Industry

Recently, my kids and I visited the new 50,000-square-foot facility of the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), which has now relocated to Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood’s Naval Reserve Building (Armory), right next to the Center for Wooden Boats. It’s easily accessible by South Lake Union Streetcar from downtown Seattle. The former museum was a place we visited…well, once.

What a difference $90 million and more exhibit space can make. Just walking into the into the museum’s Faye G. Allen Grand Atrium, you’re wowed. Planes soar overhead, the Toe Truck is parked in the corner and a tower of Seattle-centric signs and brands is arranged along Wall of Icons. Using small cranks, you can make an Ivar’s Clam dance, a cowboy raise and lower his pistol, and the Rainier beer sign light up. There’s some cool art (“Wawona,” an 11,000-pound sculpture carved from a dismantled schooner, that seems to grow up through the ceiling and down into Lake Union below) and an interactive exhibit that takes your photo and asks questions like, “How do you deal with all the rain?” and “How do you take your coffee?”

Atrium at MOHAI kid-friendly museum in Seattle

Atrium at MOHAI

The previous building also didn’t seem to consider the kids quite as much as it could. But now, children get in free (14 and under with an adult chaperone), and the museum’s exhibits regularly offer interactive aspects. In the main exhibit, “The Seattle Journey,” Kids can help build the railroad in a Simon-says like game…

Pounding railroad spikes at MOHAI

Pounding railroad spikes at MOHAI

watch a humorous short musical film on the 1889 Seattle Fire (really well done, in my opinion – watch for the glue pot’s star turn), and pull a casino-style slot machine to find out the fate of various early boomtown settlers. Push a button, and discover whether Puyallup is a Native American, Spanish, American or British word.

The Seattle Fire at MOHAI

The Seattle Fire at MOHAI

The history here covers Seattle’s Native American days through our “Wobbly” union period to today’s multicultural Pacific Rim-focused tech boom (although this section is quite small).

Looking over 1950s-era children's toys at MOHAI

Looking over 1950s-era children’s toys at MOHAI

Rotating exhibits are also engaging (I’ll cover those in a future post), and it looks like additional unoccupied room is available on other floors, so the museum could always expand in the future.

Compass Cafe

Compass Cafe at MOHAI

The Compass Café offers a lovely view of the water and boats. There are a good handful of children’s dining options: spaghetti ($3.95), pb&j half-sandwiches ($2.50), mac and cheese ($3.95). My kids loved the Compass Cookies, which turned their tongues blue.

Compass cookies at MOHAI

Compass cookies at MOHAI museum’s Compass Cafe

The front desk provided a children’s scavenger hunt, but honestly, we were so engaged in the museum’s hands-on activities that we didn’t have time to play the suggested games.

So I bought a membership; now we have one more wonderful way to spend a rainy day.

Bonus: Family and early-learning options, including Saturday morning “Family Lab.”

Read more about the hours and prices.

Last-Minute Kid-friendly Winter Escapes in Washington & Oregon

It’s not too late to go somewhere for winter vacation. Here’s a quick rundown (and a few opinions) on Destination Resorts’ getaway options in our area.


Web: Sunriver Resort

Location: Central Oregon

Phone: 541-593-1000

Sunriver Resort is my favorite property in our region. This winter, Sunriver is offering over 100 workshops, camps and childcare options through “Traditions.” Among the offerings: sleigh rides, snowshoe and caving tours, magic shows and Fort Funnigan (both of my kids gave the Fort their approval). I love the new indoor pool, generously sized condos, solid dining options and all the great options in Bend. It’s close to Mt. Bachelor, too, for the fresh-powder fans.

Sample rate: $189 for a lodge room. I recommend a vacation rental (usually the same price or less) when staying here; the kitchens make a huge difference in a pleasant family vacation. But the website doesn’t always work well (it was nonfunctional, this morning, for example)– call to get exactly what you want. Sunriver’s knowledgeable reservation agents are great.



Web: Skamania Lodge

Location: Southwest Washington

Phone: 800-221-7117

In the Columbia Gorge (and only about 45 minutes east of Portland), the Skamania Lodge offers Elf Story Time through December 29, along with s’more roasting and wine tasting (only for grown-ups). Check the event calendar for more information. There’s a page on “family offers” but honestly, nothing seems all that family-friendly, so I’d just stick with a rack rate unless you’re planning to eat in the restaurant (which is quite good).

Sample rate: $174



Location: Central Washington

Web: Suncadia Resort

Phone: 509-649-6400

Located about 90 minutes east of Seattle, Suncadia Resort has two popular waterslides, an indoor pool and outdoor sports galore (rope-tow sled hill, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and more) and s’mores by the fireplace. Campcadia offers childcare (so you can relax in your room with a good book, get a spa treatment or go out on a cross-country excursion). Check the current schedule for more information. The bad news: this place is quite sold out, and rooms that remain aren’t cheap. Activities are extra.

Sample rate: $349


Location: Seattle

Web: Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue

Phone: 206-971-8000

Maybe you just want to enjoy the big city’s pleasures, kids in tow. The Seattle Family Vacation Package includes an overnight stay, welcome bag with bottled water and snacks, a “Red the Lion” plushy, tix to the Woodland Park Zoo, overnight parking AND a $50 Chevron gas card. Not bad. I haven’t stayed here or visited the property yet, so if you end up going, e-mail me and let me know what you think. Here’s a quick link to the Tripadvisor reviews.

Sample Rate: $159


One-Tank Trips: 3 great day trips from Seattle with author Chloë Ernst

Wow, this week we have a special treat — an interview with Vancouver-based freelance journalist Chloë Ernst, who has penned guidebooks, newspaper articles and magazine stories. She’s the author of Day Trips from Seattle: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler. I own this book; it’s well researched and a fabulous find (which is why I asked her to do a quick Q&A with me).

Ernst doesn’t just try to drop in to local sites: “When I travel (on a day trip or a 3-month stint), my mission is to become a local in each place I visit. Over the years that has meant surfing on the Washington coast, dancing in the Fería de Sevilla, shopping in the New York Garment District, and avoiding bears in Whistler.”

Chloë Ernst

Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you wrote the book? How much time did you end up spending in the Seattle area? Any experiences that you learned from?

I put together Day Trips from Seattle during a series of long-weekend trips. Maps are my major travel must-have. I get lost easily so I try to study road maps intensely before I head anywhere.

During one solo road trip I left my wallet at a gas station. When I backpack, I always have cash and credit cards stashed in different places. But when I travel by car I relax more and am (unintentionally) a little less protective of my valuables. It reminded me to be more prepared if things should be lost or stolen while on the road.

Luckily a lovely gentleman in Arlington bought me lunch (which I couldn’t pay for due to the missing wallet), phoned the gas station where I last was, and ensured I got my wallet back.

Which Seattle day trip is your personal favorite — a destination to which you always want to return?

Heading east on I-90 means a sunnier climate than we’re used to in Seattle and Vancouver. One day trip that stands out connects Roslyn, Cle Elum, and Ellensburg. I love the small-town-nature and history that each offers. Roslyn mixes mines and cemeteries with its faux-history as Cicely in Northern Exposure. Cle Elum has a railroad feel as well as the spirited, community-run Carpenter House Museum. (Read more about Roslyn/Cle Elum with kids)

And Ellensburg make a great final stop, with museums, the eclectic art at Dick and Jane’s Spot, and the chimps at the “chimposium” on the Central Washington University campus who communicate with sign language.

Is there a Seattle day trip in your book that you would recommend for families?

Day tripping south to Federal Way, Puyallup, and Eatonville offers lots of family activities. In Federal Way there’s the pick of Wild Waves Theme Park (with water slides) and West Hylebos Wetland Park (with nature trails). Going on to Puyallup, you’ll find superb bakeries (such as Pioneer Bakery) and the restored Meeker Mansion — although I’m still creeped out by the framed, Victorian-era hair sculptures in one of the rooms. The intricate flowers and shapes are made entirely from strands of human hair!

Eatonville is close to Mt. Rainier and feels very rural. Both Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and Pioneer Farm Museum have lots of animals to engage and activities to entertain kids.

Is there a budget-minded Seattle day trip that stands out for you?

When I think budget day trips, I always think the beach. Driving out to Ocean Shores or Westport is a fair distance, but the sand and saltwater are worth it. Ocean Shores has a free interpretive center with hands-on exhibits, and we always see wild deer along the road. But I prefer Westport. It’s less glossy and has more state parks. The Westport Maritime Museum features a free outdoor exhibit of whale bones and other sea life. [Note: Here’s my piece on Westport with kids]

In the fall, drive a few minutes down to Grayland and you can watch the cranberries being harvested. Before visiting I had no idea that the farmers harvest the berries by flooding the fields so the cranberries float to the surface.

Do you have a favorite day trip from the Vancouver area? Can you give a few highlights of that day trip?

From Vancouver, Squamish makes a quick day trip with wilder nature than we’re accustomed to in the city. The Stawamus Chief is one of my favorite hikes on a sunny day. Hikers climb ladders and rocky slopes to reach one or all of the three peaks on the hulking granite massif. In winter, bald eagles congregate on the nearby rivers and especially in Brackendale.

Also on the Sea-to-Sky Highway (which extends up to Whistler and beyond), the Brittania Mine Museum can happily eat up hours with gold panning. Someone will — almost guarantee-ably — get gold fever and have to be dragged from the sand beds that are salted with gold and pyrite. There is also a fabulous mine tour there that includes a ride on a squeaky mine train and mining equipment demonstrations. The noises can be loud and perhaps not great for younger children, but it’s tons of fun.

Read more:

Washington State Round-Up from Cascadia Kids.

Family Day Trips from the Seattle area from Cascadia Kids.

9 Great Day Trips from Seattle from the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau.

4 Great Day Trips from Seattle from RoadTrip America.

Family Day Trips from the Seattle Area

If you’ve only got a day, try one of these family-friendly daytrips from the Seattle area for winter break, spring break or a weekend escape:

Bellingham with kids daytrip

Take I-5 North to Bellingham and enjoy the town’s artsy vibe, parks and museums, then get a cool scoop at Mallard Ice Cream. In fact, there are over 20 family-friendly things to do in Bellingham.

If you don’t want to drive as far as Bellingham, try the picture-perfect, riverfront town of La Conner for spring’s tulip festivals or just to stroll streets stacked with bookstores, toy shops and museums.

A typical storefront in La Conner

Don’t forget to try the Banana Coconut Cakes at Calico Cupboard Cafe.

Time one-way to Bellingham: About one hour, 40 minutes.

Kitsap County with kids daytrip

A quick ferry from downtown Seattle delivers you to Bremerton, where you can pick up a pack of Belgian frites at Fritz European Fry House or tour the U.S.S. Turner Joy warship (my son loved the maze of sleeping bunks and chow hall).

Maybe you can find your sea-legs aboard the U.S.S. Joy — I obviously didn’t!

Drive up the peninsula to enjoy’s Poulsbo’s Nordic theme and the Poulsbo Marine Science Center (note: currently closed for repairs — keep an eye on their website), then end your day on Bainbridge Island’s KiDiMu. Ride the ferry home.

Time one-way to Bremerton: About one hour; round-trip drive time about two hours.

Olympia daytrip with kids

Visit Olympia’s stellar Hands On Children’s Museum with little kids or the Washington State Capitol Building with big kids. Then spend a few hours in the local toy stores, cafes and at Olympia’s April-December farmer’s market. Read more here: Daytrip: Olympia with Kids. Need more to do? On the way down, you can always make a stop at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and a 19th-century fort at Fort Nisqually’s Living History Museum.

Finding out what’s up with George at the Washington State Capitol

Time one-way to Olympia: About one hour

Snoqualmie Pass daytrip with kids

If the snow skipped your neighborhood, there’s still a chance of catching the white stuff up on Snowqualmie Pass, even into early spring. Whether sledding at Hyak, skiing at Summit West, tubing at Summit Tubing Center or just playing in the snow, the Cascades offer dramatic vistas of cloud-wrapped, evergreen-studded peaks. Read more at The Summit at Snoqualmie website.

Sledding and snowshoeing at Hyak

In summer, either enjoy the cool breezes or push on just a little further over the mountains and let the kids visit “The Other Washington,” featuring a dry, arid landscape and rolling hills of bleached grass. A prime pick: Washington’s weird little Petrified Gingko Forest (about 2 hours from Seattle; head to downtown Ellensburg for food).

Time: 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending upon road conditions. Pack chains and check road conditions before leaving.