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.

50 Free Museums in Washington & Oregon for Military Families

This summer, military families get free passes into over 50 fantastic Pacific Northwest museums. The Blue Star Museums initiative is a partnership among Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts, and more than 1,000 museums across America. Blue Star Museums offer free admission to active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, through Labor Day, September 5, 2011. Read more at the Blue Star Museums page.

A few of my favorite family museums: High Desert Museum (in Bend, Ore.), Portland Art Museum (Portland, Ore.), University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History (Eugene, Ore.), Kids Discovery Museum (Bainbridge Island, Wash.), KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, Wash.), Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum (Leavenworth, Wash.), and the Burke Museum, Museum of Flight, Seattle Art Museum and Museum of History & Industry (Seattle).

Oregon Museums participating in Blue Star Museums

Washington Museums participating in Blue Star Museums

Museum Madness: Free Northwest museum entry on September 25

On September 25, 2010, you and a guest can gain free entry to one of the Pacific Northwest’s fabulous museums, thanks to the Smithsonian Magazine’s Museum Day.

Go to the site to see the complete list, but for family-friendly options, here are my picks and why you should go:

Portland Area:

Obviously, the Puget Sound offers the most kid-friendly picks, and my money (or lack thereof) would be on enjoying Seattle that weekend.

Read more about Museum Day, including rules and requirements, at the Smithsonian Magazine’s website.

Where do you think you’ll go?

Free Museums in Seattle and Tacoma with Kids

Seattle Art Museum: A museum that participates in free museums

Seattle Art Museum

Updated for Summer 2013

Here’s a rundown of Seattle’s free museums. I’ve included my opinion on the ages that will get the most out of the experience.

Every Friday Free Seattle Museum:

Soundbridge at Benaroya Hall. 200 University St.,  Seattle; 206-336-6600. Pay-what-you-can every Friday from 10-4. Suggested donation $5-15/family. Best for children under age 6.

First Thursday Free Seattle Museums:

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Free. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., University of Washington, NE 45th Street and 17th Avenue NE; 206-543-5590. Best for kids age 3 and up.

Henry Art Gallery. “Pay as you wish” (or free) 11 a.m.-9 p.m. First Thursday, University of Washington, NE 45th Street and 17th Avenue NE. Best for kids age 6 and up.

KiDiMu. Free 10-4,301 Ravine Lane NE,  Bainbridge Island. 206-855-4650. Best for the 6 and under set.

Museum of Flight. Free 5-9 p.m., 9404 E. Marginal Way S.; 206-764-5720. Best for kids age 3 and up.

Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). Free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 860 Terry Avenue N ; 206-324-1126. Best for kids age 3 and up.

Nordic Heritage Museum. Free 10 a.m. -4 p.m., 3014 NW 67th Street,
Seattle; 206-789-5707. Best for kids age 6 and up, but the museum often offers preschool-targeted storytimes on first Tuesdays.

Northwest African American Museum. Free 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., 2300 S. Massachusetts St.; 206-518-6000. Best for kids age 6 and up. Also free on the second Thursday of the month.

Seattle Art Museum (SAM). Free 10 a.m.-9 p.m. First Thursday, 100 University St.; 206-654-3100. Best for kids age 5 and up.

Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM). Free 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Volunteer Park, 1400 E. Prospect St., Seattle; 206-654-3100. Best for kids age 6 and up. Also free on the second Thursday from 5-9 p.m.

Wing Luke Asian Museum. Free 10 a.m.-8 p.m., 719 S. King Street; 206-623-5124. Best for kids age 8 and up, except during”Family Day” on third Saturday.

First Friday Free Tacoma & Bellevue Museums:

Children’s Museum of Tacoma. Free admission from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., 936 Broadway Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-6031. Best for kids age 6 and under. Museum is typically “pay as you will.”

Bellevue Arts Museum. Free admission from 11 a.m.-8 p.m., 510 Bellevue Way NE; 425-519-0770. Here is BAM’s cool guide to visiting the art museum with your family.

First Saturday Free Seattle Museum:

Seattle Asian Art Museum. Free admission from 10 a.m. -5 p.m. on “Family Day,” with arts activities and movies.

Third Thursday Free Tacoma and Bellevue Museums:

KidsQuest Children’s Museum. Free admission from 5-8 p.m., 4091 Factoria Square Mall SE, Bellevue, 425-637-8100. Best for kids 6 and under.

Tacoma Art Museum. Free 10 a.m. — 8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253- 272-4258. Best for kids age 6 and up.

Museum of Glass. Free 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 1801 Dock St., Tacoma. 1-866-4-MUSEUM. Best for kids age 7 and up.

Washington State History Museum. Free 2 p.m.-8 p.m. 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, Toll-free 1-888-BE THERE (1-888-238-4373). Best for  kids age 3 and up.

Third Friday Free Everett Museum:

Imagine Children’s Museum. Free admission from 5-9 p.m., 1502 Wall St., Everett. 425-258-1006. Best for babies and up.

Third Saturday Free Museum in Seattle

Wing Luke Asian Museum. “Family Day,” with arts activities included, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Free Seattle Museums — Free all the time:

Center for Wooden Boats. 10 a.m. – 8 p.m during summer, 1010 Valley Street, Seattle, 206-382-2628. Best for kids age 5 and up.

Frye Art Museum. Tuesday through Saturday  10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday,  Noon to 5 p.m., 704 Terry Avenue Seattle, 206-622-9250. Best for kids age 5 and up.

Olympic Sculpture Park. 30 minutes prior to sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset; 2901 Western Avenue, Seattle, 206-654-3100. Best for kids age 2 and up.

Seattle Children’s Museum. “Pay as you wish” last hour of the day (4-5 p.m.). 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, 206-441-1768. Best for ages 6 and under.  

Free and Cheap Portland Museums, Zoos and Attractions

Make your trip to Portland even cheaper! Portland’s a good deal already, with all those kid-friendly, affordable restaurants. But the Rose City knows that traveling and local families can’t always spend $50 bucks on admission — even if it is a really cool museum. Here’s a whole month full of discounts, so you can visit Portland attractions for free, cheap and a little less.

Free museums and cheap museums in Portland, Oregon:

OMSI: Admission is $2 on the first Sunday of the month; kids 2 and under are always free.

World Forestry Center: Admission is $2 on the first Wednesday of the month; children 2 and under are always free.

3D Center of Art and Photography: Admission is free on the first Thursday of the month; kids age 14 and under are always free.

Portland Children’s Museum: Free admission on the first Friday of  the month from 6-8 p.m.; children under age 1 free daily.

Oregon Zoo: $2 admission on the second Tuesday of the month; 2 and under free daily. Save $1.50 off the price of admission by presenting your MAX ticket.

Washington County Museum: Free admission every Monday. Kids 5 and under always free.

Oregon History Society and Museum: Up to two kids (under age 18) enter free with each paid adult admission on the third Saturday of the month. Kids 5 and under are always free. Annual free day: April 17, 2010.

Portland Art Museum: Free admission on the fourth Friday of every month. Free general admission quarterly in conjunction with Museum Family Day. Kids 17 and younger are always free with paying adults.

Portland Japanese Garden: Free admission on November 11, 2010. Kids 5 and under are always free.

Lan Su Chinese Garden: Kids 5 and under enter free, daily.

Photo on right: World Forestry Center.

20 Things to Do in Bellingham with Kids

Recently, we went on a short jaunt to Bellingham, Wash., about 30 minutes south of the U.S.-Canadian border, and two hours north of Seattle. It’s a cute little college town with a thriving arts scene and fabulous food. Turn-of-the-century architecture lines downtown Bellingham’s streets, and the town is home to Washington’s oldest brick building (built in 1858).

While many of us know Bellingham as a place to stop en route to Vancouver or Seattle, I think Bellingham deserves its own overnight stay or weekend getaway. Here’s my guide to family travel in Bellingham:

10 a.m. Whatcom Museum of History and Art

Bellingham Family Interactive Gallery

Family Interactive Gallery

The Whatcom Museum’s new Family Interactive Gallery took us all by surprise. It’s amazing what they’ve done in such a small space.

Kids can craft in the art room, build with enormous Tinkertoy-like foam toys, or play camp (like with tents, not with sequins) in a Northwest-themed area.

We created a soundscape with authentic Cascadia noises (orcas, owls and of course, rain).

I liked how real art was mixed into each exhibit space, along with questions to provoke discussion.

The gallery is ensconced in smooth, touchable wooden fixtures and forms; all of it is handcrafted from sustainable wood, by a local woodworking shop.

Noon. Super Mario’s. Most kids love Mexican food, all smothered in cheese and whatnot. But how about El Salvadoran food? What if the restaurant was named Super Mario’s? (3008 NW Ave., 360-393-4637). With such an awesome name, you can’t go wrong. Right?

No one was in the small dining spot (thereby violating travel rule #1: Never eat in an empty restaurant). Super Mario’s was a jarring combo of high-end and low-end, and I feared for the worst. It was inside a stripmall, with granite-style tables and marble floors, with two dueling televisions playing on each end of the rectangular room.

But Super Marios served a fantastic south-of-the-border meal – we had pupusas (tip: add the green sauce for a stellar experience), we had creamy tamales, we had quesadillas that rocked so hard that even my veggie-hating kids ate them in a hurry and pleaded with us to quit stealing bites.

Super cookies at Super Mario’s restaurant

AND they play Nickelodeon on one of the TVs, at least on the day we were there. Can’t beat that. By the time we left at 1 p.m., (pink sugary cookies in hand), the restaurant was full.

1 p.m. Aladdin’s Antiques. Half history lesson, half shopping experience, Aladdin’s Antiques (427 W Holly St.; 360-647-0066) offers cute figurines, Star Wars goodies (we found a retro 1981 activity book my son now carries everywhere) and great vintage finds for your kid’s room. My kids have found enough treasures at antique malls to be interested; yours may need some convincing.

Aladdin’s Antiques

If your kids are definitely NOT into in oldy-worldy goodies, you can send them (with your partner) to Mindport. They’ll love it, promise.

2 p.m. Mallard Ice Cream. About a 10-minute stroll from Mindport, Mallard is the ice cream shop a child would design, if only we parents would let them. Bright-red barstools, vivid green couches, and out-of-this world flavors that seem like they were hand-mixed by a creative 4-year-old foodie – black sesame vanilla, cardamom, rose, butter pecan and over 20 more.

A big bowl of goodness at Mallard Ice cream

We all wanted to try multiple flavors, so we bought a bowl with four scoops, topped with chocolate and whipped cream. After the kids polished off the bowl, they played a sticky-fingered game of Connect Four.

3 p.m. Walk Fairhaven. Fairhaven is a steep-sloped Bellingham neighborhood. It’s crowded with artisans’ galleries, kids’ toy shops, a cupcake shop, a great gelateria (Sirena) and cool little indie bookstores, all within about six city blocks.  An itty-bitty San Francisco, as it were.

A former rough-and-tumble waterfront town in the 1800s, Fairhaven has now been gentrified. You won’t need to fear the likes of “Dirty Dan,” described as an “infrequent bather” (sound like anyone in your home?). He was also worked as a rum-runner, war-inciter and in other jobs not outlined on Career Day. However, you will see bronze statues memorializing Dan and placards describing the town’s bad history. Kids love that stuff.

Dirty Dan

Fairhaven is well-situated for Seattle and Vancouver families – the railway station drops you about a quarter-mile from all of the action. Victoria families can take the Victoria-San Juan Cruises over to Fairhaven, starting in late spring.


Fairhaven Village Fish and Chips (also a local favorite)

Summer may be the best time to visit – you can take advantage of the Fairhaven Outdoor Movies (see the past year’s showings here).

5 p.m. Marine Park. Walk 10 minutes from Fairhaven’s core toward the water, past the Amtrak station and the large ferries destined for Alaska daily (as part of the Alaskan Marine Highway System) and toward Marine Park.

Rock tossing in Fairhaven

Flat, smooth stones (perfect for skipping) populate the Marine Park’s shoreline. I recommend arriving about 10 minutes before sundown. Bring your camera! Here, it’s like the sun can only set in some sort of Kodak moment, behind the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountain Range.

The view from Marine Park

6 p.m. Boundary Bay Brewery. We drove back out of Fairhaven for dinner. While Fairhaven has plenty of restaurants, we’d heard raves about Boundary Bay Brewery, and we weren’t disappointed.

If you forgot to make a reservation, kids can pick through the Duplo block basket in the waiting area. But note: Make a reservation! Although this brewpub offers large rooms and lots of seating, it’s incredibly popular with college kids, families and singles. Smart sandwiches on Great Harvest bread, creamy salmon chowder, micro-brewery beer, the whole authentic Cascadia mix.

Overnight. At this point, we could’ve gone home, but we decided to spend the night in Fairhaven to soak up the atmosphere. We stayed at the 22-room Fairhaven Village Inn, which has special winter rates and a fun library room with games.

Fairhaven Village Inn’s board game shelves

The room’s gas fireplace made the room toasty on a winter night, and the next morning, my kids gobbled their free continental breakfast. They ate cereals, bananas, muffins, made-to-order waffles, eggs and yogurts. Yes, each child ate all of those things. When you figure the cost of feeding four people in my family, a breakfast-inclusive stay is always a money-saver.

8 a.m. Harris Avenue Restaurant: However, if you decide to sleep elsewhere, I recommend going for breakfast at Fairhaven’s Harris Avenue Restaurant (1101 Harris Ave.; 360-738-0802), where we’ve eaten on our way back from Vancouver, BC. You’ll find hearty breakfasts, plus fruit face pancakes for the kids. Huge, huge lines. Get here early for your cornmeal pancakes.

Harris Avenue Cafe at noonish, after the lunch rush dies down.


This summer, we hope to return — maybe take the Amtrak up for a family day trip, or bring the car for a weekend. We want to cruise the well-regarded Chuckanut Drive, forebodingly called Upchuckanut Drive by some locals.

My youngest is an upchucker. We’ll need to be well-prepared.


To discover more about Bellingham, check in with Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism.

What did we miss in Bellingham? Do you have any tips for the prevention of road nausea?

Bellingham Family Vacation