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 cityâ€™s kid-friendly attractionsâ€”The Pacific Science Center, The Childrenâ€™s Museum, The Chihuly Museum and EMP|SFM â€“ all sheltered under the 605-foot-tall Space Needle.
No one can see all the Centerâ€™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.Â
2. BabiesÂ through preschoolers love the 22,000-square-footÂ Seattle Childrenâ€™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.Â Animatronic dinos, Jersey-accented talking bugs and naked mole-rats are the teachers atÂ The Pacific Science Center, and thereâ€™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 playÂ 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.
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.Â The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museumâ€™s design inspired a lot of debate. Many Seattleites compare Frank O. Gehryâ€™s building to wadded-up Christmas wrap…which happens to be a childâ€™s favorite under-the-tree gift. The interior is worthwhile for music-savvy older kids and teens: paying homage to Hendrixâ€™s Woodstock Fender Stratocaster, learning to play drums or piano in a (thankfully) soundproof room, or becoming a full-fledged rock star in the â€œOn Stageâ€ activity, complete with smoke, stage lighting and thousands of adoring fans. Â 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 museumâ€™s interior. It can be a challenge to visit with younger kids. Because, letâ€™s face it, that glass looksÂ irresistiblyÂ touchable. King County residents should bring proof of address, and they’ll pay less.
7. Families with more time at the Center can play â€œchickenâ€ with the freeÂ International Fountain (outfitted with over 150 nozzles and jets) on sunny days. Free.Â
8. See a production created, directed and dramatized just for kids at the Seattle Childrenâ€™s TheatreÂ in auditorium-style seating, and seek out matinee tix whenever possible.
9. Catch Seattleâ€™s beloved, family-friendly womenâ€™s pro basketball team, the Seattle Storm.
10. SnagÂ seats to hear aÂ Top-40 singer at KeyArenaÂ (those nosebleed seats are seriously high — I’ve taken teens to concerts here), although prices can be high.
11. Inside the freeÂ 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!)Â Festal Event will be going on: I love the dance and music performances, and fascinating booths full ofÂ treasures from around the world. Get cash, so you’re prepared ifÂ desserts and foods are for sale.
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.