Atrium at MOHAI kid-friendly museum in Seattle

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.

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.

One Comment

  • Kate

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your time at the new MOHAI! We can’t wait to go for a visit, and it’s great to hear that you found it to be so kid-friendly. I’ve always loved the armory, and now it’s such a perfect location for the museum.