Well, shoot. It’s Saturday, your offspring are climbing the walls, and your weekend to-do list doesn’t include a single thing that qualifies as fun. To make matters worse, the weather is either rainy and horrid, or it’s one of those rare and glorious days when Northwest residents are pretty much obligated to get out of the house.
Below, please find an entire year’s worth of stuff to do with your kids, the kind that (mostly) doesn’t require tons of planning or tons of money. The calendar setup is more guideline than given—the majority of these events aren’t even all that date specific. Except the one about elk mating. Read on for 52 weeks’ worth of sanity-saving family outings.
Seattle Children’s Museum remains closed into 2022—Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett to the rescue. The school-age set appreciates well-kept permanent exhibits, like the popular water tables and pretend restaurant, while rotating art projects downstairs allow for less frenzied play. Fair warning: This museum exits through the gift shop. Got older kids? Funko HQ is just a few blocks away.
Too busy to hit up the Lego Awesome Exhibit over the holidays? This is the final weekend in Seattle, which presents everything from marsupials to the Eiffel Tower, all crafted from bricks. Book your tickets in advance.
Make it a game night, er, afternoon. Ballard’s Mox Boarding House is a tabletop game mecca, with a wide selection and impressively knowledgeable staff. You can try before you buy, too, in the attached cafe, which has a small but spot-on selection of sandwiches, coffee, and adult libations on offer.
When tides get low, the Seattle Aquarium takes its show on the road, dispatching trained beach naturalists to Puget Sound shorelines to help you explore and engage, respectfully, with tidepools teeming with sea stars, moon snails, barnacles, and anemones. The year’s first such outing happens Saturday at 7pm at Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint in West Seattle. It’s drop-in, it’s free, and witnessing sea life after dark adds another layer of adventure.
We can’t count on snow within city limits, but—until climate change ruins it—Snoqualmie Pass reliably supplies plenty of white slidey stuff. Ski area Summit at Snoqualmie runs a tubing hill not far from the chairlifts with 20 pre-carved lanes and a surface lift to haul everyone up the slope. Booking ahead is highly recommended, and the tiny Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum nearby makes for a good, free time-killer while waiting on a table at Commonwealth restaurant next door.
Channel this week’s Valentine’s/Galentine’s energy with an outing to one of Seattle’s chocolate-focused cafes. Rey Amargo on Capitol Hill offers Mexican chocolate drinks, plus sweet snacks and coffee for you. Pike Place Market’s Indi Chocolate tops its sipping cocoa with enormous housemade marshmallows, while Hot Cakes serves it signature molten chocolate creations at both its Ballard and Capitol Hill locations.
Yes, it may still be gloomy out, but shoulder-season trips to Woodland Park Zoo almost always guarantee fewer crowds, especially first thing in the morning. Coffee and pastries—oh, the azuki croissant—across the street at Fresh Flours help the entire family fuel up for all that walking. If you’re more in the mood for a road trip, Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium combines land animals and marine life.
Not everyone wants to sell a kidney for Kraken tickets. Budding hockey fans can appreciate a weekend of live action at a pair of Seattle Thunderbirds games, at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday and in Kent on Sunday. Parents, you’ll appreciate the more reasonable price tag.
Painting your own pottery isn’t just for awkward G-rated bachelorette parties. University Village ceramics studio Paint the Town has indoor and outside tables, plus a mind-boggling inventory of mugs, vases, gnome figurines, and other blank ceramic vessels that await your kids’ creativity. Once everyone has completed their masterpieces, wander over to Elemental Pizza, Din Tai Fung, or Rachel’s Ginger Beer for a post-art meal.
If kids are climbing the walls, consider relocating that tendency over to Seattle Bouldering Project and the dedicated youth climbing wall at its Fremont and Mount Baker gyms. Kids toddler age and older can strap on climbing shoes and try to scale the walls in a special youth-only area, where a successful summit means a trip down the slide.
Dust off last summer’s swimsuits. The McMenamin’s Anderson School complex in Bothell includes a steamy indoor North Shore Lagoon Pool with South Seas decor and water spilling from bamboo spouts overhead. This saltwater pool doles out one-hour open swim slots on weekends. Prepare to wait in line for your session, but after everyone’s done and dry, the theater on the grounds offers first- and second-run films with discounted kids tickets and pizza and tots (and beer) delivered to your seat.
Step one: Procure yourself a kite. Step two: Take it to Alki Beach for some reliable wind and approximately 1 percent of the crowds you’d see here on a summer afternoon. Some tall boots let you dabble with those chilly waves a bit. Once you’ve had your fill of the cold, thaw your fingers by wrapping them around lunch at Marination Ma Kai.
Hey, they technically aren’t screens. The marvelously unexpected Seattle Pinball Museum in Chinatown–International District brings together more than 50 games that date as far back as the 1960s and welcomes visitors ages seven and up; after you pay the entry fee, games are free to play. Afterward, a multitude of noodles, dim sum, and sweets beckon nearby.
Our fair ferry system already weathered a staffing shortage, so why not an endlessly drizzly Seattle spring? Board a boat to Bainbridge for a 35-minute trip that’s just enough time to get some wind-in-your-face wows in before the distraction starts. On the isle, Winslow Way’s restaurants and shops have something for smols and adults alike.
A pair of Mariners “value games” against the Houston Astros Saturday and Sunday mean kinder prices for indoctrinating your family into the time-honored art of rooting for a team that will ultimately frustrate you. Don’t miss a popular play area, kids club, and dedicated souvenir shop full of youth-size gear where you can spend all that money you saved on value tickets—and then some.
Of all the Dutch imports we could celebrate, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival wisely salutes flowers over wooden shoes or windmills. Always held April 1–31, the event has bloomed (sorry) in the age of Instagram, with multicolor petals serving as cheery photo backdrop even on the rainiest of PNW spring days. Of the two host gardens, RoozenGaarde boasts the most acreage and color variety, while Tulip Town’s trolley ride winds right through its fields.
April 30–May 1
Will it ever stop raining? Not today, so head to Flatstick Pub for some indoor miniature golf with a side of Duffleboard (dozens of Washington beer taps don’t hurt either). Heads up: The Pioneer Square location doesn’t allow minors, but littles are all systems go until 7pm at the Kirkland and South Lake Union courses—and kids nine and younger play for free.
If the idea of a hike elicits groans, try explaining that you’re heading to Poo Poo Point—the giggle-worthy name alone should spark interest. The Chico Trail heads almost two miles up Issaquah’s West Tiger Mountain to an overlook named for the steam whistle of old timber trains. Today paragliders use the landing as a launchpad, so when the weather is right the skies fill with fliers, most of whom land in the field next to the trail's parking lot.
The weather is nice-ish enough. Follow the sound of kids at play to Bellevue Downtown Park. A recently remodeled playground has slides and climbing structures up the wazoo, but experience tells us the waterfall fountain and ever-present ducks may be equally popular. A Molly Moon’s to the south and the Bellevue Collection to the north are both suitable choices for a post-playground breather.
Get up early. Steel yourself and pack some gum—you’re going to Pike Place Market. Take advantage of those final weeks before peak summer crowds to ogle the Daily Dozen doughnut machine and leave your own expectorated souvenir on the Gum Wall. Our guide to Pike Place Market can help you sort out whether to hit up Ellenos or Honest Biscuit.
As the weather turns nicer, the Center for Wooden Boats and MOHAI offer dual opportunities for waterside culture (just watch out for goose poop on the grass). Kids 14 and younger get into MOHAI for free, and the Center for Wooden Boats offers free one-hour rentals of its beginner-friendly peapod rowboats. Afterward: Maybe lunch at Duke’s or White Swan Public House, or hop the streetcar to explore some South Lake Union restaurants—maybe pizza beneath the Spheres?
Velkommen to Juneuary, where the weather is...who knows. Fuel up on kringle, cinnamon snails, and cardamon braids at Larsen’s Danish Bakery before venturing south to the heart of Ballard, where the National Nordic Museum sneaks some learning into this themed outing. Lucky you, the Ballard Locks are a few minutes away on foot for some late-afternoon boat peeping.
The 1.4 miles of paved (mostly flat) pathways at Maple Leaf Reservoir Park beckon come mid-June when you can’t hold out any longer on dusting off those bikes and scooters. The adjacent playground with a popular zip line situation keeps kids entertained after the wheels cool off. Ice cream trucks make the rounds, but not reliably, so head to Kona Kitchen for classic Hawaiian plate lunches and a keiki menu that proves this restaurant just gets it.
Beer for you, root beer for the kids, everyone’s happy. The Washington Brewers Festival returns after a two-year Covid closure with some 500 beers and food trucks aplenty. Saturday and Sunday festivities at Marymoor Park are all-ages and even include a play area (notable draws are the balloon animals and face painting).
A recent-ish makeover at Juanita Beach Park added a new bathhouse, two legitimately stylish picnic pavilions and an A-plus playground to the century-old summertime recreation site along Juanita Bay in Kirkland. Climb, explore, dip your toes in the water. Plenty of kid-friendly spots await nearby for a post-park lunch or snack, whether it’s fish and chips at Spud or just a giant snickerdoodle from Midnight Cookie Co.
This week, the Seattle Great Wheel marks 10 years of tranquil rotation over Pier 57. Parents balk, rightly, at the crowds and the costs, but the views are pretty magical. Order tickets online and come early (or at the very end of the day) to beat crowds. A walk down to the Olympic Sculpture Park lets you make the most of that parking spot you managed to snag. Kid-friendly food options abound, from Ivar’s to meat pies and hot dogs, even cheese-laden Georgian khachapuri.
Rare is the city that lets you paddle by its college stadium and ogle cranes and lily pads with a skyline backdrop. Soak it all up via a rented kayak. The University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center rents double kayaks and canoes (each craft needs a legal adult, and passengers must be at least 25 pounds and big enough to walk). Northwest Outdoor Center rents singles, doubles, even triples, and Moss Bay lets kids 10 and up paddle their own boat.
It’s mid-July, and you’re going to the beach dammit. Edmonds has many options for families, with the daintier Olympic Beach located beside all manner of sit-down restaurants and, yes, a scoop shop while the rambly Marina Beach Park to the south competes with driftwood logs and a playground. If you’re up for the walk, Top Pot Doughnuts, a 15-minute stroll northeast, doles out basic soft-serve cones.
Get ready for face time with passing boats and migrating salmon. The Ballard Locks (full name Hiram M. Chittenden Ballard Locks) offers hours of maritime and fish ladder fascination, plus a botanic garden. Grab food from Pagliacci, or the Taco Time a few blocks away, to make it a proper (and easy) picnic.
Bust out the rollerblades—okay, bikes will do too—for a lap or two around Green Lake. The paved pathway tends to get busy on nice days, but going early just means the smaller set can have more time to fill their shoes with sand at the playground. More sand, and kid-approved yuca fries, await at Bongos.
Whether you’re coming from West Seattle, or across town, Lincoln Park is a worthy destination for views, playground time, and trails that lead down to the water. One of the city’s best public pools even hides on the promontory point; Colman Pool offers all the vistas of a dip in Puget Sound, and the water’s heated—there’s even a slide. Food options in the park are pretty much nonexistent, but nearby Taquitos Feliz offers free burritos for kids (with adult orders) on Sundays.
Seize the summer day and get thee to the spray park. Seattle has plenty along with some wading pools, but check the schedule in advance to ensure your desired destination is open on that particular day.
It’s that narrow time of the year when the weather is reliably warm. Pack a bag (multiple bags, once you factor in sand toys) and head to a city beach. If you make your way to Golden Gardens, visit Miri’s for some poffertjes, aka miniature Dutch pancakes, or grab a kid-friendly rice and bean bowl at Un Bien. Don’t be the parent who forgets to bring cash for the ice cream truck.
Dial up the vintage vibes with a family skate session at Southgate Roller Rink in White Center (the retro video games might win over kids who aren’t enthused about skating). If the onsite snacks aren’t your jam, consider a burger at Zippy’s, some Proletariat Pizza, or a double scoop accompanied by even more rounds of pinball at the original Full Tilt.
Labor Day weekend is a traffic nightmare most everywhere. All the more reason to stock up on picnic gear for a day at Magnuson Park. You’ll find many a family spread out on the grass beside the swim beach and gawking at the action on the aptly named Kite Hill. Elsewhere, the off-leash dog area and huge playground keep offspring of all species occupied.
Nothing says family time like horny wildlife, am I right? Northwest Trek near Mount Rainier—an outdoor zoo that’s actually part of Metro Parks Tacoma—offers elk bugling tours in an off-road Jeep. Rut season for the horned creatures means they make weird noises and sometimes fight. Because in the Northwest we explain the birds and the bees using the bull (gentleman elk) and the cow (lady elk).
The Washington State Fair is in full people-packed swing, offering endless rides, games, farm animals, funnel cakes, and other fried delights. Kids five and younger get in free, but buying your tickets in advance usually knocks off a few bucks for the rest of the fam.
On the cusp of a new hockey season (and with iffy fall weather in mind), make like Bambi at the Kraken Community Iceplex. There are multiple public sessions on weekend afternoons and, better still, a Starbucks and concession stand to tide the hangry over during Zamboni breaks.
No shame in being the first person on the block with a pumpkin (as long as you don’t carve it just yet). An outing to one of the pumpkin patches just outside of Seattle offers corn mazes, mini golf, all manner of gourd projectiles, and photo ops aplenty. Oh yeah—and pumpkins.
Today’s plan: Hang out in a beautiful downtown bar—but this time for afternoon tea. The Fairmont Olympic puts on a lavish spread of tiny sandwiches, sweets, scones, and nearly a dozen types of loose-leaf tea. The longstanding tradition now happens in the hotel’s historic (and newly appointed) lobby bar; a kids menu offers friendlier prices and sandwich fillings.
Bowling is classic for a reason. West Seattle Bowl has good prices, even on weekends, but Lucky Strike in Bellevue offers an adjacent arcade and, with proximity to Din Tai Fung, the promise of some post-frame soup dumplings.
Good lord this month has a lot of school closure days. The Museum of Flight is ready to fill them with a pair of play spaces (one indoors, one out), the first-ever jet Air Force One, and some truly old-school Boeing aircraft. Remember to bring $0.51 in change so your kids can smash a penny in the machine.
Civic institutions all over town have special Halloween events this weekend that let you sneak in some redemptive educational value amid the frenzied costumed candy grabs. Seattle Chocolate’s haunted factory tour weaves lessons on chocolate-making techniques into a treasure hunt that takes place within the darkened factory. Sweet, but creepy.
Funny how kids’ energy surges right when yours sags. PlaydateSEA in South Lake Union will gladly swallow your stir-crazy littles into its trilevel labyrinth of slides, tunnels, games, and general bodies-in-motion clamor for kids 12 and younger. Meanwhile, you can claim a table and nurse your beer, wine, or coffee. Make sure everyone wears socks.
Make it a museum day—here is a great list of options. If you haven’t been to the Burke Museum’s new digs, the Fossils Uncovered gallery and log-riffic play area on the third floor offer a hearty mix of fun and legitimate scientific education. Stop by Off the Rez, the Native American–owned cafe that serves the museum, for some fry bread before you go.
Roaring Snoqualmie Falls reaches its peak during the rainy season, and four of the top five highest record crests were in November. Feel the rumbling of the Snoqualmie River’s most dramatic section from two observation desks, then pop into nearby Salish Lodge for a breakfast featuring honey poured from high in the air onto fresh-baked biscuits. That creepy sense of deja vu? It’s from the hotel’s starring role in Twin Peaks.
Pike Place Market’s annual Magic in the Market holiday festival offers a seasonal excuse to get downtown—and to embrace lights, decorations, and Santa photos before you’re sick of it all. Or just give into the frenzy of the season, hand over some pre-paid cards, and plunk yourself down inside the Bellevue outpost of Dave and Buster’s while your kids go nuts with the state-of-the-art arcade games, plus classics like pop-a-shot, skee ball, and the claw.
Seattle Center’s Winterfest is in full swing, but not yet at peak crowds. The train and village, a nineteenth-century small-town tableau complete with whizzing railroad system, has been around since the 1970s. It’s hypnotically kitschy—and did we mention it’s free? The whole thing happens right in the middle of the Armory food court, and if weather permits, the adjacent playground is one of the best in the city.
Even if you don’t need a Christmas tree, Swansons Nursery is still a draw for its massive holiday train setup with inexplicable themes (last year it was dinosaurs). An on-site cafe and indoor space usually bustle with hungry shoppers, families awaiting Santa photos, and toddlers gaping at ginormous koi. Fresh wreaths, garlands, and poinsettias are in abundance.
It’s not a cheap outing, but renting a hot tub boat is a family adventure no one’s going to forget any time soon. Spend two brisk hours navigating Lake Union—it’s really the best time of year to spend two hours in a hot tub—plus you can admire the houseboats decked out in holiday lights. Kids younger than 12 must wear (provided) life jackets.
If the holidays have left everyone amped up and restless, consider piling into the car to see some lights. It’s dark by 4:30, after all.
December 31–January 1
Pray the rain gods will be kind for an evening outing to Woodland Park Zoo. The animal sanctuary transforms into an animatronic light show featuring larger-than-life lanterns scattered around the grounds. Fuel the smols with hot chocolate and churros, and brace yourself to spend way too much time in the bubble-laden interactive play zone.