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Things to Do Around Seattle for Midwinter Break

Scavenger hunts, snowplay spots, and more: 15 ideas for all that free time you never asked for.

By Allison Williams

Winter days are beach days in the Pacific Northwest.

Vacation! All you ever wanted! Just maybe not in the middle of a cold snap and a pandemic. Looking for entertainment over the Seattle Public Schools midwinter break (February 15-19) or just Presidents' Day Weekend? We've got you covered.

1. Go snowshoeing.

Our guide to all things snowshoe covers local gear makers and history, how to avoid avalanche danger, and the 10 best snowshoe hikes in the area. If you haven't tried the sport, strap on some goofy footwear and stomp around the mountains to stay warm.

2. Explore Seattle's playgrounds.

Seattle Met editor in chief Allecia Vermillion deployed her own two highly certified (if underpaid) playground testers to the city's many structures and slides to create a list of Seattle's Destination Playgrounds. This newly updated investigation isn't afraid to speak the truth, like that the Carkeek salmon slide is more flash than fun.

3. Toast s'mores.

Though the fire circles at Golden Gardens are currently locked to prevent overcrowding (and some of Alki's were removed), many Seattle parks have small grills that can host a small fire—you don't need much to toast a marshmallow. Lake Sammamish State Park alone has 80 grills. Remember that while Hershey's may be classic, Seattle boasts plenty of excellent local flavors—like Seattle Chocolate's bar made with graham crackers.

4. Commune with nature in botanical gardens.

The city is covered with outdoor parks dedicated to cataloguing, displaying, or even preserving special plants. Washington Park Arboretum's 230 acres and numerous trails reliably deliver leafy escape, while Kubota Garden in South Seattle holds more than 100 varieties of maple tree (the two gardens even teamed up to sell kid-minded exploration kits for $7). While the engineering marvel part of the Hiram Chittenden Locks (aka the Ballard Locks) remains closed to viewers, the botanical gardens that represent plant species from around the world have reopened with limited hours and facilities.

5. Take a tree walk.

The free Seattle Tree Walk app, produced by the city, celebrates all things arboreal. One download provides printable coloring sheets and routes for dozens of suggested rambles, each labeled with specific examples of, say, Variegated Sycamore Maples or Siebold’s Crabapples to spot along the way. Though available through both the Apple App Store and Google Play, the materials are posted on the city's website as well.

A bald eagle in Skagit County.

6. Watch raptors.

Before Skagit Valley's spring tulip explosion, the region teems with birds in late winter. Website Birds of Winter breaks down some of the best viewing areas around Mount Vernon and Samish Bay, and the Skagit Audubon Society catalogues photos and sightings. Winter is particularly good for spotting bald eagles and other large raptors.

7. Paint plates.

U Village's Paint the Town knows that nothing releases creative juices like cabin fever. Painters can choose from more than 200 blank items for decoration and hunker down in the two outdoor tables at the store—or take home a Pottery to Go kit for at-home (or at-the-UVillage-common-area) art. Either way, they will glaze and fire the masterpiece.

8. Shop for toys.

Toy shopping entertains adults as well as children—maybe even more so. Our roundup of the city's best toy shops features the best place for Star Wars Funko Pops, where to find retro wooden play sets, and the destination for annoying novelty gizmos.

9. Take a trail scavenger hunt.

No organization can compare to the encyclopedic collection of hiking information at Washington Trail Association; its winter hiking page should be cold weather adventurers' first stop. When mere exercise fails to excite the younger set, the WTA scavenger hunt can spice up even the shortest woodsy rambles.

10. Visit the animals.

Though much of Seattle still languishes under Covid closures, both the Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo have reopened with timed ticketing. A one-way path through the aquarium moves past the octopus tanks and harbor seal exhibit; the sea otters and river otters are under special restrictions given their relation to other animals that have caught Covid elsewhere. The zoo has instituted cashless payments for food, and some enclosure viewpoints are closed for improvements.

11. Wander an urban trail.

The lake loop. The wild forest paths. The almost-finished Burke-Gilman route that always seems to run through municipal drama. We picked the 15 best city trails in the Seattle area for a walk, bike, or run.

12. Chase stormwater.

Capitol Hill holds many secrets, but the intricacies of its ecological systems are ripe for exploration. The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict helped create a Capitol Hill Ecological Scavenger Hunt, a game that involves spotting stormwater projects and natural water interactions. Just look out for evil clowns in the sewer drains.

13. Learn orienteering.

Maybe you'll find yourself in a wilderness (or apocalyptic) situation that requires the use of compass and map navigation without the help of GPS. Or maybe you never will! Either way, the art of orienteering challenges the brain and draws attention away from screens in favor of the outdoors. Cascade Orienteering Club maintains permanent courses around the region for do-it-yourself compass practice, ideal practice until group events restart.

14. Explore history in the streets.

Seattle's eight historic districts preserve stories of the city's diverse past, from use as a Naval Air Station to displays of stunning 19th century architecture. Pick a protected neighborhood, then eye the city's map of walkable routes to find the ideal path through urban corners.

15. Go sledding.

Classic for a reason: Shooting oneself down a snowy slope on a flimsy plastic disc—or even a hand-carved sled—is a rite of childhood in the Northwest. Peruse our list of sledding spots and BYO hot chocolate.

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