Looking for a great family trip? Interested in straddling the line between urban cityscape and natural landscapes? Seattle, Washington can give you all that and more. It is an interesting feeling to be standing in the middle of a bustling downtown, looking out over the sound towards the summit of a hulking mountain. Seattle offers so much for families, both within the city limits themselves and areas within a day’s drive.
Here we will break down the Seattle experience. We will give you the best things to do and experience while in the Seattle area, as well as some side trips outside of Seattle that you will want to explore. So, let’s check out the “Emerald City” and all it has to offer.
Getting Around Seattle
Seattle has a light rail system with about 15 stops. This can take you from the airport into downtown Seattle. This is a great way to travel into the city, especially if you know where you are going, but aren’t sure how to get there. This is how we traveled from our hotel near the airport into downtown and it was such a relief not to have to drive new roads or scout for parking. Once in the downtown area, there are metro transit buses and a streetcar line.
Do It All in Seattle with CityPass
Well, maybe not all, but most. One of the really cool things that Seattle offers is CityPass. Seattle CityPass gives you admission to 5 attractions for one price. We did this option and it really did save us money. It was a great choice and allowed us to see the sights without worrying about purchasing individual tickets. We would definitely suggest checking out this option for your family.
Seattle Center is probably step number one in any Seattle vacation. Home of the Space Needle, the hulking remnant of the 1962 World’s Fair and Seattle’s landmark icon, Seattle Center is bustling with activity. Even getting to Seattle Center is an attraction: catch the Seattle Center Monorail downtown and bypass the traffic down below. Filled with interactive museums and outdoor attractions, there is always something to do and see.
The Space Needle
The Space Needle is to Seattle what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Rising above the city skyline, the views from the 360° observation deck will leave you in awe. Be aware, though, that it can get a bit windy on the observation deck, so make sure you hold on to your belongings!
Museum of Pop Culture
After visiting the Space Needle, you may notice a funky looking building across the way. That would be the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). This museum is dedicated to Seattle’s status as the birthplace of Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam and more. With exhibits honoring music, science fiction, horror films and all things pop culture, the MoPOP will delight children and adults alike.
Pacific Science Center and Seattle Children’s Museum
Both the Pacific Science Center and the Seattle Children’s Museum are located at Seattle Center. The Pacific Science Center has hands-on exhibits, a butterfly house, a Makerspace, and a planetarium. These are included in the general admission, but for an added fee, you can tack on an IMAX movie or a VR experience. The Seattle Children’s Museum is sure to keep the younger travelers happy. With interactive exhibits catering to a child’s imagination, kids will find no shortage of play and creativity.
Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum
Dale Chihuly is known for his exotic blown glass sculptures. His works are world renowned and make your mind dizzy imagining how such eccentricities were created. Take a walk through the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum and prepare yourself to “ooh” and “aah” as light filters through the glass installations.
The Piers in Seattle
The Seattle piers hold activities all their own. With 1.5 miles of pier and beautiful bay views, you are going to want to allot yourself at least a half day to exploring the piers.
Seattle Aquarium at Pier 59
Pier 59 is the home of the Seattle Aquarium. With both indoor and outdoor exhibits, the aquarium is perfect for getting acquainted with both local and exotic sealife. Check out the Underwater Dome and feel like you are living under the sea!
Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57
Pier 57 is where you will find the Seattle Great Wheel. This ferris wheel on the pier features glass-enclosed gondolas, which are great for year-round rides. Make sure to take some pictures from the top of the wheel. Also at Pier 57, Miners Landing is the perfect spot for lunch, dinner, or a pick-me-up snack. Amaze the family with a visit to Wings Over Washington while at Miners Landing. Wings Over Washington is a “flying theater” which will give you a taste of Washington in 15 minutes.
Argosy Cruises at Pier 55
At Pier 55, you will find Argosy Cruises. We took the Harbor Cruise and enjoyed the narration throughout the journey. We learned a lot of Seattle history and enjoyed being out on the water. When we go back, however, I hope to take advantage of the Lake Washington Cruise.
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop Pier 54
Ah, the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Sitting at Pier 54, this little shop is quite a different experience. Even if you don’t plan to buy, a walk around this interesting store will be enough to satisfy your desire for the weird and unusual. Kids will for sure love the creepy oddities and get a giggle or two.
Pike Place Market
I don’t think you can talk about Seattle and not mention the Pike Place Market. Basically a year-round farmers market, Pike Place Market has food, crafts, fish, and more. Make sure to watch out for flying fish as you go by! A walk through the market is an adventure all itself. With alleys and twists and turns, you never know what will be around the next corner. Try to find the Gum Wall while in Pike Place Market as well. It’s great to look, but don’t touch!
Woodland Park Zoo
What would a vacation be without a visit to the local zoo? The Woodland Park Zoo is 92 acres of animal and plant life. Divided into different zones featuring native species, you are sure to come across something you haven’t seen before. Children will especially enjoy visits to the Butterfly Garden and the Humboldt Penguin exhibit. There is also a Family Farm, Carousel, and a Zoomazium.
Whale Watching Wonders
One of the coolest parts of visiting Seattle is its location on Puget Sound. This waterway allows for some exceptional whale watching opportunities. One of the top tour outfits is Puget Sound Express. With decades in business under their belts and a can’t-be-beat guarantee (if you don’t see whales on your tour, you can take another tour for free!), Puget Sound Express is the perfect once-in-a-lifetime experience to share with your family.
Did you know that Seattle is the birthplace of The Boeing Company? One of the pioneers of aviation, Boeing has made a name for itself in all different sectors of aviation. The Museum of Flight takes a look at all different types of air and space craft. With indoor experiences and hands-on exhibits, the Museum of Flight is not to be missed. Let your inner pilot take to the sky!
Explore Outside the Seattle City Limits
If you will be spending some time in Seattle, I would definitely make time for one of these side trips, all within 3 hours of Seattle:
Tacoma– About 40 minutes south of Seattle, Tacoma has plenty to offer in its own right. With museums, parks and views of Mt. Rainier, Tacoma makes for a great day trip or even a one-night stay.
Mt. Rainier– Approximately 90 minutes from Seattle, Mt. Rainier is over 14,000 feet of glacial wonder. We went in the summer, and it was something else to see snow on the ground in the middle of July! There are plenty of activities to do within the park area and a scenic gondola ride really gives great views of the land. To see it up close is breathtaking!
Leavenworth, Washington– About 2 hours and 15 minutes east of Seattle, this little town was one of my favorite stops. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is outfitted as a Bavarian village. The whole experience makes you feel like you are visiting a different country. We stayed the night and woke up to beautiful morning mountain views. Make sure to visit the Nutcracker Museum and take a hike around the area.
Plan to Visit Seattle!
A visit to Seattle has so much to offer. It was truly one of my favorite trips and never felt overwhelming. The surrounding landscape and fresh air just gave our trip a new breath of life. This is a great family trip and something everyone should experience at least once.
Have you been to Seattle? What do you love about it? Let us know anything we missed or any under-the-radar spots that we should check out.