35 Awesome Things To Do in Seattle with Kids
There are so many incredible things to do in Seattle with kids: museums, outdoor adventures, markets, parks, and more. As a child growing up in the Emerald City, I loved exploring every nook and cranny of the city, and it's even more fun to take my children to Sea Town and show them both the cool old things I remember and the amazing new buildings and activities. Seattle is a great West Coast destination for family vacations for so many reasons—the public transport is straightforward, so much of the city is walkable, and there are fun things to do in Seattle for people of all ages (from toddlers to Grandparents).
Exploring Seattle with Kids
One thing that can make exploring downtown Seattle tricky is that parking is expensive and, during peak tourist seasons, can be hard to find. One way around this is to use the bus system, which includes an underground bus tunnel, making getting from one end of town to the other a breeze.
If busses aren’t your speed, this Seattle visitor's guide is organized around the four best neighborhoods in Seattle to visit with kids: Pike Place Market, Ballard Locks, Seattle Center, and the Seattle Waterfront. Exploring the city by neighborhood allows you to park in one spot and then easily explore on foot. Be sure you’ve got on some comfy walking shoes (something Seattleites take pride in!) and get ready to stroll through some of Seattle’s coolest family-friendly spots.
Things To Do in Pike Place Market with Kids
Parking: Anywhere near the market; there are many lots and garages.
Estimated time to explore Pike Place Market with kids: 3-6 hours
A must-see spot for every Seattle tourist. Locals simply call it “Pike Place” and you will immediately set yourself apart as a tourist when you add an unneeded “s” to the name—it is not “Pike’s Place” as it is commonly (and mistakenly) called. This historic market is home to the first Starbucks and, of course, the famous “Flying Fish”, but there is so much more to see at this nine-acre marketplace. There are oodles of delicious food options: my favorite way to eat here is to grab a little something from lots of different stalls. The flower market and produce stands are also fantastic and easy to locate on the main floor.
Below are some must-see highlights that are a bit less obvious to find, but absolutely worth visiting, on your day at the market!
Pike Place Market is one of the most recognizable spots in Seattle.
Rachel is a large bronze piggy bank, more commonly referred to as “The Pig,” and used as a landmark for directions when navigating the market. The quintessential market photo is taken atop her back or beside her. Don’t forget to drop a few coins in!
2. Daily Dozen Doughnut
This is a tiny, cash-only doughnut stand that makes mini doughnuts right before your eyes. You can carry away a dozen in a crisp paper bag—eating them all before the bag gets too greasy is never a problem! Kids can watch the round balls of dough swim in oil, and then get to choose their favorite topping to sprinkle on top. There's no website, but it’s on the main floor between Rachel the Piggy Bank and 1st Avenue.
3. The Gum Wall
The Market Theater Gum Wall is exactly what it sounds like—a wall of gum! It’s a 15ft high and 50ft long wall of masticated, colorful gum. Make sure you’ve chewed on some yourself, to add to the odd (and kinda gross!) beauty that is The Gum Wall. As you can imagine, kids adore this attraction.
There are so many places to eat (or pick up some fish for dinner!) at Pike Place.
There are many amazing fishmongers in the market but none quite as famous or entertaining as this one. It’s hard to explain until you’ve seen it, but watching these experts hurl salmon, clams, and trout at each other from across the room is nothing short of incredible. You absolutely cannot miss this stop!
The very first Starbucks was built here; if you’re a fan, drop in and check it out. This store is the obvious muse for the ever-popular “Pike Place Roast,” served in stores across America. If you love coffee (or cake pops!) drop on in.
A lot of the actual retail shops (as opposed to stands) at the market are found down below the street level. There are fewer crowds down there, and it’s easier to keep track of the kiddos if they run ahead. Some people would argue that the best finds are in the DownUnder, as it’s called...
Filled with pages of adventures, Lion Heart Bookstore has a robust children’s section with a great selection of local book legends like The Wheedle On The Needle, a legend every Seattleite child grows up hearing. The staff is super helpful and this store takes you right back to a time when bookstores felt warm and cozy.
Mysteries abound within the walls of Market Magic! This shop sells everything from playing cards to Magic Kits, and you’ll often catch one of the shopkeepers practicing magic that you can watch. Step outside the shop to have an animatronic Elvis read your fortune.
Outside of Old Seattle Paperworks, in the DownUnder corridor, is the odd and colorful Giant Shoe Museum. It might be a stretch to call it a “museum” — it is really more like a nod to an old-timey sideshow—but this collection of oddities is lots of fun and a great backdrop for family photos. And yes, it really does have giant shoes!
Wave to the boat captains as they pass by you at the locks.
Things To Do at Ballard Locks with Kids
Parking: There is a public lot at the entrance to the Locks.
Estimated time to explore Ballard Locks with kids: 2-3 hours
Most commonly referred to as “the Ballard Locks” for the small city where they are located, the locks were built to connect the freshwater from Lake Washington to the lower, salty water of the Salish Sea (aka the Puget Sound). Boats pass through the locks daily, and families gather to watch this water elevator for boats. If there is a boat lover in your family they will love this excursion! It's extra convenient that the locks share the same grounds as the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden and the Fish Ladder.
Rolling down the giant hills at the locks and botanical gardens is a must!
The Ballard Locks share a property with the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden which bursts with verdant Seattle sprouts and trees. It’s also a well-known spot for children to roll down grassy hills until they’re too dizzy to stand. Pack a picnic and hang out here for some quintessential Seattle vibes.
Watching the salmon spawn at the fish ladder
11. Salmon Ladder
On the same grounds as the locks and botanical garden, just a few hundred feet away, is the fish ladder where Pacific Salmon travel 50 miles to climb up and spawn. The salmon is a sacred and special species in the Pacific Northwest and this is a great way to get a close look at them. The Sockeye spawn from mid-June to mid-July, the Chinook can be seen throughout August, and peak viewing for the Coho is in September.
Things To Do in Seattle Center with Kids
Parking: There are many lots and garages near the Seattle Center—choose one, then make a beeline to the Space Needle which is visible from all directions.
Estimated time to explore Seattle Center with kids: 3-6 hours. An entire day could easily be dedicated to the Pacific Science Center alone.
12. The Space Needle
Can one think of Seattle without visions of the iconic Space Needle? An absolute must-do when visiting the city is to get close to that needle! Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, the Space Needle is still one of the most recognizable structures in the world, and for good reason—it really is cool! If your kids are old enough to enjoy it, and old enough to wait in a line to get to the top of it, go ahead and buy tickets to the viewing deck for spectacular city views. If your kids are just too little to appreciate the splendor of panoramic views and will be a whining puddle of impatience while waiting in line, save yourself the frustration and money and skip the trip to the top. (It's not wildly expensive, but tickets for a family of 4 will run well over $100.) You can still snap some awesome photos from below, and standing underneath the needle is a marvel in itself.
13. The Monorail
For a unique and inexpensive ($1.50-$3, kids under 5 are free) thrill, hop aboard the Seattle Center Monorail. Kids adore this fun method of transport: it’s not a train, it’s not a trolly, it’s a monorail! There is only one stop, which is at the Westlake Center (a mall surrounded by blocks of shopping), so if you’re not interested in shopping, ride the rail round-trip. Trains run every 10 minutes and the trip is a quick 2 minutes.
Walking the mandala at Artists At Play
14. Artists At Play
In the shadow of the Space Needle lies an urban playground reimagined. Even your bigger kids won’t want to miss this! The climbing structure is massive, the slide is extra-extra long, and there is a large mandala to walk for those who are feeling a bit more introspective. There is also a smaller section of the park for the littler littles.
A stone’s throw away from the needle is a large indoor eating space where you can choose from one of the many food court options—there’s something here for everyone. Plop down inside or head out to greener spaces and picnic al fresco.
A sweet little spot for kids 10 and under, the museum is located within the Armory. It offers exploration opportunities aplenty featuring a Construction Zone, Imagination Studio, a Marketplace, and even an Eye Clinic. The museum is currently closed, with plans to reopen in early 2022.
Oh, the generations of children who have played in this fountain! Before splash pads, there was the International Fountain, and it’s still the ultimate in water-squirting fun. Be sure to pack an extra set of clothes or a swimsuit to enjoy this fountain to the fullest. If getting wet isn’t on the day’s agenda, no worries; the fountain is fun to look at and synchronizes to music for a show every 12 minutes.
If you have a child of any age who loves STEM, the Pacific Science Center can’t be missed! Be sure to get tickets to the IMAX Theater and wander the hands-on displays that teach all sorts of scientific concepts. Many people don't know that within the Pacific Science Center lies the Laser Dome, where rock music is paired with lasers to create a unique experience for the senses. Older kids especially enjoy this! Tickets for the dome can be purchased separately from the Science Center entrance, allowing for you to just go to the laser show if you’re short on time.
Waterfront Seattle is on the Salish Sea (aka Puget Sound).
Things To Do at the Seattle Waterfront with Kids
Parking: There are outdoor spaces all along the waterfront; shoot for one close to the ferry terminal (Pier 50/52) so you can follow the waterfront with minimal doubling back.
Estimated time to explore the Seattle Waterfront with kids: 2-5 hours.
The Seattle Waterfront consists of distinct piers numbered 59-70 (though some numbers are skipped). An easy marker to use to orient yourself is the Ferry Terminal, where you can watch the cars load each giant boat before it sails into the Salish Sea.
20. Ivar’s Fish Bar
There are plenty of places to grab a bite on the piers, but Ivar’s deserves a mention for the significance it plays in Seattle culture. Good old-fashioned fish and chips are a staple in this city and Ivar’s makes it super easy to indulge with walk-up ordering and lots of outdoor seating where you can watch the ferries come in and out while noshing on fish and chips. There is also an indoor sit-down option if you’re looking for something a tad less casual.
The weirdest shop around, this olde shop has been creeping out kids for decades! Shrunken heads, mummies, and a four-legged taxidermy hen are mixed in with knick knacks, plastic prank poop, and Seattle souvenirs. It's truly one of a kind!
22. The Great Wheel
The most obvious waterfront attraction lords 175 feet over Pier 57 (aka Miner’s Landing) in the form of a giant Ferris wheel. On a clear day, you can see all the way across Elliott Bay, dazzling adults and kids alike.
Right below the Great Wheel is my kids’ absolute favorite Seattle excursion, and if I’m being honest, it’s pretty fun for adults, too! Wings Over Washington is a full sensory theater experience where you fly over Washington State, smelling the forests, soaring with eagles, and cascading down Snoqualmie Falls. If you came to Washington state with absolutely no agenda, a visit to this VR sensation would offer a laundry list of other must-see places to see in the state, and if your focus lies within Seattle proper, you truly can feel like you’ve seen more than just the city just by taking this ride.
24. Pier 57
Pier 57 also offers ice cream from Seattle Bay Creamery and $2.50 carousel rides under the covered area. Neither spot has a website, but go prepared to handle your kids clamoring for both. (And both are worth it!)
25. Seattle Aquarium
There are grander aquariums, but the Seattle aquarium’s focus on Pacific Northwest sea creatures is what makes it worth the visit. There’s a viewing room right under the pier and lots of opportunities to learn about sea lions, octopuses, seals, and much more. Reservations may be required at the time of your visit; check the website for more details.
On the northernmost tip of what is known as the Seattle Waterfront lies a large park with a zigzagging path through giant sculptures. It’s perfect for mellow picnics or the wild child in your crew who needs to just run.
Sandwiched between all of the above waterfront locations, you will find both fast and sit-down food options as well as a plethora of souvenir shops, and several options for chartering boats to take you around Elliott Bay and beyond.
Catch a ferry to a nearby island, or across the peninsula.
Family-Friendly Ferry Day Trips from Seattle
The Washington Ferry System is home to the largest fleet of ferries in the United States. If you have a couple of days to fill, you might want to take a longer ride through the stunning San Juan Islands. Those with a limited amount of time will find a shorter trip more manageable. Below are three options that fit the bill:
Ferries to Bainbridge Island leave from the Waterfront. It’s about a 35-minute sail to the island which is mostly rural, except for the small beachside town that the ferry terminal is in, called Winslow.
Hop aboard the 60-minute ferry ride traversing the most commonly used ferry route in the Washington system to get to Bremerton. Known primarily for its naval base, Bremerton is a great spot for your boat-loving tots to see giant ships at the shipyard. Lots of shops and galleries are there for further exploring.
Leaving from the Seattle Waterfront, you can journey on over to Kingston via ferry boat in about 30 minutes! A sweet little old-fashioned town awaits in Kingston, offering cafes, restaurants, and pubs.
Seattle is full of green spaces and parks, like Lincoln Park.
Easy Day Trips from Seattle for Families
There's so much to explore beyond the heart of the city. These are my favorite easy day trips from Seattle that the whole family will enjoy.
Lincoln Park is in West Seattle and is a huge favorite among locals. The park is gigantic and feels like several parks within one. It's an excellent place to picnic and play. There are over 4.5 miles of walking paths as well as baseball diamonds, open meadows, a wading pool, and a Northwest-themed playground with a zip line. The grandest part of the park is found at the end of a hillside hike: Coleman Pool, a saltwater pool right on the beach, which is the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer’s day.
Seattle is named after Chief Sealth, who was a Suquamish and Duwamish chief.
Blake Island is only accessible by boat, and for those without their own vessel, Argosy Cruises offers a solution. Normally the Blake Island Longhouse is filled with native dancing, singing, and storytelling. The experience is truly awesome for those with kids old enough to value the history found within these walls. Currently, these performances are on hold due to Covid, however, there is still a lot to do on the island from wine tasting to kayaking to just walking around. There is lots of wildlife to enjoy here, including wild deer that roam the island peacefully.
MOHAI is truly a place of learning for all ages. If you're looking to gain insight into the history and culture of Washington, look no further. MOHAI covers everything from the state's beer-brewing culture to its maritime industry and traditions. There are loads of things for kids to do and learn from, including hands-on exhibits and a museum scavenger hunt. MOHAI is on Lake Union, so right outside its doors are boats of all types, which are fun for kids to ogle up close.
Seattle is home to Boeing, bringing aviation close to the heart of the city. The Museum of Flight embodies that love for flight and builds on it in tangible ways, making it interesting to those of us who may not have personal dreams of flying a plane. There are flight simulators, a 3D movie theater, and the ability to go inside all sorts of interesting space crafts and artifacts. Here kids can explore the cockpit of giant jets and get an up-close look at a space toilet!
Alki Beach offers a classic Seattle beach experience.
34. Alki Beach
Alki is on the other side of Elliott Bay from downtown. It's where Seattleites go if they want a summer beach experience. Don't be fooled into thinking there are any white sand beaches nearby, but Alki's sand is softer and finer than many of the rocky beaches found in the greater Seattle area! Alki doesn't disappoint when it comes to ice cream and coffee shops, and you'll never forget their famous fish and chips spot, Alki Spud Fish and Chips. You will see folks swimming in the (cold) water of the Salish Sea, laying on beach towels in the sand, roller skating, and walking along the promenade—it's a summer vibe the locals love. Parking gets tight during midday in the summer so go early to snag a spot, or make it an evening outing if you like it less crowded.
Alki is a great spot to lie on the sand—or eat some!
If you're staying downtown, hop aboard the water taxi that goes from downtown to West Seattle. After landing at the West Seattle dock (called Seacrest) you will have a little over a mile and a half walk to the action happening at Alki Beach. The walk is flat, easy, and stroller accessible.
To go a little farther from the city, explore the San Juan Islands.
More Ways To Explore Seattle
I encourage you to let Seattle's cobblestone alleys, evergreen parks, and overgrown pathways be your guide as you choose your adventures and explore Seattle. Forget any guidebook or tourist suggestions, the best way to explore this city is to simply wander wherever your feet take you! There's a coffee shop or two on every block, and a brewery is never too far away. Get into the Seattle spirit by slowing down a bit and doing some people watching while sipping on a latte or a lager. Seattle has a vibrant art scene and a raucous sports scene, and if you're in town during one of its many festivals, you're in for a treat. Enjoy your time in this metropolitan city surrounded by nature.
Photos by the author except where noted