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I’ve been lucky enough to visit Seattle about a half dozen times over the years. I first visited as a grad student who would head out there to stay with friends to snowboard about 90 miles east of Seattle at places like Steven’s Pass, then later on aviation related trips to and through the city, and finally on family vacations with my whole crew. Seattle has so much to offer whether you are a 20-something flying solo, you are in full-on family travel mode, or you are making the most of retirement while eating crab cakes and enjoying the view.
Unless you stay for a pretty long time, there’s just too much to do in Seattle to tick all the boxes on just one trip, but I’ve gone back through my trips to Seattle from the last six years and compiled a list of eight fun things for families to do in Seattle!
Located just 10 minutes from SeaTac Airport is the massive Museum of Flight. I’ve been here before, but was so tired and overwhelmed by the size on that visit that I only scratched the surface of what the Museum of Flight has to offer. On a different trip, my then four-year-old daughter went with a friend while I was working, and had a blast. The Museum of flight has a Kid’s Flight Zone for the younger crew where they can climb in a cockpit and have fun touching everything in that area!
Outside of the kid area, you can check out all sorts of planes and aviation related exhibits both indoors and outdoors such as the first jet Air Force One and a Concorde. I’m going again in a couple months and can’t wait to explore a lot more! The Museum of Flight is free on the first Thursday of the month from 5PM – 9PM, but otherwise is $22 per adult, $14 for kids 5-17, and free for those four and under. There are discounts for AAA members, Boeing employees, and active duty military.
If you are into all things aviation, it is worth the trip 25 miles north of Seattle to take a tour of Boeing where they build the 747, 767, 777, and 787 aircraft. There is a Family Zone where little ones can build a simple aircraft model and learn about aircraft design, but the actual tour is for those who are at least four feet tall. Babies are not permitted. I think this is an activity that is best suited for families with slightly older kids who have some interest in planes. While I found the tour to be fascinating, I’m not sure that my girls would think the same quite yet, so we’ll hold off for a few more years before taking them.
Prices for the Boeing experience are $25 for adults and $15 for kids with discounts available for military, Boeing employees, and seniors.
Ride the Seattle Great Wheel
Back in the heart of Seattle is the Seattle Great Wheel on Pier 57 very close to the Pike’s Place Public Market and next to the Seattle Aquarium. I know these sort of over-sized ferris wheels can feel a little hokey, but kids usually have a blast, and the view is truly top notch.
Tickets for the Seattle Great Wheel are $9 for kids 3-11 and $14 for adults. Babies 2 and under can hitch a ride with you for free. We took my oldest daughter and her friend when they were four years old and they were legitimately scared as the wheel took us higher and higher!
My daughter was stoic while her friend buried her head!
Once they got the hang of it, the smiles started to peek out…mostly.
The ride took about 15 minutes and while it isn’t a must-do, it was a fun way to entertain the kids and get a nice view of the area.
Eat and shop in Pike’s Place Market
The iconic Pike’s Place Market is in downtown Seattle and is walkable from hotels like the Hyatt Olive 8 and Grand Hyatt Seattle, even with kids along for the ride.
As soon as you arrive, you can take the kids to say hello to Rachel the Piggy Bank. Rachel raises money for some good causes in the area, so your kids can drop in some change while they say hello! Fun fact: Rachel brings in about $10,000 per year in donations.
Once you have said hello to Rachel, I think it is fun to let the kids browse the various shops and pick their own treats. Mine bee-lined towards the colorful smoothies and juices.
We were hoping to take them to Daily Dozen Donuts, but sadly they were closed by the time we got there. I’ve read there can be lines and they only accept cash, so be prepared!
One place that was still open during our most recent visit was Lion Heart Bookstore. The owner of the store was delightful and there was a solid children’s corner where our daughters both picked out books that they then took to dinner and read while we waited for our food.
While the fish shops had already closed down on our most recent visit, seeing the fish thrown would have been a highlight for my girls, so try to go a little earlier in the day than we did!
The Public Market is awesome not only because it is an iconic and recognizable Seattle landmark, but it is also a working market where you can shop, eat, drink, and enjoy all things Seattle.
Chow down on seafood in Seattle
When in Seattle, I want seafood, seafood, and more seafood. Maybe this isn’t a highlight for my girls, but the great food in the area shouldn’t be missed. Over the years, we have tried a few different restaurants, largely in the downtown area. Within the Public Market, I have eaten crab cakes in the Sound View Cafe. Online reviews of this cafe are pretty average, but a few years ago during my visit it was perfect place to grab a snack, a good view, and a place to rest for a little bit in a casual atmosphere.
Not far from the Public Market, towards the Seattle Wheel, is Elliott’s Oyster House that has been around for over 40 years and focuses on sustainable seafood practices. This is not a cheap place to eat, but it was tasty and a lot of fun for both the adults and kids on our visit. You can make reservations online.
If you can get there early for happy hour, oysters start at $1.50 each from 3PM – 4PM and the price goes up 50 cents an hour until 6PM. My then four-year-old daughter didn’t go for oysters, but she was especially fond of turning a bib into a cape!
Another place I have enjoyed eating in Seattle is Shiro’s Sushi that is located about halfway between the Space Needle and the Public Market, so potentially walkable from either direction. Shiro’s does accept reservations, but you need to call if you are within one week of dining or fill out an online form for future dates. I really loved the sushi at Shiro’s and found the prices to not be terrible for the area.
On our most recent trip to Seattle, we ate with the kids at Etta’s very, very close to the Public Market. Etta’s has big glass windows where you can people watch as the world goes by. We made reservations on OpenTable without a problem on the same day as our meal and enjoyed quick service and very good seafood.
As is common with most seafood joints we visit in Seattle, Etta’s wasn’t cheap, but it was truly delicious. I had the “Etta’s Rub with Love Salmon” that came with salmon, amazing brussel sprouts, cornbread pudding, and a shiitake relish for $27.50. My two-year-old tried the fish and promptly stole as much as she could before I could finish it!
My daughters also went for grilled cheese with fries, and Josh and I enjoyed an appetizer of six oysters for $18.50. If you can get there during Crabby Hour and dine at the bar, you can save a little on oysters and more.
Take in the view from the Space Needle
Enough about the food, let’s get back to the views. Built in 1962, the Space Needle is synonymous with Seattle, and probably a must-visit if you really want to check all the Seattle boxes. I’ve only gone up once in all my visits, but I’m sure I’ll take the girls on a future visit to the area. Obviously, the clearer the day, the better the views from above.
On my visit a few years ago to the Space Needle, I arrived a little before sunset, and stayed for a bit over an hour watching as the sky turned from day to night. It was worth the price of admission, but admission wasn’t cheap. It is $22 for adults 13+, $14 for kids 5-12, and children four and under are free. There is an indoor and outdoor viewing area and a few interactive displays. Another possibility if you are going to do several Seattle attractions is to get the CityPass or another one of their multi-attraction passes.
The Space Needle is currently undergoing a renovation to make it even more fabulous for views and visits with floor to ceiling glass.
Pine Street downtown shopping and playing
This entire part of downtown was amazing if you like to shop, or even if you just need somewhere to keep your kids occupied indoors while it rains for a bit outside. There was big name store after big name store. We visited the flagship Nordstrom on Pine Street and colored for a bit on the children’s level.
When it is time to stretch their legs a bit, the small Westlake Park Playground is right across the street from the big department stores on Pine Street. It is a very small playground, but it is good for 15 – 20 minutes of climbing and exploring. During the holidays, they also have a carousel set up in this area, but it was taken down promptly on January 2nd so we didn’t get to hitch a ride on one of the beautiful horses. If you are looking for bigger and better playgrounds, check out this Artists at Play playground!
Use Light Rail if you are traveling light
I am often not a huge fan of public transportation for families who are looking to get from the airport to their hotel in a new city, but Seattle is actually an exception. Their light rail system is so clean, efficient, affordable, and easy to use that I would not hesitate to use it with my family as long as we weren’t traveling with a ton of luggage. There are many signs in the airport that direct you to the Light Rail. Just go to the baggage claim area and signs will direct you through a parking garage and to the light rail.
The ride is just a couple of dollars to go the roughly 40 minutes from the airport to downtown and children 0-5 are free. For price comparison, our Uber XL ride from the airport to downtown when there was no traffic was close to $40. My girls don’t get to ride trains on a regular basis, so they are always super excited to ride a trail and treat it like an amusement ride!
Tip: Hit the red button on the door to open if it is closed. I figured I had missed the train when the door closed, but then someone else walked up and magically opened the door by pushing the red button!
Seattle has so much to offer families of all ages, and I would love to hear your favorite Seattle family must-do’s and tips!
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.