Seattle is a city of raw natural beauty, wondrous architecture, rich history and delicious food. Add all that to an abundance of activities for kids and families to enjoy and the gorgeous Emerald City is a wonder all its own, perfect for family travel. We were lucky enough to have a day to spend there this spring exploring and eating.
The morning of our day in Seattle, we woke up in the absolute quiet of Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park. We left early, shushing our kids and rolling suitcases past towering trees and lush scenery. The drive was serene from our lodge on the Olympic Peninsula to a perfectly charming waterfront coffee shop on Bainbridge Island called Pegasus Coffee. The historic building, once a hardware store, is covered with vines and greenery. We happened to come on ‘80s day and discovered employees decked in brightly colored lycra and sweatbands and the prices lowered to “’80s prices.” Excellent coffee and pastries made the perfect morning fuel for the ferry crossing to Seattle.
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The ferry itself was an entertaining experience to start the day. From the second floor, we were able to glimpse the city as we approached. The view was so beautiful that we gritted our teeth and endured the freezing wind to enjoy it from the balcony.
We got off the ferry right next to our first stop for the day, the Seattle Aquarium. The star of the experience were the touch pools. The central room houses two large pools filled with sea anemones, starfish and sea urchins in a swirl of color and texture. We spent almost an hour here gazing into the pools and exclaiming over the variety of life within. In the same room, a guide stood next to a tank with obstacles of transparent tubes that housed an adolescent giant Pacific octopus. The movement and flexibility of the octopus navigating through her habitat was mesmerizing.
We had promised the kids a ride afterwards on The Great Wheel, a giant Ferris wheel overlooking the water that’s a short walk down from the aquarium. Once we were seated in our enclosed pod, rising up above the water, the kids nervously peered down. The scenery was the best part of the ride, a mix of urban and industrial along the deep blue of the water. We could see the tall red sign marking Pike Place market, catch a glimpse of the Space Needle and watch ferries and ships crossing the Puget Sound just as we had that morning.
After our ride, we rushed our kids off the pier to avoid getting sucked into 3D movies and arcades with their siren-like advertising. Pike Place Market was the next stop to tame our rumbling stomachs. We walked along the chaotic, colorful mashup of shops and open markets, piecing together a meal from the row of restaurants. First, standing outside Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, we had the accurately named “world’s best macaroni and cheese,” creamy and decadent. While we ate, we could view the mesmerizing cheese-making process through gleaming glass windows. We ate clam chowder and Dungeness crab at Pike Place Chowder after standing in a giant line.
The fish markets and produce were alive with color and activity. I bought a heavy bag of Rainier cherries, sunny yellow with a crimson tinge. The produce purveyor washed them for me so I could eat and walk at the same time. My favorite culinary experience in the Market was from Piroshky Piroshky, which allows visitors to peer through a window into their kitchen to view the crafting of their sweet and savory piroshkies or Russian hand pies. My husband and I shared a marzipan roll, the delicate crimped dough surrounding sweet, grainy almond marzipan, warm and rich.
An accidental tourist stop during our walking tour of the market was Gum Alley, a surreal spot in a back alley with gum stuck to every wall from the ground up. People had stretched their gum like a melting wax to write messages or sign their names. Children were being herded to stand for photos while also being cautioned loudly to not touch the walls. We also took our turn snapping photos of this bizarre and slightly unsettling but undeniably colorful sight. The walls began accumulating decoration in the 1990s, when actors and patrons of the improv theater started leaving their chewy mark.
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Full and content, we drove a short distance to Seattle Center, 74 acres of land surrounding the Space Needle that was the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. Seattle Center is also home to the Seattle Children’s Museum, Pacific Science Center, playgrounds, fountains and event venues for celebrations and festivals throughout the year.
Since our 7-year-old loves all things scary, we planned to visit a horror exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture. MoPop is a whimsical, modern building made of three rippling metal parts, luminous pink, silver and blue. The metal outside of the building looks like a casually draped cloth billowing in and out with an interesting architectural scene. Inside, the kids were wildly impressed by a cyclone-shaped tower of guitars and the massive screen playing music videos. We had to do a full stop while both kids watched BTS crooning and dancing with mouths open in awe.
The exhibit we planned to attend was called Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film. The entrance had darkly painted walls and an eerie soundtrack of breathing. The kids might not have known the films but they enjoyed the creepy visuals. As you enter, you pass by cocoons suspended from the ceiling with what look like wrapped-up corpses. We went into one room with zombie heads elaborately designed and floating in fish tanks. At the end, my youngest declared it, “Good, but not scary enough.”
We also stopped at the fantasy exhibit with movie memorabilia displays like the costume of the Cowardly Lion from the original “Wizard of Oz” movie. The undisputed highlight of our experience at MoPop, though, was on the third floor in the Sound Lab. The Sound Lab is an interactive space with instruments and electronics and several recording studios completely set up with drums, electric guitar and a microphone. Visitors can take turns entering and jamming out in their own little space, then send themselves a recording of their creations. Our kids banged the drums, crooned and screeched into the microphone and put some passion into the electric guitar. They left their recording studio elated and energized.
In a plaza behind MoPop, the Artists at Play playground was created by a team of artists. High pods, suspended rope bridges and musical instruments make this an adventurous, unique space for kids. My husband and I rested while the kids happily climbed to the top of a 30-foot tower and slid down long, silver tube slides.
We opted, after much discussion, not to go up inside the Space Needle but rather to enter Chihuly Garden and Glass. My husband wasn’t sure about my decision to take children into a glass art museum, but in the end the experience was worth the several heart-stopping moments I had when my youngest child’s excited arm movements got too close to delicate glass sculptures. The artist Dale Chihuly and his team of artisans create kinetic and mind-boggling works of blown glass including spikes of white glass like ice, a cornucopia of rainbow objects reminiscent of fruit and outdoor pieces that almost seem to grow from the earth. Perhaps most impressive, though, were the installations overhead. We stood in a glasshouse contemplating the ceiling, covered with an elaborate, fiery orange and red glass installation reminding me of oversized petals. The view of the Space Needle rising into the sky and the contrast with these impossible glass sculptures was striking and distinct.
Our day transitioning from the pristine nature of the Olympic Peninsula to the vibrant animation of Seattle had been a rich and memorable one. We took a last evening walk around our downtown hotel, stopping to listen to a street performer and window shopped.
At night, we had a cozy dinner of soup dumplings delivered to our room. The kids were exhausted from many miles of walking. They always want to hang out in the hotel room when we travel. We looked down from our window to the busy street below, enjoying the buzz of the city from our aerial view.
This visit to Seattle was special to me because I grew up hearing stories of my grandmother living there and working for Boeing in the ‘60s. As I walked downtown, I liked to imagine that she walked some of these same streets, clicking along in her high heels and pencil skirt. She always described the verdant, green beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the city itself with admiration and fondness. It brought me so much joy to finally see the city for myself and to explore with my family.