I've been a Portlander with a crush on Seattle my whole life. I even moved to the Emerald City for a short stint - straight out of college - as a young reporter.
Over the years, my husband and I have used any excuse for a quick business trip to downtown Seattle - with the kids. We've explored a good portion of the city by stroller and foot.
Seattle is close to Portland, but just big enough that it feels like we flew away for the weekend. On this recent one-night trip, we made the Museum of Pop Culture or MoPop (formerly Experience Music Project) our main destination.
Ballard is For Eaters & Kids
Seattle is a 3.5 hour drive from Portland and we drove straight to the historic Scandinavian maritime neighborhood of Ballard just north of the city for a mid-week lunch.
Boats & Fish Ladders: Ballard is an established old-school Seattle neighborhood and a hip brunch destination (yes, it has a retro cool-kid vibe, of course). It hits you with all things Seattle: sea salt air, waterfront historic neighborhood, coffee and food. Plus, the Ballard Locks and Fish Ladders are a tourist stop in themselves. Kids love watching the boats pass through the complex waterways that connect the Pacific Ocean with Lake Washington. These are one of the busiest locks systems in the U.S.; moving all manner of floating craft between saltwater and freshwater lakes in a feat that is nothing short of engineering mastery.
Sleeping On the Monorail Line
The Monorail is a piece of transportation history for the kids. It’s an absolute throwback to the space-race era. Something straight out of The Jetsons. Both the Monorail and the Space Needle were constructed in 1962 when Seattle hosted the World’s Fair. Monorail ride tickets are cheap (roughly $1.00 for kids and $2.00 for adults) and it goes between downtown and the Seattle Center.
Other Hotel Options: We've stayed at many other places in downtown Seattle, and one other novelty hotel is The Arctic Club, a post-Klondike gold rush styled hotel steeped in history. Sticking with a historic theme - for older kids or teens you can also take the Seattle Underground Tour or visit the Klondike Rush Museum (that's right, a free U.S. National Park in downtown Seattle!)
Look for the Space Needle
The Space Needle is the North Star of Seattle and no matter where you are you can find this pinnacle and get your bearings. We aimed to go to the top of the Space Needle, but we learned too late the lines were long; so we opted to skip it this trip.
Museum of Pop Culture
Aside from my husband’s business dinner - we were here to see the Museum of Pop Culture. We ended our day here by hopping on the Monorail to take the short ride.
This museum can only be described as a billionaire’s museum to all things he loves.
Founded by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, The MoPop touts itself as a contemporary pop culture museum. I've also seen it described as "pop culture + music + science." I hate to label it in one particular box; but I will say if your kids are between the ages of 5 and 95, they will LOVE something about this place. And you will too.
Harry Potter, Rock Legends and Grunge: During our visit, there was music mixing and a “make your own music video” room. There are pieces of costumes from Harry Potter and the Terminator movie sets and a 2-story screen playing music videos. There's even a homage to Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix with relics and unbelievable video footage. I was personally fascinated by the Nirvana and "grunge" exhibits - having grown up in Washington State and being a teen in the 90s.
The museum has an entire wing devoted to science fiction and fantasy movie-making. With special rotating exhibits coming through (i.e. Horror, Star Trek, Animation).
Climb Like a Kid: This was our second trip to the museum - but the first with kids. And, probably the biggest surprise was the FREE (yes, sooo very free) outdoor mega kid playground at the base of the Space Needle. It is massive (30-foot-tall climbing structure) and interesting for kids, adults and even teenagers. (I loooved climbing as high as my kids - a really cheap thrill.)
Parents: The Seattle Children's Museum, Pacific Science Center, as well as massive outdoor music-scored fountain and food court, are all conveniently located at the Seattle Center at the base of the Space Needle. It's one-stop Seattle kid gold.
Post Alley and Pike Place Market
On the morning of our second day - after eating Top Pot Doughnuts in our room - we walked straight down to the waterfront to let the kids experience the iconic and historic Pike Place Market, once again. They saw the fish throwers, the flowers and the hawkers and tasted local fall apples. But, we still needed to eat breakfast. Being a big fan of a good “scene” I scoured out a classic diner The Sound View Cafe on the middle level of the market. I was sure I’d found a secret. It was perfect. You order at the counter, vye for a window seat and get incredible Puget Sound views on a budget.
This is Where Starbucks Began: Another stop that might be on a bucket list for some is the famed "original" Starbucks, located in front of Pike Place Market (you could easily miss it's original unassuming storefront).
The Gum Wall. Tourist Graffiti?
This piece of interesting pop-art/graffiti was entirely new to me. My daughter’s friend told her about the Gum Wall and our kids were dying to see it.
Yup. It didn’t disappoint. But, I will say. I did gag a fair amount. It’s pretty disgusting - as it’s set in damp Post Alley. Of course, my kids purchased gum and added to what can probably be described as tourist vandalism. Kids love it.
The irony is that, just a few days after we visited, the Gum Wall was scheduled for its first clean-up in 20 years! If you can stomach it, here is the fascinating footage of the sticky, steamy undertaking.
Other Seattle Spots to See with kids:
While we didn't hit all these spots on this particular late-autumn over-nighter, here are a few other favorites from past visits (and in warmer seasons):
- Take a ferry ride across the Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island and back.
- Visit the Seattle Aquarium on the water
- Spend a day at the Pacific Science Center or the Seattle Children's Museum (both at the base of the Space Needle and next door to MoPop)
- See the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field
- If you're staying downtown, be sure to walk by the Seattle Library. The architecture will wow you and your kids.
- Take a summer day walk on Alki Beach in West Seattle and you'll think you're in Santa Monica. Then you'll look up and see an epic view of the Seattle and the Cascades across the saltwater.