Here are eight of our favorite kid-friendly things to do in Seattle. None of them will cost you a dime.
Pike Place Market
Pike Place is a destination on any tourist map, and it’s also free. On summer weekends there is almost always something special going on. Best of all, it’s open early, giving you an activity when the kids wake up at the crack of dawn. Favorite free activities in the market include: climbing on the pig at the market entrance, watching the “flying fish” being thrown across the fish market, watching crabs in huge toddler-eye-level tanks, and enjoying the street performers. For a picnic, walk to the Northern end of the market and enjoy a water view at Victor Steinbrueck Park.
Whether you’re a tourist or a local, “The Market” is a hive of activity and a great place to wander with kids. You can pose by Rachel the Pig, the market mascot, or watch the fishmongers throw fish, enjoy the street entertainers, or stop for coffee at the original Starbucks store. A riot for all your senses. For a special treat for kids, check out The Great Wind-Up, a store dedicated to wind-up toys for children and grown-ups.
Olympic Sculpture Park
This outdoor extension to the Seattle Art Museum opened in January 2007, daring and imaginative use of post-industrial space. The art installations are placed along a half-mile, z-shaped path with stunning views over the Puget Sound. You can expect your children to be a little unsure of what to expect when you start your exploration but a combination of contemplative and fun exhibits will quickly engage and entertain. This is one activity that you are sure to be still discussing long after your visit.
Seattle Central Library
In Seattle, we have rainy days in the fall and winter and sometimes in the spring too. The Central Library is one of my favorite places to spend such days. The library building was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and former Seattlite Joshua Ramus. From the wide-open feeling of the “Living Room” on the third floor to the innovative design of the book spiral on floors six through nine to the 15,000-square-foot Faye G. Allen Children’s Center, it’s an enjoyable place to while away hours and hours of reading and discovering fun.
This branch of the Seattle Public Library (at 1000 Fourth Ave.) is one of the coolest buildings on the West Coast. As you explore the building, you’ll discover wacky art installations, interesting building materials, and a beautiful view. The real gem for families, however, is the 15,000-square-foot children’s section. There are toys, books, computers, and even a puppet theatre. A teen center houses a huge collection of comic books, zines, and music listening stations. Best of all, mom and dad can collapse in a comfortable chair while the kids play.
Children will enjoy watching boats pass through the locks and, during salmon runs (mid-June to October), you can watch fish swim upstream on a gradual incline using the fish ladder first built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1917. For more activities and restaurants in this area, see Delicious Baby’s Ballard Locks and Lunch with Kids.
It’s riveting to watch a boat go through the locks, watching the water levels drop and rise on either side of the massive spillway gates. If you visit during the summer months, it’s one of the busiest places in the city as boatowners line up on either side of the locks to navigate to and from inland lakes to Puget Sound. The 21-step salmon ladder, built into the south dam allows fish to migrate across the ship canal back to spawning grounds. Children are fascinated by watching the fish navigate these steps. Don’t miss the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, which comprise seven acres in the area around the locks—pack a picnic or walk around and enjoy the ambiance of this classic English landscape-style garden.
This huge, whimsical sculpture of a troll eating an original Volkswagen Beetle (tucked away under the north end of the Aurora Bridge at N 36th St.) is a fun find for kids. Visitors are encouraged to climb on the troll, and since this spot is sheltered by the bridge, it can be a nice place to let the kids run on a rainy day. The nearby Fremont neighborhood is a great place to get lunch or explore.
International Fountain at the Seattle Center
During the summer, the International Fountain at the Seattle Center has choreographed water shows. Kids will enjoy running in, around, and through the spray. Bring non-slip shoes and a change of clothes!
No list of activities with children in Seattle—free or not—would be complete if it didn’t include some mention of the city’s parks. You can fly a kite at Discovery Park, play and hike at Carkeek Park, hit the beach at Golden Gardens, join the runners, walkers, and skaters at Greenlake, and maybe see an eagle flying low over Seward Park. Hang out with the locals at the wading pools in neighborhood parks in the summer. Enjoy the contrast of fall colors with evergreens and Madrone in the fall. Find your favorite playground at any time of the year.