Take A Seattle Family Vacation

By Lisa Tucker McElroy

At the top of the Space Needle, my two school-aged daughters are posing for photos.  They’re convinced that, absent concrete evidence, their friends won’t believe that they’d gone all the way up above the clouds.  Amazingly, my usually chicken kiddos are drinking in the views from this high up and begging to stay, even when we’re about to miss our shuttle and they know we’ll have to walk back to the hotel.

I can’t blame them – the view from the top of this landmark, built for the 1962 World’s Fair (back before Seattle was the bustling city it is now), is unmatched by any I’ve seen in any American city.  We can see the Puget Sound, Mount Ranier, and the Seattle skyline – even Safeco Field, where the Mariners play.  Perhaps the pinnacle of a Seattle family vacation (OK, pun intended), the elevator ride down is a letdown in every sense of the word (ditto).

It’s our first family vacation to the Pacific Northwest, and we’re drinking in the great-smelling fall air, the incredible views, and the tons of activities that Seattle has to offer.

What To Do

Aside from the Space Needle, there’s plenty more to experience with kids in Seattle.  On our long weekend getaway, we didn’t even have time to fit in a nap, much to the kids’ delight.

The Seattle Zoo is one of the most beautifully landscaped zoos I’ve ever seen, to the point where I keep making the kids stop so I can gaze at the changing leaves.  “That’s not the point, Mom!” they tell me, and drag me over to the gorillas, where a tiny baby gorilla named Uzumma hangs on her mother’s back and learns to eat bamboo.  The elephants and jaguars are also a hit.

At the Experience Music Project, the first Frank Gehry-designed building in the Pacific Northwest, Zoe and Abby rocked out in the sound lab and the band experience room.  The museum provides instruments that aficionados can really play and hacks like me can pretend on - you can even buy a CD or DVD of your performance at the end.  The many interesting exhibits on the history of music and the art surrounding it, some tributing Jimi Hendrix, take at least a couple of hours to explore and are geared to visitors of all ages.

The Museum of Flight, located near the Boeing airfield, boasts more than 85 historic aircraft, some hanging from ceilings, some scattered around the large floor for kids to climb and “navigate.”  What’s more, a 4-D experience ($5 extra) and flight simulator ($8 extra) let kids experience what taking the controls for air acrobatics is really like.  My favorite part?  The real Concorde and Air Force One jets preserved across the street at the airfield and available for exploration.

After lunch at Tilth (see below), the kids and I hit Alphabet Soup, only children’s bookstore in Seattle, to pick up some reading for the long flight home.  The charming house-turned-store offers quality new and used children’s books, as well as gorgeous framed children’s prints.

At Magic Mouse Toys, we found those high-quality, educational wooden toys that you just don’t find at chains.  This three-level shop is known for its eclectic style and its willingness to let kids play with the toys.  My kids had to drag me out.

Where To Stay

On Pike Street, you’ll want to check out the comfy and convenient Homewood Suites, only a couple of blocks from the Pike Place Market, the Aquarium, and the Argosy Cruise dock.  This all-suites hotel offers complimentary dinner and breakfast, grocery shopping services, and apartment-like accommodations with full kitchens and sofa beds.   My kids co-opted the waffle makers at the breakfast buffet, and I sank into the high-end Hilton brand bedding, the same used at New York’s luxury Waldorf Astoria.  One incredibly convenient option?  The hotel shuttle, which dropped us off all around the downtown area free of charge.

Where To Eat

  • The Hi–Life, a former firehouse, now a comfortable, upscale family restaurant in Seattle’s charming Ballard neighborhood. There’s something for everyone in the family.  I feasted on small plates of dates with gorgonzola and prosciutto and piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, then tried the fried chicken platter and apple cobbler, while the kids ate some of the “best mac and cheese ever!” and kids’ pizza (made themselves at the table, then slipped into the restaurant’s wood-fired oven). 
  • Tilth, a certified organic restaurant that recently made the New York
    top-10 list for new restaurants, is an ideal place for brunch with the whole crowd.  The menu changes often, but if owner/chef Maria Hines has French toast for the offering, don’t even hesitate.  This homey restaurant is off the beaten downtown path but right across the street from children’s book shop Alphabet Soup.
  • Trophy Cupcakes, down the street from Tilth, has some of the top-rated pastries in Seattle.  Don’t miss red velvet, green tea (yes, that’s a cupcake), and – their specialty – the hummingbird (with coconut, banana, and pineapple).  My favorite?  The s’more-like chocolate graham cracker cupcake with toasted marshmallow, which recently graced the cover of Seattle magazine.
  • Revolution, the restaurant at the Experience Music Project, is a logical stop for lunch.  The menu features old favorites like chicken sandwiches and hamburgers, but also includes over 50 draft beers for adults who want to try local brews.
  • The Homewood Suites. Don’t forget about suite feasts back at the hotel.  The already-low room price includes a full hot breakfast seven days a week and a three-course dinner buffet on weeknights.  My kids were way into the cheesy lasagna at the dinner buffet, and they poached granola bars at breakfast for all-day munching on the road.

If You Go:

  • Be prepared for gray skies.  The Seattle Visitor’s Bureau estimates that it rains 300 days a year in Seattle – umbrellas and rain boots are a must.  That said, the city is fully equipped for fun in the rain, with most destinations offering indoor activities for kids.
  • Bring your walking shoes. You’ll want to explore Seattle on foot, as each block, especially in the downtown area, is full of surprises. Still, the city is hilly, and sidewalks can be slick in the rain, so leave the stilettos at home.
  • Get a City Pass.  This multi-attraction ticket offers discounted admission to the Zoo, the Museum of Flight, the Argosy Cruise, the Seattle Aquarium, the Pacific Science Center, and the Experience Music Project.  It also includes coupons for the gift shops at some destinations in the city. 
  • Cruise around the city. On Argosy cruises (available on your City Pass), you’ll see….
  • Beware of flying fish. At Pike Place Market, fish vendors toss their wares back and forth for at least a half-hour’s worth of kiddie giggles.  Also at the Market:  fresh produce stands, ethnic groceries and gift stores, antiques and collectibles, and tons of restaurants and cafes.

Lisa Tucker McElroy is an attorney, writer, law professor, and mom. Lisa is the author of nine children's books, and she regularly publishes articles and essays about travel, marriage, parenting and family in national magazines such as Parenting, Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, FamilyFun, Cooking with Paula Deen, and Golf Vacations. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two travel-loving daughters.

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