Visitors and natives like to joke about the rain. I’ve lived here since I was 13 and am used to the joking and the rain. And, though I’m proud to be part of a family with 5 generations born in super-sunny California, I now find Seattle’s frequently gray skies soothing.
Whether it’s a sunny or a cloudy day, the city is spectacularly beautiful and I feel so lucky to live here. Everywhere, one has access to incredible vistas that include backdrops of mountains and water, with boats, bridges, and skyscrapers in the foreground. Driving around in my minivan, I often exclaim to the kids, “LOOK! LOOK! WE LIVE IN SUCH A GORGEOUS CITY!!” Instead of guffawing at my uncool overenthusiasm as one would expect from a teen and 2 nearly-teen boys, they look out the car windows, and murmur, “yeah” or “mm-hmm”, and I know they appreciate the enthralling views, too.
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Here are four of our favorite places in Seattle:
Spend at least 2 hours here, and up to 5. Park in one of the multi-story garages adjacent to the Seattle Center, or find a cheaper, $4 to $6 lot a few blocks out. Set in a complex of connected buildings, some exhibits are permanent (butterfly dome, insects, water works for little tots, dinosaurs, giant hands-on physics tools, outdoor water spouts (see photo), weather station, mole rats, live demonstrations, and more), and some special exhibits visit for a few weeks.
In the last 12 months, we’ve visited a train show, and exhibitions of Lucy and hominids, animation, and life on Mars. The latter exhibit is currently showing and there, my 11-year old boys made and launched foam rockets, instructed kids in another area via delayed audio, attempted to put bolts together wearing giant gloves, designed a robot maze, and created a stop-motion photo series.
On any day, there are a handful of 45 minute IMAX movies and we can see 1 or 2 in between visiting other displays in a single day. There are often full length feature movies, too. Tickets for movies can be purchased online.
A small cafe is upstairs from the dinosaur area, offering sandwiches, soup, (my kids say the best) corn dogs, nachos, popsicles, cookies, coffee, juice, soda, milk, and more. If you want more food choices, you can get a hand-stamp as you exit the Science Center, eat in the nearby Center House food court, and then return to the Science Center. There are also full service restaurants surrounding the Seattle Center, including a favorite of our boys’: Sport Restaurant, on 4th Avenue, across from the Space Needle, where they can watch football on the giant tvs.
2. Seattle Children’s Theatre Don’t be fooled by the word ‘children’. This award-winning theater, located next to the Science Center, consistently wows kids and adults alike. It puts on multiple productions each year: some for tots and kindergartners, some for elementary school youngsters, and some for teens. Each play or musical indicates the recommended age. I’ve always looked forward to seeing the shows, and I’ve been extremely stunned at how they surpass my already high expectations each and every time. I truly wish we could attend more frequently.
Located south of downtown Seattle, the museum near Boeing Field has free parking in the main parking lot and a free overflow lot across the street. Permanent exhibits include a young-kids’ hands-on area that teaches flying concepts such as roll and yaw, display areas for WWI and WWII fighter planes, space exploration, a huge glass gallery full of airplanes, and an outdoor air park including an Air Force One and a Concorde that visitors can walk through.
My kids’ favorite activity is the control tower where they look out over an actual runway and watch takeoffs and landings, listen to air traffic controllers, and operate some hands-on tools. We also enjoy the expansive gift shop with books, toys, models, calendars, caps, and more. Visiting exhibits we’ve seen include helicopters (see photo), Leonardo da Vinci, Space, and the annual Engineer and model show. And each August, we arrive early on a weekday when the Blue Angles visit Seattle. We bring lunch in a cooler, and wait for the times when the stunt planes take off and land on the runway near the museum parking lot. The engines’ roar is incredible, the pilots take time to greet visitors, and special booths offer memorabilia. On our way home, we occasionally stop at the Boeing Store, which offers jackets, toys, pens, hats, and other items for flight enthusiasts of all ages.
4. Ballard Locks Our family loves engineering marvels, and so, a short jaunt to the Ballard Locks, a few minutes’ drive from downtown Seattle, is always satisfying. Click on this VirtualTourist.com link for some wonderful descriptions of how to get there and what to see and nearby places to eat. There is free parking on both sides of the locks, and grassy hills with paths down to the waterside. It is fun to walk across when the gates are closed, and watch boats enter and tie up, listen to the bells signaling that the gates will open or close, and witness the boaters’ camaraderie amongst each other and with the locks’ attendants and observers as they position their craft, wait for the water level change, and then untie and cruise on out of the locks. Friendly waving and smiles abound. On the south end, you can descend into a salmon ladder viewing area and learn all about their efforts to swim upstream.
Enjoy our home city!