Seattle's Pacific Science Center has many hands-on exhibits. // © 2015 Pacific Science Center
Feature image (above): Families feel like they are hovering over Elliott Bay on Seattle Great Wheel. // © 2015 Seattle CVB/Howard Frisk
From its 19th-century status as a ship-building center, Seattle has evolved into one of today’s fastest-growing major U.S. cities. The likes of Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Starbucks have chosen to establish their home base in and around the coastal hub, lured by its laid-back pace, contemporary vibe and stunning scenery. For mom, dad and the kids, it’s an incomparable vacation spot with an abundance of urban parks, shimmering waters, hip eateries and upbeat attractions and activities.
With the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges in their backyard and statuesque Mt. Rainier looming in the distance, Seattleites take pride in their environment. Visitors notice the city’s green tendencies from the moment they land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, known for its impressive recycling efforts and LEED-certified rental-car facility.
It takes just 20 minutes to drive from the airport to the heart of Seattle. Or, the clan can ride Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail system to the downtown district, which lays claim to many fine hotels. The Westin Seattle serves as a great headquarters for families, thanks to its panoramic views of natural and man-made landmarks, indoor pool, welcome amenities for young guests, high chairs and strollers on request and the signature Westin Heavenly Crib.
The Westin is steps away from Seattle’s monorail, built for the 1962 World’s Fair. It’s a fun way to zip over to Seattle Center, a standout family spot with 74 acres of cultural attractions, entertainment venues and park space. The center’s Space Needle provides a 360-degree overview of the city from a 520-foot-high observation deck.
Other Seattle Center must-sees include Seattle Children’s Museum and Pacific Science Center, both chock-full of hands-on exhibits. At Experience Music Project, visitors can strum a guitar, bang a drum and shimmy in the spotlight, while Seattle Children’s Theatre stages exceptional plays.
On warm days at Seattle Center, kids frolic in the International Fountain, where spouting waters dance to recorded music. When it’s time to regroup, the center’s food court awaits with burgers, tacos, barbecue, international dishes and sweets.
For the ultimate in local color, check out Pike Place Market, a Seattle institution since 1907. Under covered arcades, vendors sell flowers, produce, art, crafts and clothing from cozy stands. Restaurants and grab-and-go eateries serve a universe of foods, including tasty clam chowder at Market Grill. There’s additional action on the lower levels, from art galleries to vintage collectables. Front and center are the market’s famed fishmongers, who toss their fresh catches back and forth as cameras snap and tourists cheer.
Seattle’s waterfront teems with family fun. Sea otters and harbor seals entertain young and old at Seattle Aquarium, located at Pier 59. Its 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters showcases Pacific Northwest marine life such as salmon, rockfish and wolf eels, with daily presentations by scuba divers. Nearby is Seattle Great Wheel, a 175-foot-tall ferris wheel extending 40 feet beyond the end of Pier 57. Riding in enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas, families feel like they’re hovering over Elliott Bay during three rotations.
Woodland Park Zoo invites families to walk on the wild side through a tropical rainforest, a jaguar habitat, a bird aviary, an African savannah and more. An exhibit with tigers and sloth bears recently opened in the zoo’s Bamboo Forest Reserve. Expect the little ones to make a beeline for the zoo’s new nature play space, where they can soar on a mini-zipline and test their balance on logs and a wobbly bridge. It’s one of many sparkling memories that families can make during their visit to Seattle, the Emerald City.
WHEN TO GO
There’s a reason Seattle is so green. It rains a lot, although some days bring just a light mist followed by sun breaks. May through September offers the best weather, with average daytime temperatures in the 60s to mid-70s and skies that stay light until 10 p.m. The end-of-year holidays are particularly festive, with novelties such as lighted boat parades and elaborate displays of gingerbread houses at Sheraton Seattle Hotel.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, dubbed Sea-Tac, welcomes 24 scheduled passenger airlines flying nonstop from 76 domestic and 19 international cities. Families will enjoy its Experience the City of Music program, which spotlights Northwest artists in live performances in the terminal and plays recorded music and announcements by local musicians such as Macklemore and Quincy Jones.