Are you, like me, a parent who’s really into coffee, seafood and Nirvana? Do you, like me, have a child who’s really into… well, Nirvana at least? If yes, then why aren’t you on a flight to Seattle already? If no, still get on that flight. Because even if you’re not a rabid fan of the aforementioned great Emerald City trifecta, there is something for everyone in Washington state’s chill, chic and rain-kissed capital. Are your kids into pizza? Check. Hiking and climbing? Check, check. Crazy science, interactive art, comics, markets, tours, doughnuts, gelato, flying fish? Seattle’s got all of the above in spades.
But of course, in typical Mom Voyage fashion, we’re not just chronicling the kid-specific sweets, snacks, superhero exhibits and adorable indie children’s bookstores (although Seattle has amazing offerings in all those departments). We also want to ensure that you, dear traveling parent, have a trip filled with relaxation, adventure (the non-Disney kind) and probably also cocktails — if that’s your thing. So rest assured that the recommendations ahead will leave you just as thrilled, educated and well fed as your kids — just a tad more caffeinated/inebriated.
Where to eat
Let’s start with the obvious: the seafood. Washington has some of the best, but you don’t have to get all high-end-sushi about it. Your coastal cravings will be satisfied in the most simple — and seriously inexpensive — way at Red Mill Totem House in Seattle’s Ballard Locks neighborhood. It may well be the best fast-food seafood hut on the planet; get the fish and chips or the Fishwich. You won’t regret it.
Further inland and decidedly less fishy, Seattle’s Serious Pie doesn’t mess around. With two locations in the city (Virginia Street and Westlake Avenue) you have no excuse not to fit this stop into your day’s touristing agenda. After all, is there any better multigenerational family travel peace offering than pizza? Or if you prefer Mexican, Cantina Leña has fantastic tacos, margarita slushies and more. Then stop by nearby Top Pot Doughnuts for dessert if you dare.
But if you really want to bring out the big (read: fancy) guns, Stoneburner is a must — for creative cocktails (the negroni, people!), small plates, greens and grains, superb pastas even kids have to love, and OMG, can we please talk about the fried mozzarella-filled Castelvetrano olives? Look. Just look at these.
And if you have any belly room left at all, mosey from Stoneburner to nearby family establishment D’Ambrosio Gelato for a frozen treat and an espresso — or, you know, both together. It’s the true affogato (“drowned” in Italian, used to describe espresso poured over gelato) way.
Where to play
Seattle, like most capital cities, has a ton of museums to offer. But this town doesn’t stop at your run-of-the-mill art galleries and historical collections. Nay, Seattle’s museum scene boasts MoPop, aka the Museum of Popular Culture, aka a pile of buildings that look like somebody’s wacky metal laundry, which houses interactive exhibits on music, movies and more. I’ll admit I went there for the Nirvana exhibit (Kurt Cobain’s guitar, people!) but I ended up staying for hours, sucked into shows about superheroes (Marvel comics to be precise), horror film history, Jimi Hendrix’s travels and more. It’s a fantastic way to take in some kid-friendly culture (don’t bring the tiny ones into the horror exhibit, though).
Right next to MoPop is the Pacific Science Center (where kids can get their fix of super-interactive exhibits plus an IMAX, a planetarium, the works) as well as the Chihuly Garden & Glass museum, a walk-through indoor-outdoor extravaganza that showcases Washington native Dale Chihuly’s iconic blown-glass sculptures. Even kids who aren’t usually thrilled by art will be enthralled by Chihuly’s glowing colors and vibrant organic shapes. What makes this collection notable is its variety; meander through the museum halls and examine individual pieces up close, or head outside to the sculpture garden to take in the larger-than-life glass in alien floral shapes. There are also live glassblowing demos by local artists.
If you like your family travel activities with an emphasis on the active, set up some time at Stone Gardens‘ indoor rock-climbing gym. This place boasts some of the best (and most patient, bless them) climbing instructors I’ve ever encountered, and they offer lessons for all ages on bouldering and rappelling. Plus, the upstairs mini climbing wall caters to kids as young as 2. Because it’s never too early to learn to scale sheer cliff faces, amirite?
Where to rest
Seattle is a wonderfully walkable city, for which this here New Yorker is so grateful. But for a trip that’s also walkable for tots, you need a centrally located home away from home. And for that, you can’t beat the Kimpton Alexis Hotel downtown. The Alexis is a great balance of no-fuss approachability (kids welcome); thoughtful design; fabulous service; and location, location, location. Plus its library-looking Bookstore Bar & Café serves a mean breakfast and a mean bourbon depending on the time of day — or hey, get them both simultaneously. Then, walk outside, and you’ll be at Pike Place Market (more on that later) before you can say, “I wonder if they’re throwing fish today.”
And speaking of great spots in walking distance of the Alexis: If you’re a parent in need of just a little non-tot rest time (and lucky enough to have an adult travel buddy who can hold down the childcare fort), get thee to Ummelina Day Spa, stat. The words “urban oasis” sound cliché but they’re really the best way to describe this understated, tucked-away quiet space in the middle of downtown Seattle. Try a massage, a private bath soak, a Vichy shower or all of the above — and head home with a healthy stash of Ummelina’s handmade natural aromatherapy mists and lotions (even my 2-year-old loves the latter).
Where to shop
Your absolute best bet for a good ol’ walk-and-shop with kids is to head back to Ballard (you know, where you ate all that fried fish). Hit up Sonic Boom Records for all the tunes you can dream of, classic indie kids gem Secret Garden Children’s Bookstore, retro hubs Trove Vintage and Le Merde (boy, did the latter nearly talk me into a gorgeous leopard-print coat I absolutely did not need) and way, way more. And don’t forget a pit stop at Anchored Ship Coffee Bar to refuel (pro tip: The café’s cute upstairs nook has some highly Instagrammable wallpaper).
Where to explore
We know, we know; it’s super-obvious, but are you really going to go to Seattle and not climb the Space Needle? Just make sure to get tickets in advance and be prepared to wait in line regardless of said tickets. But hey, those views up top are pretty unbeatable (plus, they sell booze up there now, so…)
For sightseeing without the lines, head to Hiram Chittenden Locks to wander the gardens, see the salmon ladder and scope out the boats doing their delicate dance from one side of the locks to the other. The nearby Nordic Museum, which just opened in 2018, celebrates Nordic (that’s Scandinavia plus Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, BTW) cultures on both sides of the Atlantic. It boasts a surprisingly cool collection of old-school European artifacts (kids love all things Viking, right?) as well as modern art and video installations (notably the “birch forest” where you can take a break to lounge on squishy “rocks,” which I would like every museum everywhere to install ASAP please).
Of course, like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market is the epitome of a visit to Seattle and is not to be missed. If you have a bunch of kids in tow, it can be nice to just explore the market at your own speed, starting and stopping wherever. But if your posse is of a wrangle-able size (and/or older kids who can follow the leader), I highly suggest booking a Savor Seattle Food Tour to get a true inside look at (and taste of) the market. From cheese and chocolate to burgers and coffee to the famous flying fish, there’s something for everyone at Pike Place — and there is no way in hell you’re leaving hungry.
Greener than LA, calmer than San Francisco, grungier than Chicago and way more chill than New York, Seattle offers that rare and ideal combination of classy and casual that makes for the perfect multigen vacation. And hey, if you enjoyed your Seattle family trip with wee ones, you’d better plan a return when they’re teenagers — and just as psyched about all that coffee as you are.