Yes, It’s true. It rains now and again in Seattle. But the sun also shines, the landscapes are lush, the temps are mild, and the views are spectacular. Whether it’s your first time exploring this great city or you’re simply on an entertainment budget with little ones in tow, you’ll enjoy these 10 Free Things to do in Seattle with Kids:
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#1 Green Lake Park
You can’t go wrong here! Bring your bike, your trike, your running shoes or your pooch. You can easily spend a good part of your day here, meandering the 2.8 mile path surrounding Green Lake and stopping off at the two swim beaches (lifeguards on duty June-Aug), picnic in the park areas, and play on the sports fields, basketball and tennis courts that make-up the 342 acre park. Oh-and don’t forget a splash in the sunny wading pool–one of the most popular in the Seattle area!
#2 Fremont and the Troll under the Bridge
Known for it’s offbeat and artsy community, Fremont has much to offer it’s wide-eyed visitors. Boasting a 25-year running Sunday Market with vintage treasures and people-watching as top draw, it runs all through the year, rain or shine. Stop and see what the ‘Waiting for the Interurban’ are dressed in…Seattle’s most interactive public sculpture, and leave your creative mark if you like!
Make sure to note the 1950’s cold war rocket fuselage that tops a downtown building and the 7-ton controversial Lenin sculpture pulled from the rubble of Slovakia. Then visit the 18 foot troll tucked away beneath the Aurora Bridge (not the Fremont Bridge…confusing, yes, I know). The troll was inspired by the folk tale Billy Goat’s Gruff, and neither kids nor adults can’t resist snapping a photo atop the Troll’s head or (kids) picking his nose! The fun isn’t over – stay for a Saturday night outdoor cinema. The event runs on donation alone and is a favorite summer community event.
#3 Center for Wooden Boats
At the Center for Wooden Boats at South Lake Union, you can browse the exhibits and explore all you want, no cost. They also have boat rentals, classes, lectures, workshops and more, but if you’re just looking for the chance to get out on the water for a little spin (and do so for free), you’ve come to the right place!
Visit on a Sunday, get your name on the list and rain or shine, you’ll be hitting the blue. Check out the Sunday Public Sail page on their website so you’re prepared (sign-ups start at 10am, go till 3pm and generally accommodate a total of 200 for the day). While you wait for your vessel, walk the docks, have a bite, and check out the neighborhood.
#4 Pike Place Market and the Waterfront
Who hasn’t heard of Pike Place Market? One of the country’s oldest farmer’s markets and a definite must-do on your city visit. Go early when the air is crisp off the bay and the market isn’t too crowded, or later when the market is bustling with activity. There’s really not a bad time to go. You’ll find everything from live music and local craft artists to a willpower-breaking European bakery and famous flagship coffee store (ahem Starbucks).
Browse the three floors of unique shops beneath the main arcade, or stay up top to watch the fish fly and then cross the street to see how the famous Beecher’s cheese is made. Got kids with you? You really can’t leave the area until you head to 1428 Post Alley, home of the Market Theatre…and the gum wall. Pop some bubble gum in your mouth and then brace yourself to become part of a very sticky, germy and fascinating popular attraction.
Wash your hands, and then head down the waterfront to check out the incredible view, the piers, Washington State Ferry Terminal, Seattle Aquarium, cruise ship docks, restaurants and more. Not tired yet? Just a bit further you’ll find yourself at the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is open to the public 365 days a year and offers free tours (times and topics vary). Check out the modern art in the shadow of the Space Needle, and sit for a spell, enjoying the magnificent view.
#5 Alki Beach
This gorgeous stretch of beach (2.5 miles, in fact) is just begging you to spend a few hours! Alki Beach is the landing sight of the first white settlers in Seattle and we think they chose well. Adults and children alike can’t get enough of the fresh air and the beautiful views of the Sound, Olympic Mountains and passing watercraft. Of course, we can’t forget the sand and water play if you’re brave enough–water temps hang around 46-56 degrees F. You can always warm up with a beach fire in one of the designated fire bins…or just bask in the sunshine.
There’s plenty of driftwood, rocks and shells if you have little ones who like to search out treasures, but keep the dogs to the path as the beach is for people only. The Alki Beach path draws bicyclists, runners, blades, boards and dog-walkers, with room for all. You won’t be disappointed!
#6 Seattle Center and International Fountain
It’s the Needle that draws you to the center. But it’s the hubbub all around that will entice you to stay. The Seattle Center is alive with tourists, musicians, tours and camps – and plenty of activity choices for your day – most of which you’ll have to get your pocketbook out for. A ride up in the Space Needle, visit to the EMP Museum, Ride the Ducks (across the street), Chihuly Garden and Glass, Children’s Museum, Pacific Science Center…all great adventures!
But if you’re looking for something FREE to do amongst all the entry fees, head past all those and straight to the International Fountain. The fountain was built for the 1962 World’s Fair but has been completely overhauled since and is a spectacular sight with its giant silver dome and impressively numbered water-shooting nozzles (that are synchronized to music, by the way!). Pack a picnic and a blanket for the greens and whether you brought your suit, or feel like running through fully clothed, no one will bat an eye.
#7 Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
Known more locally as the Ballard Locks, this is one sight you certainly won’t see every day. Free guided tours from the visitor center run May through September and are worth every penny, as they can explain the intricacies involved with separating salt water and fresh water, maintaining lake levels, raising and lowering boats to different water levels, and the fish ladder that aides in migration.
Watch the boats big and small, come and go, check out the fish ladder through viewing windows or from above and as an added bonus, enjoy the Botanical Gardens which host free lawn concerts June through September.
#8 Hit the Museums
Seattle has hundreds of museums to visit that provide the perfect respite if you find yourself with a day that is, shall we say, sunshine-challenged. Museums are, of course, not just a way out of the cold, but provide intellectual and inspirational benefits for young, old and everyone in-between. You can search by location or area of interest when you’re planning your visit: Seattle Museums, but once again, we’re all about the FREE here, so use this Free Museum Day link to plan your visit according to when you can scoot past the ticket booth.
Kids will particularly enjoy the dinosaur section at one of our favourites, the Burke Museum, museum of natural history and culture in the Pacific Northwest, located on the UW campus. It’s free to visit on the first Thursday of every month.
Not just for the eyes: Do you have music in your blood and want to see where the Seattle Symphony magic happens? Check out the free tour dates for Benaroya Hall and free Watjen concert organ recitals.
#9 Gas Works Park
Known as one of the quirkiest parks around, Gas Works Park on the North shore of Lake Union will certainly make you do a double-take. Who makes a park out of a defunct gas plant? Who turns a boiler house into a picnic shelter, complete with grills? Who makes a children’s play barn from an exhauster-compressor building (and who knows what that is, anyway)? Seattle does! And they do it pretty darn well. With bright paint that transforms the by-gone implements into play-time fun, you’ll want to pack along the camera for this one.
Access to Lake Union is restricted from the park, so there will be no swimming, fishing or wading-in here, but there is plenty to do and see, from exploring the children’s play barn to kite-flying atop “Kite Hill” (though the hill is currently off-limits due to grass repair. Open June 2015). Check out the giant sundial (teaching moment!), and don’t forget the incomparable views of downtown Seattle, Space Needle and Lake Union. As an added bonus, watch the seaplanes take off and land on Lake Union and in summer, enjoy the Tuesday night Sailboat races!
#10 Discovery Park
You gotta see this one. Previously a military fort, it’s now the largest park in Seattle, ‘weighing in’ at 534 acres! Situated on Magnolia bluff and overlooking the Puget Sound, it offers up incredible views of not just the Olympic Mountains, but also the Cascade Mountain range. This is Discovery Park, folks, and it is spectacular.
The park is all about nature and offers everything to its visitors from forest to beach (2 miles of protected tidal beaches, in fact), sea cliffs to sand dunes, meadows to streams. And the cherry on top? A 23-foot tall lighthouse that sits on the westernmost point in Seattle: West Point Lighthouse. The Loop Trail is roughly 3 miles long and is definitely a nature hike, where you’ll traverse flat, rolling and steep trails, and are likely to see a wide range of bird life.
Want to visit the park but can’t do the Loop? No worries! The park also features a tennis facility, cultural center and a great play area for kids.
Over to you now! What’s your favourite free thing to do with kids in Seattle? Share it with us in the comments below.