Spring Break this year was a pretty mellow affair for us. My husband had just returned from a business trip to China which left him feeling jet-lagged and we had no plans. My parents had invited us to stay on their boat in Seattle for a few days. After having a few days at home exhausting our to-do list, we decided to take them up on the offer for a few days of fun. We had several adventures and these were our favorite things!
Seattle City Pass
First off, let’s talk about trying to save some money. We had 3 activities planned for our stay and didn’t research enough before we went (my husband has asked me to not plan so much, and I might have taken him a little too seriously, because now I am planning next to nothing). If I had I would have looked into the Seattle City Pass. Now I know about it and on our next trip to Seattle in August we will be getting this!
Depending on the attractions you are interested in doing, this might be right up your alley. Once you buy your pass, you have 9 days to use your tickets to different area attractions (including the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, EMP Museum or Woodland Park Zoo, Chihuly Garden and Glass or the Pacific Science Center). For adults the price is $74 and kids ages 4-12 is $54. They say you will save 45% on prices. We plan on doing the Aquarium, the Chihuly Glass and the Zoo next time, along with taking an out-of-towner up the Space Needle, so we will come out ahead with getting the City Pass.
(PS-I am not paid to say any of that above, and have not been in contact with City Pass, but I sure wish I had know about it before our trip and glad I know for the next one!).
Let’s get to the fun now!
The last time we went to the top of the Space Needle our guy was tiny! We decided we should do it again since he would actually remember the trip this time. The tickets are more than I remembered them being at $22/adult (slightly less for kids), but you get a free picture emailed to you of your group and you can do a selfie at the top that is also emailed to you as well. The tickets we got from the kiosk were sold on a “arrive at this time” basis meaning we had over an hour to kill before they would even let us in the building. That was a bit tough and we had nothing else to do, so we spent some time wandering around, checked out their enormous gift shop and pestered the security guy to see if he would let us up early.
Once we got through security and wandered through the lobby ramp area that was quite interesting (did you know the Space Needle was built to survive a 9.0 earthquake?!), we had our group shot taken and were escorted to the elevator that whisked us to the top in mere seconds. The windows open up to the outside, so people who might be afraid of heights should stand to the back. My son pressed himself right up against the windows and proclaimed, “this is my new favorite elevator!” It seems it doesn’t take much to impress him! The view was lovely though.
On the observation deck you get a 360 degree view of Seattle and Puget Sound. There are free binocular stands if you want to get a closer look at things from the top. There is also a spot on the floor you will see that is painted. If you scan your ticket across from that spot and then look up, you will be able to have a selfie taken of you and looking over the edge of the deck and out into the city. When you go inside there are computer screens where you will scan your ticket again and you can email that photo and your group shot to yourself for you photo album, or twitter, or Instagram (by the way – follow us on our new Instagram page! hkwt_pnw), or whatever other social media you like to share on!
In addition to this there is a few ways to incorporate interactive learning at the top. Add your name and hometown to the big animated board. The computer then maps your zip code and shows you how many other people have come from there in the bar graph and tells you how far your journey was from home to the Space Needle (as the crow flies…not actual miles driven). Scan through loads of pictures taken over the years and shared with the Space Needle through social media. On top of these things there are less interactive lessons to be had (and you will wait less time to try them out) but equally fun and informative.
All in all it was a fun activity despite the high price (it really is one of those “you have to do it at least once” things). If you wish, you can make reservations at the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle as well. The meal will include a trip to the top too. I haven’t eaten here, but family went years ago and they enjoyed it.
Seattle Center Playground
From the top of the Space Needle, as you face north you will see a playground below you. Sitting right in the center of Seattle Center and on the door step of EMP, this is one of the best playgrounds we have ever stopped at.
The suggested ages are 5-14, but the climbing called to lots of adults as well! The spongy turf will help when the kids fall, and one of the slides is one of the fastest my son has been down. It is so much fun watching the kids monkey around. There are activities that make this an inclusive playground from the merry-go-round to the giant maze!
There are also musical pipes that are played when you pull the pool ball back and let go. I didn’t see any tears and heard tons of laughter while we played. I take it back…I did hear tears when mom said it was time to go! If you need to get some wiggles out, this is prime real estate! The kids will love it!
Do the names Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Macklemore, Heart, Alice in Chains, Ryan Lewis, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Kenny G sound familiar (for better or worse)? That is because Seattle is steeped in musical history, but Jimmy Hendrix and Nirvana secured its place in musical fame being some of the most famous musicians to grow up in the Pacific Northwest and all of that is showcased at EMP (Experience Music Project). The building itself is iconic and beautiful and with the monorail jetting through it, you feel like you are in another world, which is pretty fun consider the building also houses the Sci-Fi and Fantasy museums! The building was designed by the famous architect Frank Geahry and on grey days seems to bring color to Seattle’s core. The building itself is a marvel.
This museum is really unique in that it not only gives you the history of music and artists, but helps you learn how to play or use various instruments. In their Sound Lab folks learn instruments via computer programs and then can go into a sound-proof room and “jam” with various bands loaded on the screen, or you can rock our on your own. My son has been very curious about drums and really concentrated on the program to learn the 4 count beat and hand positions. This is a far cry from his current instrument, a violin, so it was fun to watch him struggle at first and then figure things out. The instruments they have to learn on include guitars, drums, keyboard, and bass. There are also sound rooms where you can learn to ‘Mix’ songs and teach the person how the songs end up sounding like they do on the radio. Once you have all of that mastered head over to the “On Stage” area and pick the song you and your group want to perform. Folks outside and can view your performance through CCTV, but it is all up to you (with some computer help). Get to this exhibit early in the day as it is very popular and there will be long waits despite the time limits. Channel your inner Brandi Carlile, Eddie Vedder, or who ever else inspires you!
As I mentioned above the museum also is home to the Sci-Fi Musuem and they currently have it set up as an”Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction” exhibit. We have been watching more Sci-Fi with our son lately and he found a Dahlik from Dr. Who and the Proton Packs from Ghostbusters pretty exciting to see. One thing he found really interesting were the props from Terminator 2 and he enjoyed playing in an alien spacecraft. This exhibit is right next to the “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Films”. I admit, I am not a horror film fan. I really can’t watch them at all, but I recognized a few things in there like Gizmo from the movie “Gremlins” (which my son is now begging to watch) and suits from the zombies in Michael Jackson’s video “Thriller”. This was huge for my 8-year old Michael Jackson fan. He couldn’t believe he was seeing it! There were videos from the directors about the movies and several interactive exhibits including a scream room!
My favorite part was the “Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic” exhibit. This wasn’t just because my favorite movies of all time were featured, but this is really more my speed and I love the way everything was displayed. The rooms were really cool with crawl-throughs for kids and adults and dragons and really cool metal clad trees. It felt magical! I will admit though, seeing costumes from the “Princess Bride” had me swooning! Pretty sure I share the same feeling about this movie as millions of others, but it is my all time favorite and it is perfect in every way. They even have the 6-fingered glove! For Harry Potter fans, you will get to not see Harry’s cloak of Invisibility (because it is is invisible you see…or don’t, but it is on display!).
EMP is hosting two more exhibits right now: one on the Indie Gaming Scene and the other on Hello Kitty. My only Hello Kitty item I was given as a child was on display and nothing makes me feel older than seeing my childhood items on display in a museum (or any antique store…Holly Hobby lunchboxes are always there! AmIright, anyone?). The Hello Kitty exhibit was very good and I learned so much about it and how crazed so many people are over her. I was never into the craze, but I have a better understanding now, why her creator invented her. The Indie Gaming was awesome and was such a difference from the current gaming exhibit on display at OMSI we visited recently. These are games are created by small independent groups and are not marketed on the larger scale. They were really fun. The Seattle area has more programmers than Silicon Valley these days and they are coming out with some really inspired products including some of the most beautiful graphics I have seen in games. Definitely worth stopping in to both of these!
Pacific Science Center
This is one of our favorite stops in Seattle. The location is perfect as it sits right at Seattle Center near lots of other attractions including the Space Needle.
We have a local science center in Portland called OMSI, which is great and shares reciprocity with the Pacific Science Center (you should look into that if you are already members of a science center – they have reciprocity with over 350 other sciences centers). Pacific Science Center makes OMSI look a bit like a worn out little brother. Not only is the Pacific Science center bigger, but it seems they have refreshed several areas that used to look a bit tired and have made things feel new. Like OMSI they bring in different special exhibits which also keep things feeling new and fresh.
Currently they have a special exhibit called “Fractions in Action” which included learning about scaling objects, ratios and how different size circles create different shapes (think Spirographs on a grander scale), how wave lengths work, and my son’s favorite activity – stop motion animation where you get to create your own little “movie” while taking pictures. It was a great way to explain that this is how some of our favorite movies have been made and then he got to try! The exhibit taught math in a way where it didn’t feel like math. It was really fun! Upcoming exhibits include “The Art of the Brick” (28 May-11 Sept) and the “International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes” (which starts in October). I think we will have a couple of extra trips to Seattle this year!
In addition to their IMAX theaters, laser dome and Planetarium, they still have our favorite butterfly house and Insect Village. Since we were there last they have added a naked mole rats exhibit which we really enjoyed. The butterflies were especially good this time and we saw several species fluttering around. There were even some freshly hatched moths and butterflies in the little nursery for us to have a look at. We also spent some time watching the honey bees in their hive. See if you can find the Queen – she has a green mark on her back and is bigger than all of the drones!
We always love the dinosaur exhibit, and my son’s favorite thing is the computer controlled dinosaur skeleton. He likes trying to figure out how to make the whole thing move in different ways. My future paleo-engineer! The sky’s the limit!
We highly recommend coming here and with the access to the rest of Seattle Center, when you are done you can move on to something else!
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
Seattle is home to large fishing fleets including many of the ships and crew featured on the show “The Deadliest Catch” (many of their friends spend the off-season in Seattle also). There are several commercial marinas around the city, and one happens to be in Ballard which is a neighborhood on Lake Washington and is home to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks .
To get from Lake Washington to Puget Sound and beyond boats and ships need to use the lock due to the tides. The locks are really convenient to get to when you are in the city and are open 24/7 to ships (but you will need to check the website for visitor hours to walk the grounds). Walking the grounds is a pleasure when boat traffic is light. The grounds feature a gorgeous botanical garden and the fragrance of the plants last week were intoxicating!
The locks, completed in 1917, have really beautiful buildings housing a visitor center and facilities and offer something interesting for kids and adults to watch. I have been on both sides of the locks (on the shore and on a boat going through them) and the process is quite interesting on how the locks fill to bring the boat up to the lake level or are drained so the boat is brought down to the sound level. The functionality of the locks are just really fascinating to watch. There are two locks at this location: one large one for lots of boats or bigger commercial vessels and a smaller one for smaller vessels. There are paths across the “doors” that pedestrians can go over when the locks are not operational that allow you to get from one side to the other.
Across the locks from the botanical gardens and visitor center is the fish ladder for fish coming to the fresh water from the salty water of the Puget Sound and vice versa. Follow the signs and go down a flight of stairs. The windows will give you a view into the ladder and if the fish are running you will be able to watch them swim by. There is a description of the various fish you may see. At the time we were there, we didn’t see anything going by. We will check them out again another time.
We have upcoming trips to Seattle and will be able to add to our list in the future. Right now, these are our 5 favorite things to do in Seattle!