Kid Friendly Seattle

Anand A. Yang, November 2004

There is so much to do, so much to see in Seattle for children: do bring them along to AHA's 2005 annual meeting! 

For starters, consider the kid-friendly attractions within easy walking distance of the meeting site. A six- or seven-block jaunt west down Pike Street will take you to one of the city's premier tourist destinations, Pike Place Market, which is also a regular shopping venue for many locals. Children (and adults) of all ages will appreciate its range and variety, from stores specializing in seafood and fresh produce to those selling consumer goods and local arts and crafts. The largest crowds invariably congregate around the seafood stores, both to gawk at their eye-catching display of the ocean's edible delights and to marvel at the game of catch that the vendors deftly play as they fling large fish to their mates across the counter. Before you know it, an hour or two has elapsed wandering around this market and more, if you pause for a bite at the many dining temptations in and around this neighborhood, from upscale continental and Asian restaurants to fast food joints.

Down from the market and toward Elliott Bay, bordering Alaskan Way, a different set of family activities beckons. (Just remember that you have to climb back up if you descend down to the waterfront from here.) Along this stretch are many tantalizing options. Right below Pike Place Market is Pier 59, which boasts the IMAX Dome and the ever-popular Seattle Aquarium. Other piers along Alaskan Way offer shops, restaurants, and other tourist attractions. Children will be fascinated by the different kinds of lake- or ocean-bound vessels moored in the area. Weather permitting, they (and you) might enjoy a ride on one of the Washington State Ferries from Pier 52 out to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island; stay on board for the return trip if you do not have the time to explore the other side. Each way on these outings take no longer than an hour. Or check with Argosy Cruises at Pier 56 to see what tours of the Puget Sound are available. If you would rather not walk the entire length of this extensive waterfront, hop on the streetcar or trolley that plies along this route.

Close to the meeting site (about the same distance away as the Pike Place Market) are two other places well worth visiting: the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Public Library (1000 Fourth Avenue). As you proceed west down Pike Street turn left or south on 1st Avenue and you will find yourself at the front entrance of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). There is always something interesting happening or showing at SAM, and exhibits and activities to engage the entire family. Its Asian collection is housed in a separate venue, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, which is located not too far away in Volunteer Park (see the article, "Seattle Museums," by Dennis Parks for more information).

From SAM, if you head east back up to 4th Avenue and south a couple of blocks to Spring Street, you will encounter one city library that everyone is raving about: the ultra-cool Rem Koolhaas-designed Seattle Public Library. Yes, it does have books too—although not stacked in a conventional way, and the children's section is excellent. However, the library's current claim to fame is its breathtaking architecture, a stunning combination of layers brilliantly enveloped in a futuristic steel and glass tent. This is one library where you will want to visit every one of its floors, best done by traveling upwards from the 4th Avenue entrance (you can enter as well from the 5th Avenue) via the chartreuse escalators that lead skywards and to many locations from where panoramic views abound. Make sure you pause in the 5th Avenue "Living Room" lobby that is topped by a 50-foot high sloping glass wall.

Children will also enjoy the attractions of the Seattle Center, a 74-acre cultural, entertainment, and sporting complex located about a mile away from the Convention Center, which is home to the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project, and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. (If the monorail is running, it would be the most enjoyable and expeditious way to travel to Seattle Center.) The city's most conspicuous landmark, the 605 foot-high Space Needle, towers over this center. On a clear day, from atop the Needle you can see forever&#151or at least view Mount Rainier, the Puget Sound, and beyond. Frank Gehry's colorful and wacky-shaped Experience Music Project Museum is nearby and will no doubt catch your eye and invite your assessment of its unusual architecture. If your children like Seattle's finest—Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain—less than you do, they can always tune in to the other musicians and musical genres on display here. The musical artifacts in this interactive museum will please most tastes and appetites. Children especially will revel in its "lab" where they can play all kinds of musical instruments to their hearts' content.

Another kiddie magnet in the Seattle Center complex is the Pacific Science Center, which includes a science building where children can view exhibits and indulge in a variety of hands-on activities, two IMAX theaters that always have interesting offerings, a planetarium, and a laser show. Two other highlights of the complex are the Children's Museum located on the first floor of the Seattle Center House and the Seattle's Children's Theater, which enjoys an outstanding national reputation. The Secret Garden and Bunnicula, both recommended for children eight and up, will be playing in January.

Not downtown but a short cab ride away is the Woodland Park Zoo, a place that consistently ranks high on every Seattle child's top five list. The zoo's lions and tigers and bears will make your children go "oooh and aaah," but so will its many other amazing creatures, big and small, including Komodo dragons. In case of inclement weather, you can always follow the zoo's recommended Rainy Day Tour that transports you from the African Savanna to Bug World to Tropical Rain Forest to Australasia and so on.

Rain or shine, there is much to do in kid-friendly Seattle, more so than even the few suggestions mentioned here. (For a detailed calendar of possibilities, check out www.gocitykids.com).

&#151Anand Yang, a member of the 2005 Local Arrangements Committee, is also the director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He was assisted in the writing of this article by two experienced research assistants aged 18 and 8; they usually don't agree with the author on other matters of importance, but wholeheartedly endorse the contents of this article.