We recently spent a half-day in downtown Seattle, taking in the sights and playing tourist. Here’s how to enjoy a half-day (or a little bit longer) in downtown Seattle with kiddos in tow.
A kid-friendly and family-friendly day in downtown Seattle: Pike Place, the Seattle Aquarium, and a Ferris Wheel ride at the Pier.
Quick Preview: Our half-day Family-Friendly Itinerary in Downtown Seattle:
- Breakfast at Lowell’s
- Walk through Pike Place, see them “throw the fish” and listen to live street music
- Seattle Aquarium
- Quick picnic lunch
- The Seattle Great Wheel – Ferris Wheel at Pier 57
- Walk back through Pike Place for Popcorn and a drink at the Original Starbucks
A Word on Parking: Where to Park in Downtown Seattle
OK, there is no way to avoid this, so just prepare yourself. Parking in Seattle is expensive. And I pay to park in downtown Minneapolis almost every day, so I have a pretty high pain tolerance for this kind of thing. I think we ended up spending close to $25 to park for 5-6 hours. If you want to park as close as possible to the Aquarium/Pike Place, there are three (expensive) options:
- A lot directly across the street from the Aquarium
- Meter parking on streets near the aquarium – this is what we chose, since we had 5 kids, 2 cars, and people departing at different times
- Parking ramps near Pike Place – probably my second choice, but you have to walk a few extra blocks to get to the aquarium. No biggie. And if you follow our itinerary exactly, this would probably have the least amount of walking at the end of your day, when little legs are tired out.
If you’re spending a few days in Seattle, or are feeling more adventurous, there is a FREE downtown shuttle that seems to be very well run (stops every 20 minutes, etc.). This is likely what we will use on our next trip out to Seattle for more adventures and exploring!
Breakfast at Lowell’s
First stop: a Seattle institution for a hearty breakfast. Lowell’s at Pike Place – “Almost Classy Since 1957” – serves up American fare with 3 floors of waterfront views. Place your order at the counter on the first floor, then head upstairs. Skip the bar on the second floor (definitely on my “must-visit” list for a future kid-free adventure) and grab a table on the third floor.
Smaller tables have fantastic views of the pier and waterfront, but there are also larger 8-tops, perfect for larger groups of families. The casual environment made our group with 5 kiddos feel much less disruptive!
The twins and I split a stack of pancakes and the Farmer’s Breakfast. Everything reminded me of breakfast at the old-school diner in my hometown. A delicious, hearty breakfast ensured everyone had plenty of energy for a fun-filled morning.
Walk through Pike Place, see them “throw the fish” and listen to live street music
Lowell’s is located in the heart of Pike Place, and since we arrived for breakfast around 9am, the market was still pretty quiet. If you are visiting with kids, I can’t stress the importance of arriving early enough. It was so nice to stroll through the market, hand-in-hand, before the crowds of people that arrived. We stopped to listen to a couple of live street music performers, which I think may have been a highlight of the whole trip for the kids. An impromptu dance session may have broken out, proving that kids are better than us uptight adults on so many levels.
We were able to see them “throw the fish” and grab a picture with a very friendly fisherman.
If you stand facing the fish market, there is a set of stairs to the right of the fish counter heading down to the waterfront. Take these stairs all the way down, and you will end up at the Seattle Aquarium.
If you are visiting friends or family in Washington, have them check beforehand at their local library. My sister was able to get 2 free tickets from their library. Otherwise, tickets can easily be purchased same-day at the ticket counter.
Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the aquarium, depending on the attention span of your little ones. There is plenty to do, see, and touch!
A tide pool is filled with sea creatures that you can touch and feel, while friendly and knowledgeable staff are on hand to answer any questions.
Also be sure to visit the Family Activity Center, where you can see a feeding presentation. We got to see them feed the otters!
Quick picnic lunch
Since we at breakfast a bit later than usual, we packed a cooler for lunch. By parking so close to the Aquarium, it was easy to access the car and grab lunch. If the weather is nice, there are plenty of options (both at the Aquarium and around the Pier) to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch.
This is also where our group split in two. My sister and her three younger kids headed home for some quiet naptime, while my kiddos and I carried on with our adventure. Shout-out to uncle Andy for carpooling with a co-worker, so we could borrow his car for a couple of days!
The Seattle Great Wheel – Ferris Wheel at Pier 57
Ferris wheel time! The Seattle Great Wheel is right next to the Aquarium, so it was a logical next step. I am so happy we did this, and it was probably my favorite part of the whole day.
You are fully enclosed in a glass gondola, and the wheel makes three full rotations. On a clear day (like we had) the views are breath-taking! As the wheel heads back down, you are right over the water. Every time, there was plenty of chatter between the kids, speculating on whether we would actually go into the water!
Afterwards, skip everything else at the pier. It’s just indoor carnival and arcade games, which just aren’t our scene.
Walk back through Pike Place for Popcorn and a drink at the Original Starbucks
Oh, what a difference a few hours makes! Pike Place was much, much busier than when we walked through that morning. But we were on a mission to make two very important stops before we departed.
First up, was popcorn. They were closed earlier in the day when we walked past on the way to the aquarium. Remember those stairs you took down from the fish counter to the aquarium? Well halfway in-between those two is Cobb’s Popcorn. With specialty flavors, whipped up in small batches, you’re sure to find a flavor to please everyone in the family. We grabbed a couple of bags to take back to my sister to say thanks for hosting us that week, so he sealed our bags. If you can’t wait to dive in, they will fill your bag to the top and leave it open for munching as you walk.
Our final stop was my “tourist trap guilty pleasure” – the Original Starbucks. To reward the kiddos for being so well behaved and not complaining about all of the walking, I treated them to a blended strawberry lemonade. This is seriously the best coffee-free item on their menu! The kids had no idea that the “Original Starbucks” was, but now I have a snap to show them when they are older, so they can say “Hey, I’ve been there!”
That’s it! All-told, I think we spent about 5 hours in Downtown Seattle that day, and my kiddos slept hard on the drive back. But before I call it quits on this blog post, here are two more things I would like to address:
Why not the Space Needle?
For us it was just a matter of time and logistics. We wanted to park just once, so that left us to explore everything within walking distance. The Space Needle was a bit too far for that, and honestly, I don’t feel like we missed out on anything.
Why? Well, the views from the ferris wheel were so amazing, I think the kids would have found the Space Needle to be a bit repetitive. Plus a ferris wheel is way more exciting for a pair of 6-year-olds.
I’ve Heard Seattle has a Problem with Homeless People? Would you still visit with families?
The short answer: yes, and yes. We definitely saw tents and even conversed with a few homeless people during our time at Pike Place. They all seemed friendly and non-threatening. One even warned my overly-curious son to be careful as he leaned over a high ledge. But as always, be street smart.
The long answer: No, Seattle does not have a problem with homelessness. They have a drug problem. If you would like to educate yourself more, I would highly recommend watching Seattle is Dying. It’s an eye-opening documentary that addresses drug epidemic and it’s relationship to homelessness in Seattle. Warning: This is NOT a family-friendly program, but still worth a watch after the kids are in bed.
We plan to head back to Seattle again in the near future. If you have recommendations or suggestions for our next trip, please leave a comment below! I’m always looking for ideas for our next adventure!