There’s so much more than the Space Needle

Where else can you dodge blasts of water with the music of Beethoven playing in the background? How about riding in a monorail that wasn’t attached to the “Magic Kingdom”? Or perhaps enjoying yourself silly from watching a play production geared for the kids? The Seattle Center. Yes, the home of the Space Needle which once hosted the “Fun Forest” amusement park has changed a lot over the years, but it’s still a great place for families to run around, explore and dine on some great food.

If your only reason for going to the Seattle Center these days is to catch a hockey game at Climate Pledge Arena or attend Bumbershoot, we encourage you to rethink this playground of activity for new memories with your kids. Below are a bunch of must-do activities to take advantage of, starting with free things to do (or nearly so) to attractions to see for a typical visit and then a few for when you really want to impress your kids, out-of-town guests, and grandparents.

Free (& Almost Free) Attractions at Seattle Center

As we’ve all told our kids dozens of times before—we’re not made of money. But the nice thing about a visit to the Seattle Center is that you can have a great time without spending a dime. 

kids play in Seattle's international fountain, one of the best free things to do with kids in seattle
Kristina Moy

Splash around the International Fountain
Originally designed to reflect outer space exploration, the International Fountain features 274 water jets (including 125 “supershooters” that reach 120 feet!) and colorful LED lighting set in a “lunar landscape.” Five musically choreographed shows with music from Beethoven to classic Seattle rock stars are presented every day—a sight to see, listen, and splash around in! And in case you’re curious, all of the water used is recycled and is considered the cleanest in the city with three types of natural treatments before it ever reaches the public—so, keep playing kids!

Go on an Art Tour
The Center is home to over 50 pieces of public art, some of which have been around since the 1962 World’s Fair and others as recently as a few months ago! The Center’s website lists the most popular works to find on your own, but we recommend that you pick up a self-guided art tour map at one of the two “At The Center” kiosks located by the Space Needle Turnaround and at North Fountain Lawn. Each artwork has signage with a QR code that leads you to more information. Some of our favorites? The large Grass Blades (near the Harrison Entrance), Neototems Children’s Garden (near the Children’s Theatre), and Sonic Bloom (near the Boeing IMAX Theater).

Kids on the Artists at Play Playground in Seattle Center one of the best seattle playgrounds
Allison Sutcliffe

Explore the Best Playground in Town
While Seattle has incredible playgrounds, the one located in the plaza between MoPOP and the Armory, called the “Artists at Play” playground, is an incredible, creative space for kids of all ages to play and explore—yes, including Mom and Dad. Features include a 30-foot climbing tower, a human-powered ADA-accessible carousel, child-inspired musical instruments, listening stations, sound swings, play mounds, and more. And here is something you won’t find at your local park—the playground equipment here is cleaned every morning and hand sanitizer stations are provided nearby too.

Visit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center
While this power couple is no longer a couple these days, their legacy lives on at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center. Here, you’ll learn how the foundation and its partners are making steps toward improving the quality of life for billions of people. The space is filled with interactive exhibits explaining new, bold, and innovative ideas providing solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing communities around the world.

Seattle Center

Take in a Festival at The Center
Celebrating 25 years, the Seattle Center Festál offers different cultural festivals to the public almost every weekend—for FREE. Here, you can experience new music, art, dance, exhibits, and even food from families that are proud of their heritage. Polish, Iranian, Brazilian, Hawaiian, Irish, and Italian are just some of the festivals that take place at the Center year after year. Check out the calendar regularly as there is always something new happening.

Perfect Skateboarding Tricks at the Skate Plaza
If there’s a skateboarder in your family (or one that wants to become one), then you should definitely visit the Skate Plaza which opened in 2020 and is designed for street-style skateboarding with a bonus space for those just learning their first ollies. Of course, it’s fun to watch too.

Seattle Monorail

Ride a Train in Style
Even if your kid doesn’t love trains, every kid absolutely LOVES the Seattle Center Monorail. While it doesn’t go that far, it is still worth the trip. Traveling to and from Westlake Center downtown, the Monorail leaves the station every 10 minutes all day long, seven days a week.

Fun Events & Activities at Seattle Center

Below are family fun events and activities that will take a few hours of your time for a small (well-worth-it) fee.

Seattle Children’s Museum

The Seattle Children’s Museum
The phrase, “Don’t touch!” is never uttered at the Seattle Children’s Museum. Here, kids are encouraged to touch, investigate and pretend in the many interactive child-sized exhibits allowing kids to explore world cultures in the museum’s “Neighborhood,” across the globe and through time. Studio spaces encourage children to experience art, technology, and the humanities through hands-on activities. The museum is open year-round and open seven days a week during the summer.

Pacific Science Center
As they say, curiosity happens at the Pacific Science Center and lucky for us, they have just reopened! This is the home of unique experiences including live science shows, laser shows, IMAX movies, Water Works, the Tropical Butterfly House, the Tinker Tank Makerspace, and the Planetarium. Ongoing exhibits include Dinosaurs: A Journey through Time, Adventures with Sound, Salt Water Tide Pool, Water’s Extreme Journey, Agents of Discovery, Science of a Sphere, and the special “Just for Tots” area.

LAIKA/Museum of Pop Culture

MoPOP, aka the Museum of Pop Culture, offers a fantastic world for families to explore exhibits about the history of Seattle’s music scene, video games, science fiction as presented in movies and TV, fantasy characters, and more. It’s a place that will appeal to parents as well as the kids. One of the most popular, hands-on exhibits is the Sound Lab featuring multimedia installations allowing you to try out electric guitars, drums, samplers, mixing consoles, and more. For real. The “big” exhibit geared for families is “Hidden Worlds: The Films of LAIKA” which explores the Oregon-based stop-motion animation studios’ films: Coraline, The Boxtrolls, Missing Link, Kubo and the Two Strings, ParaNorman and Wildwood. Here you’ll find immersive set designs, character details, and sneak peeks. Other exhibits that will appeal to families include: “Indie Games Revolution”, “Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic” and “Science Fiction + Fantasy Hall of Fame”.

Seattle Children’s Theatre
This one takes a little planning ahead of time. The Seattle Children’s Theatre offers a variety of theater performances for kids of all ages throughout the year. These performances are so good, parents will enjoy them just as much. Seriously. They are that good. Upcoming shows starting up in the fall include Dog Man: The Musical (Sept. 21-Oct. 22, 2023), Goodnight Moon (Oct. 12-Nov. 5 2023), A Very Electric Christmas (Nov. 16-Dec. 31, 2023), Luchadora! (Feb. 22-Mar. 10, 2024) and A Tale of Peter Rabbit (Apr. 25-May 12, 2024).

Splurge-Worthy Activities at Seattle Center

The following attractions at the park are a little pricier than some of us are used to spending on a typical outing. However, if you can swing it, they are certainly worth the cost of admission.

Space Needle

The Space Needle
On its 61st anniversary, the Space Needle is looking better than ever. If you haven’t been there in a while, you will be surprised by the recent changes on top. Sure, the views have always been spectacular, but now they are even more so with tilting glass benches leaning out over the city and the world’s first and only revolving glass floor. The outdoor deck used to feature unsightly fencing (for safety) which has been replaced with more glass windows—providing unobstructed views of the city. The Atmos Café features an espresso bar, beer and wine, and local treats from artisans including Pinkabella Cupcakes and Whidbey Island Ice Cream. Down below, don’t leave without visiting the incredible Space Base gift shop.

Kate Loweth

The Chihuly Garden and Glass
Kids of all ages will be thrilled with the colors that emanate from the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Providing a look at the inspiration and influences of Seattle artist Dale Chihuly, the exhibition includes eight galleries—the centerpiece glasshouse and a lush garden featuring a harmony of real and glass flowers and plants. If you have little ones that have a hard time not touching, this may be better to skip until they’re older.

Where to Eat at the Seattle Center

The Armory Food & Event Hall (aka, the “center of the Center”) offers a variety of eating establishments for all price ranges. Here you’ll find such eateries as Blue Water Taco, Cool Guys Fry Bar, Kabab, Matt’s Fish Basket, Mod Pizza, Premier Meat Pies, Skillet: Counter, Subway, Wing Dome, Wok, and Starbucks (of course!). You’ll also find Seattle Fudge and Ceres Roasting Company (roasted nuts). Many musical shows are presented here as well for extra enjoyment. You might want to check out the Seattle Kraken Team Store located on the second level too.

Amenities Available at Seattle Center

In addition to all of the sights and experiences offered at the Seattle Center, the park also features a number of amenities for families of all sorts.

Kate Loweth

Parking: The 5th Ave. N. Parking Garage and the Mercer Parking Garage can be found near the center. Both offer accessible parking spaces. Other parking lots available include the Theatre Commons ADA Parking Lot (between Seattle Repertory Theater and Cornish Playhouse) and the School District Parking Lot (5th Ave. N.).

Restrooms: Available restrooms also include family restrooms, baby changing stations, and even a nursing/lactation room for young moms. Water fountains and water bottle filling stations can be found near the public restrooms as well.

Outdoor Seating and Tables: Picnicking is easy here. Tables are located east of the Armory in Center Park, the Fisher Pavilion Roof, and the Dingwall Courtyard. The grassy field around the International Fountain is a favorite of many.

ADA Assistance and Wheel Chairs: If your family will require special services and auxiliary aids when visiting Seattle Center, you are encouraged to contact the Seattle Center Customer Service 10 business days in advance at 206-684-7200 to allow for your personal assistance to be arranged.

Free Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is available in the Armory and several “hot spots” around the grounds.

Free Charging Stations: The Center also offers free device charging on the second floor of the Armory and the Seattle Grind coffee shop.

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