Parents’ Travel Guide: What to Do in Seattle With Kids
From Pike Place Market to the Space Needle to Mount Rainier, the whole family will love exploring this Pacific Northwest city.
Seattle is the picture of cool. It rains here—a lot—and that’s how they like it. It’s lush and green outside, edgy and gritty inside. The city’s many cafés will make you want to curl up with a good magazine and steaming cup of joe, a comic and hot cocoa for the kids. The capital of coffee (Starbucks), tech (Microsoft) and grunge (Nirvana and Pearl Jam), the Emerald City is the hub of the Pacific Northwest.
Located in northwestern Washington State—in the shadow of Mount Rainier on an isthmus between Puget Sound and the Pacific, not too far from the Canadian border—Seattle is a place known for its apples, salmon and outstanding wines (second in production only to California), particularly its Bordeaux-style Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
Downtown by the waterfront, you’ll find Four Seasons Hotel Seattle, a modern and minimalist hotel with tasteful art touches, spacious rooms and sweeping vistas. You’ll love the buzzing urban feel, including views of the puffing steam works stacks. Around the corner is the famed Pike Place Market and eclectic shopping; just across the street, the downtown Seattle Art Museum.
- Urban appeal. Seattle is an edgy, coastal seaport city with attitude, nestled between the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, evergreen forests and the ocean.
- The coffee. Some of the country’s best—you’ll find 340 java shops just in downtown.
- The music. Get a good dose of jazz, rock, grunge and a lively indie scene.
- The seafood. Dungeness crab, Alaskan king crab, halibut, salmon—it doesn’t get much fresher than this. The Seattle gastro scene is also going off: look for authentic Mexican and top-notch Asian fare (ask the Concierge for the best spots near the Hotel).
- The local colour and bustle at Pike Place Market. You can spend hours here watching and milling around as you indulge in luscious local produce, foraged fungi and artisan eats. In the fall, pick up some heirloom Washington apples.
- The Space Needle. When your kids are in Seattle, chances are they’ll be clamoring to go to the top of the Space Needle. It’s remarkable how well this icon from the 1962 World’s Fair has stood the test of time, and still manages to look futuristic.
What the kids will love
- A behind-the-scenes kitchen tour (ask the Concierge). ART Restaurant’s Chef Jelle Vandenbroucke might explain how he makes the tasty Space Needle Pasta with Beecher’s cheddar cheese sauce.
- Chef Cookie (aka Pastry Chef Tara Sedor) might let them try their hand at making cotton candy, show them how she assembles all the Hotel’s kids’ treats or describe the house-made ice cream that comes in a variety of whimsical flavours.
- The outdoorsy lifestyle. Go cycling (there are nice paths on the waterfront near the Hotel), sailing, hiking, kayaking, swimming or enjoy the nearby skiing and snowboarding.
- The pool. You won’t be able to get your kids out! But, seated by the outdoor fire pit with the infinity edge seemingly spilling into Elliott Bay, what’s the hurry? In the summer, the Hotel barbecues on the pool deck, and sets up an al fresco bar and cabañas. (Ask for pool noodles at the front desk.)
- Chihuly Garden and Glass. Pure magic and whimsy. This museum—housing the most comprehensive collection of Dale Chihuly’s work ever assembled—is a real spectacle: like the artist’s imagination gone wild, then recreated in real life. It features a sweeping gallery, including a glass forest and boat filled with giant ikebana flowers; a 40-foot-tall atrium (Glasshouse); and outdoor garden with sculptures and landscapes in vibrant hues and graceful forms. Look for cherubs hidden in the ceiling. If the kids are still up, it’s stunning at night when everything is illuminated.
- For girls: a pedicure with mom at the Spa at Four Seasons. The Spa also has manicures and facials for teens. The staff will help first-time spa visitors relax right into the ritual with an aromatic, vanilla foot bubble bath, followed by a lotion massage for the feet and a “Twinkle Toes” pedicure.
- For boys: the Lego store in Alderwood, north of the city.
- Riding the retro-looking Seattle Center Monorail.
- Green culture. Eco-minded kids will be impressed to see electric car hook-ups all around town.
What you will love
- The views. Take in vistas of Elliott Bay, Puget Sound and the downtown cityscape at night.
- A scenic ferry trip across Puget Sound. Hear the seagulls calling and enjoy the salty air.
- The Outdoor Pool. The Hotel boasts the city’s only outdoor infinity-edge pool, not to mention the Zen rooftop terrace.
- The beach. A water taxi ride from downtown takes you to West Seattle and Alki Beach, where views of the city are amazing. Get a steaming bowl at Duke’s Chowder House and sit on the outdoor deck, or bring a picnic basket filled with seasonal goodies.
- The art. The Hotel doubles as a gallery, exhibiting the Northwest masters (art groups even visit to tour the collection). Modern and stylish, the entire Hotel mirrors its Northwest environs. The lobby hall—designed by BraytonHughes Design Studios—was created to evoke a river bed, using materials such as volcanic basalt from Mount St. Helens and American chestnut from Vashon Island. Directly across the street is the Seattle Art Museum. Also in town: performing arts, theatre, philharmonic, opera, Native American art, galleries at Pioneer Square.
- Boutique shopping in the Ballard neighbourhood or in high-end Bellevue.
- Hobnobbing with the who’s who of Seattle. The Hotel, built new in 2008 for USD 200 million, has just 21 storeys and 147 rooms. Floors 11 to 27 are 36 luxury residences.
- Exploring Woodinville Wine Country. Take the kids (many places are family-friendly) or book a sitter and sign up for an exclusive couple’s session with a winemaker.
The Hotel fish toss. Just like at Pike Place Market, but it’s a cute stuffed version rather than the cold, clammy one. The front desk staff chucks a toy salmon to each kid to test their skill level.
(For the parents) While in the Pacific Northwest, don’t miss the chance to sample some of the best fresh seafood around. The Hotel’s toney ART Restaurant specializes in urban Northwest cuisine with a farm-to-table focus, drawing from the seasonal bounty of nearby Pike Place Market and luring locals. Named for the extensive collection that adorns the Hotel’s interior, the place feels tranquil with tasteful defining accents such as a polished 300-year-old cedar tree trunk, a vase of lichen dotted branches and polished river stones. Locals and guests rub elbows here—especially at the bar and its communal table. Next to the 16-foot glass wine wall is a basalt stone dispenser for by-the-glass wines from Piccola Cellars and ciders.
Executive Chef Kerry Sear and Restaurant Chef Jelle Vandenbroucke handle fish adeptly, letting the delicate flavour come through while enhancing it with a one-two punch of subtle and bold. Start with the incredibly fresh, briney Juan de Fuca oysters on ice, dunked in house vinegars (orange-fennel or lemongrass-mint), and complement them with a Washington DiStefano Sauvignon Blanc. Follow with a clean, refreshing Dungeness Crab & Cucumber Roll—a crispy cylinder of sweet crab in an orange reduction on a champagne-yogurt sauce dotted with edamame.
You’ll have to squabble over what to choose next: the buttery miso cod with a citrus-chili kick, shitakes and side of baby bok choy; creamy-meets-crunchy, caramelized scallops with glazed pork shoulder with a sweet corn and poblano succotash; or the chef’s signature, succulent wild Alaskan king salmon in a spice rub with Dungeness-mashed potatoes and golden pea shoots. If you can fit in anything else, we recommend the stand-out sweet-and-sour broccolini with Dooley’s hot sauce and coconut. (Menu is seasonal.)
(For the kids) The kids will marvel as the shades on ART’s floor-to-ceiling windows are magically lifted to reveal the sun melting behind the Olympic Mountains, casting shadows over the slate-coloured water, the lights of the Ferris wheel just twinkling on. Let them toast the fancy occasion with a crushed strawberry lemonade spiked with grenadine.
They’ll delight in the small tin pails of veggies crudité, along side the PB&J sandwich. Other winners: the Double Chicken Noodle Soup, Baked Beecher’s Cheese Sandwich and Space Needle Pasta—all healthful and tasty. (Kids’ menu items can be prepared gluten-free; just ask.)
Younger children will be giddy over ART’s kids’ menu, which stars Larry, of the popular “Larry Gets Lost” series by Seattle author John Skewes. The menu doubles as an activity book showing Larry wandering around Seattle looking for his owner Pete. The kids will also receive Larry-themed cups with curly straws, plus silverware that looks like it’s made of Lego.
For breakfast at ART, we recommend the creamy kids’ steel-cut oatmeal with dried fruit and brown sugar or the fluffy silver dollar pancakes. Top it off with a cup of hot chocolate with house-made marshmallows and shaved chocolate (and elegant presentation). Grown ups, don’t miss the Eggs Benedict, the portions are just right.
And when you’re all bushed, in-room dining is a relaxing option.
(For families) Have brunch at Tilikum Place Café. This place is just two blocks from the Space Needle and monorail. Enjoy European-meets-Northwest gourmet fare for parents in a hip, leather-and-gilt brasserie ambiance. Kids will like the waffles and toast with Nutella, too. Be sure to try the soups (chicken-coconut curry), crepes, eggs and house bacon.
What’s great about bustling Steelhead Diner is the variety, so you know everyone in the family will find something tasty on the menu. Local chef/partner Kevin Davis serves up tasty seafood and fresh fish, plus salads, pasta, crab cakes, pulled pork sandwiches, and fish and chips. It’s located close to the Hotel at Pike Place Market, so you can go for lunch or dinner.
Serious Pie, as the name suggests, offers a memorable, inventive, gourmet spin on the brick oven pizza (i.e., pies topped with house ham, cippolini onions, fontina and huckleberries; or soft duck eggs and coppa with braised greens). The place is dark and cosy, but the line can get pretty long. Tip: Get take out and dine in the comfort of your spacious suite; the Hotel has a list of family DVDs you can borrow to make it a movie night. If you do go to the restaurant, start with the stand-out paté on toast with antipasti (house-cured meats, olives, pickled veggies), washed down with a luscious Brunello di Montalcino, while the kids happily gobble up the buffalo mozzarella pie.
Take away some fancy chocolates from Fran’s Chocolates, reportedly President Obama’s favourites, adjacent to the Four Seasons lobby.
5 family to-dos
1. Experience Seattle from the water. Go kayaking with outfitter Aqua Verde Paddle Club and explore Portage Bay, Lake Union, Lake Washington or paddle through the Arbortetum.
2. Rent an electric boat and cruise Lake Union, spotting yachts and sea planes. This is a great adventure and an interesting way to tour Seattle’s house boats, including the one from “When Harry Met Sally.” Order a picnic from the Hotel to bring along.
3. Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island for gorgeous views of Mount Rainier. It’s only USD 8 round-trip if you walk on, and a 35-minute ferry ride each way—you might spot orcas and Dall’s porpoise from the deck. Be sure to stop by the celebrated Mora Iced Creamery, or pick up Razzles and the like at the nostalgic candy store.
4. Go on a two-hour, narrated lake cruise or locks cruise (ask the Concierge to arrange).
5. Ride The Ducks of Seattle. Little kids will giggle at all the blaring music, silly costumes, dancing and “quackers,” as you cruise the streets learning about the city, its history, myths and legends, then plunge into Lake Union for a boat tour. The entire tour lasts about one-and-a-half hours.