Fremont bills itself as the Center of the Universe, which is just the type of blatant self confidence that attracts people to this quirky Seattle neighborhood. Although the numerous bars aren’t much fun for kids, Fremont has plenty of other, more family-friendly attractions. Promise the kids a troll living under a bridge, a chocolate factory, and a rocket, and you may not even have to bribe them with doughnuts to get them on board for this adventure. You can make it through this itinerary in half a day, allowing you to get back to the hotel in time for naps.
Start out by parking on N 36th Street, near the Fremont Troll. He resides under the Aurora Bridge, with an official address of 800 Troll Avenue North. The Troll was the reason my six-year-old demanded we go to Fremont (rather than spending our day in Seattle at a Space Needle that does not in fact reach space, as he pointed out) and it did not disappoint. Is the Troll strange? Yes. Mildly disturbing? Oh, yes. Is there a homeless encampment behind him? Yup, but that’s true of almost everywhere in Seattle these days. The point is that the kids spent an hour climbing up and down his slippery concrete arms and pretending to pick his nose.
When you’re able to tear them away, walk down the hill to the Statue of Lenin with his hand dripping a violent red. This is also totally Seattle-strange, made even more bizarre by the story behind how he got here. Essentially this piece by a famous sculptor was found toppled in the former Czechoslovakia after the 1989 revolution by an American, who saved it from a scrapyard. There’s a whole commentary on art and politics that you can get in to with your kids here; if they’re young enough, they’ll just peer curiously at the red hand and you can move on.
If the kids are complaining by now, never fear! The next stop is Theo Chocolate Factory. They have a one-hour tour, but kids under age five are banned (gee, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want toddlers in your functioning chocolate factory…). They host other fun events, such as Chocolate Storytime, so it’s worth checking out their website beforehand. But the gift shop welcomes all ages, and that was plenty of entertainment for us. They have chocolate samples, adorable t-shirts, a $28 chocolate dinosaur that I refused to buy my six-year-old (reinforcing that I am the Worst Mom Ever) and an amazing array of treats not easily found in other stores.
After spending more money than you intended, head down the block to the giant topiary dinosaurs at the intersection of Phinney Avenue N and N 34th Street. Shrubs shaped like dinosaurs are exactly the type of sightseeing my little boys love, so thank you, Fremont. The topiaries depict a mama and baby described as “probably” apatosaurus (if your precocious five-year-old disagrees, don’t blame me!). They were initially part of a promotion for a dinosaur exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, and afterwards were purchased by Fremont community activists for one dollar (not including the time, expense, and effort involved in moving dinosaurs made of ivy).
By this time you will be starving. If you had the foresight to pack a lunch, you can eat it at the waterfront Fremont Canal Park, which is a block down from the dinosaurs and adjacent to the Burke Gilman Trail and the Ship Canal. If not, head back up to the main drag (36th Street), where there are several choices. We ate at Nuna Ramen at 501 N 36th Street, where the ramen was delicious. They even had a kids menu. Of course, they also had cute Japanese kitties printed on a curtain by the bathroom, and my three-year-old decided he needed to pretend to take those kittens home in his pocket, and then I had to pretend for the next 30 minutes to feed the pretend kittens, put them in my pocket, pet them and generally care about their welfare. So I’m not sure it was worth it.
Fremont has lots of fun shops featuring local artists, like Sfingiday at 513 N 36th Street, which features an eclectic array of handbags, mugs, adorable onesies, and jewelry. If your kids are acting well behaved enough now that they’ve been fed, you might risk running in to a couple of places.
If you have have a spare child you’re ready to sacrifice to the traffic gods, you could also try to see the famous Fremont Center of the Universe guidepost. It was built in 1991, and in 1994, they convinced the Metropolitan King County Council to declare that Fremont actually is the center of the universe. The proclamation begins, “Whereas Fremont is a State of Mind, not a foreign nation but an ImagiNation…” The colorful guidepost is inconveniently located on a traffic island in the middle of the intersection of N Fremont Avenue and 35th Street N. So, no, I did NOT take a picture of my kids there. As I tell MonsterDad all the time, I’ve got a lot invested in those little monsters; I’m not about to lose them to a Seattle driver on a Saturday morning.
On the other hand, it’s perfectly safe to visit the giant rocket! Peek down Evanston Avenue to the corner of N 34th Street, where there’s a 53-foot rocket, another testament to the eccentric types that have populated Fremont over the years. In 1991, it was announced on the news that this 1950s era Cold War rocket fuselage was being dismantled from a display at an Army Surplus in Belltown…so of course the Fremont Business Association ran down and acquired it. The rocket bears the Fremont crest and motto – De Libertas Quirkas – Freedom to be Peculiar.
Now that you are feeling fully engrossed in the peculiarity of Seattle, it’s time to head back up the hill to your location under the Aurora Bridge. The kids will demand to run up and down the Troll a few more times, then you can stuff them back in the car, knowing you’ve done your part for the Seattle economy and the cultural education of your kids (if Seattle eccentricity counts as culture…which I totally think it does).