Washington State is a wonderful state for family vacations and it’s filled with things to do with kids. The Evergreen State has lots going on any time of year, from water parks and amazing nature opportunities in the summer, hiking and outdoor fun all year round, and snowy adventures in the winter.
Both of our Travel with Monsters families live in Washington State and we’re pretty fond of it here. Here are some of our favorite things to do.
Things to do in Washington State with Kids
Above all, and no matter where you’re hanging out in Washington State, you should get outside. The Evergreen State is filled with amazing national parks like the Olympic National Park, state parks, and city and county parks alike. You’ll find sweeping coastlines, lush rain forests, dry deserts, and lots and lots of evergreen expanses to wander.
Visit Seattle Center
Seattle Center is Seattle’s touristy hub, but it’s also a really fun spot to go with kids. Within its bounds, you’ll find the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, Seattle Children’s Museum, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and the International Fountain (great to play in if you bring bathing suits on a hot summer day)…all things your kids will love. And, be warned, if you take on too much at Seattle Center, you’ll leave with a lot less money than you arrived with as each attraction tends to cost in the range of $25 per person. If you have younger kids, aim for the children’s museum. If you have older kids, the Pacific Science Center is sure to be a hit. And there’s plenty to explore for free on the grounds as well!
Beyond Seattle Center, Seattle has lots of things to do with kids. The Seattle Aquarium and Great Wheel are both located close to each other on the waterfront. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is nearby as well and provides an interesting novelty shop to explore (and there are real mummies there to look at too). You can catch the water taxi to West Seattle or Bainbridge Island ferry if you want to take the kids out on the water (riding ferries is generally a hit with kids), or even enjoy a day trip to Bainbridge Island while you’re at it. The Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus is the best natural history museum around, and a hit with little dinosaur fans. The Fremont neighborhood can be a quirky hit. And if the weather turns rainy, never fear! There are still things to do when it rains too.
Explore Tacoma and Olympia
Seattle gets a lot of visitor traffic, but don’t miss out on two more approachable towns to the South. Tacoma is just 40 minutes south of Seattle and has a children’s museum, amazing car museum, state history museum, and art museum all within a few blocks of each other. Olympia is known for its fabulous Hands On Children’s Museum, which is a hit with kids of all ages, as well as for being the state capital. Take a tour of the Capitol or stop by the city’s really great farmers market.
Check out Some Children’s Museums
There are children’s museums throughout the state worth checking out if you’re traveling with younger children. If you’re in any kind of city, count on there being a children’s museum to check out. In Seattle, the Seattle Children’s Museum. In Spokane, don’t miss the Mobius Children’s Museum. In Tacoma, there’s the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. In Olympia is the excellent Hands On Children’s Museum. On Bainbridge Island, you’ll find the Discovery Kids Museum, which is one of our favorites.
Hike Through Mt. Rainier National Park
Mt. Rainier is close to Seattle and Tacoma, taking just an hour or two to get to the main gate. For a modest entry fee, you can explore river beds, hike through old growth forests, spot some pretty cool waterfalls, and do it all in the shadow of the towering mountain. Bonus – there are photo ops galore! Just make sure to go on a sunny day or even right at the base of the mountain, you might not be able to see it.
Adventure in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and is a veritable paradise for families who love being out in nature. Temperate rainforests? Check! Picturesque beaches that will take your breath away? Check! Lots of family-friendly trails and wilderness to explore? Check and check! Read our guide to the ONP for more.
Go to the Beach
The Washington Coast is one of those unsung destinations. It’s rarely overcrowded, and long stretches of sandy beach mean lots of space for young travelers to run free, build sandcastles, fly kites (the kite flying on Washington beaches is pretty spectacular), and splash in the freezing cold water (you won’t want to join them most likely, but they’ll have fun). Choose from beach towns with shops and restaurants like Long Beach and Ocean Shores, seaside developments like Seabrook, or go wilder with one of the Olympic National Park beaches. The Pacific Ocean is pretty cold, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find lots to do. Build sandcastles, walk, explore tide pools, or try your hand at clamming.
See Riverfront Park in Spokane
Riverfront Park in Spokane is so much more than a park. Like Seattle Center, it was once the site of a World’s Fair and it’s just as attraction filled as Seattle Center…just without a Space Needle. Ride a classic carousel, ride the SkyRide (a thrilling 15-minute gondola ride that takes you right over the rushing Spokane Falls), or just explore the park. Don’t miss the Garbage Goat – a goat sculpture that literally sucks your garbage into its mouth. Throwing garbage away has never been so fun (and let’s face it, it never will be again!)
Explore One of Many State Parks
Washington is dotted by state parks, large and small. Visit a park for a day or stay overnight in a cabin, yurt, or campground. Many state parks are located along shorelines so you can use them to go fishing, kayaking, or otherwise get out on the water, or you can just enjoy splashing in the surf or try skimboarding (popular at Western Washington’s Dash Point State Park). Just about all the state parks are awesome places to go hiking, and a few let you learn some history along the way, like Cape Disappointment where you can see former military buildings, historic lighthouses, as well as really amazing views of the water from towering cliffs.
Don’t Forget All the Other Museums
If your kids are past the toddler stage, then other museums might be perfect. If you have a little dinosaur fan in the house, the Burke Museum in Seattle has plenty of dino bones. The Washington State History Museum in Tacoma is especially geared toward younger visitors and has lots of hands-on exhibits and activities. Even museums that you might not think about as kid-friendly destinations like Seattle or Tacoma’s art museums have kid activities and often crafts or hands-on fun.
Be Awed by Columbia River Gorge
Few places anywhere can rival the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. Located along the Columbia River in Southwest Washington, the Gorge is home to tons of hiking trails, waterfalls that you can sometimes pull right off the freeway and view (like Multnomah Falls), and cute towns like Hood River where you can enjoy local cuisine with a waterview.
Splash Around at Great Wolf Lodge
Located between Olympia and the Oregon border, Great Wolf Lodge is the place all kids want to go – an indoor waterpark filled with not only watery fun, but also pretty much everything that’s designed to make your kids love this place. A quest game that they can play when they’re not in the water, “cabins” within the hotel rooms where kids can sleep, story times, character appearances. There is plenty of pizza, hot dogs, and other kid-friendly cuisine to go around as well. But there’s also a spa and a Starbucks…
Play at Wild Waves
Located between Seattle and Tacoma, Wild Waves is a water park (with a small attached theme park) that is a great place to go on the one hot week we get here in Western Washington (though, your kids probably won’t care if it’s not perfectly water park hot. They’ll just see the water slides and wave pool and that’s all that matters).
Get Wild with Some Animal Experiences
Washington State has a few zoos as well as wildlife parks. In Western Washington, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo or Seattle Aquarium are always worth visits. To the south of Seattle, Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium has both a zoo and aquarium experience wrapped into one. Northwest Trek in Eatonville offers a way to see Northwest animals in more wild habitats. In Spokane, Cat Tales Zoological Park has a focus on big cats. You’ll also find more specialized animal experiences like Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah or Wolf Haven in Tenino.
Go Skiing or Sledding
Washington State doesn’t get nearly as much buzz as, say, Utah or Colorado for its snowy fun, but with two mountain ranges running through the state, it goes without saying that there is much fun to be had in the winter. Ski resorts dot the state, but if you’ve got kids, two spots worth checking out include the Summit at Snoqualmie’s tubing hill and White Pass, which is quieter but popular with families.
Get into the Spirit with Christmas Lights Displays and Holiday Happenings
If you’re in the area for late November, December, and even very early January, you can find Christmas lights displays at local zoos, parks, and other places. These are always a hit with kids, and pretty enjoyable for grown ups too!