High atop the Space Needle on a Saturday morning in September, the wind whipped and the rain cut diagonal slashes against our coats as my eight-year-old son and I surveyed the city 600 feet below. Shivering, yet happy with anticipation, we wondered: what would be our next stop?
Should we take the futuristic Monorail downtown and then walk down to Pike Place Market for hot, freshly made cinnamon-sugar doughnuts?
Armed with a booklet of CityPass admission tickets, should we head out to Pier 55 for an hour-long city cruise? Have an immersive experience at one of the country’s best aquariums?
Or spend the day exploring Seattle Center just below our feet, with its world-class science museum and colorful Experience Music Project interactive pop culture museum?
There’s time to do it all in a three-day visit, as we happily learned — and plenty left over to beckon us to come back.
Before I visited Seattle, I assumed it was a place for coffee-lovers and rock historians with little to offer visiting families. Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain put it on the pop music map, but the city now has a thriving independent rock music scene, and an electronic dance music festival was in full swing during our visit. Lovers of Indian music may want to take in a concert at the Seattle Indian Music Academy in nearby Renton.
We found that the city is a dynamic place for kids, and despite the fact that its suburbs attract thousands of Indian American high-tech workers – the latest U.S. Census estimates a population of more than 61,000 — it still seems to be an undiscovered vacation destination for Indian American families. With roundtrip airfares dipping as low as $178 from several West Coast cities, it’s surprisingly affordable.
Here are just a few ideas for a family trip to Seattle. I’m sure you’ll get recommendations for many more.
• Pike Place Market: Ranging over nine acres on the waterfront of Puget Sound, this must-see Seattle destination includes one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country plus a seemingly unlimited lineup of international restaurants; gift shops; fresh produce, flowers and fish stands; and myriad coffee spots including the original location of you-know-what.
• Seattle Center: Home to the EMP and its mammoth, 70-foot HD LED screen (which featured an interactive Dance Central 3 Kinect game during our visit); the Pacific Science Center with its two IMAX theaters; and the Children’s Museum, Seattle, this 74-acre complex offers nourishment for the mind and stomach. Be sure to stop in at its huge food court, the Armory, specializing in local, fresh food from Northwest chefs at surprisingly tame prices.
• Museum of Flight: A collection of more than 150 historic aircraft including a retired British Airways Concorde jetliner, one of just three in the U.S.
• Seattle Aquarium: This family favorite features a stunning 40-foot window into a 120,000 gallon aquarium filled with native Washington species such as salmon, colorful rockfish; plus an underwater dome and interactive exhibits.
• Woodland Park Zoo: Ranked as one of the top zoos in the country for its conscious animal practices and realistic natural environments.
• Cruising: Argosy offers an hour-long skyline cruise included in the CityPass booklet, but many visitors set aside time for a ferry trip to Bainbridge Island or the more ambitious ferry to Victoria, B.C. (bring your passport just in case).
What to Eat
Seattle is known for a well-established artisanal food movement rivaling San Francisco’s, with highly specialized and creative offerings such as world-famous coffees, gourmet biscuits, exotic donuts and handcrafted, locally sourced pizzas. Kid-friendly food trucks are big here, too.
There is a seemingly limitless array of ethnic cuisines here. Even though some Indian Americans I polled insist that the San Francisco Bay Area still beats Seattle for regional Indian food, the city holds its own at a few choice eateries such as Shanik, cofounded by Meeru Dhalwala of the popular Vij’s chain in Vancouver, B.C. Shanik offers spice-encrusted Lamb Popsicles with split pea and spinach mash and coconut curry or a Jain-friendly and vegan Cauliflower, Kale and Jackfruit curry.
Expect to find a good range of regional Indian cuisines around Seattle, Dhalwala told India-West, not just the familiar North Indian eateries. “Because of Amazon and Microsoft, it’s not just Punjabi immigrants. Here, you see people from Bangalore and Tamil Nadu too.”
Pizza is a big draw in Seattle, and for good reason. At BOKA restaurant, located on the ground floor of the Hotel 1000, their kids’ menu includes a “make your own pizza” dish complete with a stylish apron and a paper chef’s hat that your kids can decorate with crayons. Grownups will savor dishes such as BOKA’s Alaskan king salmon with cannellini beans, braised pork belly, chanterelles and crispy Brussels sprout chips; be sure to save room for their S’More Push Pop, a small, handheld ice cream, dark chocolate and house-made graham cracker dessert with hot toasted meringue on top.
I also loved the artisanal $6 “half pizzas” during happy hour at Serious Pie, on Westlake, with toppings such as roasted golden chanterelle mushrooms and truffle cheese or sweet fennel sausage, roasted peppers and provolone.
Pike Place Market offers a mind-boggling array of choices; we were glad we made the time to line up for its award-winning Pike Place Chowder, where you can get a sampler of any four flavors (the seared scallops in a creamy broth with dill and lime juice is a favorite).
Another spot we discovered that is popular with kids is Deli No More, a cheap and cheerful downtown cafe on Fifth Avenue that invites patrons to write on its walls with provided Sharpies.
Trendy doughnut spots are easy to find as well — the small, bite-sized treats at Daily Dozen are served hot; while the Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts chain serves local Stumptown coffee alongside flavors such as Spiced Chai Cake, Raspberry Glazed and Pumpkin Old Fashioned. On a rainy afternoon, you can smell them a block away.
Where to Stay
Seattle has a seemingly unlimited array of choice of accommodations at all price levels, but two hotels in particular believe in treating kids like royalty.
• Hotel 1000: This hip, luxury boutique hotel located downtown at 1000 First Ave. is praised for its high-tech amenities such as The Golf Club, a unique, state-of-the-art virtual golf simulator; 42” high-def TV screens in all rooms that stream ambient nature images; and easy-to-use, free wi-fi.
The hotel uses VoIP for its phone system, which means that guests are able to call anywhere in the world at no charge — yes, including calls to India.
What you’ll like: Full-size, fragrant Molton Brown of London shampoo, soaps and lotions; high-thread-count Thai cotton sheets; fluffy bathrobes; a Keurig one-cup coffee maker and tea kettle; and a huge bathtub that fills with a powerful stream from the ceiling. Guests are offered complimentary sparkling wine upon check-in, while kids get cookies and milk.
The hotel has a well-appointed exercise room and an onsite spa called Spaahh, offering facials, massages, a full menu of nail services and more.
What your kids will like: Besides the make-your-own-pizza treat at BOKA downstairs, Hotel 1000 has a dedicated gaming room outfitted with a 10x10 foot video screen and Xbox and Wii games to choose from (Wipeout, Kinect: Dance Central, Need for Speed: Prostreet and others), for a small charge.
There is also a large Microsoft Surface table-top tablet in the Studio 1000 lounge, an inviting spot with a large, circular fireplace; while Madison, the bright yellow, squeaky Hotel 1000 rubber duckie, will make bathtime fun.
• Hotel Vintage Park: A part of the award-winning Kimpton Group chain of hotels, the Hotel Vintage Park at 1100 Fifth Avenue is one of three Kimpton properties in Seattle. This cozy European-style hotel has a wine-lover’s theme, with rooms named after Washington-state wineries and a daily hosted wine happy hour for guests before the fireplace in its Old World-style lobby. Its KimptonKids program has won accolades from Parents magazine for its focus on services and amenities for babies and children, with available items on loan that include childproofing outlet covers, toilet latches and night lights with sensors.
What you’ll like: Plush animal-print cotton bathrobes; stately European décor throughout in rich autumn shades of red and gold; yoga amenities in every room such as a mat and free yoga videos on TV; Gilchrist & Soames soaps; available in-room spa services; and Café Vita coffee and a coffee maker on request. Members of the hotel chain’s free InTouch program can log on to free wi-fi as well. Tulio restaurant on the ground floor is a bustling Italian trattoria serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What kids will like: The KimptonKids “Wild Child” pint-sized leopard print bathrobes; a lending library stocked with picture books; a milk & cookies welcome; organic Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies to snack on; and a pet goldfish on loan (upon request) to keep you company. Ours was a spry fellow named Chardonnay.
Savvy travelers on a budget can find plenty to do without spending a lot of money. I highly recommend getting the Seattle CityPass ($74 adults/$49 age 12 and under), a book of coupons that offers deep discounts on six destinations: the Pacific Science Center (admission to an IMAX film is included); two visits to the Space Needle within 24 hours to experience the iconic landmark during the day and night; the Seattle Aquarium; EMP Museum; Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour; and your choice of the Woodland Park Zoo or the Museum of Flight.
For more ideas, see visitseattle.org.