Artifacts, play, experiments, see top places where kids can have fun and learn
Looking for something to do with your kids? Why not check out one of Washington state’s many children’s museums?
The Evergreen State has several wonderful museums geared for children, filled with imaginative exhibits and play space for kids to burn some energy, make new friends, roam around and let their imaginations run free.
Here are 10 great museums in the state that cater to kids, from infants to their early teen years.
Seattle Children’s Museum
The Seattle Children’s Museum, located in Seattle Center’s Armory Building, has more than 14,000 square feet of play and exhibition space, catering to infants up to the age of 10 (but older kids might like it, too). Head to “Twists and Turns” to test how different cars will travel along different tracks; or experiment with guiding different weighted objects through a maze of tunnels in “Airways.”
Plus, go camping in the mountains and uncover hidden model frogs and salamanders under rocks, the same critters you may see backpacking or camping on Mount Rainier and around the Pacific Northwest. Shop for fruit and veggies at the local market, produce your own play at a theater or pack your mail carrier to deliver packages door-to-door. You can also cozy up for some quiet time in a redesigned “Raindrop Reading Room.” Hear Coast Salish stories in a “Tribal Tales” space with puppet shows and more.
Cost: Children (under 1), free; children (age 1-17) and adults, $13; seniors: $11 (over 65)
Location: 305 Harrison St., Seattle
Open: Wednesday-Monday with increasing hours seasonally to seven days per week in the summer months
Tip: Most of Washington’s children’s museums participate in the Museums for All program, which offers significantly reduced admission prices for families receiving food assistance and other benefits.
Children’s Museum of Tacoma
The Children’s Museum of Tacoma has numerous activities and spaces designed for children from birth to 12. Children are welcome to roam around and let their imaginations run free. Your little one can go off and quietly paint in the art studio, take a stroll through “woods,” or burn some energy on “the Climber,” with a network of port holes and a cargo net loft.
Also popular is the “water” playscape. Play with toy boats and inventions in a water area, such as a vortex and an Archimedes Screw where you crank a lever and water rushes through a pipe, splashing out. You can watch balls and toys spiral down a cylinder through a vortex. “Airways” is another hit: An air tunnel shoots colorful scarves through pipes back into the room. (Try to catch one before it falls!)
Admission: pay as you will (donations only museum)
Location: 1501 Pacific Avenue, Suite 202, Tacoma
Open: Thursday-Sunday for non-members; Monday and Saturday for members only.
Note: Greentrike, the nonprofit operator of the museum, has opened a second Children’s Museum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), which is believed to be the first ever children’s museum on a military installation. This museum is available to those with a valid base access pass.
KidsQuest Children’s Museum, Bellevue
KidsQuest Children’s Museum is another place to delight toddlers and kids up to age 10, with more than 25 exhibits indoors and outdoors. Climb up ropes and through mesh tubes into a cloud basket 2 ½ stories in the air. Or get behind the wheel of a semi-truck and talk on a CB radio; load boxes on a conveyor belt, and watch them be carried across the room. There’s also a mini-city train and boat area to play around. Outdoors, you can stack sticks and stones, or build a wall with big blue blocks.
Upstairs, there is a dedicated “Tot Orchard” for the youngest kids with slides and tunnels to play on; or you can climb a circular staircase to the “Story Tree” where you can dress up, find puppets and story books.
Admission: infants (under 1), free; children and adults, $14 when you buy tickets online OR $16 when you buy tickets in-person
Tip: Online reservations are required to visit.
Location: 1116 108th Ave. NE, Bellevue
Open: Schedule varies (check website)
Imagine Children’s Museum, Everett
Imagine Children’s Museum, located in downtown Everett, opened a major expansion in October 2022 that doubled its size to 66,000 square feet, making it one of the largest children’s museums in the region. (Plus, the gift shop is now one of the biggest toy stores for children up to the age of 12 in Everett.)
The museum has three stories of exhibits geared to infants over 1 to children age 12, but really the entire family can spend hours here. Upstairs, walk through the giant ribs of a real Gray whale skeleton or see a life-sized model of a whale calf. Peer at specimens through a microscope, create art in a spacious studio, or spend some time in a “tinker shop,” a supervised place to work with real tools.
Plus, climb a tree house, or stop by a food truck. Get behind the wheel of a bus or the controls of a big-bellied airplane. Create neon signs on a wall with glow sticks. Visit the farm, climb on a red Farmall tractor or pretend to milk a cow. On the rooftop, check out the bony dinosaur display and its cave, and take a turn on the slide.
Admission: infants, 12 months and under, free; children and adults, $22.
Location: 1502 Wall St., Everett
Children’s Museum of Skagit County, Burlington
The Children’s Museum of Skagit County, now located in The Outlet Shops of Burlington, offers several interactive exhibits for infants up to the ages of 10 to 12. The museum is newly expanded and remodeled. Put on a hard hat and climb into the cab of a crane or get onboard a red fishing boat. Play checkers on a giant board with huge pieces. Pretend to be the cook at a restaurant, make a sandcastle, paint a picture or play with Thomas the Train.
Admission: infants (under 12 months), free; children and adults, $8.75; military/seniors (over 65 years old), $7.75
Location: 432 Fashion Way, Burlington
Open: Open daily
Hands On Children’s Museum, Olympia
Hands On Children’s Museum, near East Bay and Olympia’s historic district, has more than 150 interactive exhibits in 10 Pacific Northwest-themed galleries and a half-acre play area outside, with fun space for infants to children age 10 (or even a little older). This museum is one of the most popular children’s museums in the region, with more than 300,000 visitors annually.
Downstairs, kids can play on a two-story cargo ship, then crawl through the hull to experience Puget Sound sea life. There are several hands-on water exhibits to play with, too. Kids can manipulate mist with their hands at the “bell mister” or by using stackable pipes. They can feed colorful balls into a vacuum tube then pull a cord and shoot them into an 8-foot water vortex at the “Ballcano,” and watch the balls spiral down.
Another hit is the “Airways Maze,” a 25-foot series of interconnected pipes running up a wall in the “Move It” gallery. Kids can adjust the path of the maze with air locks and then fire a handkerchief or yarn ball through it, trying to catch them when they pop out of the top. Infants and toddlers under 4 can safely crawl and climb around “Snug Harbor.” Outside there’s a giant boulder to climb and a lighthouse lookout with views of the Puget Sound. Kids can ride a trike on a loop, bake mud pies in the “mud kitchen”; or grab a free bag of rough and sift out fossils and gems at the Treasure Sluice.
Admissions: infants (0-17 months), free; children and adults, $16.95; seniors (over 65), $15.95; military and children of military, $14.95. (These prices reflect a $2 discount for purchasing tickets ahead online; if purchased in the lobby, the admission is $2 higher.) Reservations are not required.
Location: 414 Jefferson St. NE, Olympia
Open: Open daily
Kids Discovery Museum “KiDiMu,” Bainbridge Island
KiDiMu, near the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal, is another place for kids to let their imaginations run wild. Treat pets in the vet’s office, go to the grocery store, pass by the bank and learn how to count, and climb a treehouse. Upstairs, there is an arts studio and exhibits for older kids (roughly ages 7-8) to learn about science and technology.
Admissions: infants (under 12 months), free; children and adults, $9; grandparents and seniors, $8; military, $8
Location: 301 Ravine Lane NE, Bainbridge Island
Open: Open daily, except Wednesday
Mobius Discovery Center, Spokane
Mobius Discovery Center, located in downtown Spokane near Riverfront Park, is a great place to bring your kids. The Discovery Center is the product of a children’s museum that merged with a science center, so it has an emphasis on promoting science, skill building and play for toddlers up to their teens. Plus, moms, dads and the grandparents are encouraged to play along.
Get behind the controls of a kid-sized model digger and start excavating in a sand pit; create a big bubble wall using a screen; build dams and float boats on a water table; or make a skyscraper out of wooden blocks. Plus, explore live reptiles and other critters, such as a tarantula, a python, geckos and scorpions. There’s also an “Enchanted Forest” full of soft surfaces for toddlers to play.
Admission: infants (under 12 months), free; children and adults, $10; seniors (over 65) and military, $9.
Location: 331 North Post Street
Children’s Museum of Walla Walla
The Children’s Museum of Walla is another fun place for families. The museum is especially geared for children ages 1-7 (but kids up to the age of 10 can have a blast). Popular with the older kids is a rock-climbing wall and slide. Make cool designs on a peg board with glowing shapes, or temporarily record your shadow on a wall.
For toddlers and young kids, there’s a special room with puzzles and games. Also, put on lab coats and pretend to be a vet with a play X-ray machine and stuffed animals. Outside, there’s a fire station. Put on fire hats and coats and get behind the wheel of a full-sized fire engine. There’s also a tepee and a boat to play on.
Admissions: family membership (three months), $45; family membership (1 year), $100
Location: 77 Wain Wright Drive, Walla Walla
Palouse Discovery Science Center, Pullman
Palouse Discovery Science Center is a hybrid science and children’s museum that is a great place to bring your kids to learn and play. One popular exhibit is a pretend hospital zone sponsored by Pullman Regional Hospital where kids can dress up as doctors and nurses. Recently, the museum added a surgical table and operation game where they can learn all about bones and human organs.
Another hit with kids is a hands-on building zone, with LEGO and other materials to build cool stuff and a magnetic wall to create mazes. There’s a shopping area to pretend shop or imagine that you own your own store; and “Moneyville” where your little ones can learn about foreign currency and money. Plus, budding artists can draw, paint or doodle (and create a masterpiece) in a fully stocked arts studio.
Admissions: children, $6; adults, $7.50; seniors, $6.50
Open: Open daily
Location: 950 NE Nelson Ct., Pullman
More Washington museums to explore
While not specifically children’s museums, several other Washington state museums have fun spaces for kids and family.
Some options include:
- The Museum of Flight, Seattle. If your child loves planes, this is the place to visit. Full-sized historic aircraft, full-scale World War I and II model planes, the space shuttle, this museum is sure to delight any child with a budding interest in planes, space travel and aviation history. Plus, the museum has a children’s exhibit, where kids can strap into flight harnesses to test their piloting skills in one of two hang gliding simulators. (AAA member discount is available on admissions.)
- The SPARK Museum, Bellingham. A visit here is a fun way to introduce your child to science. The museum is filled with safe and hands-on exhibits and experiments that reveal the power of electricity.
- LeMay America’s Car Museum, Tacoma. If your child has a passion for cars, you don’t want to miss this museum. Its collection includes everything from racecars to antiques. Plus, on the third Saturday of the month, LeMay offers programs for kids of various ages who want to design, build or tinker with cars. (AAA member discount is available on admissions.)
- Yakima Valley Museum, Yakima. This museum has a large and eclectic mix of objects, plus interactive exhibits, like a live beehive and an augmented reality sandbox. A visit here is sure to keep a child engaged.
- Museum of Glass, Tacoma. Through Sept. 23, 2023, Museum of Glass is putting on a special show, “Illuminate: Glass Art for Early Learners,” geared for toddlers and young children, where they can create their own designs with a LiteBrite, make art from their own shadow and discover what makes glass glow in the dark.
And you don’t have to stop with these. Washington has a lot of museums that a child might love. Don’t be shy about bringing your kid along for a few hours to see fossils or pop culture, or whatever you think they might like to see. You may be surprised what life-long interests a visit to a museum might inspire.
Editor’s note: What’s on your list of best children’s museums in Washington state? Share your favorites with email@example.com.
—Written by AAA Washington staff
—Top Photo: Children’s Museum of Tacoma
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