13 Ideas For Your Summer Bucket List
Cassie and Myles Atkins hit the fun jackpot at Tukwila’s Family Fun Center.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Editor's note: Originally published 2016; updated June 2018.
Here we are at the launch of summer, and it feels like it could last forever. But the truth is, summer days will disappear before you know it, so it’s a great idea to create a must-do-and-see list of items your family really wants to experience before summer ends. Of course, not all of these items will appeal to everyone. So let’s acknowledge the psychological hurdles of some of these activities while providing a few words of encouragement. Here are 13 ideas to get you started.
1. Visit a family fun center
Maybe we hit a patch of drizzly weather or perhaps you need a break from the sun (yes, we’re in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s still possible). Either way, a trip to one of the area’s many indoor entertainment centers offers a lively summer diversion. These joints practically scream “fun!” Flashing lights, bells and, bleeps from video and, other games, kid-friendly foods and — depending on which venue you hit — a smorgasbord of mini-golf, laser tag, games with prizes, a bouncing pit, rides, a roller-coaster simulator, and bumper cars.
You’re hesitant because: With their bright lights and tokens, the centers can evoke a casino-for-kids vibe, and anxious parents may fear that the “prizes” from the carnival-style games are stuffed with asbestos and held together with formaldehyde.
Why you should do it anyhow: For most kids, a fun center is paradise, so take one for the team. Besides, your inner 8-year-old may be re-awakened when you take the skee-ball in hand and pitch it up the alley.
Let’s go: In Seattle check out GameWorks. The north end has Chuck E. Cheese's in Lynnwood and the Family Fun Center in Edmonds. In the south end there's Charlie's Safari in Lacey, the Family Fun Center in Tukwila, and Odyssey 1 in Tacoma.
2. Watch live music outside
Kids will dance to almost any tune, and summer is the perfect time for an outdoor show. Best of all, there are performances to suit every taste and budget. Get funky with HONK! Fest West’s street bands strutting their stuff at parks and down streets around Seattle. At Woodland Park Zoo’s ZooTunes, the crowd will roll out their park blankets to get back to the 80s with the Psychedelic Fursl or start feeling irie with Ziggy Marley. It’s never too late or too soon to bolster your kid’s hipster cred, so head over to the KEXP and Seattle Center “Concerts at the Mural” for a free front-row seat to local acts. Bellevue’s Live at Lunch free summer-concert series has everything from Americana to Indian classical to acoustic Cuban at multiple locations for a lunchtime musical interlude.
You’re hesitant because: There’s going to be that super-annoying family who snags and defends with dagger eyes the best patch of grass or sidewalk, despite the fact it’s twice the space they really need – and they packed way better food than you did.
Why you should do it anyhow: If your kids are preschool age, there’s a decent chance they’re wearing tutus or superhero costumes anyhow, so why not put the fancy attire to good use with a dance party?
Let’s go: HONK! Fest West is June 1-3 at various locations. Concerts at the Mural run Friday evenings Aug. 3, 10, 17 and 24. ZooTunes play through the summer. Bellevue’s Live at Lunch runs from July 10 to Sept. 13 every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 1:30 pm.
3. Get a library card
Libraries have terrific summer programs to encourage reading, so now is the time to sign up for a library card. And don’t forget the audiobooks to help the miles slip pleasantly past during summer car trips. Favorite audio picks that you may have missed that are good for most ages and genders, include the Melendy Quartet of books by Elizabeth Enright, The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders, and Uncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel.
You’re hesitant because: The late fees and penalties for lost books could wipe out the college fund, or at the very least send you searching under beds for missing volumes or trying to figure out how to scrape peanut butter off of board books.
Why you should do it anyhow: Borrowing books offers a good lesson in responsibility and reinforces reading skills at every age, and they can always live at home freshman year to recoup the tuition spent on library fines.
Let’s go: Kids and adults can get library cards from Seattle Public Libraries if they live, work or go to school in King County. You need some form of identification and proof of your current address. For libraries on the eastside and all around King County, check out the King County Library System as well as the Snohomish County libraries.
4. Go to a parade
A parade can include everything from the American-as-apple-pie high school marching band to bare-buns bicyclists. Families, grab a wagon, red-white-and-blue crepe paper, and you’re ready to join the procession at the Fourth of July Parade in Edmonds. The beloved kids parade welcomes children and pets in all manner of costumes to march through the streets ahead of the main parade. The Seattle Pride Parade celebrates diversity in it's many forms with an exuberant mix of rainbow-hued floats, the rumbling exhaust pipes of the Dykes on Bikes, and the scouts marching in uniform. The naked cyclists might steal the headlines, but the Fremont Solstice Parade has much more to offer with whimsical costumes and dancers. The Seafair Torchlight Parade is a more mainstream affair, with pirates and $60 tickets for a seat in the grandstands.
You’re hesitant because: The crowds, the noise, the confusing messages for your girl-power daughters when presented with tiara-and-sash-wearing parade princesses, in addition to the challenge of explaining why grown-ups cycle nude and why your child cannot ditch their pull-ups and join them on their strider bikes.
Why you should do it anyhow: At its best, a parade is a heartwarming public display of community pride that strengthens our sense of belonging and togetherness. Even at its not-best, there’s often free candy being tossed at your kids, which sparks a surprising amount of excitement.
5. Plant a garden
Do you dutifully go to farmers markets to get seasonal produce? Now it’s time to grow your own. Local nurseries have little veggie plants and berry bushes that you can plant as starts, or seed packs for varieties most likely to succeed in the Puget Sound climate. There’s something magical about growing a plant that you can harvest and eat — and it’s one of the easier ways to encourage a kid to try a new food. Even if you don’t have much of a yard, containers are great for tomatoes and strawberries. Hand a kid a watering can and they’ll likely view it as entertainment instead of a chore.
You’re hesitant because: Unless last year’s bumper crop of dandelions and the mold growing on some forgotten leftovers at the back of the fridge are signs of a green thumb, this might not go well.
Why you should do it anyhow: Gardening is dirt, bugs, flowers and science. The great thing is that various crops hit their planting prime throughout the summer, so there’s a wide window of opportunity to give it a go. Just remember that this isn’t Little House on the Prairie: if your snap peas wither or broccoli is consumed by aphids, you won’t starve, and the experience could provide a good lesson about the value of food.
6. Swim in an outdoor pool
An outdoor pool combines the joy of swimming al fresco with the benefit of warmer water, better visibility and no jellyfish/lake scum. Seattle has two outdoor public pools: Mounger Pool in Magnolia has a larger pool with a corkscrew slide for big swimmers and a shallower, warmer pool for the little guppies. Colman Pool in West Seattle has a tube slide and diving board, and the beach- side pool is filled with heated saltwater. Easily visible from the sweltering cars slowed in an I-5 traffic jam in Federal Way, the twisting, plunging slides of Wild Waves Water Park promise cool, refreshing adventures — plus a wave pool for smaller kids. Tucked into a large forested park in Edmonds is Yost Pool, which features a diving board, and plenty of space for lounging in the sun.
You’re hesitant because: Small, barely potty-trained children in pools. What could go wrong?
Why you should do it anyhow: Outdoor swimming is wholesome fun that’s sure to tucker them out and give them a solid dose of vitamin D — and we’re counting on the chlorine to take care of anything objectionable in the water. Some of the pools also have hot tubs.
7. Go camping
When there are kids in tow, the definition of “camping” can get a little loose. For children, the payoff is not a pristine lake at the end of a 6-mile slog, but drifting off to sleep zipped up in a sleeping bag with a belly full of s’mores. This summer, let camping include renting rustic cabins or just pitching a tent in the backyard with a baby campfire and the chance to watch the stars come out. Camp Long in West Seattle has cabins in the woods for rent, and Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island has basic, beach-side accommodations well-suited to families.
You’re hesitant because: Remind me again where the bathrooms are for a 1 am piddle for child or grown-up alike?
Why you should do it anyhow: A little bit of roughing it provides a reminder of how good you’ve got it, and the chance to make some fun memories.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
8. Visit the Seattle Center
If you’re a Seattle old-timer, perhaps you’ve never forgiven Seattle Center for getting rid of the Bubbleator and the Fun Forest. But the emotional hole left by the spherical glass elevator and second-rate amusement-park rides has been filled many times over with new attractions. The Armory features more upscale and appealing dining options from local restaurants than in the past. Last spring, the Artists at Play playground opened with interactive art installations and other kiddie diversions. And in April, beloved local public-radio station KEXP moved to its new home at the center. Families can stop by for a tour, watch a DJ in action in the booth or potentially catch an in-studio performance.
You’re hesitant because: Depending on the day and time, you’re going to be wading through a sea of tourists.
Why you should do it anyhow: The center is home to the Pacific Science Center, a skate park, the International Fountain, the monorail, Chihuly Garden and Glass, EMP Museum, Seattle Children’s Museum, Seattle Children’s Theatre and the Space Needle itself.
9. Pet some farm animals
When the neighborhood dogs no longer fill the need for animal interactions, it’s time to head to a petting zoo. You don’t even have to leave the Seattle city limits for a little (faux) farm action: the Woodland Park Zoo lets little visitors pet goats and sheep and get a close look at cows, bunnies, donkeys and chickens. For a more authentic experience, visit Redmond’s Farrel-McWhirter Farm, which is home to the usual barnyard suspects as well as a miniature donkey, a mini horse, nature trails and a tire swing. Remlinger Farms in Carnation has a petting zoo, pony rides, a miniature train, and amusement park rides.
You’re hesitant because: Despite parental best efforts, there’s a good chance that toddler fingers are going to go directly from sheep wool or goat hair into toddler mouth.
Why you should do it anyhow: Pack some Purell and put your hygiene worries behind you. Petting little animals is fun, particularly when you don’t have to pick up their poop.
10. Go to a baseball game
Summer is a fine time to establish some family traditions, and what’s more traditional than a trip to a ballgame? Our region has a few teams to cheer on, including the Seattle Mariners as well as two of their minor-league teams, the Everett AquaSox and Tacoma Rainiers. Kids catching a game at Seattle’s Safeco Field can meet and get a photo with the Mariner Moose. There’s also a stadium playground to work out a few wiggles — and the TV screens near the structures keep dedicated fans from missing any of the on-field action. The minor leagues offer some great baseball and cheaper seats, plus the games include kid-friendly features such as the bouncy house and slide at Everett’s Memorial Stadium, and the chance for kids to get on the field and run the bases at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium.
You’re hesitant because: The games. Can last. Forever.
Why you should do it anyhow: In the roundup of iconic sounds of summer, the “thwack!” of ball on bat is right up there with the ice-cream-truck song and the roar of a lawnmower. And you’re practically morally obligated to indulge in a salty snack and a cheap beer or soda.
11. Visit an island
On the short list of what makes this region super cool are our islands — and not just the headliners, like the San Juan Islands. A day trip to Vashon Island will make you feel like you’ve traveled longer and farther than a short ferry ride from West Seattle. The rural island has a charming town whose highlights include a used bookstore with some good kid selections and Cafe Luna, where you can load up on treats for an impromptu picnic at Point Robinson Park at the island’s south end. The beach there has an old lighthouse and lots of shells to comb through. Whidbey Island is doable in a day if you stick to the island’s sound end. The town of Langley is your best bet for lunch, and Double Bluff Beach has miles of sandy shoreline to roam and build sand castles.
You’re hesitant because: Oh come on, it’s just a ferry ride.
Why you should do it anyhow: The website for the Washington State Ferries has great information on when the lower-traffic sailings take place, and the ferries themselves are a fairly kid-friendly place for wiggly children. When you get to the beaches, free and easy entertainment is there for the shoveling.
12. Play family games
No, we’re not counting Wii in the lineup. Think Candy Land, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Apples to Apples, and, Uno. Feel like something new? Check out collaborative games where you use creativity to solve a collective problem. Whatever you choose, the point is to unplug and focus on each other, perhaps engage in some good-natured smack talk and enjoy everyone’s company.
You’re hesitant because: It might be a hard sell to get the kids on board, and games suitable for all ages can have a high tedium factor.
Why you should do it anyhow: Here’s a chance to spend some quality time together, learn about good sportsmanship, and maybe bolster math, language or strategy skills. Besides, the classic games offer a happy dose of nostalgia and many of the newer games are fun for adults, too.
13. Pick berries
I don’t want to meet the kid who doesn’t like at least one kind of berry, and in the Northwest, you can literally take your pick of all the best varieties. U-pick farms abound for strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. If your family is feeling more adventurous, look for Himalayan blackberries growing freely along less-traveled roads or in parks. Harder to find but worth the hunt are wild, native blackberries, and evergreen huckleberries. Salmon berries are found in many Seattle parks, and, so are delicate, tart thimble-berries. All of the berries are delightful fresh, and also freeze well for smoothies or cobblers.
You’re hesitant because: It’s not clear how long picking berries will reasonably hold the kids’ attention span, even if you allow for a one-for-the-bucket, one-for-you picking strategy.
Why you should do it anyhow: Have you seen what a flat of berries costs at the farmers market, contrasted with how quickly your family can plow through a box of berries?