The best parks for your family's Seattle summer
With its great location and views, Kite Hill and interesting structures, Gas Works Park is a Seattle icon.
Seattle Parks & Recreation / Flickr
Ready to play outside? Here are some of the best public spaces for Seattle kids and families. From state-of-the-art playgrounds to beaches, fields and woods, there’s something for everyone and every mood. Here you will find 23 public spaces, each of which is excellent in one of six different categories.
Artists at Play Playground, Seattle Center – This enormous play area next to the Museum of Pop Culture includes a 30-foot climbing tower, a high walkway, a labyrinth and music makers. Built in 2015.
Jefferson Park – This elaborate playground takes advantage of the hilly landscape of Jefferson Park, including features such as a lookout tower, and slides built into the hillside, delivering kids to the spray features. Built in 2012.
Yesler Terrace Park Built in 2018, this hillside playground has sleek modern looks, with a bright red and chartreuse color scheme, and offers a roller-slide, and many ways to climb, and dangle. At the top of the hill, there are features that spray.
Inspiration Playground, Bellevue Downtown Park The fanciful shapes in this massive playground add some imagination to everyone’s day: there’s a climbing wall covered in Jack-in the-Beanstalk roots, climbers shaped like cheery cartoon houses, and things that swing, spin, spray and bounce. Built in 2017.
Best for getting wet:
Green Lake – Take a dip in the lake at one of the two swimming beaches, rent a kayak or a water bike from Green Lake Boat Rentals, or let your kids loose in the popular wading pool. Afterwards you can bask on a sunny lawn or take shelter in the shade of one of many big old trees.
International Fountain, Seattle Center – The big shiny dome in the middle Seattle Center has more than 270 nozzles, some of which can send water 120 feet high. There’s music to accompany it, though you may not hear it that well over the sound of all the gleeful kids.
Lincoln Park – For a true only-in-Seattle experience, come for a swim in Colman Pool, an Olympic-sized saltwater pool set on a point jutting out into Puget Sound. It tends to be breezy here, so this is a good place to take refuge on a hot day. Other fine features: almost a mile of saltwater beach, and a wading pool, tucked up in the trees near the northern of the two playgrounds.
Wherever is convenient – The pleasure of cooling off and playing in the water on a warm day is such that most people aren’t too picky about where they find refreshment, and what’s closest is best on a good day. Check out these guides to Seattle beaches, wading pools and spray parks to get an idea about what works for you.
Best places to embrace the city:
Hing Hay Park – This art-filled half-acre in the heart of the International District is a great place to sit and eat a take-out lunch and watch the world go by. There are usually folks at the café tables, people playing at the table-tennis table or using the exercise equipment, and the park hosts many special events.
Cal Anderson Park – Named after Washington’s first openly gay legislator, this space is a spot of green at the heart of busy, creative Capitol Hill. Kids will enjoy the wading pool, the playground, the fountain and the green space, while adults will enjoy the people-watching. Active Times named it one of the 15 best urban parks in America.
Volunteer Park – This park isn’t just about beauty and recreation, though it has plenty of both, with big beautiful trees, elegant buildings, stunning views, a great playground and a lovely wading pool. It’s also a center of history and culture. Climb the water tower and you can learn not just the lay of the land, but the reasoning behind how this and other parks were founded. There’s visual art here: Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun sculpture is a favorite, and the Seattle Asian Art Museum (closed for renovations until fall 2019) is located here. And on many a summer evening or weekend there are concerts or plays going in the park’s amphitheater.
Olympic Sculpture Park – Wander the zig-zagging pathways and contemplate monumental sculptures while the live of the city and the harbor goes on around you. From July 11 to August 22, the park has kids’ activities on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and music, food trucks art making and kids’ activities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays.
Best places to escape the city:
Discovery Park – Travel the short distance to this park in Magnolia and enter a different world. Seattle’s biggest park has mossy, fern-lined woods, broad sunny meadows, ponds, cliffs, a historic lighthouse and beautiful beaches.
Seward Park – This peninsula sticking out into Lake Washington has a lovely forest, including madrone trees and one of Seattle’s only stands of old growth. There’s also a dreamy waterfront promenade, a sweet swimming area, and an Audubon center. See also: Six ways your kids can enjoy nature in Seward Park.
Washington Park Arboretum – There are seven gardens within this 230-acre public space, and each has a different character. You can forest bathe in the woodland garden, promenade on azalea way, clamber around Pacific Connections Garden, or take the boardwalk onto the lake on the shoreline.
Union Bay Natural Area – Between UW and Laurelhurst is a 74-acre area of ponds, wetlands, cottonwood trees and so many birds. Come by in summer and you’ll find swallows swooping around, hawks scanning the area from high perches, red-winged blackbirds proclaiming their territories and great blue herons stalking the shore. See also: Take your kids on a summer nature walk in the Union Bay Natural Area.
Best places to impress visitors from out of town:
Alki Trail – This broad, waterfront promenade has views of mountains, water, and downtown. It overlooks miles of sandy beaches, which at low tide may be being patrolled by bald eagles. And, you can access it from downtown by West Seattle Water Taxi if you choose.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks – It’s cool to watch the big gates open and close, the water rise and fall, and the boats tie up to the side and ride the churning waters up and down. Don’t miss the fish ladder and the fish viewing windows.
Gas Works Park – Set on a knob of land jutting into Lake Union, Gas Works Park has a dramatic view of downtown and an excellent spectator position to take in the amazing variety of watercraft that ply the waters of the lake. Thrillist named Gas Works one of the 18 best city parks in the U.S. The playground, added in 2018, is nice too.
Kerry Park – Perched on the north slope of Queen Anne Hill, you get a dramatically close look at the space needle, with downtown and Mount Rainier arrayed behind it.
Best places to build a sand castle:
Golden Gardens – This teeming salt-water beach has soft sand, leading to cool water, and just enough rocks and bits of driftwood around to keep things interesting. For other creative opportunities, join the many kids at work engineering dams and channels to govern the flow of the creek at the south end of the beach.
Alki Beach – Seattle’s most popular beach has lots of sand, great views taking in both the Cascades and the Olympics, and a fun beach-town atmosphere.
Jetty Island – The Port of Everett runs a passenger ferry during the summer, transporting people to this sandy getaway in Puget Sound. Details: Everett’s lovely Jetty Island is just a ferry ride away.
Seahurst Park, Burien – Backed by a lovely wooded park, the broad sandy beach here is great for would-be sand sculptors. Two streams snake across the sand, providing extra opportunities for those who enjoy devising new ways to combine sand and water.