1) Get free museum admission with your library card. You can reserve free admission tickets for nine different Seattle museums using your Seattle Public Library card. Tickets can get snapped up quickly, but those who are patient and flexible can save big bucks on places like the Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle Art Museum, and the Museum of Flight. You’ll find similar programs with King County Library and Pierce County Library.
2) Visit a garden. We’re lucky to have some truly exceptional (and free!) gardens nearby that will be in their springtime prime soon. The Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood is huge and old, with more than 20,000 living plants from around the world. Nearby is the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture; kids who love to stop and smell the roses can do so at the Seattle Garden Club Fragrance Garden there. For a free Japanese garden, head to Kubota Garden in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood. Up in Shoreline, visit Kruckeberg Botanic Garden for woodland loveliness and a super-cool natural climbing structure. Note that they’re open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Eastsiders have the Bellevue Botanical Garden with its woodlands, wetlands, and dreamy perennial beds.
3) Plant a free garden. If visiting all those gardens have you inspired, you can plant your own: King County seed library lets anyone take the seeds they need for free and requests that you let at least some of what you grow go to seed to help restock supplies. There are locations on Phinney Ridge, Northeast Seattle and Snoqualmie.
4) Take advantage of free days at state parks. Just about monthly, you can visit a Washington State Park without needing a Discover Pass. This happens on these days and at these locations. A nice choice close to Seattle is St. Edward Park in Kenmore, which has an excellent playground and a variety of hiking trails.
5) Visit an aquarium. Yes, there are a couple of free aquariums! Neither is terribly large, but you’ll still see cool things and get to talk with friendly, knowledgeable volunteers. The Highline College in Des Moines runs its Marine Science and Technology Center at Redondo Beach. The center is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays year-round. The Poulsbo Marine Science Center is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
6) Get out on a boat. Lake Union’s Center for Wooden Boats offers free boat rides Wednesdays-Sundays, all year long. Rides are an hour and can be on a wide variety of boats. You’ll want to reserve a boat well in advance, boat reservations are opened 2-3 weeks in advance.
7) Explore the low-tide shore. Volunteer marine-life experts with Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program will help you identify what you’re seeing during low tide at various beaches in the Seattle area and South Sound. Check online for days and times.
9) Go stargazing. The University of Washington’s Jacobsen Observatory is open April through September. (Closed July 4). If the sky is clear, you can observe the sky through their telescope. They also offer talks given by astronomy students (which might be more interesting to older kids and teens); reservations must be made in advance. Finding that a session is full? Contact the observatory to be placed on the waitlist.
10) Check out one of Seattle’s most unique stores. Ye Olde Curiousity Shop, located along Downtown Seattle’s waterfront, dates back to 1899. They’re most famous for displaying two human mummies, plus a whole lot of weird and rare items like two-headed taxidermy animals, shrunken human heads, carved grains of rice, historical items and lots more. They sell everything from dime store candy to tourist knick-knacks to beautiful Northwest Native art. Browsers are welcome but be prepared for your kids to find some sort of trinket that they can’t live without.
For more fun and free things to do with kids in Seattle visit the best family calendar of events in the Greater Puget Sound area – and search under Cost for FREE.
Editor’s note: Updated April 2023