From afar, South Lake Union seems built of metal and steel, constructed only for office workers and those who can squeeze their lives into a studio apartment. But underneath all that, in the shadows of Amazon and in between the half-dozen Tom Douglas restaurants, there’s history, color, and nature: everything you need to show the kids around town.
From its roots as one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods—then called Cascade—to a current starring role in Seattle’s real estate boom, the area remains dotted with the buildings and people who moved through it. From the old churches (St. Spiridon Russian Orthodox Cathedral, in its Yale Ave. location since 1938, is a landmark worth walking by) to the pre-boom businesses that have held on (such as the soon-to-be-relocated 13 Coins restaurant), the neighborhood offers diverse architecture and activities from below its shiny shroud.
Row House Café
The warren of old buildings that make up this homey café were originally laundries—one of the industries that built the neighborhood. Couches and tables fill the wide rooms and multiple patios with coffee-drinkers, laptop workers, and happy diners digging into the comfort food classics on the menu. Featuring dishes full of fresh, local ingredients, the menu specializes in sandwiches at lunch—and specifically killer grilled cheeses. Serving from morning to night, this is a good stop any time of day—for a meal, coffee, or a treat for the kids and adult beverage for the chaperones.
Seattle location: 1170 Republican St.
This 8,000 square-foot playground answers the eternal question of what to do with rambunctious kids during bad weather. At PlaydateSea adults can kick back in the café with a cup of Stumptown coffee and let the little ones climb, crawl, or play on the interactive dance floors. (Though parents are also welcome—even encouraged—to climb around the multi-level structure with their kids.) Sea-themed slides, tunnels, and games will burn off all the crazy energy no matter the rain, heat, or cold outside, and evenings bring special events such as Friday night puppet shows and Laser Tag.
Seattle location: 1275 Mercer St.
Courtesy of MOHAI
Bezos Center for Innovation
Kids tend to think of museums as boring, but Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry understands how to capture those tiny attention spans: magnet boards and a felt table, big graphic panels, and lots of blocks to help kids discover how the city got built and continues to grow.
Seattle location: 860 Terry Ave N
Center for Wooden Boats
Part museum, part activity center, all good fun. With all types of wooden boats for rent (canoes, rowboats, sailboats, and paddleboats), kids can get a hands-on experience with the boats on exhibit—and on Sundays, for free. On Thursday afternoons, the center holds toy-boat building classes, and there are other youth programs and camps for various ages addressing all things boat-related, from sailing to woodworking.
Seattle location: 1010 Valley St
Ride the Streetcar
The 1.3 mile modern streetcar isn’t built for entertainment, but the brightly-colored public transportation takes a quick, fun trip through the whole neighborhood. Get off at the north end to play at the 12-acre waterfront Lake Union Park, or take it to Downtown at the south end to walk around or connect to the Monorail for a little more public transportation fun.
Seattle location: Along Westlake Ave
Top Pot Doughnuts
When it comes to keeping kids entertained and having a good time, there’s nothing easier than a little something sweet. Top Pot, which first opened just a few blocks away in 2002, now sells doughnuts all over the country. But they still hold special sway over Seattleites of all ages. With more than 40 types of doughnuts including the fan-favorite old fashioned, maple bars, and apple fritters, popping into the café for a treat helps keep the whole family happy.
Seattle location: 590 Terry Ave N