Rainy season is almost upon us again! Our local playgrounds form the bulk of our outings these days. However, my climbing-obsessed toddler shaves years off my life when he scales the tallest structures made slippery by rain. My kids and I wanted to test out a drier option for the upcoming months. We headed to Seattle Bouldering Project’s Poplar Location and got to take advantage of its proximity to the International District’s wealth of food offerings.
But first, coffee
I’ve been in love with Hello Em ever since the Vietnamese coffee roastery and cafe opened in January 2021. The cà phê trứng, with its espresso made from robusta beans and foam with steamed condensed milk and egg yolk, tastes like creamy tiramisu in a cup. We looked at the new art exhibits on the walls while we waited for coffee and cocoa. Graced by some pockets of sunshine, we opted to walk the half-mile over to the climbing gym while we sipped our drinks.
Seattle Bouldering Project: how it works
I had filled out a waiver before our visit, so check-in at the gym was painless. There’s no age limit to climb and rental shoes are free for your first visit, which felt like a great way to introduce young climbers to the sport. We folded up our stroller and got a quick safety briefing that covered things like how to follow a color-coded route and fall safely.
The facility has two levels. The top level features taller walls that even include a “climb over” option when you reach the top, while the bottom level has the most kid-friendly spaces. My young children were absolutely delighted by the Willy Wonka-esque bright colors decorating the walls. Some of the holds even come in whimsical shapes, like octopuses and turtle shells.
Turning left past the cubbies at the base of the stairs, we found a fairly quiet space that featured a fortlike area at the top of shorter walls. My 5-year-old quickly scaled the easiest route to the top and egged her younger brother on. He took his time deliberately testing out holds while I spotted him from below, but he eventually made it to the top with a proud smile. In the center of the fort is a chimney-shaped space that has extra-easy holds for descending or for little ones that need uniform shapes.
Just as my kids started to get “tired,” we realized there was another set of walls with a fort area around the corner. This one had some overhangs, a larger space underneath that resembled a cave and even a slide for a quick descent! All told, we spent about 90 minutes climbing (with short water breaks mixed in) before everyone started to get hungry.
Time for lunch
After we changed back into our street shoes, we hiked back up the hill into Little Saigon toward Phở Bac Sup Shop based on a friend’s recommendation. Limited indoor seating is available, but we placed a to-go order for spring rolls and a Dac Biet (beef sampler) pho since our family is sticking to outdoor dining for now.
I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to choose a picnic spot, so we headed to the closest green space I could find for our picnic. We landed at Wisteria Park, a calm oasis across the street from the Betsuin Buddhist Temple. It’s a privately owned park, but seemed open when we arrived and the few older folks who strolled through gave us a friendly wave as we ate. My kids adored slurping the flavorful pho broth and rice noodles. Soup seemed to be the perfect nourishing meal after working hard on their bouldering skills all morning.
We headed back to our car full, happy and exhausted. I’m happy to report that everyone took a long nap that afternoon, so we’ll be back for a repeat soon!
Seattle Bouldering Project: things to know
Location: Seattle Bouldering Project has multiple Seattle locations. Find the Poplar location at 900 Poplar Place S. near the International District, and the primary Fremont location at 3535 Interlake Ave. N. A smaller Upper Walls location is located one block north of the Fremont outpost.
Hours: The Poplar and Fremont locations are open from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. -10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Upper Walls is open daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m. The gym stays open most holidays with limited hours, so this could be a great option for families who need entertainment over school breaks.
Cost: A day pass costs $18 for adults and $14 for youth. Rental climbing shoes are $4, but are free for first-time visitors.
Restrooms and parking: Parking is available off Poplar Place South. Multi-stall restrooms are available upstairs (use the one that matches your gender identity) with single-stall restrooms on the lower level.
Nearby (Poplar Location): Directly across Rainier Avenue, you’ll find San Fernando Peruvian Chicken. We opted for coffee from Hello Em and pho from Phở Bac Sup Shop to fuel up on either side of our climbing session. You’re only a few minutes’ drive from International District favorites like Dough Zone’s dumplings or Young Tea’s boba.
A previous review: Seattle Bouldering Project birthday party: “We wore out a dozen boys in a safe environment.”
Find many more things to do in Seattle’s Child
This story was first published online on Sept. 16, 2021.