Seattle's Child

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Parent review: MOHAI

Visiting the MOHAI museum at South Lake Union. Stop at the front of the building to view the Bezos Innovation sculpture. (All photos by Jasmin Thankachen)

Parent review: MOHAI will inform and inspire your family

Have fun learning about the history and innovation of the Puget Sound area.

If you’ve ever wanted to leave a museum more inspired than when you walked through the doors, you’ll want to visit the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle. Restructured to follow COVID-19 protocols, MOHAI is filled with information about Washington state history and tales of innovation. We highly recommend this educational outing.

MOHAI: Getting there and parking

MOHAI is located in Lake Union Park, right by the water. We went on a Sunday afternoon, when traffic was light and parking was easy to find. Bonus: City-owned parking lots are free on Sundays! MOHAI also offers special all-day parking rates at nearby AGC lot (1200 Westlake Ave. N). Get your discounted ticket at the admissions desk.

MOHAI: The museum building

Dodging walkers, runners and bikers on Westlake Avenue, we crossed over the Lake Union footbridge. Be sure to stop on the bridge to look at the placards posted at the top of the trestle to learn some facts about Seattle through the years.

Once off the bridge, we saw a beautiful white building, tipped with navy blue and adorned with gold stars. The building is a former Naval Reserve Armory. Used as a training facility, thousands in the Navy and Marine Corps engaged in rifle and combat drills here.

Like many attractions these days, tickets must be purchased online in advance for timed entry. Masks must be worn. Re-entry is allowed (with receipt) if you decide to go outside for a mask break or a look around.

We picked up a map, a stylus and a scavenger hunt card for our kids to find various items around the museum.

MOHAI’s COVID-19 protocols are clearly laid out:

  • Stay 6 feet away from groups in front and behind you
  • Use your stylus for interactive exhibits
  • Wear masks at all times
  • Follow the dots and arrows to view all the exhibits

In the Gold Rush-themed room, pull the lever (with your stylus) to learn about settlers who made it big.

Interactive exhibits

Examining many different artifacts from Seattle’s Native ground, Gold Rush, industrial era, and other themed rooms, we saw so many exhibits. Following the arrows into a small theater, we watched a production explaining Seattle’s Great Fire. Music, lights flashing and songs accompanied the story and made it feel almost like a Broadway show! “It’s amazing that no one died in such a big fire!” said my older son.

Turning cranks, pressing buttons and tapping on screens (all with our stylus), my kids loved the interactive portions of the museum. With every turn and tap, they learned a new fact. In the Gold Rush room, they pulled levers of a slot machine to learn about settlers who became rich.

In another room, they pushed buttons to help a ferry cross the Ballard Locks, explaining how controlling water levels helps boats move from port to sea.

Find the things on the cards: a Gold Rush pan, guitar picks, a canoe model. and several other things on the list will take you around the museum.

The scavenger hunt

The scavenger hunt helped move us through each exhibit, keeping the tour exciting, especially for my 7-year-old. “Oh, I found the jar of guitar picks!” he said while exploring Seattle’s music and pop culture rooms. To extend learning and critical thinking, each scavenger hunt card has questions on the back, to answer together at the museum or for later.

We found our way through the rest of the exhibits on the second floor and into different towers that housed stories of Microsoft, the 1962 Seattle’s World Fair and Boeing. We learned so much about Seattle’s innovation and tech industry that it made us a little more proud to be Seattleites.

 

MOHAI 4th floor: maritime history

My favorite part of the museum was on the fourth floor: Seattle’s maritime history. We took turns peeking through a WWII-era periscope to take in a 360-degree view of Seattle.

“Hey, I think I can see our car!” my children observed as they turned themselves around with the scope in hand.

“Ahoy matey!” yelled my younger son. A huge ship’s wheel stood at the front of the room. Turning the wheel, he imagined that we were pirates swashbuckling on Lake Union.

On the other side of the room was a delicate light from the Smith Island Lighthouse. Its lens catches a rainbow glimmer from all different angles.

 

 

Seattle’s icons

Our visit ended on the first floor, in the Grand Atrium. Look up and you’ll find hydroplanes and a Boeing B-1 plane used for mail services. Stop at the large wooden statue called the Wawona sculpture and walk inside. We find a window on the floor with a view of the water under our feet. “I’m scared to go on, what if I fall through?” hesitated my son. He did it anyway.

Using our stylus, we crank the wheels of a larger interactive exhibit. One window opens to reveal a cougar, another made a group of plates pass by on a conveyor belt. Another crank lit up a mountain landscape. Fun facts accompany these interactions, while we continue to move the crank around its circle.

One of the many innovations represented at MOHAI: a T-shirt made of recycled materials!

Seattle’s inventions

Seattle’s success and advancement are tied into the inventive nature of its people. MOHAI represents some of these individuals along its atrium walls. Dozens of successful ideas and innovations are presented. Boxes house games and toys that were invented in Seattle, while placards discuss many more science and tech inventions. Did you know that the game Cranium was invented here in 1998? The first Costco opened here in 1983?

 

What kind of inventor do you want to be? Checking out the dreams that became a reality at the Bezos Innovation exhibit.

The Bezos Center

The Bezos Center for Innovation is another exhibit that explores big ideas. We entered the dimly lit room and spun the pictures around to learn about different people and their great ventures into technology, retail, social justice, medicine and science.

“I want to be an inventor too! I’d invent more Minecraft worlds!” my oldest claims.

 

 

Lake Union Park

My kids wanted time to explore the park and the boats outside. Walking along the paths led us around to many different boats docked nearby. Tug boats, fire boats and even a house boat are right at the pier, close enough to touch. Make reservations, in advance, to take a tour of these ships. We investigated the boats and read about them on the informational sandwich boards.

On sunny days, the pond located near the footbridge is open to the public for model boat sailing. We went on a rainy day and found lots of geese floating around.

Behind the museum is the Center for Wooden Boats. Stop here to join their Public Peapod Program for one-hour of free boat rental. Reserve tickets ahead of time. (We tried it and liked it!)

During a fantastic day at MOHAI and Lake Union Park, we came away knowing a lot more about the place we live in and about the people who live here.

My kids’ highlights: “My favorite room was the one where I could be an inventor,” and “My favorite was learning about the Great Fire!”

We’ll be back, maybe when the weather is warmer and we can enjoy more of the nearby outdoor activities.

 

MOHAI: If you go

  • Purchase tickets online for timed entry.
  • Tickets are $22 for adults and free for kids ages 14 and under.
  • MOHAI has extended hours on the first Thursday of the month and is open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. with free access to permanent exhibits from 5-8 p.m.
  • Museum is stroller-friendly with elevator access.
  • Bring hand sanitizer; there wasn’t a lot inside the museum.
  • Restrooms are open.
  • The MOHAI cafe is closed, but prepackaged food is available at the gift store.
  • Large items should be left at home, but there are lockers available to store your items (sanitized between uses).
  • The stylus tips break easily. Ask children to use gently.
  • The children’s play area in the museum is closed.

 

More parent reviews in Seattle’s Child:

Tips for a COVID-era visit to a children’s museum

Trying out the drive-thru Washington State Spring Fair

 

 

About the Author

Jasmin Thankachen

Jasmin is an Eastside mom of two boys and enjoys parenting with lots of love and laughter. Co-Founder of PopUp StoryWalk, she also loves children's picture books, essay writing, and community stories.