Best Family-Friendly Museums in Seattle

Families Learn Together at Fascinating Seattle Institutions and Galleries

Seattle is a city where people, by nature, seem to be thinkers. Some of the city's residents boast high-profile names (for example, folks like Bill and Melinda Gates), thanks to their innovations, ideas and initiatives that have revolutionized segments of our modern world (in realms ranging from technology and medicine to global health). Thankfully, visitors to this town benefit from this curios nature, too, since the city is home to an array of museums and galleries that educate and entertain. 

Whether young visitors are most interested in art, planes, cars, Native American history or perhaps marine life (we're looking at you, Seattle Aquarium), there are institutions that open their doors to guests of all ages. Many museums have designed special kid zones within their spaces, and other sites offer child-friendly programming that ranges from group story readings and youngster-focused guided tours to hands-on activities that allow everyone to get in on the action. (Looking at art can be fun, sure, but it isn't it more memorable to make art oneself?) 

Families and school groups should keep their eye out for package deals or special rates, since some museums offer discounted prices for museum goers who travel in packs. Enjoy the journey!


Museum of Flight

Hands-on informational and historical exhibits distinguish this museum, which appeals to aspiring pilots and to those whose feet have never left the ground. Displays in the Red Barn, where Boeing's first planes where constructed, chronicle the history of flight up to the late 1930s. In the six-story Great Gallery, more than 20 planes hang from the ceiling and cause guests to gape in amazement. Additional sights include a mock air traffic control center, an early Air Force One presidential plane, and a Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built. Furthermore, the outdoor airpark lets visitors explore some of the museum's largest planes. Other amenities include complimentary guided tours, a variety of free films, a cafe, and a museum store.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Museum of Flight offers hands-on exhibits, and the Kid's Flight Zone proves a huge draw for visiting youngsters.

Corinne's expert tip: Admission is free after 5 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. (Any day, discounted tickets are available for those with AAA, Boeing employees and active military members.)

Read more about Museum of Flight →

Calling all car fanatics! One of the world's largest auto museums is right in downtown Tacoma, less than hour drive from Seattle, displaying vintage, classic and modern cars on a nine-acre campus. The four-story museum building is the centerpiece of its campus. and the museum foundation lists its mission as "a non-profit organization chartered to preserve and interpret the history and technology of the automobile and its influence on American culture." The venue sometimes hosts private events, meaning that guests get to sip cocktails amid an atmosphere oozing with innovation and indulgence. This recently -arrived museum is one of the hottest in the Pacific Northwest region.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: With a new Family Zone opening in December of 2013, LeMay-America's Car Museum now draws even younger visitors (who can dream of their future on wheels!).

Corinne's expert tip: Check the website for upcoming events, like a drive-in-movies summer series.

Read more about LeMay - America's Car Museum →

Olympic Sculpture Park
Photo courtesy of SAM-Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park: Stroll through the grounds and admire the fascinating large-scale works on display at this nine-acre green space. Extensive landscaping enhances the park's beauty, and a walkway, extending from the beach to Belltown, provides views of the Puget Sound and of downtown landmarks. Among the pieces on view along the way view is "Eye Benches I, II, III" by Louise Bourgeois, a series of functional carved-granite benches that take the form of giant eyeballs. Also here is a work from the height of famed sculptor Alexander Calder's career, "The Eagle" from 1971, a huge abstract steel sculpture in bright orange. Free public tours of the park are offered, and times and topics vary by season.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Kids (and parents, too!) delight in wandering the open space of the Olympic Sculpture Park, where beautiful art enjoys a stunning natural backdrop.

Corinne's expert tip: Although it's mostly an outdoor experience, the sculpture park features the PACCAR Pavilion, within which the Seattle Art Museum operates the SAM Shop at Olympic Sculpture Park. The shop offers a delightful and distinctive collection of artist multiples and art objects that serve as tasteful souvenirs of your visit here.

Read more about Olympic Sculpture Park →

Museum of History and Industry
Photo courtesy of MOHAI

The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is the largest private heritage organization in Washington State, devoted to teaching and preserving the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region and the country. Its new venue recently opened in South Lake Union. If you count historic photos and artifacts as art, MOHAI's permanent exhibit "Essential Seattle" is a must-see on any Emerald City arts tour – from both a photographic and historical perspective. A fun and informative way to learn about Seattle, the display documents the city's history from the day Captain George Vancouver's ship first sailed into Elliott Bay in 1792 to the present, taking visitors through key events that shaped the modern city, with a focus on the fascinating and diverse people and characters that helped shape this unique region.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: One of Seattle's newest gems, the Museum of History and Industry is a visually-appealing, vibrant venue that educates all ages.

Corinne's expert tip: Spend an entire day wandering the lakeside region where this museum is located; go for a paddle at the neighboring Wooden Center for Wooden Boats, or grab lunch at nearby waterfront restaurants.

Read more about Museum of History and Industry →

Nordic Heritage Museum
Photo courtesy of National Nordic Museum

The Nordic Heritage Museum is an internationally-recognized museum dedicated to the heritage of Seattle's Nordic immigrants, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish Americans. It was founded in 1980 and is in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The museum has plenty of artifacts and genealogy-focused literature for one to trace back their Scandinavian ancestry. The Nordic Heritage Museum is located on 68th Street between 30th and 32nd Avenues NW. The museum is accessible by Metro bus for those not coming by car. The Ballard neighborhood is also home to a couple of Nordic shops and bakeries for those who care to continue their cultural tour.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard introduces visitors to the history of Seattle's Nordic immigrants. Kids programs include story readings once a month.

Corinne's expert tip: Children's programs include "Nordic Stories" the first Thursday of each month from 10 to 11 a.m.

Read more about Nordic Heritage Museum →


A 48-foot Hammering Man sculpture marks the outside of this vast museum, and adjustable steel panels flank the glass walls and allow light to enter the innovative front space known as the Brotman Forum. Upon entering, visitors encounter an extraordinary display of nine sculpted white cars hanging in the air at different angles. The galleries house displays of Native American, African, and European art. To showcase particular events, each gallery within the spacious building is given an identity corresponding to its specific exhibit. Along with the wealth of art available for perusing, visitors also have the opportunity to enjoy regularly-scheduled lectures, classes, and live performances. Two museum shops are available. Families can take advantage of youth programs found on the museum's website.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The renowned Seattle Art Museum regularly hosts kids' classes and activities; check out the website for all-ages art fun.

Corinne's expert tip: Called simply SAM by locals, the museum is known for its extensive and well-curated collections of Pacific Northwest Native American and Asian art. SAM also has been known to land exclusive international touring exhibitions, including Monet and Gauguin. Check out the website for free entry days--like the first Thursdays of each month, which are free to all.

Read more about Seattle Art Museum Downtown →

On display in this museum you'll find informative hands-on and voice-activated exhibits concerning the history and culture of the region. One of the permanent displays, "The Life and Times of Washington State," includes unique dinosaur exhibits, including casts of the 40-foot long Elasmosaur and the actual skeleton of a 140 million year old carnivorous Allosaurus. A second exhibit, "Pacific Voices," focuses on the 35 Native American tribes common to the Pacific Northwest, along with other cultures that have influenced the region. Exhibits dealing with archaeology, zoology, herpetology, and geology are also popular. Don't forget to drop by the cafe for some coffee and a snack; the Museum Shop carries a wide assortment of books and gifts to commemorate your visit.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: On the campus of UW, the Burke Museum of History and Culture gives visitors an enjoyable tour of the Pacific Northwest's past, present and future.

Corinne's expert tip: Craving a cozy place for a pit stop? The Burke Museum Cafe features 18th-century French pine paneling and an assortment of pastries, sandwiches and salads, as well as juices, teas, coffee and espresso drinks.

Read more about Burke Museum of History and Culture →

Seattle Aquarium

Otters are the highlight on any visit to Seattle Aquarium. The friendly looking, furry critters are just so cute – no matter what they're doing – that it's hard to tear yourself away from their spacious habitat. This is especially true at feeding time, when these whiskered characters really ham it up for fresh fish. The otters are worth the price of admission, but there is plenty more to see. The main highlight is the underwater dome that submerges visitors beneath the waves of an encapsulated Puget Sound, putting them face to face with a host of indigenous Pacific Northwest marine life, including the giant octopi that live in its murky depths. No aquarium would be complete without an educational component, and here that includes a marine touch tank for children and a information on the life cycle of salmon.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Seattle Aquarium delights adults and kids alike, thanks to its friendly residents like the beloved otters.

Corinne's expert tip: A 10-15 minute walk down to the waterfront takes guests to the famiy-friendly Seattle Aquarium, a hub of fascinating marine life plus beautiful Puget Sound views.

Read more about Seattle Aquarium →

If you're ever going to visit a venue dedicated to the magic of music, Seattle is THE place to do so. This intriguing museum celebrates the history of rock and roll. Over 80,000 American music mementos are showcased in the ultra-modern Frank Gehry-designed building, which resembles a smashed guitar. Among the displays are Janis Joplin's floral bell-bottoms and a leather jacket once worn by Elvis Presley. Sky Church, a performance arena erected to host concerts by world-renowned musicians, is also part of the complex. After viewing the exhibits, guests may unwind in the museum's Turntable restaurant or Liquid Lounge bar.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Experience Music Project entertains and educates with alluring sights and sounds, and kids can try their hand at different instruments, too.

Corinne's expert tip: Warm up those music-playing hands; interactive exhibits here at the EMP (what locals call the site) allow patrons to practice their own tunes in mock studios and even on a simulated concert stage.

Read more about Museum of Pop Culture →

Pacific Science Center

The Pacific Science Center is a great place for the entire family to learn about the natural world in an entertaining way. Children love games and demonstrations about physical science; exhibits displaying dinosaurs, insects, computers and robots, and the human body will bring science and natural history to life right before your eyes. Animal exhibits, which tend to be everyone's favorite, let visitors watch animals such as the naked mole rat, which is the only known cold-blooded mammal. In the butterfly house, museum-goers are surrounded by thousands of butterflies, who often land on those wearing bright colors and standing very still.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Pacific Science Center means hands-on activities, IMAX films and exhibits that will thrill the whole family.

Corinne's expert tip: Calling all film buffs! The Pacific Science Center is a great spot to catch IMAX films (arrive early, though; the Center has a no-late-seating policy for both theaters).

Read more about Pacific Science Center →


Meet Corinne Whiting

Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's...  More About Corinne