Have 24 hours in Seattle and need ideas on nearly free Seattle family fun? On our 2015 cross country roadtrip, we were in the same situation. After driving all the way to Seattle from the Washington DC area (by way of Los Angeles of course), we had less than 24 hours before we needed to leave for our next stop in Richland, WA. After nearly 4 weeks on the road, we were also looking for ways to save money wherever we could. Back in 2008, we flew our smaller family (only 3 kids at that time), to Seattle and explored for several days, so this trip was focused on mostly new stops and an old favorite.

Homewood Suites Seattle Downtown

Our first stop was the Homewood Suites Seattle Downtown. After checking in, we loaded up the stroller and prepared to explore the city. One of the main reasons we picked the Homewood Suites was its walkability to spots like Seattle Center and the waterfront.


Homewood Suites Seattle Downtown (Photo credit: Homewood Suites)

Almost immediately we recognized that the short “walk” to the Seattle Center was more like a short “climb” to the Seattle Center in yet another reminder that checking distances in Google Maps doesn’t warn you about topography! However, the walk was pleasant and we enjoyed the local architecture and artwork. Arriving at the Seattle Center, we went straight to the Pacific Science Center.


Pedestrian alley off of Thomas St. (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Pacific Science Center

The Pacific Science Center was originally the United States Science Pavilion at the 1962 World’s Fair. Located in the Seattle Center (the site of the World’s Fair with the Space Needle at the center), the Pacific Science Center was the first museum in the U.S. founded as a science and technology center. The Pacific Science Center is also a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Travel Passport program. Family memberships to ASTC member museums, like the Pacific Science Center, can be a great investment, especially for larger families, as it gets you into almost every ASTC museum in the world for free in addition to other benefits! Since we were already members of the ASTC affiliated Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, we enjoyed the Pacific Science Center, along with many other ASTC affiliated museums on our cross country roadtrip, for free!


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

The Pacific Science Center has a wide array of fun, informative, and engaging exhibits. We spent most of our time in their “Life Sciences” section enjoying everything from interactive dinosaurs to butterflies. One of the truly unique exhibits was the “Insect Village” of giant interactive bugs!


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Another highlight was their kid-friendly Saltwater Tide Pool where everyone had a chance to touch and see squishy spiky and slimy Puget Sound creatures.


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

However none of the Life Sciences exhibits quite matched the ewwww and awesomeness of naked mole rats. If you want to see the mole rats in action, you can check out Pacific Science Center’s 24 hour naked mole rat cam.


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

The Pacific Science Center also has exhibits in areas like Earth and Physical Sciences. One remarkable exhibit were a pair of elegant sculpture machines that the kids could mechanically animate.


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

The Pacific Science Center is a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. The buildings are located around a central water area that has kinetic sculptures, fountains, water cannons, water wheels, and more!


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)


Pacific Science Center (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

After several hours at the Pacific Science Center, we left near closing (6pm) for a quick dinner and more fun.

Seattle Center

The Seattle Center had a number of solid dining choices and our pick was Mod Pizza for a great blend of fast, affordable, fresh and really yummy. One thing we really like about Mod is that all toppings, sauces, cheeses, etc are included in the same price so you can go simple or crazy and not break the budget. For anyone with nut allergies, Mod is also a great choice as they don’t use nuts in any of their restaurants.


Mod Pizza (Photo credit: Mod Pizza)


Mod Pizza (Photo credit: Mod Pizza)

We devoured the pizza on a couple of their outside tables and enjoyed an impressive view of the Space Needle. We went up in the Space Needle on our last visit to Seattle and given the time and cost for the whole family, we decided to skip it for the Seattle Monorail.


Space Needle (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Seattle Monorail

The Seattle Monorail was also built for the 1962 World’s Fair to link the Seattle Center with downtown Seattle. Since we still had a little room after Mod Pizza, we thought it would be fun to ride the Monorail to downtown and find some dessert. One way tickets on the Monorail are currently $2.25 for Adults and $1.00 for Youth (ages 5-12). At these rates, a ride on the Monorail was a much cheaper option than going up in the Space Needle.


Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

As we entered the Monorail, the sun was just starting to sink and shine on the EMP (Experience Music Project) museum. As the Monorail pulled away from the station, we rode through the brilliant architecture of the EMP museum toward downtown Seattle.


Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Along the ride, the sun lit up and danced with the buildings of downtown reflecting the city in shimmering steel windows.


Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

The contrast of architecture and the endless sea of shining buildings was even more striking from the elevated Monorail.


Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

While riding on the Monorail we did a quick search on Google Maps for dessert options (ice cream, bakery, etc) near the downtown Monorail station. We found a shop called Gelatiamo that sounded promising and was only a 3 block walk from the station.


Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Arriving at the station, we walked through downtown to Gelatiamo. Gelatiamo was founded in 1996 by Maria Coassin and serves gelato, sorbet, cookies, pastries, and other delicioso treats.


Gelatiamo (Photo credit: Gelatiamo)

Walking into the shop, we had difficult decisions to make. In the end, everyone chose gelato and the array of flavors were cool, crisp, creamy and incredibly vibrant. This gelato from Gelatiamo was among the best gelato, ice cream, frozen custard, etc that we’ve ever had! Whenever we write our Top 10 Spots in the U.S. and Canada for Frozen Treats story, it will be on the list. As we walked back to the Monorail station we wished we had been able to try the pastries as well – definitely next time.


Gelatiamo (Photo credit: Gelatiamo)

Riding the Monorail back to the Seattle Center, we noticed an interesting playground next to the EMP museum. Back at the Seattle Center, we decided to check it out.


EMP Museum from Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Artists-at-Play Playground

The playground at the Seattle Center is awesome. From climbing towers with massive slides to giant musical poles, the playground has a bit of everything and a view of the Space Needle, EMP museum, Monorail, etc that is hard to beat.


Artists-at-Play Playground (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

 At the Artists-at-Play playground, even the older kids (and adults) are able to have a little fun.


Artists-at-Play Playground (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

With the sun finally starting to set and everyone tired from the action packed afternoon, we decided to call it a day and head back to the Homewood Suites. Walking by the Monorail station one last time, the neon was now lit and looked every bit of its 1962 glory.


Seattle Monorail (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Pike Place Market

The next morning we woke up and with only a couple hours left in Seattle before the drive to Richland, we decided to visit Pike Place Market, one of the highlights of our last trip to Seattle. Pike Place Market was Seattle’s original Farmer’s Market and is now much more.


Pike Place Market (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

On the way to the market we also stopped to show the kids the first Starbucks, located across the street from the Market. We were also planning to stop at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, another favorite from our last visit, but the line was already out the door.


Original Starbucks Coffee (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Pike Place Market overwhelms the senses. Everyone knows about the fish of Pike Place Market, but we are always amazed at the flowers. Rows and rows of fragrant bright flowers mix with the smell of fish, produce, coffee and a crowd of people to create something unique and special.


Pike Place Market (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Leaving Pike Place Market, we stopped for a coffee, a Seattle Seahawks hat, and hit the road to Richland.

More Seattle Ideas

If you are looking for more ideas, here are a few things to do from our first Seattle trip that you might also like.

Visit Lake Union

Located on the northern end of Seattle, Lake Union has beautiful views of the city, boats, houseboats, water planes, and more. If you’re looking for a great hotel in this area, we recommend the Residence Inn Downtown Lake Union. We stayed there on our previous trip to Seattle and we loved it’s location on Lake Union. There’s also a small playground near the lake and the sunsets on the Lake are stunning.


Lake Union (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)


Lake Union (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Washington Park Arboratum and the Seattle Japanese Garden

On the east side of Lake Union, you will find Washington Park Arboretum and the peacefully lush Seattle Japanese Garden. The 3 1/2 acre Japanese garden will transport your family into a world of leaping koi and basking turtles.


Seattle Japanese Garden (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)


Seattle Japanese Garden (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Seattle Aquarium

Located on Pier 59 of the Seattle waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium is fascinating. With a range of tanks and experiences, your family will be immersed in the water and wonder of the Puget Sound. Our favorites were the Underwater Dome and Window on Washington Waters.


Seattle Aquarium (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Space Needle

Sure, we didn’t do it this trip, but on our first trip we went up in the Space Needle and the views were remarkable! We recommend visiting the Space Needle early or later in the day when the sun turns the Puget Sound into a giant reflecting pool.


View from Space Needle circa 2008 (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)


View from Space Needle circa 2008 (Photo credit: Full Van Fun)

Wrap Up

Whether it’s 24 hours or a week, there is no shortage of AWESOME nearly free Seattle family fun! Everyone knows about Seattle and rain, coffee, grunge, and Seahawks, but the city is so much more. Seattle is filled with a vibrant life that shimmers like the EMP museum or downtown’s buildings with the sun. Seattle is cool like the gelato from Gelatiamo or the waters of the Puget Sound. Seattle immerses you with beauty like the flowers at Pike Place Market or the butterfly garden at Pacific Science Center. Like a Mod Pizza, Seattle can be simple, Seattle can be complex, but in the end you will share an experience that satisfies everyone in your family. Seattle is fun.

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