Seattle Family Fun Series: Adventure to Seattle Aquarium
Explore Top Seattle Activities with Your Local happyly Ambassador and Family-Fun Expert, Natasha
Taking in the local culture is a priority for my family and me, so we don’t always stop at aquariums and zoos when visiting a new city. The Seattle Aquarium’s unique waterfront location and focus on Pacific Northwest species, however, make it a gem that’s fun for locals and visitors alike. Best of all, it’s close to all kinds of fun when you want to extend the adventure.
The aquarium is located at Pier 59, just down a steep hill from the infamous Pike Place Market. While there is limited paid street parking along the waterfront, large construction projects currently make navigating this area in a car tricky.
Thanks to the Seattle Historic Waterfront Association, visitors receive three hours of free parking at the Pike Place Market garage when visiting select waterfront businesses (including the aquarium). Simply enter the garage on Western Avenue (the Alaskan Way entrance reopens in mid-2022) and ask for a voucher at the aquarium before you head out to your car. Parking is $4 per hour after your free session.
Public transportation is also available (plan your King County Metro trip here). When we have time for a longer outing, we often take the Link light rail to downtown’s Westlake Station and walk through Pike Place Market down to the waterfront.
What to see at the Aquarium
The floor-to-ceiling Window on Washington Waters tank is big enough that you can see it from the ticket booth. Skip it! Okay, just temporarily. Ask ahead when the diver shows are running and time your return accordingly. The knowledgeable divers are full of fun facts and answer live questions about all the local fish living in the tank, so you don’t want to miss it.
We book it to the touch pools first. They get busy as the day goes on, so we like to gently pet our favorite anemones and urchins before it’s too hard to find a spot along the wall.
Keep your camera ready for an adorable photo opp as kids gaze in wonder at the moon jellyfish circulating through the “ring of life.” Then, head over to the Giant Pacific Octopus tank and hunt for one of Puget Sound’s greatest treasures. These cephalopods can change color, making them harder to find, but a friendly naturalist usually lurks nearby to help you spot them.
Take a tour through the grotto-like Tropical Pacific exhibit (my kids loved the colorful tangs and “Nemo” clownfish) before heading outside. You’ll follow a ramp past shorebirds and baby salmon before entering the Underwater Dome. Something about being immersed under water brings out the kid in all of us. We love spotting the prehistoric-looking sturgeon cruising the depths of the dome and counting how many types of rockfish we can spot. The aquarium’s water is piped in from Puget Sound, so you really get a glimpse at what might swim in the chilly water under the ferries and cargo ships just outside.
Wrap up your visit by saying hello to the marine mammals. The harbor seals and otters are downright playful and watching the sea lions dive and twirl is better than any ballet performance.
While a seriously impressive marine-themed playground is slated to open at Waterfront Park in 2024, downtown Seattle is pretty low on green spaces with play equipment.
For a spot to get out the wiggles, we head over to Pier 62 where there’s a wide-open water viewpoint (including a small dock for a closer look at the water, but hold little hands tightly!). There are often food trucks and public art installations here, as well as limited seating for a picnic with a view.
Where to eat
We prefer to stop at Pike Place Market where we can pick up a little something for everyone — grilled cheese from Beecher’s, hot pizza or a “charcuterie cone” from DeLaurenti food and wine, or a crumpet slathered in butter from the Crumpet Shop. Our go-to sweet treat spots are Gelatiamo for gelato in the summer or Indi Chocolate for a rich hot chocolate on a rainy day. Head out the rear entrance of the market above Old Stove Brewing for picnic tables with a bird’s eye view of the Great Wheel and the boat traffic.
Extend the adventure
Make a day of your aquarium visit with one of these options:
Olympic Sculpture Park — located 1 mile north of the aquarium, this free public art space has a paved bike and walking path at its base that’s perfect for a casual family stroll (just stay out of the bike path if you’re walking). Aquarium naturalists hang out at the little pocket beach in the summer and help visitors spot sea creatures in their natural habitat (free; check the schedule here).
West Seattle Water Taxi - This is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to get out on the water in Seattle ($5.75 per adult and free for kids 5 and under; check the schedule here). The 15-minute crossing on this small passenger boat offers beautiful views of the Seattle skyline. We stop for some kalua pork sliders on Marination Ma Kai’s patio and a little time on the Seacrest Park beach before heading back across the water. If you’re a marathon vacationer, a free shuttle can take you from the dock to Alki Beach for more beach fun.
Whether you enjoy a toddler-sized short outing to the Seattle Aquarium or a full day of exploring, the waterfront is one of our family’s favorite stops for local fun and visiting guests.
Know before you go
Hours and reservations: Reserve an entry time online for a 30-minute entry window between the hours of 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily (last entry at 5 p.m.). You can stay as long as you wish, but we budget about 1-2 hours on a visit.
Pricing: Tickets start at $21.95 per adult (Washington residents receive a discount), but the aquarium recently started “plan ahead” pricing, so you’ll pay more for weekends, holidays, and last-minute purchases.
COVID Protocols: Proof of vaccination is required for guests ages 12 and up, and masks are required for ages 5 and up (and recommended for kids over 2).
Discounts: Seattle and King County Public Library cardholders can reserve a pass good for free admission and non-locals should consider a CityPass for discounted admission if your visit takes you to other area favorites (like the Space Needle and Woodland Park Zoo).
At-home fun: Check out the free activity and coloring sheets you can print at home if you want to give your kids some sneak peeks of their day with the sea creatures (or kill time on a long plane ride).
Are you planning a trip to Seattle? Be sure to check out our Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Center articles! get a local's point of view on when to go and which exhibits are the best! Plus, our local Seattle Ambassador, Natasha, has some great pointers on other restaurants and parks in the area.
If you are looking for outdoor adventures while in Seattle, then be sure to read up on the best spots to get some fresh air with the family as well!
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