Seattle Family Fun Series: Adventure to Woodland Park Zoo
Explore Top Seattle Activities with Your Local happyly Ambassador and Family-Fun Expert, Natasha
The Woodland Park Zoo is a favorite attraction for locals and families visiting Seattle, and it’s easy to see why — the lush greenery, manageable size, and unique habitats make it worth adding to your itinerary.
Woodland Park Zoo is located in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of North Seattle. From downtown, it’s about a 15-minute drive, or you can take the Route 5 bus that stops right in front of the zoo (Phinney Ave N and N 55th St stop). There is also a free-covered bike rack near the west entrance.
Expect to budget $6 (plus taxes) for 2-hour parking in the dedicated lot. Downloading the PaybyPhone app in advance saves time and hassle, and it’s used throughout Seattle. You can also park for free in adjacent neighborhoods if you’re willing to walk further, but be respectful of local residents and don’t block any driveways or curbs.
The zoo incentivizes off-season visits with lower winter pricing (currently $17 per adult and $11.50 per child ages 3-12). Rates typically increase by $5-10 per person in the warmer months. Check hours before you head out on your adventure. While winter hours typically run from 9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., special events like the holiday WildLanterns exhibit shorten the day.
Lace-up your walking shoes
The zoo is laid out in a figure-eight loop with a few offshoots (download a digital map here). Traversing all the trails will clock in at just under two miles, so while it’s not a marathon trip like the gigantic San Diego Zoo, you’ll definitely want comfortable shoes and a stroller or carrier for younger kids. The zoo also rents strollers, wagons, and wheelchairs for $8-10 if you’ve left yours at home.
Don’t miss these kid-favorite spots
We get our money’s worth out of our annual membership because the zoo is fun to visit, rain or shine. Summer days stay cooler with shade from native plants and trees, but my favorite time to visit is on a rainy day because there are lots of covered spaces to shelter from the rain. Here are a few kid-approved spots to make sure you find on the map:
- Humboldt Penguins: If you use the West Entrance, you can’t miss these loveable feathered swimmers. Kids love to watch them frolic through the big glass upfront or head down the trail to peep at their underwater habitat.
- Historic carousel: Open during the warmer months (roughly spring-fall), this hundred-year-old landmark with ornately carved animals always has my kids asking for another ride.
- Living Northwest trail: Catch a glimpse of Pacific Northwest natives like snowy owls, grizzly bears, and wolves along with this offshoot. The river otters are the fan-favorite here. Enter a grotto on your left to watch these curious mammals swim and play close to the glass.
- Gorillas: this accredited zoo has an active breeding program, which means there are often adorable gorilla infants cuddling with their mothers. Kids of all ages will love noticing similarities between humans and our gorilla cousins.
- African village: Located near the South Entrance, this space incorporates features from traditional African villages along with a covered viewing area over the savanna. Kids will enjoy an open play space with some seating while catching glimpses of giraffes, zebras, and gazelles.
Because we’re members, our visits last between 1-2 hours, but animal-loving kids might need 4-5 hours to see all their favorite critters. While currently closed during the pandemic, there are several play areas spaced throughout the zoo for future visits. Our favorite rainy day stop is Zoomazium, an indoor play space with a separate tot area and a multi-story treehouse for older kids.
Break for a snack
The zoo’s dining is limited to basic items like burgers, chicken strips, and hot dogs, but you can’t beat the convenience factor of on-site eating and an option to mobile order. Outside food is also allowed at designated eating areas.
Meal options are much more varied once you head off the zoo campus. Within walking distance, Fresh Flours has delicious coffee and pastries, and Windy City Pie or Zeek’s will serve up a tasty pizza. Within a short drive, we love Bongo’s Caribbean Cafe (bring a sand toy or two to this converted gas station and let the kids play on their beach-like covered patio), El Chupacabra Mexican or Red Mill Burgers (which is also next to a taphouse for an adult beverage).
Just north of the zoo is the West Woodland Park Playground. If you arrive early for your visit or need to burn some more energy afterward, this is the place to go. There are large rope climbers, multiple structures for varying age groups, two swing banks, a sandpit, and a cute hill maze.
Outside the south entrance, you’ll find a rose garden and Seattle Sensory Garden. While not a traditional playground, kids can stop and smell the roses in the summer, play with musical chimes and tumble down a vibrant blue turf hill.
The zoo is also just across Highway 99 from beautiful Green Lake. You’ll find families out for walks and jogs along the 3-mile loop year-round (currently closed to bikes, but normally pedestrians and bikers share the paved path). A large playground and commercial area with coffee shops and a cookie shop sit on the eastern edge. In the summer, there’s a wading pool, boat rentals, and a couple of swimming areas for water fun.
Whether your zoo visit is a quick morning outing (with a 9:30 a.m. opening time, it’s one of the earliest Seattle attractions) or an all-day extravaganza, there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained at the zoo and its surrounding neighborhood attractions.
New to Seattle or planning a trip to the Emerald City? Be sure to check out our other Seattle blogs posts (like Seattle Center!) and get all the local insider scoop on the best places to eat and visit while there! If your kids are interested in learning about the sea life and ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest, then be sure to read up on how and when to visit the Seattle Aquarium as well!
And if outdoor adventures are more your thing, we have a few great spots to grab some fresh air with your family while in Seattle, check them out here!
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