MOHAI rings a bell, doesn’t it? If you’ve driven through the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle in the past, oh, ten years, you probably recognize the banners than made their home across the bridges. Or, maybe you’ve seen the gradual renovation of the Armory building when checking out the Center for Wooden Boats and wondered what was going on. But, MOHAI? What exactly is this place? And, the question on all of your minds – is it somewhere I can take my kiddos to get us out of the house on yet another rainy Seattle day?

Making the move, which was a decade in the making, to its new South Lake Union home, MOHAI is short for the Museum of History and Industry. WAIT! Don’t go! Despite its seemingly formal name that might make you want to kick your jogging stroller into high-gear and run for the nearest McDonald’s PlayLand, MOHAI is not just kid-friendly, but, in this new space, is kid and family-focused as well. The team at MOHAI has put a lot of time and effort into creating programs, exhibits and spaces in the museum that speak to how kids interpret the history of our city, while still keeping their parents engaged.

Forget LOL and TTYL. MOHAI is going to be the most popular new acronym in your house!

What’s new about MOHAI
Whether you’re already a MOHAI fan or new to the museum, you’re going to love the thoughtful updates that they have made to the MOHAI experience. The most notable change between the old MOHAI and the new, besides the location, is that the exhibits cover all of Seattle’s history… including what’s happening now in our bustling city. Even including exhibits from our sports teams, the WTO protests (oh my, was that really over 10-years ago?) and the industries and businesses that keep Seattle thriving today, your kids are going to get the full scoop behind pieces of Seattle that are in their everyday lives as Seattleites. Another new feature that makes the new MOHAI a desirable place for families? The great open floor-plan that allows kids to get their wiggles out as they explore.

Calling all mini-historians!
Grab your calendar – you’re going to want to write these down. On the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, MOHAI has their MiniMOHAI stations set up around the museum that are geared towards the pre-school crowd (ages 3-5). There are six MiniMOHAI stations in all – each offering a fun activity for kids and parents to engage in – from historical dress-up clothes to puppet theaters to art projects to mini-Pioneer play sets. In addition, MOHAI features Family Labs on Saturdays from 11:00am – 2:00pm for families to dig in a little deeper and explore the themes at MOHAI in a creative way. Both programs are free with admission and are run on a drop-in basis (no reservations required). The calendar feature on the MOHAI website is a great place to bookmark for future use, as they will also post other family-friendly events here.

Another must when you visit MOHAI with kiddos – the Exploration Packs! Filled with goodies (even a snack!) to keep your little ones entertained, engaged and curious as you explore the museum, you can check out an Exploration Pack when you first enter the museum. Leave your own ID as collateral (no, you can’t leave your fussy 2-year old instead) and check out what’s inside! The contents of the pack will often include something for your kids to dress-up with (such as Pioneer-style boot covers, plus the story behind them…), a puzzle or other activity to find a quiet corner of the museum and dig into as a little downtime, coloring activities and a checklist of exhibits and pieces around the museum to find. Turn the pack back into the desk when you leave and see what’s in it the next time you visit!

Can you find…
There are so many awesome features of the new MOHAI and your kids are sure to find their favorites the first time you visit, adding more to their list each time they return. In their Exploration Packs, you’ll find a scavenger hunt of things for them to hunt down at the museum. In addition, can you find… the people climbing the walls? The four space-ship-esque towers that have fun activities hidden inside? The moving clam with legs? The secret place to look down into Lake Union from inside the museum? And, also all the way up through the ceiling to the sky? The secret entrance to the boat sculpture? Boeing’s first airplane? An abstract Space Needle? The room with the working periscope (like in a submarine!) and lighthouse light? The best view of Lake Union? The railroad tracks?

Should we buy a membership?
Kids ages 14 and under are always free at MOHAI, with adult tickets running $14 each and $12 for student tickets. Remember that the first Thursday of each month is free admission for everyone, although it’s likely that MOHAI will be busiest on those days, making it a less kid-friendly experience. Tickets can always be purchased online in advance, or at the door when you get to the museum.

There are two family memberships available, both which include perks such as invites to member only events and discounts at the café and gift shop. If you have a nanny or grandparent who would often be bringing your little guys to MOHAI, check out the Family Plus Membership, which gives you an extra transferable card. Both family memberships also give you a handful of guest passes to use for bringing friends! MOHAI play date, anyone?

Getting there… and keeping your sanity
Parking in South Lake Union? UGH! We want to cry in our sippy cups just thinking about it!  Here’s the plan: First, consider taking the bus. They run every which way, and from every neighborhood to South Lake Union – check out these handy maps to see which stops will deliver you as close as possible. Second: Check out taking the South Lake Union Streetcar! You can park downtown at one of those easy-peasy underground lots and jump on board the streetcar for the quick, and fun, trip to South Lake Union.

Need to bring your car? MOHAI has teamed up with the AGC Building parking lot (1200 Westlake Ave. N., you can’t miss the building – it’s the tall on the lake with “AGC”  on the top) – parking is $5 during the week and $4 on the weekends for your visit to MOHAI. Simply park and take the short walk across the bridge to the museum. Don’t forget your ticket – they’ll validate it when you buy your MOHAI admission.

Please note: At the time of press, Winter 2013, there is a ton of ongoing road construction in the South Lake Union area. We highly suggest coming to SLU via Dexter Ave N. or Westlake Ave. N. from Fremont to avoid all of the crazy detours that will make you want to throw your GPS into the lake. On the bright side, if you have a little one who is obsessed with construction trucks, they’re going to love the view while you scope out a spot to park!

Bring it, wear it, leave it
Bring it: A stroller for little ones or for hauling your stuff around (there’s plenty of room in the museum – even for your double stroller!), snacks to enjoy in the park outside after your visit, a camera to capture the cool exhibits and the awesome view of Lake Union and

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Wear it: Even when the sun is shining in Seattle, it can be breezy and chilly at South Lake Union Park, so throw an extra layer on and pack raincoats for the walk to and from the car. Good walking shoes are a must – the museum is big!

Leave it: Snacks, juice boxes, and coffee – they do not allow food to be consumed in the museum itself, for obvious reasons, so keep them tucked away in your stroller until you leave. No need to bring extra stuff to keep your kids entertained while visiting MOHAI – you won’t need that backup coloring book and crayons here!

Feed the bears
Is all this exploring making your budding historians a bit hungry? Re-fuel options are plentiful when visiting MOHAI. The first, and best option, is right downstairs at MOHAI itself – their new Compass Café overlooks Lake Union and has some tasty options for a quick, fresh sammie or even a caffeine boost for Mom and Dad. Sit the kiddos at a table next to the window so that they can watch the boats while they nosh (Psst! You can go check out the boats after you eat! Perfect bribery options for getting them to have just one more bite…). If the sun is shining on MOHAI, pack a lunch and take it outside for a picnic in South Lake Union Park, which is literally, right outside their front doors. There are plenty of places to pull up a patch of grass and eat. Want to head out into the South Lake Union neighborhood pre- or post-MOHAI visit to eat? Walk a couple of blocks south to Blue Moon Burgers (920 Republican St.) or take the route along the water, to the east, to enjoy some tasty chowder at Duke’s (901 Fairview Ave. N.).

Bonus MOHAI experience
Even with all of the amazing artifacts they have displayed in their beautiful new building, MOHAI is a collecting museum that holds thousands and thousands of artifacts, books and pieces in their collection. And believe it or not, only 1-2% is on display at any given moment! If your kids can’t get enough MOHAI, make an appointment to visit the Sophie Frye Bass Library (email: library@MOHAI.org) – located in the SoDo district, this is the perfect way to expand your MOHAI experience.

MOHAI: Museum of History and Industry
860 Terry Ave. N.
Seattle, Wa 98109
206-324-1126

Email: information@MOHAI.com
Online: MOHAI.org

Hours: Daily from 10:00am – 5:00pm, Open on Thursdays until 8:00pm

Keep an eye on the MOHAI Facebook page for up-to-date info on what’s coming up at this cool museum, including summer camps and more family-friendly events!

Have you been to the new MOHAI? What did you think? 

— Katie Kavulla

Museum opening day photo via the MOHAI Facebook page, all other photos by Katie Kavulla