Historians young and old love discovering Seattle’s past, present and future in the heart of the Emerald City’s historic Pioneer Square. It’s the only place in town where you can pan for gold, go underground and explore Seattle’s original streets, discover an amazing rock emporium and view law enforcement memorabilia dating back to the 1880s. Sound like fun? Read on to find out how you can get in touch with your inner pioneer.
photo: Crystal Grace G. via Yelp
Head to the top of what was once the tallest building west of the Missippippi in a historic Otis elevator, hand-operated by a conductor. Once there, you and your crew can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city from the open-air viewing deck. Built in 1914, Smith Tower was one of the first skyscrapers in the world. It may not be the tallest in the west, or even Seattle any more, but it’s an amazing historic building with a brand new visitor experience. The Legends of Smith Tower tour combines interesting facts and lore—through the past 100 years of the tower’s existence—with bits of humor and intrigue, making it a great experience for any age.
Good to Know: At the base of the Smith Tower is where you will find Smith Tower Provisions—a new-old general store outfitted with a nostalgic soda fountain that serves Full Tilt ice cream, a marbled deli counter featuring fresh salads and sandwiches, a gift shop with locally inspired and curated art, apparel and accessories and fresh grab-and-go items. On the 35th floor is where you will find the Temperance Café and Bar—a speakeasy-inspired hangout that pays homeage to the Smith Tower’s rum-running roots and Chinese Room history by serving Prohibition Era–inspired craft cocktails and bites inspired by the roaring ’20s.
Cost: The Legends of Smith Tower Tour: $19/Adults; $14/Kids (5-12); $17/Seniors (over 65) & Military; 4 & under Free. Straight Up Tickets: $10; under 5 Free. Available every ten minutes beginning at 9 a.m., with ticket sales ending at 5:30 p.m.
photo: Kristina Moy
Last Resort Fire Department
Calling all firefighter wannabes! There’s a four-alarm attraction at the Seattle Fire Department Headquarters that you don’t want to miss. This museum, dedicated to local firefighting history and heroes, includes a collection of one-of-a-kind antique fire trucks. It’s not a hands-on museum, but it’s still a thrill for firefighters both big and small. Psst… be sure to pick up a treasure hunt map when you enter, so your little fire captains can have fun spotting vintage fire hoses, oxygen masks and more.
Hours: Wed., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; June, July & August, Wed. & Thurs., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
photo: Sherill Y. via Yelp
Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum
Budding police officers will enjoy law enforcement memorabilia dating back to the 1880s at the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum. This interactive museum is where kids of all ages are encouraged to explore the exhibits, pretend to be an old-time 911 dispatcher on a real police communications console, try on police uniforms and sit in a jail cell (don’t lock ’em in). And yes, there are police lights and sirens to turn on and off, too!
Good to Know: Visits to this museum are by appointment only, so you need to plan ahead. If you would like to visit or schedule a tour email Officer Jim Ritter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 206-437-3860.
Cost: $4/Adults; $2/Children (11 & under and ADA)
photo: Rebeka Acosta
Bill Spediel’s Underground Tour
As most Seattleites know, pioneers built the city on tidelands and then realized this wasn’t a very good idea. After a boy drowned in a puddle, and flushing the toilet at high tide became perilous, streets were built up a level – creating a hidden subterranean city below. Many of these old buildings and passageways still exist and you can go below to see the original front doors and store fronts. Young urban explorers can imagine what it was like to have to climb a ladder to get up to the sidewalk or walk through tunnels to visit friends… not to mention, checking the tide table before flushing the toilet!
Good to Know: This is a walking tour that covers approximately three blocks at a leisurely pace. The entire tour, including introduction, takes about 75 minutes. Kids under 6 may find the tour challenging. Grownups and kids 13 & older can get an Underground Paranormal Experience. Descend if you dare!
Times: Tours start on the half-hour during the summer; on the hour during the off-season.
Cost: $20/Adults; $17/Youth (13-17, students with valid college ID and 60 & older); $9/Kids (7-12); 6 & under Free
photo: Jeroen van Luin via flickr
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Beginning in 1897, thousands stampeded to the Yukon gold fields in Canada hoping to find their fortune. The Klondike Gold Rush was on! And Seattle was the last stop in civilization for prospectors heading north on steamers. At this museum, which houses the only national park in a building, you’ll learn all about the men, women and children who headed for the Klondike. Psst… kids can take part in Junior Ranger activities and learn how to pan for gold.
photo: Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Facebook page
Something is rumbling under Pioneer Square. It’s Bertha! The world’s largest tunneling machine, busy digging the world’s largest diameter bored tunnel. And now, you and your crew can learn all about Bertha and the ground she’s digging through at the Milepost 31 Information Center. Milepost 31 marks the spot where the SR 99 tunnel travels under Pioneer Square. At this spot, you won’t just learn about Bertha, you’ll learn about the part of town she’s boring through, including the glacier, earthquake and tsunami that shaped the land and the people who shaped it too, from native civilizations to the pioneers. Want more dirt on Seattle’s most boring attraction? Click here.
Hours: ., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed on state holidays). Open until 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month during the Pioneer Square Art Walk.
photo: Helen Walker Green
Shops to Peruse
Magic Mouse Toys
With two floors and over 6,000-square feet chock-full of toys and games, Magic Mouse Toys is, of course, a magnet for kids. Here, you’ll find all kinds of unique toys along with dolls, puzzles and art projects with the promise that this shop carries, “only the classiest brands of toys that have withstood the test of time.”
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
photo: Javacolleen via flickr
So much more than just a jewelry shop, Agate Designs is like a museum full of geological wonders. Although not recommended for tiny tots, kids who can look-but-not-touch will be wowed as they discover Agate Designs’ handpicked crystals, gems and minerals, plus 500-million-year-old fossils.
Hours:, 10 a.m.-6 p.m; Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
photos: Agate Designs Facebook page
This inviting new and used bookstore is a perfect pit stop for you and your little book worm. Rest your feet and cozy up with a good read in the children’s area, and be sure to browse the other sections including literature, history and cooking.
218 First Ave. S.
Seattle, Wa 98104
Online: pioneersquare.org/the-neighborhood/retail/the-globe-bookstore or map it
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
This shop in the heart of Pioneer Square is designed for mystery lovers and a great place to introduce young readers to the world of intrigue and suspense. The shelves are full of grownup treasures from Doyle and Christie to Dan Brown and Kathy Reichs. In the Kids Corner your little gumshoe will find Shelby Holmes (kid detective) and Geronimo Stilton (mouse detective), plus a great selection of both new and classic mysteries to solve!
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m; Sun., noon.-5 p.m.
Parks for Playing & Picnicking
Waterfall Garden Park
A waterfall in the middle of the city? This hidden pocket park is a great spot to relax with your crew, read a book or simply rest your tired feet. Pack a picnic and listen to the gentle sound of the 22 ft. waterfall as it washes out the bustle of city life.
219 Second Ave. S.
Seattle, Wa 98104
Online: pioneersquare.org/experiences/waterfall-garden-park or map it.
photo: Renee Robichaud
Occidental Square Park
Play a game of chess, bocce, foosball or table tennis in this leafy cobblestoned park in the heart of Pioneer Square. Occidental Square Park is a great place to seek some shade on a hot day or catch an outdoor concert during the summer months. Plan to stop for coffee or lunch at one of the many eateries surrounding the park or try one of the local food trucks near the park and enjoy plenty of outdoor tables to sit at.
Pioneer Square Park
This popular park sits on the site of Henry Yesler’s mill and is home to the ornate Iron Pergola, built over the finest underground restroom in the United States (sadly, the restroom closed its doors in the 1920s). Pioneer Square Park is also home to an Alaskan Tlingit totem pole with an interesting backstory and a Chief Seattle drinking fountain. Psst… Pioneer Square Park is a great vantage point for people watching and a good spot for a photo opp to commemorate your day in Pioneer Square.
photo: Seattle Municipal Archives
Places for Sips & Snacks
Cow Chip Cookies
What’s that on your boot? It’s not a cow chip, is it? Don’t fear, Seattle parents. You and your crew are going to love these kind of cow chips. An institution in Pioneer Square since 1982 (although the recipe dates from 1883), Cow Chip Cookies serves “the original drop cookie,” a delicious sweet treat baked to perfection from a secret recipe from Butter Creek Farm. Psst.. Cow Chip cookies pair best with a cold glass of milk or a cup o’ Joe.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (game days only)
photo: Angeliza L. via Yelp
Grand Central Bakery and Cafe
Follow the aroma of fresh baked treats to this bakery in the Grand Central Arcade. On chilly days, perch by the fireplace and enjoy handmade sticky buns with espresso for you and hot chocolate for the kiddies. On sunny days, take your sweet eats out to the cobblestone patio.
214 First Ave. S.
Seattle, Wa 98104
Online: grandcentralbakery.com/find-us/seattle/pioneer-square/ or map it
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
The London Plane
Fresh sustainably-sourced ingredients and flavors from around the world make this bakeshop and floral shop a great place to stop for brunch or any time of day. Try their toasted sourdough with hazelnut butter, sea salt and honey or their quiche with ham, asparagus and aged cheddar. Delish! Psst… the bakeshop’s name was inspired by the London Plane trees that dot Pioneer Square.
Have you and your kids visited Pioneer Square lately? What’s your favorite part about Seattle’s oldest neighborhood? Tell us in the Comments below!
— Helen Walker Green