Let’s face it, while we aspire to visit organic farms, educational museums and music classes with our kids every day, sometimes we just need a clean, mud-free playground with easy access to unlimited caffeine refills. The folks at University Village totally get that (no surprise as they’re all moms themselves). This outdoor shopping center is an oasis of parents pushing strollers and kids running freely.

Don’t let the fact that it’s a shopping center deter you from visiting – no purchase necessary to enjoy a day exploring at U.Village – you can easily have fun without even stepping foot inside a store!

PLAY: Your first stop for playing at U.Village should always be at the play structure in the center of the village. Not only is it undercover for rainy days (hooray!), but the ground is covered in AstroTurf-style grass, so it’s mud free and soft on the littlest ones. The play structure includes two slides and some places to climb, plus benches around the area so that you can sip on your latte while they play. Every parent loves that the play area is enclosed with a gate at the entrance so that you never have to worry about your kiddos making a run for it. Tip from U.Village regulars: The play area really is best for ages five and under. There are often babies and very young toddlers and the play structure is geared towards small children, not the school-aged crowd.

EAT: There are so many dining choices at University Village – and all of them are kid-friendly. The most recent addition to the U.Village family is Grace Kitchen, located in the center of the outdoor part of the village, near Lucy and Ravenna Gardens. They opened in Fall of 2011 and are a welcome addition for families who are looking to grab more than just a quick bite – we love that Grace Kitchen’s menu is both kid and parent-friendly so that kids will be satisfied with their favorites, like mac & cheese, but you’ll be able to enjoy a good meal as well from their comfort-food-esque menu.

Many of the restaurants at University Village offer a day of the week where kids eat free or at a discounted price – The Ram (located next to the Apple Store) has kids eat for $1.00 on Mondays and kids eat free on Wednesdays and Sunday at Pallino Pasteria.

EXPLORE: Beyond the play structure, there are so many cool kid-friendly features of University Village that are not to be missed. There is a large fountain near H&M where you’ll likely find kids dipping their feet in the water on hot summer days and along the walkway near J. Crew, you’ll find a long water feature that is fun for little boot-clad feet to stomp in. Just outside of Trophy Cupcakes (which deserves a stop of its own!), you’ll find a kid favorite at U.Village – the frogs and turtles that are squirting water at eat other. Just watch out – the water comes off and on, so if you’re caught in the middle, you’re likely to get wet! The bronze cow sculptures are an absolute must for a trip to University Village as well – they are located between the GAP and the play structure and kids adore climbing all over them, but beware, they can get very hot during the summer months!

SHOP: If you do enter some of the stores at U.Village, it will be obvious that this shopping center was designed to be family-centric and that the stores themselves are on board with this vision as well. Nearly every store that is even slightly kid-friendly has features to entertain little ones while you shop. Pottery Barn Kids is full of interactive toys – doll houses, shopping carts and more – to entertain kids while you browse (plus, they have weekly story times too!) and Land of Nod has something in every single corner – from puzzles to chalkboards! Want to check out the latest and greatest iWhatever? The Mac Store has computers set up with kid games and activities that will mesmerize your kids while you spend some time chatting with a Mac Genius. And of course, the train table at Kids Club is always a hot spot!

INSIDER TIPS: There is currently (as of Spring 2012) some construction going on at University Village, making parking a bit tighter than usual. We really like the big, angled parking spaces near the Starbucks and Village Maternity – but beware, sometimes you have to circle around a bit before finding one. On occasion, U. Village will offer free valet parking next to Pottery Barn Kids – take advantage of it! Be sure to sign up for their newsletter on the University Village website – they have great family-friendly events on occasion and you’ll be the first to hear about them!

University Village
2623 NE University Village Street
Seattle, WA
Information: 206-523-0622
Online: uvillage.com

What’s your favorite thing to do at University Village with your kids? Do they have a fave?

— Katie Kavulla