It may only be 15 miles east of Seattle, but Issaquah’s a world away when it comes to adventures for the whole fam. No skyscrapers or Sound views here, just wide open spaces and plenty of room to roam. From farms and museums, to mountain hikes and bike rides, we’ve got the 411 on how to make a day in this gateway town.

magic forest cougar mountain zoo

photo: Audrey L. via Yelp

Go Wild
Issaquah has a surprising wild side in Cougar Mountain Zoo, home to tigers, reindeer, tropical birds and of course, cougars. It’s just the right size for little walkers who won’t get too worn out strolling the grounds and getting their Dr. Doolittle on. After checking out the wildlife, be sure to make your way to the Magic Forest, where little hands can feed friendly animals who get up close and personal with visitors. Here you’ll also find a sizeable collection of bronze animals perched around the grounds. They’re fun to look at and we’re sure your crew will strike a pose next to their favorite just for you. And just a head’s up, if animals and bars don’t sit well with you, this is one you will want to sit out. The zoo is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and admission rages from $9 to $12.50; kids 2 and under are free.

Feeding deer at Cougar Mtn Zoo

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

If warm fuzzies are more your thing, Fox Hollow Farm is the place to get some. This bucolic property out on Issaquah-Hobart Road may have you rethinking city life or at least envying the acreage, complete with babbling brook, that makes up this farm. Although you could easily spend the day here, summer Farm Days (Wednesday through Sunday) split the day in two, so everyone can have a chance to play Old MacDonald for a few hours. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time for the kiddos to meet goats, rabbits and pigs in the fenced petting area, jump around in the corn bin and bounce to new heights in the giant inflatables (a special summer-only treat). They can also catch a ride on a pony ($4 extra per rider) and pedal around on the John Deere trikes while they’re there. Plan to spend $10 per person (babies up to 18 months are free) for time well spent on the farm.

Two girls with Goat at Fox Hollow

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

For the mini marine biologist in your life, there’s the salmon hatchery in downtown Issaquah. This place is really jumping in the fall when the fish are spawning, but there are plenty of exhibits and places to explore at other times of the year too. On weekends, families can join a tour (suggested donation $2 per person) or play tour guide for your Littles using the informational signs posted around the property during the week. We love this simple stop because it’s just so easy.

Salmon Hatchery in Issaquah

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Go Outside
Proximity to the mountains makes Issaquah an easy hiking and biking destination for families. There are lots of trails to choose that’ll get the fam into the green, breathing fresh air. If easy is your speed, try some of the short Family Forest Walks in the Tiger Mountain area. Each clocks in under a mile, but can easily be linked together to make things a bit more challenging if your sidekick is up for it. The High Point trail is another that easily caters to mini mountaineers, with three different options. The Tradition Lake trail is a level trail perfect for wee ones, while the Nook trail, that winds around Talus Rock, calls for a little more spring in your step. Save the West Tiger Vista 3 trail for big kids wanting to push the hiking limit. It’s a steep one, but the view is worth it! As for bikes, Duthie Hill puts a whole new spin on mountain biking. Pack up the fat tires and helmets before hitting this park with your little cyclist.

Group at Duthie Hill

photo: Ross Sutcliffe

Go on a Tour
Chocoholics rejoice, because Issaquah is home to Boehm’s Candies and Chocolates . And lucky for you, Boehm’s has tours open to the public on weekdays at their authentic chalet and High Alpine Chapel. For $5 per person (kids 4 and under are free) you can see how these tasty chocolates are crafted, and even grab a few samples along the way. If weekdays don’t work, don’t worry, you can still take a peek at the chocolate production with a self-guided tour along the viewing windows. The best time to get in the action here is between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Boehms chocolates

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Another quick tour to take while you’re in town is at the Issaquah Depot Museum in town. It houses artifacts from Issaquah’s past, and acts as the loading point for the Issaquah Valley Trolley, which runs from late spring to early fall on weekends, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. It’s just $5 to ride, and kids age 5 and under are free. Our favorite part is playing on the park just across the parking lot afterward. Consider this a three-fer!

Go Play
When it comes to playgrounds, Issaquah has lots of spots to let the tot lot swing and climb or fly a kite or kick a ball. Squak Valley Park on Hobart Road is a great spot for all of the above, with some killer mountain scenery, and the chance to spot paragliders taking off from Tiger Mountain. Or try your hand at Summit Park tucked up in the Issaquah Highlands. This is another great place to take your crew, especially if you’ve got older kiddos in the mix. They’ll have a blast playing checkers or chess on the life-sized boards there, and everyone can take a turn on the twisty slides built into the hillside that make other, traditional slides jealous. They’ll be the hit of the day. We promise.

Park by Fox Hollow

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Go Eat
When hunger hits, there are lots of restaurants serving up nom-nom noshables for families. The homegrown Boarding House plates fresh comfort food with an atmosphere to match. And the XXX Rootbeer Drive-In serves up floats and greasy burgers like grandpa used to eat. Plus, the weekend Cruz-ins will certainly keep the kidlets wide-eyed while you scarf down some fries or onion rings. For downtown dining The Issaquah Brew House is the place to try. They’ve got local-brew Rogue beers on tap for parents, kids’ meals served in a keepsake Frisbee, and a Lego table to keep the wiggle worms busy while you wait. It doesn’t get better than that on a leisurely weekend afternoon. There are familiar city faves there too, like Zeek’s, MOD and Tutta Bella if some serious pie is what your Littles crave.

Playing at Rogue Brewery

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Mark Your Calendars
The annual Issaquah Salmon Days Festival returns October 3-4, 2015. Welcome the salmon back home with a weekend full of fishy activities including a community parade, arts and crafts, yummy food and live entertainment. Psst! Be sure to hit the kid-friendly activities at the Field of Fun (think hands-on projects, games, and rides) and don’t miss the special exhibits, events and family activities at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

What’s your family’s favorite thing to do or see in Issaquah? Got a favorite Issaquah restaurant? Tell us about it in the Comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe