History may not be your kids’ favorite subject, but a fun way to help pique their interest is to introduce them to historic sights they can relate to. Lucky for us, Seattle offers a treasure trove of historic things see, do and experience. Scroll down for 10 historical Seattle sites to explore with your kids now.

photo: Pexels

Pier 57

Why It's Historic: Pier 57 doesn’t have any exciting pirate stories to tell, but it is very much a part of Seattle history. Originally known as Pier 6, Pier 57 has gone through a number of owners and names including the John B. Agen Company who owned the pier when it was first built in 1902. By 1909, it was owned by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad and became known as Milwaukee Pier. It was later known as the McCormick Terminal in the mid-1930s when it became the terminal for the McCormick Steamship Line, the Munson McCormick Line and Osaka Shosen Kaisha. In later years, it was used for fish processing and recreational fishing. In 1989, the City of Seattle actually traded Pier 57 for Piers 62 and 63. And today, it's owned by the Griffith family and is better known as Miner’s Landing.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: It’s fun! Today, the pier is home to a variety of fantastic family eateries, shops and popular attractions, including the impressive Seattle Great Wheel, the “flying theater” known as Wings Over Washington, a classic carousel, arcade and more. The Seattle Great Wheel offers one heck of an ah-mazing view of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Puget Sound, Cascade Mountains and Mount Rainier as well as the city’s neighboring islands. The entire trip will take you approximately 20 minutes and will include three full rotations (or sometimes four-depending on where you boarded in the cycle) 17 stories above the ground. Once your feet are safely back on Pier 57, head next door to Wings Over Washington to take a ride on Seattle’s only state-of-the-art flying theater where you can get a bird’s-eye view of Washington’s most scenic attractions. 

Pier 57–Miner’s Landing
1301 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98101
206-623-8600
minerslanding.com

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photo: Kristina Moy

The Seattle Center & Space Needle

Why It’s Historic: The 74 acres known today as the Seattle Center was originally built for the Seattle World’s Fair which was held in 1962. Many of the buildings used for the space-age event known as Century 21 are still standing today, including what is now known as the Pacific Science Center, Key Arena, the International Fountain, the Monorail and the city’s greatest landmark, the Space Needle.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: The views from the Space Needle have always been spectacular, but they got even better with the Needle’s major overhaul which was completed in 2018. Standing 605 feet tall, the top of the Needle is now referred to as Atmos and includes three levels: the 500-foot observation level (with the world’s first revolving glass floor), the 510-foot Ring Level (with less spectacular but still important new restrooms) and the 520-foot observation level (with both indoor and outdoor open-air viewing). Connecting all three is a new grand staircase. The Oculus Stairs are two half-moon shaped staircases built from steel, wood and glass. At the base of the stairs sits the Oculus, a 19 foot by 11 foot glass floor that gives a unique view of the elevators and counterweights.

Space Needle
400 Broad St.
Seattle, WA 98109
206-905-2100
Online: spaceneedle.com

Seattle Center
305 Harrison St.
Seattle, WA 98109
206-684-7200
Online: seattlecenter.com

Pioneer Square

Why It’s Historic: Pioneer Square is often called Seattle’s original neighborhood as the founders of city first settled here in 1852. Almost all of the early wooden buildings there burned to the ground during the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The new stone and brick buildings that replaced them (and built on top of them) have given the neighborhood its distinctive Richardsonian Romanesque look and cobblestone streets. The famous cast iron and glass pergola, found at 1st Avenue and Yesler Way, was built in 1909.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: It only makes sense that the most historic place in the city features a variety of places to learn about history. The Last Resort Fire Department is a museum for firefighter wannabes dedicated to local firefighting heroes and includes a collection of one-of-a-kind antique fire trucks. Bill Spediel’s Underground Tour will take you down to the city that was before the fire to view some of the old buildings with original store fronts. Kids can also pan for gold at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (it's the only national park located in a building) as well as learn about the gold seekers headed for the Klondike. There is so much to see and do here that you might want to plan a family staycation and stay at the neighborhood's Embassy Suites by Hilton

Online: pioneersquare.org

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Why It’s Historic: Joseph Edward Standley first set up his bizarre mix of curiosities and souvenirs on the Seattle waterfront in 1899. Since then, not much has changed except for the store’s location and its contents. This free museum/gift shop is still run by the Standley family.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: Whether it’s Sylvester and Sylvia the mummies or Black Bart the one-armed bandit, the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop lives up to its name. It’s not for everybody, but older kids will especially get a kick out of seeing the amazing flea circus, Chief Seattle’s hat, Mexican jumping beans and some truly wacky oddities. With that said, younger ones (and their parents for that matter) may be not be so keen upon viewing some of the mummies and shrunken heads.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
1001 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98104
206-682-5844
Online: yeoldecuriosityshop.com

Smith Tower

Why It’s Historic: Located in Pioneer Square, the Smith Tower is named after Lyman Cornelius Smith, the founder of the Smith-Corona Typewriter Company, and is one of the oldest skyscrapers in the city. The 38-story building was built in 1914 and if you have older relatives living here, they will tell you that it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. That distinction was short-lived though after the completion of the Kansas City Power and Light building in 1931. However, the Smith Tower was the tallest on the West Coast until 1962 when the Space Needle was built.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: Obviously, the view from the observation deck is amazing, but there is more to see inside including the self-guided, interactive tour called The Legends of Smith Tower. Visitors can immerse themselves into the roaring 1920s and beyond and peek into a time when Seattleites were coming to terms with the early prohibition and technology that would soon transform the city. During the 40-minute tour, you can explore the radio operations that took place in the Smith Tower and learn how they played into the bootlegging operation of Roy Olmstead; learn why the Smith Tower became a popular place for attorneys to set up shop; see how the Smith Tower in-house switchboard connected folks to the outside world; and learn how the original Chinese Room came to be on the 35th floor.

Smith Tower
506 Second Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104
206-624-0414
Online: smithtower.com

White River Valley Museum

Why It’s Historic: This museum was first thought of during the 1950s when a group of townspeople would gather for lunch and share stories about the area’s history. That small group then became the White River Valley Historical Society which created a small museum in the town of Thomas. In the 1960s, the museum was moved to Auburn. As the museum grew in popularity and size, its group of aging founders shrank. Eventually, the society asked the city of Auburn to help keep the museum alive and the city responded with a resounding yes!

While It’s Worth Seeing: Today, the White River Valley Museum features a variety of life-like displays that highlight what life was like in the greater Auburn area many years ago. Families are invited to explore the streets of Auburn as they were in the 1920s. Here, you can peek inside the Auburn Depot, hop on aboard a 1924 caboose, wander through a settler’s cabin, try on a hat at Ms. Hall’s Hat Shop, check in at the Tourist Hotel, explore a Japanese American farmhouse and more. The museum is full of artifacts and replicas and “do not touch” signs are a rarity. In fact, kids are encouraged to use all of their senses while exploring.

White River Valley Museum
918 H St. S.E.
Auburn, WA 98002
253-288-7433
Online: wrvmuseum.org

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Why It’s Historic: The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, aka the Ballard Locks, is located on Salmon Bay in Lake Washington’s Ship Canal near Ballard. The locks were first opened on Independence Day in 1917. Today, more boats pass through it than any other lock in the U.S. It’s a bit difficult to describe how it works and its purpose, but we’ll do our best. Basically, the point of the locks is to keep the fresh water from Lake Washington and Lake Union from getting into the salt water of Puget Sound while allowing boats to pass between the two waterways. Boats move from the water level of the lake to the water level of the Sound (and vice versa) through a series of “elevators” that raise and lower the boats as needed.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: Almost everything to do and see here is free! Kids (and adults) who are fascinated by boats of all shapes and sizes will get a kick getting up close and personal with them. Boats pass through here 24 hours a day. In addition to the locks, there are two floors of interactive displays to explore in the Visitor Center/Museum as well as the Historic Administration Building, a fish ladder that aids in the migration of salmon and the amazing Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens. The locks even present a summer music series that is hard to pass up .

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
3015 N.W. 54th St.
Ballard, WA   98107
206-783-7059
Online: ballardlocks.org

Bill Speidel’s Underground Seattle Tour

Why It’s Historic: The story goes something like this: In 1889, Jonathan Edward Back, a cabinetmaker, accidentally started a fire by igniting and overturning a glue pot. Soon, 31 blocks of the new wooden Seattle buildings were in flames. Seattle rebuilt its streets and buildings literally on top of the old ones which resulted in the city being built anywhere from 12 feet to 30 feet taller than the original. A number of businesses still had their original ground floor, but with the new design, they became basements. In 1907, the area now known as the “Underground” was condemned. In 1965, a small part of the underground city was restored by Bill Speidel who created the Underground Tour for folks curious to see what was underneath the current streets of Seattle.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: While not a long distance (about three blocks), Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour offers views of the city’s original building’s front doors, storefronts and ladders that were once used to transport people from the underground to the new city streets. The 75-minute tour tells history with a touch of humor. They call it "history with punch lines.” The tour begins at Doc Maynard’s Public House and ends at the Rogues Gallery and the Underground Gift Shop which also includes a few more displays.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
608 1st Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104
206-682-4646
Online: undergroundtour.com

West Point Lighthouse

Why It’s Historic: Created with a cost of $25,000, the West Point Lighthouse began operation on November 15, 1881 as the first manned light station on Puget Sound, but was the last to become automated in 1985. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was placed right by where Seattle would dump its raw sewage for its first 80 years. Located at Discovery Park, the lighthouse light was illuminated with the aid of a kerosene lamp for 44 years and later operated with Seattle’s electricity in 1926.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: In terms of ice cream sundaes, the lighthouse is the cherry on top of Discovery Park which is known for its paved paths, wide open meadows for picnicking and playing and amazing vistas of the Olympics from the bluffs of Magnolia. It’s looking great for its age thanks to a $600,000 restoration project, undertaken in 2009 and finished in 2011. The walk down to the beach is beautiful, but super steep and not stroller friendly (lots of stairs). If you have very small children unable to make the hike or a disabled parking pass, you can nab one of the few parking spots right down by the beach.

West Point Lighthouse in Discovery Park
3801 Discovery Park Blvd.
Seattle, WA 98199
206-386-4236
Online: lighthousefriends.com

Pike Place Market

Why It’s Historic: Before the creation of the Pike Place Market, local farmers had to sell their wares within a small section of Sixth Avenue and King Street known as The Lots. However, many of the farmers had to sell their produce by consignment to commercial wholesale houses on Western Avenue leaving them with little profit. In 1896, a new Seattle ordinance allowed the city to designate various places as public markets, including what we now know today as Pike Place Market which opened its doors for the first time on August 17, 1907. Today, it’s one of the oldest and continuously operated public farmers markets in the country.

Why It’s Worth Seeing: There is so much to see and do at Pike Place Market besides picking up veggies for dinner. Where else can you experience a free "flying fish show” where fishmongers throw salmon back and forth across the seafood counters? You’ll also find a variety of buskers (musicians, magicians, clowns, singers, jugglers), a Giant Show Museum, the county’s oldest comic book store and the sticky but spectacular Gum Wall. Be sure to check out the Market Magic & Novelty Shop and look for Elvis the Fortune Teller. Need a snack? Stop by the historic Three Girls Bakery who have been baking up treats since 1912 or enjoy a sweet treat with a dose of old-school nostalgia at Shug's Soda Fountain & Ice Cream.    

Pike Place Market
1st Ave & Pike St.
Seattle, WA 98101
206-602-6420
Online: pikeplacemarket.org

—Jeff Totey

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