Named one the nation’s “Best Towns” by Outside Magazine, Issaquah offers a wide variety of family-friendly activities, including hiking, biking, and just plain “exploring”! Known as the “Trailhead City,” the former mining and logging town is nestled below the Issaquah Alps – Cougar, Squawk & Tiger Mountains. It now boasts a population of over 30,000 people and is home to a growing number of young families looking for the balance of a quiet, small town and a hip, culturally diverse community. A great place to spend the day with kids any time of year, Issaquah boasts great parks, restaurants, shopping, and even its own zoo.
Go: Located just 16 miles east of Seattle, Issaquah is conveniently located off of I-90.
Get there: Follow I-90 East to the Front Street exit. Turn right onto Front Street and you’ll quickly find yourself in the heart of Issaquah’s historic town center. Look for street parking or park in any of the free lots (located behind the shops lining Front Street) and you’ll be in walking distance of Issaquah’s quaint vine-covered public library, galleries, shops, restaurants, coffee shops and ever popular Train (Depot) Park.
What to bring: Issaquah is a very walkable town. You can get to most places on foot and parking is generally easy to find. A stroller or baby carrier would be a good idea if you plan to spend the day exploring. Some snacks and drinks for your little ones are always a good idea, although there are many places in town to grab a lunch, coffee or a quick bite.
How to dress: Since you’ll probably be spending a fair amount of time outside and walking around town, you’ll want to dress for the weather and bring a rain jacket or umbrella. Kids will want comfortable walking shoes or sneakers, especially if you’re going to check out any of Issaquah’s parks.
What to do: Issaquah offers something interesting for everyone in the family! You may not be able to fit all of these activities into one day trip, but you can take your pick, grab a meal at one of the town’s many kid-friendly eateries and we’re sure you’ll want to visit again soon.
Grab your little train lover and follow the train tracks of historic downtown Issaquah to the Issaquah Train Depot Museum & Park, currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Railroad memorabilia is on display, along with a vintage caboose and other railroad cars. Pictures of Issaquah’s past show you the town as it was in early days. Tours are available by appointment. A family activity guide is also available for a suggested donation of $1 per copy. The guide features a kid-friendly walking tour of the Depot and its exhibits as well as pictures, activities, puzzles, and questions designed to stimulate conversation. After your tour, be sure to visit Depot Park (behind the building) which includes a large grassy area, picnic tables and a fantastic train-themed play structure.
Issaquah Train Depot Museum & Park
50 Rainier Boulevard North
Hours: 11:00am-3:00pm, Fri-Sun. Admission: $2 adult, $1 child
The Issaquah Salmon Hatchery is the most visited of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatcheries, with thousands of visitors every year. The Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) lead tours, answer questions and promote watershed stewardship so that young people can take care of the water they share with the salmon. Free weekend tours are offered during fall spawning season on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00am and 1:00pm. Reservations are required for guided tours during the week. At the glassed-in fish ladder and holding ponds, you and your kids can get nose-to-nose with adult salmon that have returned to spawn. Watch brightly colored chinook, coho, sockeye and other Issaquah Creek species jump from one level to the next in the ladder. You can also see the salmon in detail in the holding pond, which is their final destination before being spawned or released upstream. In the spring, FISH also offers a popular education for preschoolers called Super Salmon Sleuths.
Issaquah Salmon Hatchery
125 W. Sunset Way.
Hours: Daily 8:00am-4:00pm. Admission: Free, but donations to FISH are appreciated.
While not located in downtown Issaquah, the Cougar Mountain Zoo is a truly unique place to visit with families of all ages. The small zoo nestled at the foot of Cougar Mountain, just off of I-90 (west of downtown Issaquah), features a wide array of unusual animals including: reindeer, macaws, tigers, cougars, lemurs, alpaca, wallabies and will soon be home to an endangered cheetah. Kiddos have the opportunity to feed some of the animals, including the reindeer. The zoo also features a picnic area (bring your own lunch) and a gift shop. From December 1-23 and 26-30, the zoo hosts their annual Reindeer Festival where kids can visit Santa and his reindeer, enjoy a hot drink and treats, and climb aboard his magical sleigh.
Cougar Mountain Zoo
19525 SE 54th Street
Hours: Wed-Sun, 9:30am-5:00pm. Admission: $11.50 adult, $9 child 2-12yrs, under 2 are free. Parking is free.
If you are in the mood to shop, Issaquah’s Gilman Village is a fun, outdoor shopping area with an old fashioned feel. Window shop along the wooden boardwalk, grab your caffeine fix at the new Issaquah Coffee Company (complete with kids’ play area and free Wi-Fi) and be sure to visit White Horse Toys – your little ones will thank you!
Where to Eat: Issaquah offers an abundance of great family-friendly restaurants. A fixture since the 1930’s, the famous Triple XXX Root Beer Drive-In offers a great kids menu, mouthwatering burgers and huge root beer floats! Your little car and truck fans will especially love the memorabilia plastering the walls and ceiling. Other yummy options include Flying Pie Pizzeria, Stan’s BBQ and the new Sunset Ale House (owned by Jak’s Steakhouse and offering their steaks on the pub’s menu).
Cost: Visiting Issaquah can be a relatively inexpensive day trip. You can plan to spend some money on lunch (or at the toy store!) or you could bring along a picnic to take the park if the weather is sunny. The zoo will cost you a little extra, but is well worth it.
Bonus: Issaquah’s Annual Salmon Days Festival is this weekend, October 1-2, from 10:00am-6:00pm. This Northwest tradition features a parade, international food booths, craft vendors and live entertainment. Be sure to take your kids to experience the Field of Fun at Veterans’ Memorial Park (behind the Issaquah Police station) which includes giant inflatables, human-sized hamster balls and live children’s entertainment on the Kids Stage. Admission is free.
Issaquah also hosts a wonderful Saturday Farmers’ Market from April – October, 9:00am – 2:00pm, located at Pickering Barn (1730 10th Ave NW) across from Costco.
Online: Another great resource for things to do and see in Issaquah can be found at discoverissaquah.com.
— Susan Ossinger