Known for its impressive science-themed exhibits and massive IMAX theater, Pacific Science Center (*200 Second Ave N; pacificsciencecenter.org) at Seattle Center is equally beloved for its family-friendly nature attractions. Step into the Tropical Butterfly House, where more than 500 butterflies are imported each week from sustainable rain-forest farms around the world. Watch as the delicate creatures flit from leaves to flowers—and sometimes even the shoulder of a lucky visitor wearing a colorful shirt. Or peek into Pac Sci’s naked mole rat, reptile, and insect exhibits to see the creatures up close in their cozy habitats.
For something a little fishier, head to Seattle Aquarium (*1483 Alaskan Way; seattleaquarium.org) at Pier 59. Tots love watching the adorable otters and enormous harbor seals float around, dive for toys, and swim into a frenzy during daily feedings at 11:30am and 2pm. The giant Pacific octopi draw equal attention during feedings at noon and 4pm, but the aquarium’s touch tide pool is always open for curious visitors who want to feel the bumpy back of a sea star or the spiky spines of a sea urchin.
In Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood, about a 10-minute drive or 20-minute bus ride (route 5) north of downtown, kids can see how they measure up to towering giraffes at Woodland Park Zoo (*750 N 50th St; zoo.org). The zoo sports 92 acres and more than 1,000 animals, including lions, red pandas, hippos, and snow leopards. See raptors soar through the air during weekend flight demonstrations, pay $5 to feed the waddling Humboldt penguins, or offer up some seeds to colorful little Australian parrots called willawongs.
For animal adventures farther afield, board a Clipper Vacations (*clippervacations.com) boat from May through October for a 12-hour day trip to the San Juan Islands. Outings are recommended for children 6 or older and depart from the downtown waterfront at Pier 69. Enjoy a scenic ride across gentle waters before setting out on a whale-watching excursion to see gray whales or the Pacific Northwest’s iconic orcas. Either way, there are lots of oohs and aahs in store.
*Visit Seattle Partner