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Family Fun in Seattle: Butterfly Gardens, Carnival Rides, Music History and a Damn Good Burger

As a resident of Portland, Oregon I have no excuse that I have never visited Seattle. I have always wanted to go but have never taken the time to plan the trip. Having only lived in the Pacific Northwest for four years I guess it’s reasonable, but I am embarrassed to admit it.

When I finally decided to take my son on a short trek to the city that brought us great attractions like the Space Needle, museums like Experience Music Project and the legendary rock band Nirvana, I was curious to see if it would live up to all my expectations. There’s been a lot of hype about this town; it’s time I found out why.

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The Hotel
We stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle; the Pacific Northwest’s only AAA five-diamond hotel. Originally founded in 1924, the Italian Renaissance architecture of the Fairmont hotel is dramatic on the exterior while the lobby is classic and elegant yet comfortable.

The modern but classically styled guest rooms are peaceful and quiet. In fact, you would never know you had a busy city surrounding you unless you took a peek out the window to take in the great views.

My seven-year-old son is an early riser so in the morning we explored a floor or two, quietly walking down the hallways that are so rich in color and adorned with historic touches.

Then we changed into bathing suits and put on our robes- they even offer mini-sized ones for kids- and headed to the second-floor health club and pool so my son could burn off a bit of that ever present child energy in the massive pool while I could hang out in the Jacuzzi for a bit. Both are covered by a solarium rooftop that is opened during the summer months. If they are old enough (12 and up) you can also visit the weight room and dry sauna.

After a morning swim, we returned to our room to get ready for the day. I grabbed a scarf and dusted off my grungy head-sock (in this town you can officially pass it on down to your little boy and he will fit right in).

As we exited the hotel through the lower level we merely followed the amazing wafts of deliciousness to Belle Epicurean. We enjoyed almond croissants and I had a great cup of coffee. The pastries and muffins here are not overly glazed and sugarized but still sweet and delicious.

The Walk
Make sure you have on your tennies because like New York or San Francisco this is a walking city and you can feel it when you hit the mini hills.

We walked the few short blocks to the Seattle Monorail. Originally built for the Olympics, it runs along Fifth Avenue from Westlake Center. The monorail provides a fun, quick and convenient link from downtown Seattle to the Seattle Center. Each trip takes two minutes to travel the one-mile route which my son loved because it goes pretty fast.

Before we knew it, we reached our destination: the Seattle Center. Its home to the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Experience the Music Project, Seattle Children’s Theater and the Fun Forest Amusement Park.

Seattle Center
After we got off the Monorail I had to stare at the Space Needle for a bit and take a few photos. Then we walked over to the Pacific Science Center. This is a great museum offering indoor and outdoor areas to explore.

The outdoor courtyard incorporates interactive fountains and colorful towering sculptures. Kids line up and wait patiently for their turn to aim and shoot the different water guns at rotating sculptures.

Also outside in the courtyard was Happy Jack the cowboy and pony ride. Jack quickly had 15 anxious children ready for a pony ride and while they were setting up he shared cowboy stories and photo albums with the kids and was in great spirits for the 9am start time. They also had a small petting zoo that the kids loved.

If you can make it indoors, which took us quite a while, there is an IMAX theater, great displays such as a walk-through butterfly house that has jungle-like terrain where the exotic creatures flutter about, a prehistoric dinosaur room and science shows. Insects and bugs are big here too with many exhibits and interactive displays to view.

There is also the Planetarium where a 40 person cinema shows films about space and travel in outer space. There is definitely plenty to do and I recommend you come early as when we were leaving at 11am there were big lines forming. Lines + kids = not good.

We were in the mood for Thai food and I had heard that Rice and Spice is some of the best in the city. Located next to the Fiona building at Johns Street and Avenue North, the restaurant had old Thailand photos on wall, a nice atmosphere and was busy. Luckily we got there before the big lunch rush. Rice and Spice is known for its pumpkin curry and for good reason. It tasted authentic and healthy and was quite affordable too.

Fun Forest Amusement Park
After a great meal we headed back to the Seattle Center and to the Fun Forest Amusement Park. It has the feel of an old-fashioned traveling carnival and was a fun little diversion. My son loved the rides. The Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and carousel were big favorites.

Experience Music Project & Science Fiction Hall of Fame
I am a musician and was really looking forward to visiting the Experience Music Project. The ‘experience’ begins with the building’s architecture. It’s amazing with a curved and roof and sides reflecting the rainbow colors and smoothly contoured entryway.

As you enter, the first thing you see is a two-story giant funnel sculpture of guitars and drums and all kinds of instruments hanging from the ceiling. There is also the world’s largest guitar. At 30 feet long it looked like a Telecaster but had a funky top shape.

The first floor exhibits are in chronological order and follow blues, jazz, hip-hop, funk, punk, country, soul, and of course rock ‘n’ roll. The museum is named for Seattle native and musician Jimi Hendrix.

Exhibit rooms focus on legends like Hendrix with TV. monitors showing live footage, all kinds of memorabilia, and signed guitars. Just about every other musical artist you can think of all the way up to Nirvana and Speed metal bands of today are also showcased within the different rooms.
80,000 artifacts of the rock music era are on display, along with some of the earliest electric guitars, costumes from performances and handwritten lyric sheets are all available to view. Great recorded footage is available to listen to as well.

Upstairs are lots of hands on exhibits such as the Sound Lab where musical gear is available to play. Or head to one of the studio pod soundproof rooms to jam out with the family. You can even be a momentary rock star with the On Stage exhibit where pre-programmed instruments let you and bandmates sounds and look like the real deal. The exhibit is designed so you can experience what it’s like to be on stage under lights and with a big music production system–like a rock star.

There is a music lab called the sound and vision room, where you can sit down at a station and watch and hear a one on one with music producers and artists in an intimate setting.

Also upstairs is an area devoted to printmaking and the old school advertising of music and art with a Hatch brother’s printmaking display. Advertising and typography for mono prints created for artist promotions like Porter Wagner, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Dolly Parton showcasing western and soul music posters and designs.

You can also go into the stage area, where you can imagine yourself rocking out on a mammoth stage set and backdrop light show. I could have easily spent the whole day here and will have to come back one day and do just that. Pretty cool.

Your admission to Experience the Music also includes entry to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. State-of-the-art interactives and artifacts like Captain Kirk’s command chair, the giant Alien queen, E.T.-and more. Science Fiction has always been a great mind-expansion experience for kids and this area does not let you down.

Seattle’s Best Burger
After a full day exploring Seattle, we worked up an appetite. We headed to the Seattle neighborhood of Belltown to the Palace Kitchen of restaurateur Tom Douglas fame. From the outside, it looks like a regular corner diner but once you step inside you realize it’s something entirely opposite. The décor is old world with chandeliers and dark walls with a big square bar sitting in the middle of the space.

This place feels like a hang for regulars who have an acquired taste for fantastic food and beverages.

The menu approach is upscale bar food and I had the Palace Burger Royale made with wood-grilled Oregon country beef topped with Beechers white cheddar and served with fries. I took their recommendation for preparing it medium rare—something I would never think of—but I went for it. It was the best hamburger of my life. My son tried the grilled cheese which was also amazing.

If you arrive early, it’s kid friendly. Sit by the big windows to people watch and soak in the last rays of sunshine of the day.

Seattle turned out to be more than I expected. Like Portland, it’s very walkable and easy to navigate. By days end we had tasted some great food, experienced music history, walked through a butterfly garden and even played a few carnival games. Did I mention it didn’t rain a drop? Turns out there is good reason for all the hype about Seattle.

What & Where:
Fairmont Olympic Hotel (411 University St; 206-621-1700; www.fairmont.com)
Belle Epicurean (1206 4th Ave; 206-262-9404)
Pacific Science Center (200 2nd Ave North; 206-443-4629)
Rice and Spice (101 John St; 206-285-9000)
Fun Forest Amusement Park (305 Harrison St; 206-728-1586)
Experience Music Project (325 5th Ave; 877-454-7836; www.empsfm.org)
Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (325 5th Ave North; 206-770-2700)
Palace Kitchen (2030 Fifth Ave;, 206-448-2001; www.tomdouglas.com)

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