This year, Best Places crowned Seattle the gloomiest city in the United States, with nearby Portland coming in second in the list of cities marked by gloom and rain.
But that’s nothing we didn’t already know, and it’s not the first time Seattle has topped such a list. The question is: How do you deal with these dark, gloomy days, short of buying plane tickets to Southern California? Here are eight ways to experience a kid-friendly tropical escape — right here in the Seattle area.
Wander through a cloud forest
Everyone wants to support a local business, even when that local business is poised to take over the world and also owns your bank account.
The online-bookseller-gone-behemoth opened its Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle in 2018, importing a chunk of rain forest to the Pacific Northwest. Inside the two ball-shaped greenhouses are some 35,000 plants, trickling waterfalls and huge fish tanks. The Spheres are spots for Amazon workers to go and “think,” but they’re open to the public on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Tickets are free and can be reserved here.
Lush, tropical greenery against the glass and modern steel architecture — go Instagram your family selfie, already!
2111 Seventh Ave., Seattle; seattlespheres.com
Hit the beach
Three days a week, Sandbox Sports busts out all the sand toys for its Lil Diggers playtime (open to kids up to 5 years old, $8). The indoor venue in Georgetown normally holds volleyball practice. The sand here is coarser, so it brushes right off your clothes when you’re done at the, erm, beach.
5955 Airport Way S., Seattle; 206-624-2899; sandboxsports.net
Visit an indoor botanical garden
There’s no prettier place for a quick tropical escape than the Volunteer Park Conservatory. The historic Victorian-style greenhouse, built in 1912, features a different environment in each of its five rooms. Explore the bromeliads, palms, cacti, ferns and the seasonal display room. Don’t miss the carnivorous plants like the Venus flytraps, pitcher plants and sundews.
The admission fee is nominal: $4 for adults, $2 for youth ages 13-17 and free for kids ages 12 and under. Free days are the first Thursday and first Saturday of every month. And the timing has never been better, now that the neighboring Seattle Asian Art Museum has reopened.
1400 E. Galer St., Seattle; 206-684-4743; volunteerparkconservatory.org
Look for rain-forest creatures
Our favorite cold-weather route at Woodland Park Zoo is the tropical rain forest loop. After saying hello to the jaguar, we duck into the indoor exhibits, where my glasses immediately fog up. Here’s where the ocelot, poison dart frogs, golden lion tamarins and yellow anaconda live. At the end of the building is an open-air aviary filled with tropical birds (watch out for fly-by droppings). Bird-watching is great and all, but the biggest attraction for kids is the bamboo-link curtain.
After finishing up at the rain forest, hit the indoor food court, then the Zoomazium (an amazing indoor play gym) for an easy, wear-’em-out excursion.
Admission: adult (13-64) $15.50; children (3-12) $10.50; toddlers 2 and under are free. Seattle community centers occasionally give out zoo passes, or check for free tickets through the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program.
5500 Phinney Ave N., Seattle; 206-548-2500; zoo.org
Warm your belly
’Tis the season for … a big bowl of pho. Rice noodle beef soup from Vietnam will have your belly feeling more tropical in no time. Fragrant broth, shredded fresh basil, a squeeze of lime and Sriracha … ahhhh.
Our go-to is Than Brothers, a local chain with more than 10 locations, where we always get dessert first (cream puffs) and split an extra-large No. 12 (steak, brisket, flank and soft tendon).
Try it if you dare: Dong Thap Noodles in the Chinatown International District serves what is purportedly the world’s biggest bowl of pho.
Than Brothers: multiples locations; 206-527-5973; thanbrothers.com
Dong Thap Noodles: 303 12th Ave. S., Seattle; 206-325-1122; facebook.com/dongthapnoodles
Feel the butterfly effect
On any given day, there are some 15 to 20 species of butterflies flittering around the Pacific Science Center’s tropical butterfly house. You’ll want to take off your coats and layers before entering — the temperature in the room is a toasty 80-85 degrees, for the butterflies’ comfort. Most of these species hail from Central and South America. My favorite is the blue morpho, which appears a demure brown with its wings closed but flashes brilliant blue when it flutters away. My kids love seeing what the butterflies are eating on any given day (bananas? oranges?). If you’re really lucky, a butterfly might choose to land on you.
Admission: children 3-5, $13.95; youth ages 6-15, $17.95; adults ages 16-64, $25.95.
200 Second Ave N., Seattle; 206-443-2001; pacsci.org
Take a dip in a warm pool
Hands down, the best public pool in the city is the Rainier Beach Pool. The 93-degree leisure pool is a kiddie water wonderland, complete with a spray area, a lazy river and a corkscrew waterslide. Adults 18-64 are charged $6 for admission, youth ages 1-17 are $4 — and bring a quarter for your locker.
North of the city, Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion is a favorite for good reason. The toddler-friendly beach entry leads to a large shallow area, like a wading pool. Little swimmers will love ducking under the sprayers and floating around the lazy river on inner tubes. Best of all, the 88-degree water means no blue lips. It costs $15 for a family pass.
Rainier Beach Pool: 8825 Rainier Ave. S, Seattle; 206-386-1925; seattle.gov
Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion: 5303 228th St. S.W., Mountlake Terrace; 425-776-9173; cityofmlt.com
View light and colors
Dale Chihuly’s fantastical sculptures are the perfect antidote to a cold and dreary day in the Pacific Northwest. They aren’t technically chandeliers, because they don’t emit light, but their happy colors and funky shapes are uplifting to everyone, from babies on up. The centerpiece of Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center is the glasshouse, with a 100-foot red, orange and yellow sculpture snaking overhead. Regular admission (ages 13-64) is $32; youths (5-12) pay $19.
The Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University is a modern and serene gem. Architect Steven Holl’s guiding concept for the design was “a gathering of different lights.” Inside, cutout windows and glowing colored lights define the white walls. Remind kids to be respectful and use indoor voices in the chapel.
Chihuly Garden and Glass: 305 Harrison St., Seattle; 206-753-4940; chihulygardenandglass.com
Chapel of St. Ignatius: 901 12th Ave., Seattle; 206-296-6000, Seattle; seattleu.edu/chapel