In a typical year, thousands of families spend on airfare and hotels, just to visit the Seattle-Tacoma region. Thankfully, Puget Sound-area families don’t have to do much other than pack a picnic basket and a raincoat (and we already know to always pack a raincoat). If you’ve been struck with cabin fever, here’s a weekend’s worth of fun for your wild, outdoor side.

While the COVID-19 outbreak limits options, there’s still plenty to enjoy in our region while observing social distance requirements. Here’s a local road trip for families.

Day 1: Start your day at Woodland Park Zoo, which reopened in July with a timed ticket system and a new one-way path around the main loop. You’ll buy timed admission tickets in advance — or must wait for an available time slot on site (Parent pro tip: Don’t do this. Purchase in advance). The new time slot system increases safety while decreasing crowds, a win-win for families.

While many indoor and “high-touch” areas are closed (including Zoomazium), you’ll still be able to see most of the 900 animals amid the zoo’s 92 acres. It’s perhaps the next best thing to a ’round-the-world ticket. Look for lions among African savanna grasses, orangutans amid swaying bamboo in the Tropical Asia wing, and wolves in an Alaska-style boreal forest. Introduce your children to animals born this past spring, including a baby gorilla, a pudu fawn and a baby tapir.

Woodland Park Zoo encourages families to give six feet by imagining an “adult tapir, from tail to snout, or our boa, Anahi, stretched all the way out!” Bring water, as drinking fountains are out of service, although some on-site food options are available.

Break out the picnic basket for a snack or lunch at the nearby, well-shaded West Woodland park (by-the-slice, to-go A La Mode pies is just across the street). Alternately, you could venture down to sunnier Green Lake to sit amid the sun-worshipers and/or Canada geese, and go for ice cream or fro-yo. Or roll out a beach towel for a picnic at Ballard’s Golden Gardens.

If you skip the picnic, less-crowded-than-usual Pike Place Market could be just the place to enjoy a bowl of chowder, a savory crepe or simply tea and macarons. The Market has more than 20 restaurants with outdoor seating, including sidewalk cafes, pop-up patios and rooftop dining. Many are casual, and therefore a good fit for families.

Meander through the market’s open-air or breeze-filled walkways, and shop for farm-grown produce in the farmers market, handmade toys and hats in the crafts market (Thursday-Monday). Families might want to pick up a new Space Needle kit from 3D Wood Puzzles, or a magic trick to impress the classroom Zoom, from Market Magic & Novelty Shop.

COVID-19 mitigation steps include handwashing stations, free masks, and routine cleaning of high-touch popular areas (Rachel the Piggy Bank, we’re looking at you). Pike Place Market recently launched a “Safe Shopper Pledge,” which you (and the kids) are welcome to sign.

Day 2: Start the morning in Tacoma, at Point Defiance State Park, where you’ll have two great kid-friendly choices.

A timed ticket gets you into the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, where you’ll see, among others, tigers, American red wolves, and a muskox family — including a young calf named Trebek, for game show host Alex Trebek. Two impressive aquarium exhibits transport you beneath the sea, where you’ll find finned and scaled creatures both adorable (Bruno the green sea turtle) and more adorable (Sammy the snaggletoothed sand tiger shark).

Or reserve a spot for the day at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, a carefully restored circa-1855 fur trading outpost. Guide the family on a time-travel adventure through an open-air collection of 17 historic buildings enclosed within a wooden palisade, or wall.  

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(Courtesy of Fort Nisqually Living History Museum)
(Courtesy of Fort Nisqually Living History Museum)

If you study up in advance by reading the online tour pamphlet, you can regale the kids with facts on the granary, Sale Shop (store), and of course, the “necessary” (outhouse) as you peer in through windows or doorways. There’s usually at least one historically attired interpreter explaining their day’s work, including blacksmith, gardener or sewing expert.

When you purchase admission, you can also buy a souvenir — a heirloom seed packet or a “kit of the day,” which teaches a craft or skill.

Have lunch in one of Point Defiance State Park’s eight gardens (the Japanese garden is a favorite) or grab lunch from Antique Sandwich Company, which offers salads and thick sandwiches, for either takeout or garden seating.

In the afternoon, you’ll have one more chance to wander the Washington wilds at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. The traditional pathways are still open to visitors (although one-way only, with timed tickets) to view bears, big cats and other Northwest native plants and animals.

However, one new option is genuinely unusual — the Wild Drive Tour allows you to drive your car through a 435-acre “free-roaming area.” For almost one hour, cars mosey along caravan-style at 5 mph past Roosevelt elk, deer, bison, caribou, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and swans. Staff lead the vehicles, and also provide live narration, piped into your car’s speakers.

The experience doesn’t come cheap — $80 per car for the general public. But then again, you didn’t buy plane tickets to get here.

Note at time of publication: Almost all experiences, restaurants and other attractions require a timed entry ticket, and adults and children over the age of 5 must wear masks. Some attractions offer dates or times for those with medical or sensory challenges. Please check for updated policies before you go.

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