While the summer sun is still shining down on the Pacific Northwest, legions of families continue their quest to unearth the most exciting local adventures for their family before the gray days return. Those in search of something off the beaten path—but still within easy reach—should head to Seattle Southside (the area of Tukwila, SeaTac, and Des Moines) for a playground of attractions that could take days to explore; they range from adrenaline-pumping activities unique to the area to surprising interactive exhibits that are both fun and educational.

For an overview of the Pacific Northwest’s species-rich marine habitat, the MaST Center Aquarium in coastal Des Moines has more than 15 tanks that collectively hold approximately 3,000 gallons of water, where more than 250 native Pacific Northwest marine species reside. The free center also happens to be the working lab for nearby Highline College.

“I describe the MaST Center as a community-sized aquarium, which means we are a much smaller facility completely focused on local sea life,” says Rus Higley, the center’s director of Marine Science and Technology. “Many people don’t realize how amazing and beautiful our local marine life is, and with our smaller tanks it’s frequently easier to get eye to eye with a grunt sculpin or decorated warbonnet.”

Higley recommends a 45-minute tour of the center’s exhibits, where visitors can observe a tube worm retreat into its shell, let an anemone latch onto their hand with its tentacles, or stand beneath the belly of a gray whale skeleton that spans 38 feet. Some exhibits, such as a fish tank that’s swirling with trash, are more symbolic displays that help viewers to better understand the environmental issues that Puget Sound and marine habitats all over the world are facing, including the negative impact of plastic waste in the ocean. Follow your visit to the MaST Center with a stroll nearby on the mile-long Redondo Beach Boardwalk, which offers panoramic views of the sea world you just studied.

With Sea-Tac just a few minutes away, the Museum of Flight in Tukwila contains a collection of close to 200 aircraft and spacecraft, and is the world’s largest independently-run, nonprofit museum. The Untold Stories: World War II at 75 is geared toward history buffs who want to connect with the fighter aircraft, artifacts, and personalities behind the war, while a Kid’s Flight Zone is dedicated to introducing younger visitors to the concept of flight (don’t miss the balloon gondola basket or one of the two hang gliding simulators). 

Speaking of flying, that’s what’s on offer at nearby Tukwila’s iFLY Seattle, an indoor skydiving center that offers anyone from three years of age and up a chance to feel what it’s like to soar through the air. First timers go through a quick training session before entering a wind tunnel and floating freely for 60 glorious seconds. If go-karting is more your speed, check out Sykart, which offers a 10-minute race on a ¼ mile track, with karts that can go up to an impressive 30 to 40 mph. Just be sure to reserve in advance during the busy summer months.

Two people in the Indoor Skydiving facility, Courtesy iFLY

For a little bit of everything, head for Tukwila’s Family Fun Center, where activities range from mini golf and batting cages to laser tag for the older kids. This is where you’ll want to fuel up, too: the onsite Bullwinkle’s Restaurant has plenty of family-friendly specialty pizzas and classics like pepperoni and Hawaiian, along with a build-your-own option, while the sampler platter of curly fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and chicken tenders are the ultimate crowd pleaser.

And make sure your day has a sweet ending with the Experience Tour at homegrown, woman-owned Seattle Chocolate, where chocoholics can go on an hourlong guided jaunt through the confections company’s factory to learn about the history of cacao and chocolate making, with plenty of tasting along the way. And if you’ve got a clever new idea for a bar or a truffle, you’ll get a chance to speak up on the tour—and possibly even see your creation in next season’s lineup of offerings.

The MaST Aquarium is at 28203 Redondo Beach Dr. S., Des Moines; admission is free. The Museum of Flight is at 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle. iFLY is at 349 Tukwila Parkway in Tukwila. Sykart is at 17450 West Valley Hwy, Tukwila. Family Fun Center is at 7300 Fun Center Way, Tukwila. Seattle Chocolate is at 1180 Andover Park W Tukwila.