Visiting Seattle this autumn? Be sure to take your children along.
The Pacific Northwest city offers a cornucopia of fun for youngsters of all ages. On crisp, sunny days, its miles of waterfront and parks sparkle with opportunities for outdoor recreation. And if Seattle's misty drizzle sets in, a rich array of amusements awaits indoors.
Since most children are avid naturalists, why not begin with a bit of fall foraging?
An outing to pick apples, nuts, or pumpkins at a farm on nearby Vashon Island, for example, combines the footloose thrill of a ferry ride with the kind of concrete goal that children love.
Vashon, a bucolic outpost in Puget Sound, is only a 10-minute hop by ferry from Fauntleroy in West Seattle (206-464-6400) for Washington State Ferries information). Apart from its beachfront views of Mt. Rainier, Vashon boasts a number of small family farms such as Pete and Mary Ann Svinth's.
"I just grow things and people come and harvest them," explains Mr. Svinth, who has been tilling the land in a corner of Vashon known as Maury Island for 23 years (farm phone (206-0463-3256.) "We're on the honor system. I just leave out a money jar. People can come in and walk around and taste things, picnic, or whatever they want. We never close," he says.
Everything growing on Svinths's diverse, 20-acre farm is available for visitors to pick. At this time of year, that means many varieties of apples: Royal Gala, Liberty, Spartan, Jonagold (a tasty cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious), to name a few.
For a special treat, children can help make fresh cider by turning the wooden crank of an antique cider press, given to Svinth by the Vashon Island Heritage Association.
The farm's nut orchards are now also full of ripe filberts and walnuts, and Pete's Pumpkin Patch is ready for harvest. In other seasons, strawberries, raspberries, and many other fruits and vegetables are available.
Chestnut foraging is another fun challenge for kids. Find a big stick and knock down a few of the prickly shelled nuts to take home and roast. Chestnut trees can be found in several lovely places around Seattle: Carkeek Park overlooking Puget Sound beaches, Lincoln Park, the University of Washington campus, and Woodland Park.
For young animal lovers, too, the award-winning Woodland Park Zoo is an ideal stop in cool fall weather. The zoo (206-684-4800), which is open daily, has several award-winning exhibits including the popular Northern Trail. With barriers virtually invisible, children can imagine themselves in Alaska with elk, gray wolves, bald eagles, and rocky mountain goats. Underwater views of grizzly bears and playful North American river otters are sure to please.
Another fascinating spot for the budding outdoor enthusiast is Seattle's Hiram Chittenden Locks and Salmon Ladder (206)-783-7059). This month a migration of coho salmon can be seen climbing the fish ladder, sometimes pursued in the nearby bay by harbor seals or California sea lions.
The locks, which connect Puget Sound and Lake Union, always offer close-up views of a vast array of vessels, from fishing boats and sailing yachts to sand and gravel barges. For an unusual sight, next month, Nov. 8-23, the large lock - a huge, 825-ft.-long, 50-ft.-deep hole - will be pumped dry for maintenance.
At the Seattle Aquarium (206)-386-4320), on the waterfront downtown, children can watch diving sea birds, otters, and seals, and see marine divers feed a variety of Puget Sound fish in a giant underwater dome.
Young naturalists might also enjoy a short hike through one of the city's last remaining sections of old growth forest, the 50-acre Schmitz Park, at 551 SW Admiral Way in west Seattle. There, trails lead past towering evergreens with trunks several feet wide. Young explorers can cross bridges made of fallen trees, and examine many varieties of moss and fern as well as the ubiquitous slug.
The Burke-Gilman Trail, a more than 15-mile paved path built over an old rail line, is excellent terrain for cyclists of all ages looking for a pedaling tour of Seattle's natural beauties. Lined with blackberry bushes in many places, the trail runs along the western shore of Lake Washington, past the university to Lake Union.
Canoes, available for rent on Lake Washington from a branch of the UW Boat House near Montlake Bridge, are a wonderful way to show children the lake's wildlife. Among the tall reeds and lily pads on the lake's edge live heron and a variety of duck and other waterfowl. An arboretum and nature trail are only a short paddle away. On shore near the boat house is a man-made rock-climbing pinnacle.
Young sailors will also enjoy a spin on Puget Sound, where harbor seals and sleek schools of porpoise are often spotted with other sea life. A range of sailboats can be chartered by the day, half-day, and week at Wind Works Sailing Center (206-784-9386) at Shilshol Marina.
A Rainy Day List of Indoor Activities
The Museum of History and Industry. Antique vehicles; exhibit of Seattle fire. 206-324-1126.
The Burke Museum. Native American artifacts. 206-543-5590.
The Museum of Flight. From da Vinci to the space age. 206-764-5720.
Boeing Co. plant tour in Everett, Wash. See where jumbo jets are made. Children must be at least 50 inches tall for this. 206-544-1264.
The Seattle Children's Museum. Hands-on fun. 206-298-2521.
The Northwest Puppet Center. Sicilian-style marionette shows on Fridays and weekends. 206-523-2579.
The Pike Place Market. Big brass piggy bank to climb on at the entrance, lots to explore inside. 206-587-0351.
REI. Newest store of this Seattle-based recreational equipment chain has a kiddie area with a play rock-climbing zone. 206-223-1944.
Discover Washington and Seattle with Kids. By Rosanne Cohn and Suzanne Monson. Johnston Associates International, Medina, Washington. 1995.
Beyond Blackberries: A foraging guide to the publicly accessible fruit and nut trees in Seattle. By David Randal Gould. SockMonkey Productions. 1991. (Also see the annual Farm Fresh Guide, available from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce).
Best Hikes with Children. Published for several recent years by The Mountaineers. Includes Cascade and Olympic mountains and Mt. Rainier.
Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce 206-389-7200.
Washington State Visitor Information 800-544-1800.