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Are your brainy kids easily bored by run-of-the-mill museums and insipid learning tours? Then it's time to visit Seattle, where every attraction aims to please the budding Bill Gates in your family.
No, you can't take a tour of Microsoft just yet. But you can play a hot guitar lick, just like Seattle's own Jimi Hendrix, at the newly opened Experience Music Project (EMP). Or duel a 10-foot-tall robot in tic-tac-toe, take turns at virtual basketball, and create cartoons on computers at the Pacific Science Center's Tech Zone.
Seattle is also the "home of flying." At Boeing, the giant aircraft maker, kids can watch new planes being built. Or they can learn about Wilbur, Orville, and the history of flying at the Museum of Flight, which also houses Boeing's original factory.
Plan on at least two days to do the Seattle Center and Space Needle -- and another half-day at Boeing.
Make your first stop the 74-acre Seattle Center, a legacy of Seattle's 1962 World's Fair. In this park, you'll find several worthwhile amusements and attractions. Our favorites include:
The Pacific Science Center. Dozens of hands-on exhibits feature robots (including five robotic dinosaurs), a planetarium, a laser light show, an IMAX theater, and a special area for tots.
The Space Needle. Get an eyeful of Seattle's Puget Sound setting -- including the Olympics and Cascades ranges -- from the observation deck of this 605-foot tower, which looks a lot like Hollywood's version of a Martian space ship.
See dozens of historic aircraft suspended from the ceiling at the Museum of Flight, the closest thing to Washington DC's National Air and Space Museum on the West Coast. At the Cockpits exhibit, your junior pilots can test the controls of an SR-71A Blackbird reconnaissance plane or an F/A-18 Hornet fighter.
Don't forget to schedule a visit to the Woodland Park Zoo, where animals are on display in their natural habitats. The "Butterflies & Blooms" exhibit will surround you with 1,000 fluttering beauties. And the "Day and Night" exhibits feature all sorts of creepy critters (sure to elicit squeals from your kids). Younger kids will be content just to pet the goats, sheep, and donkeys.
And plan a couple of hours on the waterfront at Seattle Aquarium to view marine life mostly native to the Pacific Northwest.
Take the whole family on a narrated, two-hour scenic water tour with Argosy Cruises on scenic Lake Washington, rain or shine. You'll sail past the palatial estates of Bill Gates and his billionaire pals, as well as the houseboat district featured in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.
Type of travel: Educational, cultural
Best ages: 4 and up
Ideal trip length: Long weekend to one week
Distance: Portland (173 miles), Salem, OR (219 miles), Spokane (290 miles)
Best time to go: Summer, for the most sunny days and outdoor attractions; fall and winter for the best hotel deals
Weather: Despite the frequent drizzle, annual precipitation averages 36.16 inches -- less than that of New York. 53/35 degrees in winter, 75/52 in summer
Lodging: High season from April through October; rates drop by about 50 percent in fall and winter.
Squirm factor: Some, at the museums
Experience Music Project 325 5th Ave. N Phone: 206-770-2700 Note: Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
Pacific Science Center 200 Second Ave. N Phone: 206-443-2001
Space Needle 219 Fourth Ave N Phone: 206-443-2111
Museum of Flight 9404 E. Marginal Way S Phone: 206-764-5720
Woodland Park Zoo 5500 Phinney Ave. N. (I-5 north to NE 50th St. Exit 169, go west 1.3 miles) Phone: 206-684-4800
Seattle Aquarium Pier 59, 1483 Alaskan Way Phone: 206-386-4320
Argosy Cruises AGC Marina Dock E, 1200 West Lake Ave. N (on Lake Union in downtown Seattle) Phone: 206-623-4252 Note: Reservations are recommended.
How cool would it be to see a 747 up close? Even better, what about watching these huge "birds" being built? You can do that and more at the Boeing factory.
Besides seeing airplanes in various stages of construction and testing, the tour takes you to the largest building in the world (472 million cubic feet), where 747s have been constructed for the past 40 years.
Don't leave without stopping at the gift shop for one of the popular logo T-shirts, aviator jackets, aircraft models, stuffed bears in pilot uniforms, or even beanbag Boeings.
Warning: Children must be at least 4-feet 2-inches tall, able to walk 1/3 of a mile, and climb steep steps. On Hwy 526, 30 miles north of Seattle, in Everett. Call 800-464-1476 for more information. Tours are weekdays only; reservations recommended.
Favorite local spot: Lake Washington, University of Washington's Waterfront Activities Center. Call 206-543-9433 for more information. Weather permitting, pack a picnic and rent a canoe or rowboat.
Local food: Fresh seafood and local farm produce are fixtures of Pacific Northwest cuisine. The city's #1 tourist spot is Pike Place Market, a farmer's market which dates to 1907. Taste free samples of local foods at the vendors' stalls while watching street entertainers and sipping a double latte from the original Starbucks.
Best souvenir: Boeing t-shirt
Cheap thrills: Seattle Monorail, terminals at 5th and Pine. This 90-second scenic trip between downtown and the Seattle Center is a great diversion for those with short attention spans.
Museum savings: To cut the cost of museum admissions, buy a six-attraction City Pass, good for The Seattle Aquarium, Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Woodland Park Zoo, and Museum of Flight. Sold at any of the attractions, it's good for nine days from date of purchase.
Annual events: Seafair, various locations throughout the city. Call 206-728-0123 for more information. Family-oriented activities include dozens of parades, hydroplane races, and an appearance by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
Traffic alert: Lots of one-way downtown streets -- plot a route beforehand, to avoid going around in circles.
Reviewed April 2004.