Pacific Science Center with Toddlers
The Pacific Science Center is a great stop for tourists and locals alike when visiting Seattle Center. Not only do they house fabulous exhibits year-round suitable for kids and adults, but they also have really interesting traveling exhibits. The Pacific Science Center is a fun thing to do in Seattle with kids of all ages. It’s also the ultimate place to watch an IMAX movie.
Note: This post was originally published October 31, 2016 and updated April 23, 2018.
If you enter the Pacific Science Center from the turnstiles in Seattle Center, you will immediately be in the Outdoor Exhibits area. It looks like big squares of concrete with water surrounding them. Your kids may run toward the exhibit areas. You have been warned!
It’s easy to see why kids of all ages love this area. You can spin a two-ton granite ball with your bare hands, play with water cannons or walk in the giant water wheel in Water Works. And older kids can ride the High Rail Bicycle 15 feet above the ground, on a rail only one inch wide! I was too nervous to ride it as a child, and I’m still too nervous!
When exploring the Pacific Science Center with a toddler (or several) prepare yourself for spending a long time in just a few areas. The Gravity Well is one of those exhibits. They have something similar at the Museum of Flight, so my kids already knew what to do.
What’s great about the Gravity Well is that there are lots of benches for little kids to stand on and for adults to rest weary legs. There are also tons of little balls so multiple kids can participate at the same time. Because there are so many balls and benches, we didn’t feel like we were hogging the area, which is sometimes the case other places.
Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time
One of the exhibits my 4 year old was most excited to see was this one about dinosaurs. Guests travel back to in time to meet dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era, stand in the footprint of a giant duckbill dinosaur and take control of the Pneumoferrosaurus to see how animatronic dinosaurs work. Sounds cool, right?
However, the animatronic feature started to scare him a little bit. If your kids might be frightened by dinosaurs that move slightly, it might be best to avoid this area completely. Or, you can walk through it quickly to get outside. We’ve done that in the past.
Tropical Butterfly House
One of the most popular Pacific Science Center exhibits is the Tropical Butterfly House. It’s 4,000 square feet of hundreds of free flying butterflies in a garden setting. Pacific Science Center purchases the butterflies as chrysalis from farmers who raise them in their natural habitat.
While we didn’t explore the Pacific Science Center butterflies on our most recent trip, we’ve been there a few times in the past. It’s very warm it is there, so you might want to take off some layers to store in the cubbies before heading inside. My son really enjoyed seeing the butterflies flying around and sitting on flowers.
IF YOU’RE BRINGING A BABY
You cannot bring your stroller into the Tropical Butterfly House. There is plenty of stroller parking right outside the entrance. You’ll need to leave all food outside, too.
Just for Tots
If you are exploring the Pacific Science Center with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, you’ll definitely want to stop at the Just for Tots exhibit. They have a water table, play area with large toys, musical instruments and more!
While you can nurse your baby anywhere at Pacific Science Center, the most comfortable spot may be their private nursing area. It’s located in the Just for Tots section, which is nice if you have toddlers and preschoolers.
Pacific Science Center IMAX
Want to watch a movie and feel good about yourself? Pacific Science Center has two state-of-the-art IMAX theatres. Proceeds from ticket sales support science education across Washington State. And if you are bringing small children, you can get booster seats for the theater.
For Spring 2018, they are showing the family-friendly documentary Pandas, Amazon Adventures 3D, Conquest of the Skies 3D, and Flight of the Butterflies 3D. We watched Pandas in 3D and it was incredible! It was my kids’ first experience with 3D movies, so they kept reaching out trying to touch the pandas. The story was really compelling, and at 45 minutes in length, it was perfect for our family. Plus, the film is narrated by Kristen Bell!
But, they don’t just show science-based documentaries. Pacific Science Center IMAX is also your best bet for watching the latest superhero movies. Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 are also available in IMAX.
Pacific Science Center Planetarium
Planetarium tickets are included in your general admission ticket and you should take advantage. Seating is limited, so I recommend getting there early. They have 15 minute shows for preschoolers and 30-40 minute shows for guests ages 5 and up. What’s really cool is that all shows are live, meaning the presenter is able to modify the program based on the audience’s interests. Plus, you can ask questions!
Twice a day, the planetarium offers a preschool version of their show. They just dim the lights a bit, so little ones won’t be scared. Plus, they tell stories and it’s an interactive experience.
We brought our 4 year old and 18 month old and they both were mesmerized by the changing images on the ceiling. I was really impressed with our guide Joe. He told us the story of How The Bear Lost His Tail, which is a tale from the Iroquois tribe. He also showed us How the Rabbit Got on the Moon using stuffed animals. We could tell that he truly enjoyed connecting with families and he captured the entire audience!
Pacific Science Center Laser Shows
Another cool experience is attending a laser show at Pacific Science Center. The Laser Dome was recently upgraded and how has the most full color lasers permanently installed in any Laser Dome in America. These laser shows take place in the evening and feature music from Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, the Beatles, Sia, Michael Jackson and more!
Pacific Science Center Membership
If you think that your family might visit the Pacific Science Center more than once this year, you might consider getting a membership. We have one and since we’re Seattle locals, we appreciate the free guest passes and the IMAX movie passes. Here are the details:
A family membership cost $139/year and includes:
- Covers 2 adults and up to 6 youths (ages 3-18)
- 2 Membership cards, which can be used by anyone listed on the Membership with valid ID
- 15 free documentary IMAX movie passes
- 8 free permanent exhibit guest passes (Over $100 value!)
Pacific Science Center Parking
The James Albert Claypool Memorial Garage is the closest parking garage to the Pacific Science Center. It’s located on the corner of 2nd Avenue North and Denny Way and provides a covered walkway directly into their south entrance. There are 3 levels of parking which include designated disabled spaces.
Street parking near the Pacific Science Center is hard to come by, but not impossible. Your best bet is near the parking garage on 2nd Avenue North and near the parking garage on 1st Avenue North. Street parking is free on Sundays.
You can also take the Seattle Monorail, which is a fun adventure for kids! Park near Pacific Place and take the 2 minute ride to Seattle Center.
Top 6 Tips for the Pacific Science Center
1. ARRIVE JUST AFTER 10AM
The Pacific Science Center opens at 10am. When I’ve gone in the past, there has been a HUGE line to get in at 10am. However, if you wait just 10 or 15 minutes, you can avoid that line, which can be crucial when going with a toddler.
2. SEE THE TRAVELING EXHIBIT
World-famous exhibits come to Pacific Science Center all the time and it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted. In past years, I’ve seen the Pompeii, King Tut, and Terra Cotta Warriors exhibits. They often offer timed tickets or you can stand in line. I recommend doing the Traveling Exhibit first, when possible. There is so much to see in the rest of Pacific Science Center that you might feel rushed during the Traveling Exhibit.
3. SET ASIDE TIME TO PLAY
Pacific Science Center does an incredible job of providing hands-on activities for kids in all the exhibit areas. These activities are perfect for kids of all ages (including toddlers.) Chances are, you kiddos will want to stay and play in one area for a long time. It’s nice that you can tell them there are new things to play with in the next area to help move them along.
4. PARTICIPATE IN A SCHEDULED EVENT
We happened to be there during a story time in the Just for Tots area and it was a lot of fun! Not only did the staff member read a book, but there were science experiments and a takeaway art project that our toddler was able to do. It was nice to sit down and take a break while still experiencing some science. They had several events happening all over Pacific Science Center for a variety of ages.
5. VISIT THE PRIVATE NURSING ROOM
If you are nursing and want some privacy, they have a really cool room set up in the Just for Tots area. In fact, you can sit in the glider to nurse while your toddler reads books or plays with the magnetic wall in the same room. If you don’t need complete privacy, your toddler can actually play in the adjoining room.
6. PLAN TO EAT AT SEATTLE CENTER
Whether you grab food at the Pacific Science Center cafe so you can keep exploring. Or head to the Armory after your explored enough, plan time to eat lunch. There are lots of indoor and outdoor spaces to eat and the last thing you want is a grumpy toddler.
Family Fun at Seattle Center
Scaling Seattle’s Space Needle with Kids
7 Tips for the Seattle Children’s Museum
The Lamp is the Moon is the Perfect First Theater Experience for Kids
6 Reasons Your Kid Should Ride Seattle’s Monorail
Pacific Science Center provided tickets for review purposes. All opinions are my own.