Before I flew from corner to corner of the country to Washington state, Seattle was one of the few major US cities I hadn’t visited thoroughly. I was there several years ago for speaking engagement, but only spent the night. This time, I had five full days to explore, and although my boys weren’t with me, I kept an eye out for family-friendly adventures since we will be there next summer after going on an Alaska cruise. This is one of the two main embarkation ports for Alaska cruises, which are very wheelchair accessible, so it’s a common destination for wheelchair users. I’m glad to report that there are a ton of wheelchair accessible things to do in Seattle, both for grown-ups and for families.
1. The Space Needle. The Space Needle is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world and is a treasured Seattle icon. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair—the Century 21 Exposition whose theme was “The Age of Space”—the tower’s futuristic design was inspired by the idea that the fair needed a structure to symbolize humanity’s Space Age aspirations. Since its grand opening on April 21, 1962, the landmark continues to symbolize the innovative and forward-thinking spirit of Seattle. Located at Seattle Center, the Space Needle stands at 605’ tall and is one of the most photographed structures in the world.
Once you enter the Space Needle, there will be a ramp leading to the elevators. These will take you to the main observation deck. Ask one of the employees for guidance towards the vertical retracting stair lift because it’s easy to mess — it looks just like the stairs next to it! It is easily the most amazing stair lift I’ve ever seen. once you get outside to the observation deck, it’s floor to ceiling glass, so you don’t have to worry about being high enough above the ground to get an amazing view. One floor down, you can also access the revolving deck with the glass floor, if you’re feeling brave.
2. Museum of Pop Culture. Visit a museum like no other on earth.MoPOP, located next to Seattle’s historic Space Needle, houses some of the world’s most legendary pop culture artifacts. Test your DJ skills in Sound Lab, and get the scoop on the world’s most mesmerizing producers of pop culture. Hands-on experiences, iconic artifacts, and award-winning exhibitions featuring luminaries in the fields of music, literature, television, and film make MoPOP a destination unlike any other.
MoPOP facilities are wheelchair accessible. Wheelchairs are available through the coat check at the 5th Avenue N and Harrison Street Entrance, as well as the South Entrance, located at 5th Avenue N and Broad Street under the Seattle Center Monorail. A piece of identification must be left with the coat check attendant for wheelchair loan. Wheelchairs are on a first-come, first-served basis, and the number of wheelchairs is limited. All entrances have automatic door openers and there are plenty of accessible bathrooms. I would suggest taking a map with you, as the elevators to access different portions of the six-story Museum can get confusing.
3. Chihuly Glass and Gardens. Dale Chihuly is one of the most well-known and celebrated glassblowers in the world. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Chihuly has created more than a dozen well-known series of works, among them, Cylindersand Baskets in the 1970s; Seaforms, Macchia, Venetians, and Persians in the 1980s; Niijima Floats and Chandeliers in the 1990s; and Fiori in the 2000s. He is also celebrated for large architectural installations. If you’ve ever been to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, those huge glass flowers on the ceiling in the lobby are his work. Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long-term exhibition, opened at Seattle Center in 2012.
While the exhibition inside the building is truly amazing, my favorite part was just outside of the Glasshouse in the garden, where blown glass mixes in with the beautiful plants and flowers. Sometimes it’s even hard to tell which leaves and tendrils are real and which ones are blown glass. The wheelchair accessibility is fantastic, and the pieces are far enough removed from the edges of their display stands that you don’t have to worry about breaking anything with your wheelchair.
4. Seattle Center. Seattle Center began in 1927 with the construction of Civic Auditorium (now Marion Oliver McCaw Hall) and Civic Arena (now Seattle Opera at the Center). The National Guard Armory (now Seattle Center Armory) was completed in 1939. Civic Field (now Memorial Stadium) was built in 1948 and the Wall added in 1952. Many of the current structures were created for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair including the Coliseum (New Arena at Seattle Center), Northwest Rooms (KEXP, THE Vera Project, SIFF Film Center), Cornish Playhouse, United States Science Pavilion (Pacific Science Center), Seattle Center Monorail, and the Space Needle.
Today, Seattle Center is a very wheelchair accessible and family-friendly space to visit various attractions, take the monorail to the Westlake area, grab a bite to eat, or just people watch. Just within a few square blocks you will find the city’s most popular sights. If you have children, they can run around the huge International Fountain in the summer, and watched fully clothed adults run down to touch the metal dome during the few minutes that the fountain shuts off in hopes of not getting wet.
5. Pacific Science Center. At the Pacific Science Center, you can ignite your curiosity with hundreds of interactive exhibits and experiences. Launch rockets and create electric circuits in Tinker Tank our popular hands-on design space, designed to cultivate creative problem-solving skills through the practice of the design-test-redesign engineering process. Immerse yourself in our warm and sunny lush Tropical Butterfly House full of hundreds of beautiful, free-flying tropical butterflies. Confront a broad variety of mind-bending topics alongside scientists and innovators who are shaping the future. Touch live marine animals in the Saltwater Tide Pool and explore distant galaxies during a Planetarium Show. Experience a laser show or immerse yourself in a giant-screen IMAX® film.
Pacific Science Center is wheelchair accessible. Courtesy wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Denny Way entrance and the Information Desk in Building 1 (photo ID required). Aides accompanying a visitor with a disability receive complimentary general admission to the museum. For more information about accessibility, call 206-443-2001 or 206-443-2887 (TTY) or here is a link to the Center’s wheelchair accessibility guide.
6. Pike Place Market. This famous market is Seattle’s epicenter of fresh produce, specialty foods and independent businesses. Established in 1907 to connect citizens and farmers, the Market continues its “Meet the Producer” tradition with a year-round farmers market, owner-operated bakeries, fish markets, butcher shops, produce stands and specialty food stores. Within the nine-acre historic district you’ll discover dozens of farmers, a bustling crafts market, and more than 200 unique owner-operated shops. There are more than 80 restaurants to tempt you, from take-out counters specializing in donuts to fine dining establishments.
The entire length of the market is wheelchair accessible. However, given its location in the older part of Seattle, it is surrounded by steep sidewalks and cobblestones. I would advise taking the bus to the market, or staying above 2nd Avenue and rolling down Pike Street to avoid the steepest parts. The market gets extremely crowded with both locals and tourists, so I would advise exploring as early as possible. For some help, check out their handy visitors guide. One of the original two Starbucks locations is directly across the street from the market, and while the sidewalk can be crazy busy, they cordon off half the sidewalk for people to wait in line for the various eateries and coffee shops so pedestrians can walk freely down the other half.
7. Seattle Art Museum. “SAM” has been the center for world-class visual arts in the Pacific Northwest since 1933. In the heart of downtown Seattle, light-filled galleries invite you to wander through their collections, temporary installations, and special exhibitions from around the world. Those collections include Asian, African, Ancient American, Ancient Mediterranean, Islamic, European, Oceanic, Asian, American, modern and contemporary art, and decorative arts and design. Visitors especially enjoy their remarkable Native American galleries and exceptional collection of Australian Aboriginal art.
The Seattle Art Museum’s facilities are wheelchair accessible. Wheelchairs are available through the coat check at the 1st Avenue and Union Street entrance. A piece of identification must be left with the coat check attendant for wheelchair loan. Wheelchairs are on a first-come, first-served basis and the number of wheelchairs is limited. There are drop-off areas adjacent to the main entrance to the Seattle Art Museum on the south side of Union Street and on the east side of 1st Avenue near Union Street.
8. Seattle Aquarium. Visit the Seattle Aquarium and explore the wonders of the underwater world with a local Seattle touch. Discover playful sea otters, graceful octopuses, luminous moon jellies and more. Be amazed by the Window on Washington Waters, a 120,000-gallon exhibit filled with Northwest sea life. Touch live sea stars, urchins and more in the Life on the Edge tide pool exhibit, where you experience Washington’s wild outer coast and Seattle’s inland seas. Immerse yourself in the Underwater Dome’s 360° view. Take a virtual trip to the tropics in the Pacific Coral Reef exhibit. Plus, don’t miss the daily diver shows and animal feedings!
Seattle Aquarium exhibits and restrooms are wheelchair accessible. If you need a wheelchair you can check one out, free of charge, from the Guest Services desk (available on a first come, first serve basis). A credit card is required for check-out and will be charged $600 if the wheelchair is not returned. Persons with disabilities receive a $2.00 discount off the regular price of admission at the Seattle Aquarium. Aides required and accompanied by persons with disabilities enter free of charge.
9. Argosy Harbor Cruise. During this 1-hour narrated cruise, you’ll see all of the beauty and history Seattle has to offer. From the skyline to the shipping port, there’s a view everyone will enjoy. The cruise includes front row seats to the Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition, panoramic and up-close views of Seattle, the shipping port and Puget Sound, and a full-service bar on board with cocktails, local wine and beer, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.
The cruise is fully accessible, to include restrooms on board. However, keep in mind that at certain times of the day based on the tide, the gangway from street level down to the floating — and thus moving — dock can be very steep. Members of the crew will be happy to help you go up or down the gangway. They will also help keep you steady if there is a lot of movement getting on and off the cruise boat. There is no elevator, so you will be required to stay on the indoor main passenger deck. However, you will have a lot of space, as pretty much everyone goes to the open-air top deck. If you want something to eat or drink, one of the crew members will come down and take your order, and bring your food and/or drinks to you.
10. Ferry to Bainbridge Island. If you want a cheaper, longer, and similarly scenic alternative to an Argosy Harbor Tour, just hop on a fully accessible ferry to nearby Bainbridge Island. The trip across Puget Sound takes 35 minutes, and offers spectacular views of the downtown Seattle skyline. The ferry terminal is located at Colman Dock on Alaskan Way, just a short roll south from the departure dock for Argosy. A round-trip ticket for wheelchair users costs only $4.30, and you don’t have to reserve a departure or return time. Ferries depart roughly every 50 minutes.
Once you arrive at Bainbridge Island, you’ll see it’s a relaxing place to take a stroll, grab some lunch, or shop for some souvenirs. There’s also a small art museum that’s accessible and worth a visit. From the ferry terminal, roll past the buses and head northwest on Olympic Drive. Make a left on Winslow Drive East, where you’ll find the most interesting things to see, including Waterfront Park behind the Town & Country Market.
11. Boeing Everett Factory Tour. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen is several of the world’s largest jets under construction indoors. You can see this amazing process as well during a fully accessible tour of Boeing’s largest aircraft factory. The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located in Mukilteo, 25 miles north of Seattle. Public tours of Boeing’s Everett factory are available seven days a week. The Everett facility is home to the 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner production lines and is the world’s largest building by volume. Visitors will see airplanes being built for Boeing’s worldwide base of airline customers.
The best way to visit the factory and take this tour is by booking it through a tour company that has an accessible bus or shuttle. I used Tours Northwest, and called them in advance to let them know I was a wheelchair user. They will need to coordinate with the Boeing Factory because there are only two tour start times that are accessible, and your guide will need to arrange the arrival time of your tour group to accommodate for this.
12. T-Mobile Stadium. Home of the Seattle Mariners, T-Mobile Stadium is a great place to take an accessible tour during the day, then attend a baseball game later that night. The 19.59 acre outdoor ballpark features real grass, a retractable roof and state-of-the-art amenities. Bring your camera and take a “behind the seams” tour of one of the premier baseball facilities ever built. View areas normally restricted to the public, including the Press Box, Owners Suite, Field, Visitors Clubhouse, All-Star Club, and more. (All areas of the ballpark are subject to availability based on ballpark activities.) Tours depart from the Mariners Team Store located on the First Avenue South side of T-Mobile Park, last around an hour, and are wheelchair accessible.
I purchased both my tour ticket and Mariners game ticket (for an accessible seat) online. Make sure you check the tour schedule, which varies based on the time of year and on the game schedule during the season.
13. Sky View Observatory. Sky View Observatory is located on the 73rd floor of Columbia Center. At 902 feet, it offers the tallest public viewing area in the Pacific Northwest. To get there, guests ascend 73 floors in 70 seconds in an immersive elevator ride that whisks them to the observatory. The 360 degree panoramic view includes Mt. Rainier, Bellevue, the Cascade Mountains, Mt. Baker, Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains, the Space Needle and the city of Seattle. You can purchase tickets at the Sky View Observatory box office, located at 700 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104. The box office is located in the atrium at the 4th Avenue entrance. Your timed ticket is based on a 30 minute entry window (e.g. an 11am ticket garners admission between 11-11:30am). Upon arrival to the observatory itself, they recommend planning for 45-90 minutes to complete your visit.
14. Sailing on Lake Washington. Launched in 1991, Footloose Sailing Association (Footloose) is the Northwest’s premiere sailing program for people of all disabilities, their friends, family, and caregivers. Footloose is dedicated to bringing independence on the water and competence in the sport of sailing to the physically and mentally disabled. For a $15 donation, you can sail on one of their vessels best suited to your needs. I was able to transfer from my chair to the boat with some help, but they even have a hoist at the dock! Participants can be as active as they can, or just sit back and enjoy the beautiful views. You can contact them directly to inquire about group or organized events.
15. Museum of History and Industry. MOHAI is the largest private heritage organization in Washington state, maintaining a collection of nearly 4 million artifacts, photographs, and archival materials that primarily focus on Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region. A portion of this collection (roughly 2% at any given time) is on display in the museum’s galleries at the historic Naval Reserve Armory in Lake Union Park. Highlights include Boeing’s first commercial plane, the 1919 Boeing B-1; the Petticoat Flag, an 1856 American Flag sewn by women during the Battle of Seattle that year; and the Rainier Brewing Company’s 12-foot tall neon “R” sign. True Northwest: The Seattle Journey examines the trials and successes of Seattle’s colorful, sometimes bumpy trek from wilderness to world city, and The Bezos Center for Innovation investigates Seattle’s role as a nexus of big ideas and new directions.