An awesome adventure―that's what I swore we'd have when I took my 13- and 15-year-old sons, James and Sam, and my husband, Jeff, out for a day of family fun in Seattle, even though I knew nothing of the sort.
Because teens are notoriously fickle, I plotted a day of cool based on the diverse attractions at or near the Seattle Center: the Experience Music Project, the Space Needle, and the Pacific Science Center. Most important, our day involved a single car trip. If you're staying downtown, you can just hop the Seattle Center Monorail ($3.50 round-trip; www.seattlemonorail.com or 206/ 905-2620), then let your teens skulk about. Here's how it all went.
1. Experience Music Project
Arrive early if you want to get your hands on a Fender Stratocaster or jam on drum sets in the Sound Lab. The current star exhibit (through April) is Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966, with artifacts ranging from rare concert footage to one of teenage Bob's high-school papers (he got a B). It wowed us―as did the Costumes from the Vault exhibit. "Whoa, Jimi Hendrix was short!" James exclaimed. 10-6 Tue-Sun; $20, $15 ages 7-17. 325 Fifth Ave. N.; www.emplive.org or 877/367-5483.
James: B+ On the swooping Frank Gehry-designed building, "It's supposed to be a smashed guitar, duh."
Sam: A- "The Hendrix exhibit is tight; he was such a cool guy."
Jeff: A "Honey, can I buy an electric guitar?"
2. Space Needle
The Space Needle is so iconic that we had never taken ourselves to the top. The $39 prix fixe brunch menu at the revolving Sky-City at the Needle priced out our family of four. Instead we zoomed up to the Observation Deck (43 seconds), marveling at the 360° view while helicopters buzzed below us. Open daily, call for hours; $13, $6 ages 4-13. 400 Broad St.; www.spaceneedle.com or 800/937-9582.
James: B+ "It makes me dizzy."
Sam: B+ Glued to the Observation Deck telescope, "You can totally spy on people with these."
3. Pacific Science Center
I was curious to see how my teenage kids―who as second graders loved the hands-on exhibits here―would fare. All I can say is the human-powered hamster wheel in the outdoor Water Works area hasn't lost its allure, but the rest of the place was a bust. Next time we'll know to buy tickets for an Imax show ($8, $7 ages 3-12). 10-5 Tue-Sun; $10, $7 ages 3-12. 200 Second Ave. N.; www.pacsci.org or 206/443-2001.
James: B "The naked mole rats are cool."
Sam: B "I really liked this place when I was 6."
Jeff: C+ "Needs a coat of paint."
4. Easy Street Records
After failure, triumph. Easy Street Records is a landmark independent record store with a colossal selection and hipster attitude. Jeff shopped for esoteric CDs, Sam and James lost themselves in headphone nirvana, and I perused magazines and tried not to stand out like a mom on steroids. A fitting end to a family day that had begun with Dylan's steel-string "Subterranean Homesick Blues." 20 Mercer St.; www.easystreetonline.com or 206/691-3279.
Sam: A "What a totally cool store with cool posters."
Jeff: A "The staff can find the most obscure CD instantly; they're like human computers who love their jobs."