Our family loves to travel, and my 3½-year-old twins have taken quite an interest in learning about airplanes, the process of flying them, etc. Plus, my husband and I are both engineers, and he’s pretty interested in technology of all kinds. So airplane museums of all kinda are a pretty big hit for my family.
However, many airplane museums can be a little bit tough for kids. Typically, airplane museums feature mostly small, historic, military planes. None of the planes resemble the commercial jets they know and love. And they are not allowed to enter or even touch most of the planes. As much as the kids enjoy all airplane museums, they often end up frustrated.
The Museum of Flight is not at all like that. There are airplanes of every shape and size, and TONS of interactive exhibits. Even if you aren’t super interested in airplanes, you will find something interesting there. Visiting the Museum of Flight with kids is amazing – it’s a perfect kid-centric day!
The Museum of flight is enormous. Like, you probably can’t get through it all in one day. Well, at least not with curious toddlers. There is legit SO much to see. If there is something you know you want to see, you’ll want to make sure you head there first.
The main gallery is amazing. When you first enter, it’s kind of shocking just how huge the area is. There are planes, helicopters, engines, and even an early hang glider above and below you. The museum is beautiful with tons of windows and natural light. These were a few of the highlights for us:
The large commercial plane has been cut apart, so you can see into the luggage compartment from below. Plus, it’s pretty neat to stand under the wings of a large commercial plane and see just how big it is. Upstairs, you can go in and check out the plane. When we are on real commercial planes, my kids aren’t really allowed to move around, touch everything and really check it out, so it was a fun experience for them.
Small military planes
These small planes are particularly amazing because kids can get into them! If I’m honest, I really don’t know much about planes, especially military planes. So I can’t really tell you what all of the amazing planes are in this area. But I’ll tell you that there are some really cool planes of all shapes and sizes that even I was interested in checking out. AND, even better, many of them were set up for kids to get in, touch all the controls and generally get to explore – SUPER fun!
Kids play area
As you make your way to the back of the main gallery, you’ll find a wonderful little kids play area. Even though the entire museum is SO interactive, kids know that this particular area is made for them, and will love exploring it! In fact, just as soon as we pull into the Museum of Flight, my kids always let me know that the kids play area is their top priority!
This area features a space shuttle capsule, with a working radio for the ‘control station’ across the room, a small airplane they can board and ‘drive’, plus some educational exhibits on how planes fly, and how you’d build a city on the moon.
How Jet Engines Work
On the lower level of the Main Gallery, there are some great exhibits that show how engines work visually so that kids can understand. There are small models for several different types of engines, with switches that turn the engine on and off, or lights to show exactly which part does what. My 3-year-olds were super interested and seemed to understand at least the basics of how many of the engines worked.
3D Movie Theatre
While in the Main Gallery, be sure to check out which movies are playing at the 3D theatre, right upfront. They have some amazing space and aviation-themed movies, all around 25 minutes long. They are fun and informational, but short enough to keep you interested. Note that they still use the old-style paper 3D glasses, which don’t fit small faces very well. Because of the glasses issue, the 3D movie can be tough for younger kids.
Flight Simulator Rides
Also, don’t forget to check out the flight simulators. The i360 simulators, located in the far right-hand side of the Main Gallery as you walk in, allows you to choose your favorite aircraft, and then experience ‘flying’ it, including 360-degree rolls! Note that children must be 48” tall to ride, so it’s not intended for younger children or for those who get motion sickness. The 40-X simulator, located on the far left-hand side, is a bit more toned down, though still quite a thrilling ride. It allows younger kids, 38” and taller (typically taller 3-year-olds, and up). Both require separate tickets, so plan ahead and get your tickets upfront before you head out to the gallery.
Boeing Red Barn
The Red Barn was the original manufacturing facility for Boeing. The building was a yacht manufacturing facility before it was purchased by the Boeing family to use as an airplane facility. And fun fact, the barn had to be moved from its original location, on the water, barged upriver, and towed to its new location. The Red Barn has tons of cool historical artifacts, and some life-sized models to show what manufacturing would have been like in the early days. My little kids are, of course, not so much into history yet, but they did like learning about how things are made, so there is plenty here for them.
Personal Courage Wing
This area is a bit more like the typical airplane museums we’ve been to. It features a ton of beautiful, historical planes, with some great notes explaining when and why the plane was used. Downstairs, you’ll find planes, equipment, and clothing from World War 2, expertly laid out to give you a feel for what it must have been in Europe at that time. Upstairs, you’ll find the World War 1 exhibits. And you’ll certainly notice a change in the scenery as you head upstairs, and back in time an additional 20 years.
I’ll admit, this portion of the museum is a bit frustrating for my young children. They love the brightly colored planes, and those with fun paint jobs, but as historical planes, they are roped off and not to be touched. At 3 ½, they are not old enough to understand or appreciate the historical importance of any of it. However, there is a really cool flight simulator that they enjoyed playing with. The area is still worth checking out, but at a slightly faster pace when visiting with younger kids.
To continue over to the west campus at the Museum of Flight, you’ll need to cross a bridge, and enter the separate building across the street. The bridge is actually a bit of an experience itself. The enclosed glass bridge allows you to walk over East Marginal Way, and get a great view of both sides of the museum, and, on a clear day, you’ll even get a view of Mount Ranier. The bridge plays the sound of planes taking off as they cross the bridge, which is also kind of a fun feature.
On the west side, you’ll find the Space Gallery. Just like in the Main Gallery, the museum does an excellent job of making this area truly all ages. There are some cool video clips of the shuttle taking off, an explanation on how exactly that works, a small model of the shuttle, and even a real shuttle that you can enter. We also enjoyed some of the videos and explanations on life without gravity. My kids LOOOOOVE the space toilet and bring it up often. And, if you aren’t visiting with impatient young children, take a minute to chat with some of the extremely knowledgeable employees all around the facility.
The Space Gallery is also home to the new Space Quest VR, a short 5-minute ride that shows you just what it was like to be on the Apollo 11, all the way to the moon and back!
Once you’ve seen enough of the Space Gallery, head outside to check out the Aviation Pavillion. The covered outdoor space has dozens (or hundreds? I don’t know- a LOT) of larger planes, many of them available for you to enter and explore.
The kids really like the larger military bombers – they were shiny and looked different than a standard plane. I liked checking out the Concorde, and finding out that it’s pretty standard looking, smallish plane on the inside. Just fast. I always wanted to ride it – maybe one day, we’ll have faster planes.
There was also, I believe, a Boeing 747 that can refuel mid-air. We checked out the seat for the operator who manages the refueling from the window. Other highlights included a DreamLiner, a Boeing test plane, a Nixon-era Air Force one, and of course, another great kids play area. This one features a play luggage conveyor, an airplane fueling truck, an airplane and more. It’s design for younger children and was a big hit for my preschool-aged kids.
The museum features a small cafe, with all the basics, including lots of kid-friendly options. Because the museum is SO large, this cafe is a total necessity. Whenever we go, we wind up staying much longer than we intend, and at least one of us gets hungry. It’s nice to know we can pick up a snack, or a quick meal right there inside the museum. The food is pretty darn good as well.
The Museum of Flight gift shop is actually amazing. The carefully curated shop features tons of airplane merchandise, or course. But not just cheesy little trinkets. There are some really great STEM toys, like fantastic legos sets, airplane models for adults all the way down to toddler aged kids, fun pretend-play rockets, science-experiment in a box type kids, and so much more. Definitely tell your children to save their birthday money for a toy at this shop. In these days of dying retail, finding a toy shop this complete is tough to come by, and definitely worth the visit. It’s SO good that we embarrass ourselves in the hall near the gift shop so that the kids will look at us and AWAY from the gift shop, on days when we’ve decided not to shop.
The Best Indoor Activity in Seattle?
The Museum of Flight just might be my favorite kid’s activity in Seattle. It’s really a great museum with so much to see and learn. It’s a perfect day to spend a rainy day in Seattle. Or even a sunny day!