Visit Seattle’s Chinatown International District with kids

Visit Seattle’s Chinatown International District with kids

View of the Historic Chinatown Gate, a modern arch of Paifang in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District neighborhood. (iStock Photo)

We all think we visit Seattle’s Chinatown International District, but in reality most of us pass through it. We get groceries at Uwajimaya. Or maybe dim sum with friends. And maybe we stop by for bubble tea on our way to a game at a stadium. But when was the last time we paid our full attention to Chinatown’s International District? Maybe it’s time to take a tour.

Chinatown Tour: Wing Luke Museum

The best way to delve deep into the history of Chinatown’s International District is to visit the Wing Luke Museum. Wing Chong Luke was born in 1925 and immigrated to the United States at the age of 6. He went on to become the first Asian American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest. Wing Luke was elected to the Seattle City Council in 1962. He died in a small plane crash at age 40. A foundation was established for his legacy and named the Wing Luke Asian Foundation. After all, the museum is also his legacy. It is a showcase for Asian American history and culture, as well as the history of Seattle’s Chinatown International District.

The steep stairs take you to interesting places that are not usually open unless you are on the Wing Luke Tour.

The Wing Luke Museum has six exhibits a year and some have hands-on activities for children.

There are also free tours of the Kong Yick Building. You’ll want to make sure you try to make it to one of these tours. Trips are usually twice a day, Wednesday-Friday, and three times a day on Saturdays and Sundays. These tours take place inside the museum, but in areas that are not open to the public. Visitors can see places like the Yick Fung shop or walk up a set of steep stairs to a hotel room at the Freeman Hotel. The hotel room is important because Chinese in Seattle were not allowed to own property due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Many Chinese had to stay in hotel rooms like this while working in Seattle.

The grocery store was in the building when it was purchased by the Wing Luke Museum. It was the Yick Fung store and was one of the longest running stores in Chinatown from 1910-2008. The owners donated the store, in its entirety, to the museum. It’s a way to see a piece of Seattle history completely preserved in time, and you can only see it if you’re on the museum tour.

The docents leading the tours are very knowledgeable about the history of Seattle’s Chinatown International District and make the information easy to understand.

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A guided walk around Chinatown

The museum has other tours that take you outside the museum and around the neighborhood. There is a Bruce Lee tour, a Chinatown Discovery tour and seasonal food tours such as an international dumpling tour. With a Wing Luke Museum membership you can save 15% off the fee. Children under 5 are free in the museum and on these tours. History Link Tours also has an online tour that gives you background on 25 sites in the area.

Find interesting and seasonal events using the Seattle Chinatown ID website: They have a variety of food walks like the Small Business Saturday Food Walks in November or the Summer Series Food Walks that happen on the third Saturday of the month in June , July and August.

Experience the local restaurants and shops

If you’re hungry after a day at the museum, you can walk about two minutes and have a meal at Tai Tung Restaurant, the oldest Chinese restaurant in Seattle and a favorite of Bruce Lee. We also ordered food from the restaurant adjacent to the museum, Harbor City Restaurant.

If you need a place to stop for a fun snack before your visit to the museum, my kids always appreciate the fortune cookies from Tsue Chong, also just steps away from the museum. You can buy a 5-pound bag of “fortunes,” round, flat cookies that aren’t made in the traditional shapes we know, but are still delicious. We also just wander around the area and try to eat somewhere new each time. There is so much to see and do here.

More shopping, treats and tea

Uwajimaya is always a favorite stop for my kids and is where we do some of our grocery shopping – especially for things like rice, soy sauces and udon and frozen ramen. We have a rule that we all have to pick something to try every time we visit. Lately, my boys like to get sweets from Beanfish or Dochi. Uwajimaya is within walking distance of the Wing Luke Museum and also has its own parking lot with a parking pass. If we have extra time with our authentication, we always run to get bubble tea from Young Tea or Seattle’s Best Tea (this one is right by the Historic Chinatown Gate). Now that the weather is cooler, I have to try the pandan latte at Hood Famous.

Grab your snacks to go and visit Hing Hay Park, a popular spot with picnic seating and an open space for performances.

With so much to do and see in Seattle’s historic Chinatown, you’ll want to visit more than once to experience it all.

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