Scavenger Hunt in Seattle: An Affordable Family Vacation

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For a family on a budget, piecing together a quality vacation can result in a great deal of stress, guilt, and anxiety. Aside from the pressures placed on parents of school-aged children to go to the biggest resorts and theme parks, even the simplest of trips can add up monetarily. The truth is, however, that it is possible for a family pinching pennies to come up with a fun, relaxing, and even an educational vacation. The key is knowing where to look.

Appreciating Art

One lesser-known destination is none other than Seattle, Washington. Known for Starbucks and rain (said tongue-in-cheek), Seattle probably isn't on anyone's list of top vacation destinations, but there is definitely a culture there worth exploring. Aside from the cost of one of many affordable hotels in Seattle, a family of four will find plenty to appreciate within the city while spending next to nothing. The key is knowing where to look.

In 1973, Seattle became one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance. As the city's government website reads, "The program specifies that 1% of eligible city capital improvement project funds be set aside for the commission, purchase and installation of artworks in a variety of settings." This ordinance was set up more than 40 years ago, meaning there are more than four decades worth of art throughout Seattle. How amazing is that?

The collection is made up of more than 3,000 pieces -- 380 permanently cited and 2,800 portable -- put together by artists that had to go through an approval process to contribute. That is a lot of art and creativity sprinkled throughout Seattle, making it the perfect place for a low-budget, scavenger hunt family vacation.

That's right. Scavenger hunt. Simply combine the walking tours with a thirst for knowledge and intellectual stimulation.

A History Lesson

Considering Seattle Center is home to the iconic Space Needle, heading there for a scavenger hunt brings with it some added attractions. The 74-acre campus was built in 1962 for the World's Fair and features plenty of museums and theatres. For the family on a budget, however, paying for admission fees to such places won't be on the agenda.

The hotels in the area -- while not extravagant -- are modestly priced. The Travelodge By The Space Needle, for example, is smack dab in the center of the action, allowing families to explore the area on foot. All parents have to do is set up some scavenger hunt parameters and then hit the ground running.

Seattle Center holds a few pieces of art created at the time of the World's Fair in 1962. Searching for those three pieces -- Kobe Bell, Seattle Mural, and Fountain of Creation -- and learning their origin is one fun approach. Another is simply finding all the pieces located within Seattle Center and gaining an understanding of who created them and why.

Many of the pieces throughout Seattle were conceptualized with a goal in mind. Belltown, located just south of Seattle Center, contains two such projects on its north side near Olympic Structure Park. "First Avenue Project" was built between 1985-1991 with an eye toward creating an art museum feel without actually having to attend an art museum. The pieces are not only woven into the fabric of the sidewalks, they represent those who walk on them.

"Purple plum trees at bus stops liven up the view for commuters while rough boulders and split-sandstone slabs add interest to an otherwise basic city street," reads "Together these visually appealing elements coalesce into an engaging streetscape which pays tribute to the area's blue-collar history while also contributing to Belltown's urban renewal."

"Angie's Umbrella" is another piece showcased along the street. The 20-foot-tall pink umbrella is inside-out to represent the high winds of the northwest. Put together by Jim Pridgeon and Benson Shaw in 2003, it is also wind activated. For the family hoping to experience these art-lined sidewalks for themselves, the Ace Hotel Seattle is reasonably priced and is right in the heart of those pieces. The Kings Inn - Seattle, is another good option that is also centralized in Belltown.

Inconspicuous Art

Some of the most intriguing art pieces are the ones you don't even realize are there. Instead of drawing clear attention from passers-by, some works mind their own business, so to speak. Once such piece is "Mesa," constructed in 1991 by Ken Little. At first glance, this art project is a picnic table surrounded by pine trees near the Woodland Park Zoo entrance. In actuality, the piece draws attention to extinct species.

"Incised drawings of both a grizzly bear and a white-tailed deer relate the national scale of declining animal diversity to animals in danger of extinction within the Pacific Northwest," reads

While "Mesa" carries with it a deep meaning, other inconspicuous pieces you may come across are light. "Dancers' Series: Steps," created in 1982 as part of the revitalization of Broadway, features two sets of footprints in the sidewalk meant to represent a couple dancing. The artist, Jack Mackie, also included arrows and "R" and "L" to indicate the motion of specific dances. The downside to a family staying in Broadway is the higher hotel cost. While the hotels in other areas of Seattle could be booked for less than $100, the cheapest in Broadway is the Silver Cloud Inn Seattle Lake Union.

There is something to be said for uncovering historic pieces of art as a way of vacationing. So many destinations for young people and families involve enormous stimulation -- theme parks, concerts, extreme sports -- and take away from quiet introspection. Perhaps that is the No. 1 reason families often come home from vacation even more exhausted than they were before they left.

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Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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