Nestled amongst the grand homes of North Capitol Hill sits this 45-acre grassy expanse that's perfect for picnicking, sunbathing (or stomping in rain puddles), and strolling. You can tell this is one of the city's older parks by the size of the trees and the rhododendrons, many of which were planted more than a hundred years ago. The Olmsted Brothers, the premier landscape architects of the day, helped with the final design in 1904; the park has changed surprisingly little since then. In the center of the park is the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM, a branch of the Seattle Art Museum), housed in a 1933 art moderne–style edifice. It fits surprisingly well with the stark plaza stretching from the front door to the edge of a bluff, and with the lush plants of Volunteer Park. The museum's collections include thousands of paintings, sculptures, pottery, and textiles from China, Japan, India, Korea, and several Southeast Asian countries.
Volunteer Park Conservatory greenhouse, across from the museum, has a magnificent collection of tropical pants. The five houses include the Bromeliad House, the Palm House, the Fern House, the Seasonal Display House, and the Cactus House. Admission is free.
A focal point of the park, at the western edge of the hill in front of the Asian Art Museum, is Isamu Noguchi's sculpture, Black Sun, a natural frame from which to view the Space Needle, the Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains.
SAAM is small: you could hit the museum and conservatory and sunbathe on the lawn—and still leave the park by lunchtime.
Climbing the 106 steps of the park's old water tower yields some decent views of the city.
The conservatory is not a great place for kids, mostly because of its narrow paths—tough to navigate even without a stroller. But there are plenty of kid-friendly attractions in the park. A wading pool is extremely popular on hot summer days, and there are plenty of open spaces for kids to run. SAAM has craft tables related to current exhibits, and admission is free for families every first Saturday.
SAAM no longer has a café, but the Volunteer Park Café, just east of the park at 17th and Galer, is an excellent stop for sandwiches, sweets, and coffee. Just be aware that on pleasant weekends, half of the neighborhood has the same idea.