Western Washington State Campgrounds with Playgrounds

Campgrounds offer many natural playthings to entertain kids: sticks, stones, spiders (OK, maybe not spiders). But one of my favorite childhood memories featured a Washington campground decked out with swings, slides and other fun play equipment. Here’s a quick list of Western Washington kid-friendly campgrounds that roll out the green carpet.


Kid-Friendly Washington State Campgrounds:  Scenic Beach State Park. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Kid-Friendly Washington State Campgrounds:
Scenic Beach State Park. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Northwest Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

Belfair State Park. Belfair, Washington. Sleep in one of 120 campsites and let the kids play at the nearby beach or on the simple playground, which has swings, toddler-ready slides and a small climbing structure.

Blake Island Marine State Park. Blake Island, Washington. Only reachable by boat (no roads!), this kid-friendly campground features 44 campsites and petite, older wooden playground with slides and a tire swing.

Cama Beach State Park. Camano Island, Washington. The draw at this location? The family-ready cabins. As for the playground, only a small kid-sized boat and a solitary swing.

Rasar State Park. Concrete, Washington. Kids will enjoy the wood-and-plastic climbing structure with slides and monkey bars over woodchips, and parents enjoy the variety of sleeping options, including walk-in tent sites, lean-to shelters and reservable bunk-bed equipped cabins ready for families of five.

Deception Pass. Oak Harbor, Washington. Reserve one of 167 campsites or the one cabin (requires a boat for access), and let the kids climb on the small playground.

Fort Flagler Historical State Park. Nordland, Washington. Not one but two playgrounds are available at Fort Flagler: at one playground, swing on one of four swings, including infant swings and two tire swings; at the lower campground, kids slide and scramble on the climbing walls and monkey bars. Tired yet? Tuck into one of the 100 sites, including tent-only, full hookup/RV and primitive campsites.

Illahee State Park. Bremerton, Washington. A small saltwater campground with 23 tent sites and a smaller toddler- and preschooler-friendly playground.

Kitsap Memorial State Park. Poulsbo, Washington. When you’re done spotting marine life in the tidepools, head back to your five-person bunk-bed cabin or one of 21 campsites. A wooden play structure keeps kids busy, although better suited for older children.

Lake Sylvia State Park. Montesano, Washington. This campground’s semi-shaded, newer, and fenced-off playground sits below towering firs, and features multi-level climbing facilities and a small tunnel-slide, and benches for parents to rest with babies or toddlers. Just 31 tent spaces here, perfect for families.

Larabee State Park. Bellingham, Washington. Count sea-stars on the beach, then head to the newer playground with balance-boosting equipment, a wide slide, rock-climbing walls (plastic, but OK), ladders and a standing swing. Sleep well in one of the 51 standard tent sites, 26 utility sites or eight primitive sites.

Moran State Park. Olga, Washington. Take the ferry to Orcas Island for 151 campsites and a small playground for the kids.

Saltwater State Park. Des Moines,Washington. Camp out with the kids in one of 47 campsites near the beach, and an older wooden playground with a chain-ladder, slides, monkey bars and platforms.

Kid-Friendly Washington Campgrounds: Scenic Beach Playground

Kid-Friendly Washington Campgrounds: Scenic Beach Playground

Scenic Beach. Seabeck, Washington. A larger Western Washington campground with 52 reservable sites, tidepools and two well-shaded playgrounds featuring a tire swing, climbing and slide equipment, ladders and slides.

Sequim Bay. Sequim, Washington. Lay down stakes at this 49-site campground in the Olympic Peninsula. The playground has a few swings, including one toddler swing.

Spencer Spit. Lopez Island, Washington. A more rustic family campground with 37 spaces but no showers or hookups, so maybe not great for long-term camping stays. Small playground.

kid-friendly campgrounds in washington state

Blake Island State Park Playground. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Southwest Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

Battle Ground State Park. Battle Ground, Washington. Slip down the tunnel slide or corkscrew slide, scramble across the monkey bars and jump from platform to platform at this kid-friendly campground, which also provides 25 campsites and four cabins that accommodate five people (perfect for families with three kids).

Ike Kinswa State Park. Silver Lake, Washington. A giant 101-site and nine-cabin campground situated near a large freshwater lake, offering year-round camping and an older wooden playset with corkscrew slide, tall platforms and tire features.

Rainbow Falls. Chehalis, Washington. The petite playground will entertain kids for a few minutes — just a toddler-approved slide, a few small wooden platforms and hang bar. All sites here are first-come, first-served: 53 campsites, including a few hiker/biker only (walk-in) sites.

Seaquest State Park. Castle Rock, Washington. Yurts! This Mt. St. Helens campground offers five yurts (suitable for families of six), 55 tent spots and 33 utility spaces, along with a small vintage playground featuring metal ladders and wooden platforms.


Did I miss something? Get something wrong? Can you recommend another playground? Do you have photos of any of these playgrounds? Please e-mail me at lora AT cascadiakids.com. I will also add photos as I receive them from state parks.












Sea Monsters, Star Wars and SNOT: This summer’s museum attractions for families

If making plans for summer, check out these new and upcoming kid-friendly museum exhibits in Seattle, Vancouver or Bend — the exhibits may inspire a day trip, weekend excursion or week-long adventure.

Sea Monsters Revealed
Vancouver Aquarium. Vancouver, BC.
March 5 to September 7, 2015

From now through the end of summer, discover what lies beneath the sea’s deepest reaches, where few humans have ventured. Sea Monsters Revealed uses plastination (seen in many human anatomy exhibits) to preserve the bodies of deep-sea creatures and ocean oddities, including a mako shark and a car-sized sunfish.

Vancouver with Kids, Summer 2015: Sea Monsters

Vancouver with Kids, Summer 2015: Sea Monster Exhibit. Photo courtesy Vancouver Aquarium.

GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science Of The Human Body
Pacific Science Center. Seattle, Washington.
June 20 to September 7, 2015

Two words: burp machine. This summer, animatronic exhibits and (probably too much) information edifies on snot, stink and other disgusting things that entertain kids. For example: The “Gas Attack” pinball game, “Urine: The Game,” a kidney-riffic experience, and a “Tour du Nose.” Despite being somewhat gross, it’s all in the service of teaching kids cool stuff about biology. Also, maybe, not to pick their noses so much. We’ll see.

Ultimate Dinosaurs
Science World. Vancouver, BC.
Opening Saturday, May 30.

Meet dozens of dinosaurs that evolved in the Southern Hemisphere, in the flesh (or close to it). The exhibit combines augmented-reality tech with fossils to create realistic Southern-Hemisphere dinos rarely found in North America, including those that outsize the toddler-beloved T. Rex.

Disguise: Masks and Global African Art
Seattle Art Museum. Seattle, Washington.
June 18 – September 7, 2015

This exhibit will include 50 masks and 10 costumes from SAM’s African art collection and about 100 objects on loan. The masks imitating and replicating animals are particularly fascinating for children.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume
EMP/SFM. Seattle, Washington.
Open January 31 to October 4, 2015.

If your kids are going through a Star Wars Phase (it’s a thing!), check out the 60 costumes at this traveling exhibit. Costumes cover the movies’ greatest hits; your Chewbacca, your Leia, your Darth Sidious, and so on, and there’s also an opportunity to see how illustrations become costumes and interactive pieces that encourage kids to touch fabrics. Who knows, it may inspire a costume design (or two) at home, as well.

Titanaboa: Monster Snake
Burke Museum. Seattle, Washington.
Aug. 22, 2015 – Nov. 15, 2015

He measured 48 feet long. He weighed up to 2,500 pounds. He was Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake in the world. This exhibit reveals more about the 60 million year old remains found in Columbia, along with other post-dino Paleocene critters. Skittish? It’s only a full-scale model of Titanoboa; the real thing is extinct. Whew.

Growing Up Western
High Desert Museum. Bend, Oregon
Through July 26, 2015

Kids at the turn of the 20th century — did they have it easy or rough? View kids’ clothes (like wooly chaps, kid-size saddle and Chinese shoes), learn about children’s work and play, and visit a replica of a child’s 1900 bedroom.

Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC
Royal BC Museum. Victoria, BC.
May 13 through October 31, 2015

Understand more about why some people traveled continents to seek a fortune. See BC’s largest existing gold nugget (The Turnagain Nugget), indigenous, pre-hispanic gold art treasures from Columbia and a million-dollar coin (May 13 to June 14 only).

30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon is one of my favorite family destinations, due to sunny skies, warm summer weather, and sheer number of outdoor options, from hot-air balloon excursions to biking trails. Families can go cheap (finding free or low-cost options, such as lake days or skate parks, free family concerts or skywatching experiences). Or pay extra for Bend-area tours and camps, such as horse-riding or rock-climbing camps, giving parents time together.

Fun Stuff to do with Kids in Bend

  1. Learn homesteading skills on a 1904 ranch, enjoy an eagle’s-eye view, hang out with a monster (gila monster, at least), and burrow in an outdoor play area at the High Desert Museum. This is one of my favorite museums in the Pacific Northwest, and head here first to better understand the region’s fascinating history with hands-on exhibits.

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: High Desert Museum

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: #1 High Desert Museum

  2. Float the Deschutes River, using the great instructions in the link, plus your float of choice and a free kids’ life jacket rental.
  3. Meet a well-known local: Smith Rock, at Smith Rock State Park. Hike, climb, fish or watch for deer, falcons and otters, or even spend the night (I love camping here).
  4. Spelunk at the Lava River Cave; don’t forget warm clothing, headlamps for everyone in your party, solid hiking boots and water.

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: Lava Caves

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: #4 Lava Caves

  5. Ride down a lazy river, splash in a zero-entry baby pool or play in the sand at SunRiver’s SHARC complex. But get there early — poolside seats go fast, and shadecan be hard to come by.

    At the SHARC

    Things to Do with Kids in Bend: #5 At the SHARC

  6. Go rolling skating at Cascade Indoor Sports (kids 4 and under free!).
  7. Let the kids climb the rocks (versus the walls) with a 4-day Kids Camp with Chockstone Climbing Guides.
  8. Spy nebulae in Central Oregon’s clear night skies or stare at the sun at Oregon Observatory at Sunriver or the Pine Mountain Observatory.
  9. Laze away an afternoon (pack a picnic!) at a local greenspace such as Columbia Park (which boasts a pirate ship!).
  10. Cycle along Bend’s beautiful paths next to the Deschutes River, renting from outfitters like Let It Ride Electric Bikes, or Wheel Fun Rentals, which offer trailers, trail-a-bikes/tag-a-longs or kid-sized bikes. Life Cycle Bikes includes delivery of adult or kid bikes to your hotel.
  11. Giddyup among the sage and pines with a horse-riding lesson or tour from Flyspur Ranch, Diane’s Riding Place or Sunriver Stables.

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: Horseriding

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: #11 Horseriding at Sunriver Stables.

  12. Balance a stand-up paddleboard on Elk Lake or kayak the Deschutes with a rental (or class) from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, which also offers kids’ camps in Bend.
  13. Visit a 1916 schoolroom at Des Chutes Historical Museum.
  14. Snap gorgeous family pictures at the top of Newberry National Volcanic Monument’s nearly 8000-foot Paulina Peak, which offers awesome vistas of Oregon.
  15. Stop into Lava Lands Visitor Center and learn about the region’s super-heated history (younger kids may not find it as enjoyable).

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: Lava Lands Visitor Center

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: #15 Lava Lands Visitor Center

  16. Heft your inflatable raft into one of Central Oregon’s fresh waters, such as Sparks Lake, Mirror Pond or Hosmer Lake.
  17. Ollie at Ponderosa Park’s 8000-square-foot skate park.
  18. Play putt-putt golf and billiards or crash bumper cars at Sun Mountain Fun Center.
  19. Meet local wildlife at Sunriver Nature Center, go on one of the center’s moonlight hikes or sign the kids up for one of the center’s camps (they’re great!).

    30 Things to do in Bend with Kids: Sunriver Nature Center

    30 Things to do in Bend with Kids: #19 Sunriver Nature Center

  20. Hike a trail and encounter a (cooled) lava cone at Pilot Butte State Park.
  21. Don’t cry over rainy days in Bend; take the kids to Bouncing Off The Wall for a family fun night.
  22. Ride the rapids or float serenely on a multi-day river adventure with Ouzel Outfitters River Trips (kids must be over 50 lbs) or Sun Country Tours.
  23. Sample the sweet side of nostalgia at Powell’s Sweet Shop, which stocks hundreds (yes, hundreds) ofcandyriffic options, including gums, bars, sodas and even wax lips.

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: Powell's Sweet Shop

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend: #23 Powell’s Sweet Shop

  24. Become a Junior Ranger at Tumalo State Park, then go for a hike, slide on the playground or sleep in a yurt.
  25. Bowl a strike at Lava Lanes Bowling Center in Redmond, about 23 minutes north of Bend.
  26. Fly into the sky with Big Sky Balloon Company (kids ages 8 and up only).
  27. Make a splash at the indoor children’s pool at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center.
  28. Catch a cheap movie and a slice of pie at McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School, a quaint school converted to a quaint hotel/brewery/theater. If you don’t care about atmosphere, watch a $1 flick at Regal Cinemas during the summertime.
  29. Enjoy a free summer concert in Bend at the Les Schwab Memorial Center or Alive After 5.
  30. Slip into the sweet little nook and pick up a great new picture book at Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe or Sunriver Books and Music.

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend, Oregon: #30 Browse Books

    30 Things to Do with Kids in Bend, Oregon: #30 Browse Books at Sunriver Books and Music

All Aboard! Take the Amtrak Train from Seattle to Leavenworth

The scenic three-hour, 20-minute ride between Seattle and Leavenworth on the Amtrak offers enchanting scenery and incredible views. Seat children next to the window to look for wildlife among the fir-layered mountainsides and rambling rivers. You’ll also pass through the second-longest tunnel in the U.S., the Cascade Tunnel, while traversing 4000-foot peaks. You won’t deal with closed mountain passes or the twisting highways —  just sit back and relax in the giant seats. The only disappointment: the train’s schedule makes it impossible to go on a daytrip (it leaves Seattle in the evening, and returns in the early morning).


13 Tips for Taking the Amtrak Train to Leavenworth

  1. Book your ticket through Amtrak.com and note that kids go half-price, which makes for a sweet (and less-expensive ride). Adult tickets range from $23-40+ each way, depending upon traffic volume. Also, check the “Smart Fares” section of the Amtrak site to find more deals.

    Kid on Amtrak Train

    Kid on Amtrak Train

  2. The Amtrak train departs from three stations en route to Leavenworth: Seattle King Street, Edmonds and Everett. Those living in North Seattle may want to board in Edmonds, Snohomish County residents may want to board in Everett, and South Seattle at King Street.
  3. Parking is limited at King Street, Edmonds and Everett stations. Bring cash for any olden-days pay lots (though most take credit cards), and arrive at least a half-hour in advance to scope out your parking choices. Better yet, ask a friend to drop you off at the station.

    Vintage Amtrak Dining Car Menu

    Vintage Amtrak Dining Car Menu

  4. Weather and freight train backups can delay Amtrak trains. Our train from Edmonds to Leavenworth was delayed by an hour and 15 minutes; our return train from Leavenworth to Edmonds was delayed by three hours and 30 minutes. Sign up for alerts through the Amtrak.com site, and check the site for real-time schedule changes. If you’ll be arriving late at night (10:30 p.m. for us), you might think about how to set the kids up to sleep for an hour or two.
  5. Meals are served aboard the train – but for lunch and dinner, only for those with reservations. Sign up as soon as you board the train headed toward Leavenworth, but realize that some seatings may sell out, and you may not make reservations when booking your ticket. Bring extra food if you think you might be hungry.
  6. That said, our dinner was an unpleasant combination of mediocre and expensive; seemingly microwaved vegetable mix and rice, although the meat was okay. Maybe it was an off night (although others told us they had the same experience). The children’s menu was fine, although mostly comprised of cheese and white bread. Bring your own meal, or ask your waitress what she would recommend. Snacks are also served, but those prices aren’t much better. You may also be seated with strangers, if you’re a party of three. Here’s a link to the Empire Builder / Leavenworth train menu Eastbound (dinner, toward Leavenworth) and Westbound (breakfast, toward Seattle). The service was very good and homey, though. I’m pretty sure my waitress even called me “hon.”

    Amtrak Dining Car

    Amtrak Dining Car

  7. Entertainment is limited, and there aren’t movies (as on the Cascades trains) but there are 120-volt plugs next to two-seat configurations. Bring a laptop, card games, books and quiet activity books.
  8. Amtrak passenger seats offer generous proportions, with reclining seat backs, extendable trays, footrests and seat pockets. So don’t worry about leg room – think about three times the size of an airplane seat setup. Seat reservations aren’t available, but the conductor, whenever possible, will try to keep groups together.

    Leavenworth Train Station

    Leavenworth Train Station

  9. Train shelters are heated, so you’ll be warm while waiting. Heat lamps even warm outdoor waits, in Leavenworth. Spend a few moments at the stations to look at historic documents and knickknacks.
  10. The Leavenworth Amtrak station (‘Icicle Station”) is located only about a mile outside town along a quiet road, but you must walk up a steep hill without a wide shoulder. I would not attempt to walk this route with kids, but instead take Leavenworth Shuttle and Taxi, which charges about $5 per passenger. Book your pickup in advance, and drop-off at the Leavenworth station. Our driver was courteous, prompt, and gave us frequent updates on the train delay. The driver does not have a carseat available for babies or younger children, so if that’s important to you, bring one with you.
  11. The Leavenworth Amtrak train leaves early in the morning – boarding is at 6 a.m. (unless late). Ask your hotel if they’re willing to pack a sack breakfast for you, to go – our hotel, the Bavarian Inn, was happy to do so. Request this upon check-in or when making a reservation.
  12. Amtrak rail employees seem both stressed and patient. Employees appear to be doing the best they can, despite demanding, upset passengers — some of whom stuffed paper towels into the toilets on our train, rendering the toilets inoperable. That wasn’t cool.
  13. No changing tables are available, so bring extra changing pads for baby. There are toilet receptacles for diapers in the bathroom,but you might want to double-bag any disaster-scented works.
View from Amtrak Rail Car

View from Amtrak Rail Car

Read more about things to do in Leavenworth hotels, Leavenworth for kids and Sleeping Lady Resort.

The BC Sunshine Coast with Kids

Today, we have a special visitor, Lori McGrath, who pens her thoughts at The Write Mama. In a Q&A, she’s  going to tell us about BC’s Sunshine Coast with kids — where to go, what to do, and where to eat.


I grew up spending my summer vacations on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, a truly beautiful place – filled with oceans and trails, cozy cottages and beaches, parks and wildlife. Now that I have a five-year-old son, my family is rediscovering all the things that make the Sunshine Coast such a great destination for families.

We stay at our family cabin near the town of Gibsons, which is the main marine gateway for the Sunshine Coast. Arriving in Gibsons requires no more than a 40-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver and a short drive. Further up the coast, you encounter the towns of Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Halfmoon Bay, Davis Bay and Pender Harbour.

Beach near Gibsons: Kid-friendly beach on Sunshine Coast

At the beach near Gibsons

Where are the best places to stay with kids on the Sunshine Coast?

The best way for families to stay on the Sunshine Coast is to check out a website like VRBO. A place to rent near the water, along the Strait of Georgia, is best. There’s nothing like drifting off to sleep listening to the sounds of the waves. Spend days walking logs, searching for shells, making sandcastles, fishing on the dock and swimming in the ocean with the kids. You’ll wish you could stay forever.

If you can’t find a rental, there are a ton of B&Bs and local resorts to choose from.

For camping families, Porpoise Bay Provincial Park in Sechelt has a lovely sandy beach, playground, picnic tables, tons of shade, real bathrooms and showers, hiking trails plus a campground within easy walking distance of all these facilities. It’s a truly lovely spot for a day visit or for camping.

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park Playground

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park Playground

You can also rent kayaks or book kayaking lessons or tours from Talaysay Tours right at the park. Reservations for the Porpoise Bay campground are busy so book ahead through the BC Parks Discover Camping Reservation Service.

What’s the best Sunshine Coast playground, in your opinion?

The best playground we have found in the area is at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it playing on the beach and enjoying the picnic area in the park. Tons of shade. Tons of sand. Tons of fun.

Where are your favorite places to eat with kids?

It’s always a challenge to eat out with kids – a lot of times we whip up a picnic and head to the park for a special outing. But if you are looking for a family-friendly restaurant, here are some great affordable choices:

Old Boot Eatery, Sechelt: We stopped here for an Italian style lunch, with salad, pasta, pizza and baked sandwich choices. My son was offered an activity book and crayons to keep him busy. Your kids will enjoy the kids menu, as long as they are pasta eaters!

Molly’s Reach, Gibsons: This restaurant was a backdrop for the Canadian TV show “The Beachcombers” (1972 -1990). A fun bit of history is that the show tried to rent my grandparent’s cabin and when the TV crew rudely tried to make too many changes to it, my grandma Dody threw them out! If you were a fan of the show or just like checking out local lore, be sure to stop in for some fish and chips. The kids menu has a good variety of choices and prices are reasonable. Takeout is available if that works better for your family.

Mikes Gelato, Gibsons: Mosey around the Gibson’s Marina and check out the boats after your meal and then walk up to enjoy gelato. Don’t bother ordering the small size– you’ll need at least a medium to fully appreciate the burst of flavour you are about to enjoy (there is a kids’ size for the little ones too)!

Gramma’s Marine Pub, Gibsons: If you happen to have babysitting available and you are able to sneak away for a pub dinner, be sure to drop by. Sit on the patio with its oceanfront view of Gibson’s Harbour, and order some seafood and a margarita. Happily, there is also a takeout window available; find a picnic table nearby or walk over to Pioneer Park for a picnic. You can also order takeout straight from the pub.

Wheatberries Bakery, Upper Gibsons or Sechelt. When you are in the mood for a treat, I highly recommend stopping by this restaurant, which focuses on the handmade and organic. Kids love the cookies and the adults can get a latte and maple cinnamon bun and then take home some oven-fresh bread. I can’t wait to return next summer!


What are your favorite things to do with kids in Gibsons or nearby?

If you are in the mood for a movie, visit the one-screen Gibsons Cinema in Gibsons or the three-screen Ravens Cry Theatre in Sechelt. We watched a matinee of Monsters University this summer and it was a nice couple of hours out of the hot sun and we love how these smaller theatres feature very affordable prices.

On a past trip with our son, we visited the Chapman Fish Hatchery which welcomes families to drop in and tour the facility at any time. Every July, the hatchery hosts Catch a Trout Day and this year, kids are invited to stop by to catch a trout for the rest of the summer and early fall between 10 am – 3 pm Monday to Saturday.

The Sechelt Night Market runs on Thursday nights from June through September, and offers entertainment for the whole family. We enjoyed taking in the classic cars, the magician and the entertainment after a dinner out in the town. The on-site petting zoo was run by Mystique Andalusians & Farm Ventures, which also offers an interactive farm experience for families on their farm in Roberts Creek, but only on weekends by appointment.

Kids enjoy the nature trails, picnic area and interpretive exhibits at Iris Griffith Interpretive Centre at Ruby Lake. While there, check out the center itself, made of natural wood beams. The center even uses solar power and a solar water heating system. My son was fascinated by these features!

Iris Griffith on the Sunshine Coast

Iris Griffith on the Sunshine Coast

I wouldn’t do this 4 km hike yet with my five-year-old, but if your kids are older, head for the world renowned rapids of Skookumchuck Narrows at Skookumchuk Provincal Park in Egmont. Be sure to check the local paper which publishes the local tide tables before you go so you get there at the best viewing time. Allow 1 hour each way and be sure to bring plenty of water on a hot day!

How about your favorite shops? Any favorite Sunshine Coast toy stores?

Once and a while, I manage to sneak away from our cabin for a bit of me time and shopping. My first stop is always Wheatberries for a chai tea latte followed by a visit to a few of my favourite places when mama needs a moment alone:

  • Drop in at Yoga by the Sea in Roberts Creek for some relaxation during your vacation.
  • Visit the Swallow’s Nest in Upper Gibsons to browse amongst the unique vintage furnishings, home decor, fashion, jewelry, and gift lore.
  • Nip over to the Pastimes Toy Store in Sechelt or Greatkids Toys in Gibsons. Both stores have a great selection of games, crafts, and toys to choose from.
  • Peggy Sues Gifts Boutique at Gibsons Landing has a great selection of designer kids clothes as well as dancewear for kids and a small selection of classic toys.

    A fun photo at the Sechelt Night Market

    A fun photo at the Sechelt Night Market

  • My husband, a musician, always makes a point to stop in at the Melo Mania Music Store in Roberts Creek. It’s the only music store on the Sunshine Coast and my husband says he enjoys chatting with the owner as much as he enjoys checking out the guitars.

I hope this gives you a taste of the wonders of the Sunshine Coast. There is so much more to see and discover but you’ll just have to come for a visit to find out for yourselves!


Harrison Hot Springs with Kids: Where to Eat, Sleep & Splash

My kids and I recently went on two trips to Harrison Hot Springs, which is about 90 minutes east of Vancouver, and two hours north of Seattle. And we loved it.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

The hot springs of the town’s name are located inside Harrison Hot Springs Resort. While there are little restaurants and hotels in the town of Harrison Hot Springs, this is a town that takes up all of about four blocks, and in order to use the hot springs, you must stay at the resort. So for that reason, check out the family deals and specials offered through the hotel’s website.

The hotel itself, although called a “resort,” is a straightforward middle-class retreat. You won’t find a lot of fancy touches (although there is free wifi) or luxe trappings. The property almost feels like it’s from the 1980s, and I mean that in a good way. The resort attracts people of all income levels, nationalities and languages. No one is here to put on airs — you’re walking around in a bathrobe, for goodness sake.

The pools at Harrison Hot Springs:

Natural hot springs come out of the ground at 150-degrees Fahrenheit; cool water is added, then the mix is fed into the resort’s five pools (which are also chlorinated for hygiene). Outside, plunge into one of three pools: the rectangular lap 87F/30C pool or the asymmetrical curved lines of the 95F/35C larger family pool or adults-only 105F/40C-degree pool. The water is warm enough to sit around in, whether it’s summer or winter, night or day. After sunset, we saw kids bringing glowsticks into the pool — and at night, you can look up and name constellations overhead without city light pollution.

Outdoor pools at Harrison Hot Springs

Rainy day at Harrison Hot Springs Resort

In summer, a spray park sits beneath surrounding towering mountain range –great for toddlers and preschoolers.

Indoors, you’ll find two more pools — another large, rectangular warm pool, and a very hot circular tub (38C/100F) below a dramatic ceiling and skylight. You can go from warm to cool to hot in a matter of steps.

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Inside Harrison Hot Springs Pools

No poolside towel service exists here; you receive towels in your room, and you might not have enough of them during your stay. It seemed like our towels were constantly wet. You might bring some super-absorbent pool towels from home.

Poolside deck chairs are available, but you won’t find much shade. Pack sunscreen. Also, if you’d like a deck chair on a sold-out weekend, you may need to send a member of your party down to scout out chairs early (7 or 8 a.m., perhaps).

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs:

Family-friendly rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

East Tower rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Rooms come in more than 25 configurations in four different buildings: each were developed during different time periods. Choose from the East Tower, Main Hotel, West Tower and West Wing. The East Tower offers the most modern, with larger rooms. The family rooms — in the Main Hotel — are historic (so historic, they don’t have air conditioning in summer…). The East Tower and West Tower have balconies, and most rooms have two Queen beds. Views are categorized as garden, pools, lake, mountain and village.

I don’t like a lot of commotion, and rooms facing the inner pools get noisy, so I ask for a lake view room. Many young professionals and groups of friends come here to enjoy the adult-only pool late into the night (the pools are open past midnight), so you might want to figure that into your room choice considerations.

Because the rooms are smaller, you may want to pack some board games and books for the common areas, which are spacious. Lots of little nooks, two-person chairs, couches in front of the fireplace and table-side seats.

Awesome stuff: Arrive by 4 p.m. to take advantage of the daily tea service, so you can get a cuppa and a cookie. On very busy weekends, you may not be able to check in right away at 4 p.m., if your room isn’t ready, so be prepared to walk along Harrison’s lovely beachside path or go play at the town’s playground for a few minutes.

Eating at Harrison Hot Springs:

Most rooms come with a mini-fridge, which is great if you’d like to bring snacks or your own breakfast. We enjoyed the hot breakfast buffet in the resort’s Lakeside Cafe once, and it was okay (great views if you’re lucky enough to score a window). But the buffet is not something I would make a habit of, due to the price (unless you get a Harrison resort package or deal). So you might bring cereal and milk for the fridge.

Lakeside cafe kid-friendly restaurant in Harrison Hot Springs

Getting served at the Lakeside Cafe

The resort’s “Miss Margaret” cafe serves quite good (and shareable) wraps and salads, perfect for a poolside lunch. The hotel’s Copper Room is renowned for its live music, fine dining and light-up dance floor. There’s even a children’s dance floor. However, it is very expensive — sort of a special night out. I’ve never eaten there.

Dining in town is also sort of 1980s  — at 2025 prices. Harrison Pizza is decent, has great service, and offers good deals.  The Yukiya Sushi spot is also fine (despite what the Yelp reviews say), but expensive. In the sushi restaurant, there’s a cute little table-booth that feels a bit more private — as a family, I’d go for that booth. 

Muddy Waters Espresso Bar serves up gourmet sandwiches featuring local ingredients (until 2 p.m.). But mostly, this is a town with $11-12 children’s meals (yes, you read that right), so you may well want to plan for PB&Js or sandwich wraps in the room. There’s no grocery store in town, so stop at the Costco in Abbotsford, at the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market or a grocery in Chilliwack, 25 minutes away to the west.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs:

The hotel supplies you with two adult robes, but no robes for children. Bring robes for the kids from home, and do bring them — walking between the rooms and the pools can get very chilly, especially at night. During peak travel seasons, the hotel plays kids’ movies.

Be aware that because of the high mineral content in the water, your muscles get tired (aka “relaxed”) very easily, so don’t let the kids wear themselves out on the first day. There’s a zero-entry point (like a beach) for the outdoor pool, perfect for babies and toddlers visiting Harrison Hot Springs Resort.

Bring flip-flops to make an easier (and cleaner) transition between hotel room and outdoors, and between the indoor and outdoor pools.

Kids can wear floatation devices, bring toys into the pool with them, and so on — so don’t forget those toys, either.

There are no lifeguards at these pools. You are 100% responsible for your own kids.

In the main building, kids might like the game room with some old-school arcade games. The resort’s gift shop is definitely the best one in town for families, with board games, activity books, t-shirts, and water toys. Outside, on the resort’s grounds, there’s a small garden suitable for hide-and-seek.

Family Activities in Harrison Hot Springs:

Okay, the truth is that my kids and I mostly like sitting around and playing in the hot springs. If you’d like more though, there’s a nice playground and beach (bring sand toys) lakeside, a water park (like a water playground), surrey bikes for rent and bumper boats for rent. Nearby, you can hike at Sasquatch Provincial Park, which offers picnic tables and Bigfoot (or so I hope, although I didn’t see him when I was there). A public swimming pool sits right in the town center, but it’s not really worth a visit.


Later this week, I’ll talk about what else your family can do around Harrison Hot Springs, if you’d like to make it a multi-day stay.