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Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

I’ve recently been contacted by readers, despairing that my top hotel picks are either priced out of reach or unavailable for the upcoming summer. Family hotels in Portland, Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle are booked solid, sold out and too expensive!

Well, no surprise — I’ve dealt with the same situation, even as a travel writer. Here’s what I typically do when faced with sold-out hotel rooms, a planned trip and kids.

1. Set up in the suburbs. Now, some suburbs are better than others. For example, many suburbs of Vancouver offer the SkyTrain option into downtown Vancouver, so I’ll look for hotels near the SkyTrain. Portland offers this as well. Seattle is still working on getting their transit act together, so that’s not as much fun — but I’ve done it. Worst case scenario, I resign to driving into the city and paying for parking.

2. Use Priceline’s “Express Deals” tab. If it’s a heavily-booked weekend, I probably won’t hook a successful, low-priced bid for a decent hotel in my desired destination. But the “Express Deals” usually work at hitting the sweet spot of price and location. The potential downside: because you don’t get to choose your bedding type, you may end up with one King, three kids, and no sleep. To circumvent this, look for “Bed choice available” in the text of the express deal. This can allow you to choose two Queens, two doubles, or whatever you need. OR arrive very, very early in the morning, and you may end up with a bed choice (this has always worked for us, but we arrive at 9 a.m.).

3. BYOB (bring your own bed). With a teen and a kid (who will not share a bed with one another), I bring an air mattress for my younger child, or build a “sleep nest” out of pillows, cushions, blankets, and more pillows. This allows me some flexibility in the kind of bedding arrangements we can find, or which type of Priceline stay we reserve.

4. Get very creative or expand the budget. Home swaps? VRBO? AirBnB? Non-reservable, last-minute camping spots? Hostel rooms — there are family rooms available, but often booked far in advance; with teens you might find the bunk options reasonable? Vacation swaps? Petsitting or housesitting stays (I’ve found great petsitters through, although I haven’t used it as a traveler, yet.)?

5. Ask about a waitlist. If I have my heart set on a specific hotel, I might call 24-48 hours in advance of a stay and ask if there have been any cancellations. Or I’ll call earlier and ask if there’s a waitlist of any sort. Smaller hotel owners may be willing to work with a family — they want their hotel or inn filled for the weekend.

6. Reschedule the trip. This is the worst option, but sometimes necessary. Look for a weekend that isn’t insane — weekend festivals can pack Northwest hotels. This only works if I’m driving, not flying. I’ve done it many times. I’m unwilling to pay $150 for a one-star hotel room in the grottiest part of town, and there’s always another weekend that could work.

New for Families from Victoria Clipper

For U.S. residents, there’s never been a better time to visit Canada. Thanks to the strong dollar, U.S. visitors will find items less expensive, from hotels to restaurants (if you withdraw Canadian money from an ATM, using your low-transaction-fee debit or credit card).

The Victoria Clipper has a few new options I thought I’d share — they’ve added a Family Fun on Bicycles tour that takes families on a private, two-hour cycling tour of Victoria ($41.75/adults, $26.50/children over age 2, prices in USD). The tours fit the family — so young kids may want to visit the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Park or feed the seals at a wharf, older children can visit historical sites or explore one of the beaches outside of downtown.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

The Pedaler (leading the tours) can set you up with a cargo trike that can either be driven by a tour operator or a family member, bike trailers for toddlers or a trail-a-bike so your child can pedal behind your bike. Kid-sized bicycles are also available; the smallest size is 20”. Check out the options at The Pedaler’s site.

The Clipper also offers Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre as an add-on option to travel/accommodations. The centre is in Sidney, BC, which is either a 30-minute drive or very long bus ride from downtown Victoria. I’d suggest it only if you have an extra day or so, because of the time involved. However, Sidney (also called Sidney-by-the-Sea) is sweet, petite, fish ‘n’ chips-style town.

A few more notes for families:

  • Children under age 12 are $10 per paying adult when booked with an overnight package. The children’s tickets sans package aren’t too expensive either ($35). Go before they turn 12!
  • The Clipper now offers online check-in, and you’re assigned a boarding group when you pay for your reservation. BUT! Pre-boarding is still available for families traveling with children under age three. Request pre-boarding at the ticket desk at your departure terminal, even if you’ve already checked in. You want to board as early as possible to get the best seats (My favorite spots are the four-person tables near the bathrooms/exit; upstairs four-person tables; and front-of-ship seats)
  • On the breakfast menu, there’s a kid’s basket called the “Lil’ Sailor” with Kellogg’s cereal, milk, string mozzarella cheese, a cup of fruit and a fun surprise ($4.50), if you didn’t have time to pack a breakfast.
  • You’ll hear about contests and promotions by signing up for the Victoria Clipper’s email list — no quick-link, scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the “Subscribe” text-entry box. I heard about the new online check-in via the e-mail list. Or you can follow the Clipper on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How to Get Good Seats on the Victoria Clipper

The Victoria Clipper passenger ferry is an efficient, pleasurable way to travel between Seattle and Victoria, whether you’re with kids, as a couple or boating solo. While you can take ferries from Anacortes to Sidney, or Port Angeles to Victoria, the Clipper is the fastest (no-flight) way to reach Vancouver Island’s shores from Seattle, or vice versa.

However, the Victoria Clipper boards in groups, and if you’re in the dreaded last boarding groups, you won’t have your pick of seats. You may find yourself wedged between strangers in less-than-ideal spots without views of the gorgeous islands, inlets and mountains.

I personally love the window-side, table-seating area (even if I do have to share it with other travelers), the front of the boat, the upstairs, or seats with plenty of play-room nearby. So I really want a spot in one of the first boarding groups. Here are three ways to get a Victoria Clipper seat:

How to Get Great Seats on the Victoria Clipper

1. Travel with your children under age two. Parents with young children qualify for pre-boarding, so you (and your stroller and other gear) will get on first. If you have kids older than two or still need special assistance, you can ask (but no guarantee). Ask about pre-boarding options at check-in or when purchasing tickets.

2. Get your assignment early. Visit the Clipper offices in Seattle or Victoria, check in and get your assigned boarding seven days before departure. You don’t have to wait until day of departure to get your assigned seating — and almost everyone else will be doing that — instead, you can check in and get your boarding group up to a week (7 days) in advance.

3. Join the Commodore Club. Clipper passengers who often travel between Seattle and Victoria may wish to sign up for this club, which gives you points toward a free Clipper trip with every trip purchased. According to the person who signed me up, the frequent-boating Club also lets you join Boarding Group 1 when you purchase tickets (if this is not your experience, please let me know).

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Victoria with Kids

Victoria, BC, is a family-friendly destination we return to over and over again. Not just because I have a Victoria-based friend with impressive culinary skills (Hey, it’s a nice perk!). But also because Victoria offers so many affordable and free options.

35 free and cheap things to do in Victoria BC with kids:

    1. Enjoy outdoor festivals and celebrations in one of Canada’s sunniest cities.
    2. Watch for bald eagles and salmon at Goldstream Park.
    3. Ride trail-a-bikes or pull your toddler in a bike carrier along the 55 kilometre (34 mi) long Galloping Goose Trail.
    4. Go on a self-guided spooky Victoria tour with your preteen or teen – discover the haunts of spectres, poltergeists and ghostly pianos.
    5. Paddle around (with hands or oars) with kids onto Elk / Beaver Lake.
    6. Meet the farmer! Visit a Vancouver Island farmer’s market, go on a farm tour or go on a u-pick farm on Vancouver Island.

  1. Go to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on the first Tuesday of the month, when admission is by donation.
  2. Ride the double-decker bus to Sidney, BC.
  3. Visit Victoria’s parliament building on a free public tour.
  4. Buy some fish scraps from The Fish Store and feed the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf.
  5. Picnic and play in the Watering Garden at Beacon Hill Park, then count blooms along pathways.
  6. Relax in the lazy river in the Gordon Head Pool or the Esquimalt Recreation Pool.
  7. Catch a summer concert performance from Victoria Symphony Canada.
  8. Watch the running of the goats at Beacon Hill Farm.
  9. Visit the gun batteries and watch historical re-enactments at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites of Canada.
  10. Along Victoria’s Inner Harbour, watch buskers perform and seaplanes land.
  11. Pack snacks and enjoy a family hike in Victoria.
  12. Count the hanging flower baskets in downtown Victoria, then learn to make a proper Victorian Hanging Basket.
  13. Walk through Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest alley in Canada.
  14. Go to a star party at the Centre of the Universe.
  15. Climb through an giant octopus eye and slide down a fish tale in the trippy Cadboro-Gyro Park.

    Cadboro park with kids

    The crazy-cool playground at Cadboro-Gyro Park

  16. Treasure a storytime at children’s bookstore Tall Tales Books.
  17. Look for a golden-crowned sparrow or barred owl at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary.
  18. Bring a copy of Peter Rabbit to the University of Victoria campus, where you’ll see rabbits here, there and everywhere.
  19. Try one of Saanich’s free family events.
  20. Catch a Stars and Strollers first-run movie (with baby!) at SilverCity Victoria.
  21. Pick out a cute, vintage comic book at Legends Comics or pack of Pokemon cards at Curious Comics.
  22. Go for a kids’ tea at Crumsby’s Cupcake Cafe, walk among the old-fashioned tudor buildings in Oak Bay, then dip your toes in the ocean at one of the Oak Bay beaches.
  23. Challenge your child to identify the animals on the totem poles in the Thunderbird Park, east of the Royal BC Museum.
  24. Bring binoculars to spot Caddie (Cadborosarus) in the waters off Vancouver Island.
  25. Sit inside the second-story, luxe lounge area at the Fairmont Empress hotel and people-watch new hotel arrivals (don’t forget to make up silly stories about each one).
  26. Reflect in the gothic-style Christ Church Cathedral or the stained-glass gorgeous St Andrew’s Cathedral.
  27. Walk along Ogden Point breakwater. Stare up at the giant cruise ships or look down and watch divers surface.
  28. Make a splash at the Beckwith “frog pond” splash feature in Saanich.
  29. Drive or hike up Mount Douglas, where you can look out over the city and out to Washington State’s Olympic Mountain Range.

Can you suggest a free or cheap family-friendly Victoria attraction, restaurant or activity?

Kid-Friendly Hikes Near Victoria, BC

To find out more about family-friendly hiking and camping near Victoria, BC I interviewed Kari Jones, a mom to one son and the author of the book “Hiking Adventures with Children: Southern Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula” which you can order from Kari’s blog or from

Q: Is there a kid-friendly hike within Victoria’s city limits that you recommend? What do you like about it?

There are so many walks within Victoria; it’s hard to choose just one. But if I have to, I’d say Mystic Vale is my favourite. The walk starts at the University of Victoria, which is easily accessible by car or bus, but once you are in the Vale, it’s hard to remember you’re in the middle of the city. It’s a little bit of wilderness.

Mystic Vale (This photo and one at right — also Mystic Vale — courtesy of Sarah Pugh)

There are tall trees, wildflowers, and a little stream that runs its length. With small children, going to Mystic Vale can be a whole morning’s outing. The best place to park is along Cedar Hill Cross Road, and if you go by bus, you have to walk across the campus to Cedar Hill Cross Road (not far, about 5 minutes of walking). The Vale itself is probably only one kilometer or so, but I will see if I can get a specific length. If you look at the map at this link, the vale is the red line. As you can see, you can make a loop out of it by walking on the red line, which is up above the vale (in the valley).There is no cost, and it is always open, though I wouldn’t recommend visiting it in the dark. It would be easy to trip.

Can you recommend a hike (within 45 minutes of downtown Victoria) that’s good for families with toddlers? Is there a spot accessible via public transportation?

Francis/King Regional Park is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria, and is a fantastic place for toddlers. There are several hikes, the easiest of which is the Elsie King Trail. This park is inland, so it’s drier than some of the coast walks.

Francis/King park, photo courtesy Marci Zoretich

The area is home to so many species of plants and animals I can’t name them all.  In the spring there are wildflowers all along the trails, and we have seen newts, moles, owls, and other hard-to-see creatures there.

If you are on a bus, Beaver Lake is a nice place to walk. It’s flat, and the trail is well defined. It’s less “wild” than Francis King, but there is still a lot of wildlife to entertain a toddler with.

Q: Can you recommend a hike (within 45 minutes of downtown Victoria) that’s good for elementary-age kids — children who can go a little further without complaint?

Witty’s Lagoon is a fantastic place for families with kids of any age. It’s a bit of a hike from the road to the beach, so be prepared to carry toddlers. Any kid will enjoy watching the water cascade down the waterfall and running along the lagoon. Once you reach the end of the trail, the beach opens up and you can spend a whole day amusing yourself in the sand and water. On a sunny day the water warms up on the sandy flats, and many people enjoy swimming when the tide is high.

Q: Where is your favorite kid-friendly hiking spot mid-island? What do you like about it? Who is it good for (age-wise)?

In the winter, people visit the ski resort at Strathcona Provincial Park, but many aren’t familiar with the great summer hiking. This park is really best in mid-summer, once all the snow has melted. There are lakes to swim in, mountains to climb, and alpine meadows to walk through and camping platforms to erect your tent on. It is a wilderness destination, so you have to carry in everything you need and carry it all back out again. It’s great for families with children small enough to carry or old enough to carry a small pack.

Q: Do you have a favorite Victoria post-hike spot to take your kid for treats?

After a hike we often stop in at Demmitasse (1320 Blanshard Street, Victoria) in Oak Bay for a baked treat and a hot chocolate or coffee (depending on your age!). It’s a family-run bakery on McNeil Avenue, which has seats outside where you can sit, even if you are stinky from hiking, and sip at lattes, cappuccinos or hot chocolates. My son always chooses a popsicle, even when the rest of us are having hot drinks. They cater to all our needs.

Q: How about camping? Can you recommend a great car-camping location not too far from Victoria, with trails or a lake (or similar) nearby?

My favourite car camping location is Ruckle Park. It’s on Saltspring Island, and what I love about it is that you drive to a parking lot, park the car, and walk to your campsite a few meters away. So when you’re camping, you have easy access to your car, but your view consists of ocean and trees. There’s a lovely hike from the campground to a small beach where kids can safely wade or play in the sand or search for purple shore crabs. The campsite is very near to a working sheep farm, which you can also walk around if you want a longer hike.

Thanks, Kari! Readers, can you suggest any hikes?

Victoria with Kids: 5 Things to Do with Toddlers in Victoria, BC

A reader writes in:

We are planning a family vacation to Victoria in June with our 2 year old.  Do you have any recommendations for kid-friendly hotels and activities?  Thank you so much for your help! — Jessica

I’m so excited for you. Victoria is one of my favorite destinations, particularly with toddlers.

My first suggestion — buy my book! In Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, I lay out Victoria activities picks by age, and you’ll find more hotel and dining options than I have here.

But here are additional suggestions:

Kid-friendly Victoria BC Hotels:

I like staying at the Royal Scot Hotel & Suites, because I like the kitchen-equipped rooms, particularly when staying anywhere with kids, and I like how big the suites run (one bedroom separate from living area with a pull-out couch). There’s also an indoor pool and jacuzzi, always a hit with kids.

If you’re not particularly concerned about room size, The Fairmont Empress offers luxe rooms (some with views of the Inner Harbour) and a fun little kid’s activity pack at check-in. The Admiral Inn also provides simple, kitchen-equipped rooms, but the suite dimensions are slightly smaller.  I have more hotels (including kid-friendly Victoria bed and breakfast options) in my book.

Things to do in Victoria with kids:

  • Beacon Hill Petting Zoo. I know, you’ve probably visited a bazillion petting zoos already in your son’s short life. But this one is super cute. It’s only a few loonies to get in, and once inside, your toddler will be wowed by the Running of the Goats and the chance to groom the goats. I write more about Beacon Hill Children’s Zoo in this post, “Victoria Pick: Beacon Hill Petting Zoo.”
  • Butchart Gardens. Your child will mostly love running up and down the paths, poking the flowers (the Gardens is where my son learned the phrase “one-finger touch!”) and riding the carousel. You’ll love the spectacular diversity — sunken gardens, Japanese gardens, rose gardens. Don’t forget your camera, and don’t forget to check out these kid tips first. How to get to Butchart Gardens? You can always go with Gray Line Tours. But on a weekday, go for less on the city’s Route #75 bus. If you’re lucky, it’ll be a double-decker. Board at the first pick-up point to ensure a front-row seat on top. Toddlers and preschoolers LOVE the double-decker buses. If you bring a stroller, make sure it’s small and collapses easily to get it up the stairwell.
  • Royal BC Museum. The whole museum is fabulous — one of my favorites — but your toddler will love the Natural History Gallery, which has life-size, sound-rich exhibits showcasing of forest, seashore and ancient life. So a Woolly Mammoth towers overhead and a you’ll go toe-to-toe with a moose, right before you walk into the birdcalls in a seashore exhibit. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I really swear that seashore exhibit smells like the sea.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf. You can feed a seal! For real. Watch your toddler’s hands (some seals are grabby) and make sure the child doesn’t go over the wharf’s edge. I write more about the Fisherman’s Wharf on my “Island Time: 9 Fine Kid-Friendly Picks in Victoria, BC.”
  • Victoria’s Community Centers. If you brought your car (by traveling on either the Washington State Ferries or the M.V. Coho), you can drive to one of the fantastic Community Centre swimming pools. In Saanich, for example, check out these options at Gordon Head Recreation Center. Pirate ships, wave pools, swim toys, Tarzan ropes and toddler pools. They’re quite amazing, honestly.
  • With a 2-year-old child, you can take advantage of naptime in the stroller and shop downtown or shop along Fort Street (antiques). Oh, I miss those days…

What you might not do in Victoria BC with toddlers:

  • Victoria Bug Zoo. You’ll want to listen to the funny tour guides, and your child won’t, and you may feel frustrated at how quickly you have to leave. It’s a fantastic Victoria attraction — and I love it — but with a child that age, you might expect it to be more of a 20-minute stop, unless your child has a much longer attention span than the average toddler, and is far gentler (to hold the bugs without squishing them). The Victoria Bug Zoo can be a better choice for preschool-aged children and up.
  • Miniature World and Royal London Wax Museum. I don’t think either will hold his interest, unless he knows plenty of fairy tales. The wax museum has a very gory part that is best avoided unless your child is already watching PG-13 or R-rated films. Even I had nightmares afterward. But I am a big baby like that. It’s easy to skip the hallway though, without your child even knowing that you’re passing it by.
  • Pacific Undersea Gardens. I do not recommend this attraction to anyone, sorry. It’s currently rated #79 out of 79 attractions in Victoria, BC on Tripadvisor. If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know, then e-mail me.


Kid-friendly Victoria BC Dining: See my post on family-friendly Victoria restaurants. With a toddler, I would go with the Rebar, Hernande’z, Crumsby’s, Paradiso di Stelle and Noodle Box (all profiled in the piece).

That’s it! Remember, I love answering reader questions. E-mail me at lora AT with your questions and I’ll do my best.

Giveaway: Savvy Squirrel offers savings

One of my favorite ways to find cool, indie restaurants and stores with sustainable values is to pick up eco-coupon books. Every major city in Cascadia offers such a book – Portland’s Chinook Book, Seattle’s Chinook Book and Vancouver’s Green Zebra.

But the one with the cutest name? Victoria, BC’s Savvy Squirrel.

Each of these books offer great savings to local attractions, shops, restaurants services and restaurants. It’ll pay for itself in one weekend trip.

Savvy Squirrel’s book is primarily focused on family-friendly shops and restaurants in Victoria.

“We love a local bargain,” says Lale Minielly, who started the Savvy Squirrel with fellow mom Tabitha Rutherford. “As new moms we realized the constant cost of raising a child. We understand the new challenges of shopping locally rather than going to the big box stores and thought offering local coupons collected into a book was a great solution.”

Using Savvy Squirrel, families can save $5 at a fantastic children’s bookstore (Tall Tales Books), save 20% at Victoria’s super-sustainable family shop (Mothering Touch) and get a free second entrée at Victoria’s playroom-equipped café (Crumsby’s Cupcake Café).

Seattle’s Chinook Book offers coupons to the Seattle Aquarium (save $2 on admission for up to four people) and Hanna Andersson, among other museums, shops and restaurants. Portland’s Chinook Book provides savings at OMSI, the Oregon Zoo and the always-fun Finnegan’s Toys.

These eco-guides are a great way to discover local family-friendly shopping, dining and activity secrets, travel more sustainably, save money and support local economies.

Want a free Savvy Squirrel? Leave a comment below or tweet this article on Twitter with hashtag #savvysquirrel.

Victoria Vittles: Family-friendly Victoria Restaurants

If you haven’t eaten in Victoria since your own childhood, you’re in for a treat. Skip the fake fish ‘n’ chips shops and touristy stops. Victoria’s thriving foodie scene means you’ll find plenty of locally grown, internationally influenced options at all price ranges.

Victoria BC family-friendly restaurants:

Rebar. Take a seat at an oilcloth-covered table and ask for a dinosaur along with the kids’ menu. Rebar loans out the plastic toys to fidgety kids. But it never takes too long for your stacked sandwiches and Asian-fusion fare to arrive. Rebar’s healthy without being ur-crunchy — carob’s on the menu, but so is a veg quesadilla, dripping with creme fraiche.

Sally Bun (1030 Fort St.). An easy, no-mess lunch that looks like a dinner roll, but stuffed with delicious fillings (spinach and feta, salmon, chicken curry). Fill a paper bag with buns and head to the park. Extremely popular with the lunchtime crowd, so the pickings are slim to nonexistent by midafternoon. Along Victoria’s Fort Street, about 10 minutes walk from Downtown/Inner Harbour.

Café Mo:Le. Mo:Le’s locally grown, organic and carefully selected ingredients are infused with colorful Latin style. Even the free-range egg yolks are a vibrant orange-yellow color. Mo:le attracts families, friends and couples with a full breakfast, lunch and kids’ menu. Check the open hours and arrive early — we once waited an hour for a table. My huevos rancheros were worth every minute of that hour.

Rogers’ Chocolates Soda Shoppe. Not the cheapest dessert, but you’re paying for the view and the unique experience. Create your own soda by mixing Roger’s flavors, or create a super-deluxe ice cream sundae with your choice of ice cream, candy toppings and syrups. Then sit on black swivel stools and daydream out at the yacht-filled Inner Harbour. Not too shabby. P.S. don’t teach the kids the old-fashioned words, “soda jerk.” You won’t be able to live that one down.

family-friendly hernandez taco restaurant in victoria bc


Hernande’z: Central American tacos are called huaraches, Spanish for shoes, because the oval tortillas resemble the sole of a shoe. Don’t worry, these hand-shaped tortillas don’t actually taste like shoes, but the completely-from-scratch ingredients piled inside: black bean, seasoned chicken or organic beef. The quick-service items, busy atmosphere and plentiful seating makes it an excellent lunchtime option, especially with squirrelly kids.

Red Fish, Blue Fish: Sustainable fish and chips? For sure. In Victoria, this Inner Harbour chip shop only offers seafood approved by Ocean Wise. Definitely a kid-friendly pick, particularly if you eat your meal while watching seaplanes take off and land. Pick up a share-worthy portion of Qualicum Bay scallop tacones or BBQ wild salmon sandwich.

family-friendly italian food at zambri's restaurant in victoria bc

The daily menu at Zambri’s

Zambri’s. Fancy new digs for Zambri’s means you’ll feel oh-so-cool while dining — but it can be a bit trickier to eat here with antsy kids. Order your main dish, then request a serving of vegetables from one of the restaurant’s family-style platters. No children’s menu. Parents may feel most comfortable during lunchtime hours. Closed on Sundays.

Crumsby’s Cupcake Cafe. A quick bus ride from downtown Victoria takes you to the cutie-pie Oak Bay neighborhood, where 1920s-era Tudor storefronts welcome families. Walk between children’s toy and clothing stores, antique shops and a park. For a midafternoon perk-up, Crumsby’s coffee, cupcakes and a kids’ play area offer respite. If your tots are too small for The Fairmont Empress’ tea, order Crumsby’s “Tea Party” with mini cupcakes and pot of O.J., apple juice, milk or tea.

Paradiso di Stelle (10 Bastion Square). On a sunny day, nothing beats Paradiso’s location in Downtown Victoria’s Bastion Square. Order your filling pasta or panini, then grab a seat outside and eat while people-watching and Inner Harbour views. We love the cafe’s kid-friendly gelato and adult-friendly espresso. In rainy weather, the food is still fine and fast, but the crowded interior (without much room for a stroller) can make you crazy.

Noodle Box. This BC-based chain makes tasty noodles with a variety of meats, tofu, veg and sauces. Order mild noodles for the kids and hot, spicy noodles for yourself – but don’t order too much. Big portion sizes can be hard to polish off, so two boxes can feed a family of four. Kids enjoy watching the kitchen commotion, and the noise level makes Noodle Box a good pick for boisterous families.

Find more fabulous restaurants in my book Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver

9 Great Things to Do with Kids in Victoria, BC

My family and I visit Victoria twice a year for long trips – and these are the places we don’t get tired of, and the spots the kids ask to return to, again and again.

Victoria Bug Zoo. It’s not necessarily the bugs that are the draw here – there are plenty of places to see a cockroach or an African millipede. But the tour guides make this attraction one of our favorites in Cascadia. The guides dispense education with entertainment and genuinely kid-friendly attitudes. Whether describing how a bug eats her mate or using a millipede as a moustache, the enthusiastic employees always provide weird facts and fun.

Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens. Scamper through, under and around over 55 acres of pathways, fountains and arbors woven with roses. The sunken gardens are always a favorite – go down steps or a ramp down into a colorful valley of flower power. This summer, take a spin on the newly installed vintage carousel in the children’s garden. Giant loaner umbrellas make rainy-day walks easier, but bring rain covers for strollers. The garden isn’t cheap, but it’s absolutely worth the time and expense. Check out their info on kid-friendly things to do, before you go.

Beacon Hill Park. This 62-acre city greenspace provides lovely (and free) flower-filled gardens, a water park and year-round playground with riding toys, a rock-climbing wall and slides. If you absolutely can’t afford Butchart, this will do, particularly with very young children who won’t know the difference.  The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm offers a chance to groom baby goats and watch the daily “Running of the Goats.” Read more about the Run in my article here.

Tromping through time at the Royal BC Museum

Royal BC Museum. A three-story museum filled with artifacts and replicas depicting Pacific Northwest and BC life. Enter a cedar-scented Native American longhouse, hear a cat’s meow in the replica Victorian Village, and listen to the echo of your own voice when encountering a towering moose. Clever use of lighting and sound effects offer a sensory-rich encounter with natural history and human history. Of all of the museums in the Pacific NW and BC, this one does it biggest and best.

Fisherman’s Wharf. Fish are a feature here – eat fish ‘n’ chips at Barb’s Place while walking among houseboats, buy fresh salmon at The Fish Store and feed fish guts to Sammy the seal. It’s true – you can feed a real (and adorable) seal here. Required warnings: Count fingers after feeding Sammy, don’t get too close to Sammy and make sure toddlers don’t toddle right off the pier. Then, visit the new playground near Fisherman’s Wharf, reviewed here by the blog Swings and Roundabouts.

Family tea at the Empress

Tea at the Empress. On sunny summer weekends, you’ll have to make a reservation – this hotel is packed with families, all the way up to the 1908-era rafters. Adult teas are enormous and easily feed a kid or two, but the children’s tea is also a special treat. The Empress offers a luxe setting – ferns, nice china, fireplaces, and curtain-draped views of the Inner Harbour – and may not be for the chronically fidgety or very young. But it’s a memory-maker for older kids. My daughter still asks to go back on every trip, even though I’ve told her it’s a once-every-10-years activity, due to the expense.

Victoria Butterfly Gardens. If you’re rained out of other outdoor attractions, this 12,000-square foot indoor garden entertains. It’s not that much bigger than Pacific Science Center’s Butterfly House, but this garden does include flamingos and venus flytraps. The 75 species of butterflies here are friendly – maybe because they’re Canadian – and they’ll often land on a child’s hand.

Downtown Victoria. Victoria’s brick buildings hold dozens of wonderful stores for every age group. So go shopping: pick up books at Tall Tales Books, toys and clothes at Kaboodles or Sprouts, toffee at the English Sweet Shop or peony-colored silk purses at Chinatown Trading Company (551 Fisgard St.). Buy BC-made baby toys and carriers at Mothering Touch, take elementary-age kids to a comic shop-lined street (Johnson Street) and bring teens to the quirky Zydeco Gifts and chic Smoking Lily.

The Man of Steel at the Wax Museum

A Tourist Attraction. Like tourist attractions around the world, the following may be designed to squeeze the maximum amount of dollars from visitors (with minimum effort). But like candy, these two Inner Harbour stops are enjoyable every once in a while. Which ones do I recommend? See Superman, Pinocchio and Barack Obama (or George W. Bush, depending upon your political inclinations) at the Royal London Wax Museum .(Update: Permanently closed) Or take a peek inside  Miniature World’s campy, tiny worlds of war, historic life and fairy tales. Please note, these are the only two super-touristy stops I recommend. And I have visited all of them. (Clears throat and looks meaningfully at you)

Find even more awesome attractions in my book Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver and from the Tourism Victoria site.

Win a trip to Victoria, BC.

Four Family-Friendly Markets in the NW & BC

We have markets by the bushelful here in Casadia and traveling families are always welcome. Bring the kids, $30 and a sense of adventure to these farmers’ markets. It’s a cheap vacation solution and a memorable excursion, all rolled into one afternoon.

Here are my favorite four markets — indoor and outdoor, large and small. Don’t miss them when you’re visiting!

Portland Farmers Market, Portland.

This weekend, the Saturday Portland Farmers Market reopens for the growing (and grazing) season. The outdoor, downtown market features dozens of local-vendor booths, great food trucks (I like Pine State Biscuits) and musical performers.

Chefs put on cooking demos, and children’s cooking classes take center stage. This market is a great place to “meet the grower,” (if the grower isn’t too busy to chat), because most stalls are operated by the farmer who hand-raised the produce.

Tip: The market’s surrounding South Park Blocks provide a great breather during your market experience; or the small playground can serve as a place to entertain the kids while your partner does the shopping.

Pike Place Market, Seattle.

The oldest continuously-operating market in the U.S., Pike Place offers well-covered shopping for Seattle’s tempestuous weather. A mix of open-air and indoor vendors sell fresh produce, doughnuts, hot dogs, local confections, jewelery and blankets. Little kids love the free samples, bigger kids love the creepy underground corridors full of mystery and history.

There’s a veritable United Nations of food options here: culinary options include Vietnamese, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Greek and Turkish. The Market’s family-friendly events are a great way to spend an afternoon; check the market’s site beforehand to see if there’s something going on when you’ll be in town.

Tip: Play urban explorer through the market’s a-maze-ing alleys, underground arcades and adjoining buildings. Can you find Rachel the Pig, the gum wall covered with already-been-chewed gum (as disgustingly cool as it sounds) and a cow-themed shop that only sells dairy?

Granville Island Market, Vancouver.

The Granville Public Market is a covered, light-filled indoor enclosure with independent vendors: produce, hot meals, candied salmon, imported cheese, pastas and teas. Right outside, there’s a sunny patio for relaxing, eating and pigeon-chasing.

Then, head out the market’s front door. You’ll find a village of pedestrian-friendly arts and retail buildings along the island’s one-way road. Small stores populate each building, selling everything from hats to gorgeous Japanese paper to do-it-yourself jewelry options. Don’t miss the tremendous two-story Granville Kids Market and the family-friendly (read:they have toys!) Pedro’s Organic Coffee House (60-1550 Anderson Street, right outside of the Kids Market).

Tip: This island was made for wandering. Take the kids toward anywhere green, and you’ll find grassy play areas, playgrounds, bike trails and swampy marshes – a delightful verdant surprise in the middle of an urban market scene.

James Bay Community Market, Victoria.

This outdoor market attracts locals and tourists alike. It’s packed with jellies and musical jams, muffins and ragamuffins. James Bay Community Market is small in comparison to the three above, but that’s why it’s so charming. It’s also easy to walk to from the downtown Inner Harbour, where many hotels are located.

Kids chase one another beneath leafy trees, market vendors are happy to share tips on local restaurants and the hourly musical acts are low-key and accessible, with lots of room for children to dance around.

Tip: Give the kids several dollars to purchase a hand-made craft; there’s an abundance of island crafters (all pre-approved through a jury process) here.

Do you have a favorite Washington, Oregon or BC market to share? What insider tip can you provide?