The Best Kids’ Bookstores in Cascadia

Cascadia is one of the most-literate regions in North America. Don’t just take my  word for it – check out where Seattle and Portland rank on “America’s Most Literate Cities” — number one and number six, respectively. Arts groups in Vancouver are working on getting the city designated as one of UNESCO’s “Cities of Literature.”

Readers tend to raise kids who love to read. We also support our independent children’s bookstores, which offer a great combination of wise advice and the best of kids’ books. Kids bookstores sell unique souvenirs; you won’t find these region-specific titles at home. Better than just another t-shirt!

Here’s the list of my favorite children’s bookstores. Categorized by city, then alphabetized. Of course.

Portland children’s bookstores:

A Children’s Place. For 35 years, A Children’s Place has entertained reading families in Portland. In fact, I went when I was a kid! The store’s location has bounced around since my childhood, but remains a mainstay for Portland parents. Why? Because parents love the hand-picked book recommendations from the staff and the kids’ play area.

Green Bean Books. This shop takes adorability to new heights. It’s the smallest of all the bookstores on this list, but it makes up for square footage with floor-to-ceiling shelves and only-in-Portland fun. Check out the vending machine dispensing handmade puppets and the mustache dispenser. Oh, and the book selection is stellar, too. Of course! In Portland’s Alberta neighborhood, chock-full of goodies (including Vita Cafe, mentioned on the Portland Family-Friendly Restaurants page).

Seattle Children’s Bookstore:

Mockingbird Books in Seattle serves up storytimes, hot coffee and house-made cookies. Books for babies through adults, but primarily concentrating on great kid lit and fun easy-to-travel-with book kits. Within walking distance of Seattle’s Green Lake, where the stroller set meets at the playground and fit families jog around the water’s perimeter. Get a book and a blanket, and enjoy a book under a leafy tree.

Vancouver, BC children’s bookstore:

Kidsbooks. Founded by a former children’s librarian, Kidsbooks features thousands of impossibly wonderful kid and teen books, make-your-own art kits from France, travel-ready games, a half-dozen cheerful staff ready to help you find the perfect title, and petite areas to sit and cull your selection. Don’t miss the First Nations and Canadian-focused slections. It’s hard to pick just one, two or a few items out of this large bookstore. We’ve walked out with over a dozen books and a depleted bank account. Once out the door, you’re in Vancouver’s Kitsilano district and temptingly close to several Greek pastry shops. Just pick one — can’t go wrong.

Victoria children’s bookstore:

Tall Tales Books. Tall Tales Books recently opened on Vancouver Island, filling Victoria’s kid niche. Located in downtown Victoria and easy to reach via any of the Inner Harbour hotels; The stroller-friendly interior is perfect for travelers looking for that perfect book for the ferry ride home. Check the schedule when you’re in town to catch a local author reading or a storytime.

Do you know of a great kids’ bookstore in a smaller Pacific Northwest city? Let us in on your secret!

Seattle Family Vacation

Victoria Pick: Beacon Hill Children’s Farm

Yesterday, one of Victoria, B.C.’s most wonderful (and affordable) little attractions reopened after a winter hiatus. Beacon Hill Children’s Farm’s menagerie of farm animals, peacocks and flamboyantly-crowned chickens offers an off-the-beaten path experience to visiting families.

There are bunnies and donkeys to fawn over, plus a bird-filled building, where tiny finches flit from branch to branch. Many of these animals have restrictions on touch, so don’t feel disappointed if you can’t hug a pot-bellied pig.

But then you arrive at the African Pygmy goat pen, a glorious exception to the rules. In this family favorite, baby and adult goats meander and mill about in a large enclosure. Children mingle with four-legged friends, and use grooming brushes on dozens of patient goats. Parents snap pictures, and the kids (goat and human) interact playfully, bleating at one another. It’s the best part of the Beacon Hill petting zoo.

At 10 a.m. daily, the “Running of the Goats” (or “Goat Stampede”) occurs. The petting zoo’s staff clear families from the main pathway – and the entire goat herd gallops from their pens into the petting enclosure. Children erupt in squeals and applause as hooves gallop past, leaving plumes of dust behind.

My pictures don’t do justice, so check out this YouTube video or this video on the farm’s website.

And at around 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in summer), goats return to their pens in a cloud of frenzied fur. The stampede offers a great transition for children who don’t want to give up the grooming brushes.

Best for: All ages, even kids who think they’re too cool to chill with goats.

Find it:  In Beacon Hill Park, Victoria. Use this map to find the exact location. Open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in summer). Phone number is 381-2532

Suggested donation: $3.00 adults $2.00 children.

Victoria Clipper with Kids: 8 Tips for Families

Victoria Clipper with Kids

Clipper with Kids

One of my favorite ways to reach Victoria, B.C. from Seattle, Wash., is via Victoria Clipper. The Clipper’s three ships are passenger-only, but each one cruises from downtown Seattle’s piers directly into Victoria’s Inner Harbour. And vice versa, for Seattle-bound Vancouver-Island residents. No cars, no headaches, no hassles!

While the Clipper’s fares can be spendy in summer, prices tend to go down in winter and spring (as low as $50/per person). Kids are often free, year-round. Combining Clipper and hotel via the online packages can save families between 10-30%.

Eight tips for your trip aboard the family-friendly Victoria Clipper:

  1. Check in at least an hour early as requested, perhaps even 15 minutes before official check-in. If you’re traveling with kids in strollers, request pre-boarding. Pre-boarding helps you find the family-friendly seats on the Victoria Clipper.
  2. You’ll need to break down your stroller for storage once on the Victoria Clipper. So make sure your stroller breaks down easily (one-handed, if possible!).
  3. Pre-boarding families can (and should) look for four- or six-seat clusters around tables, which makes both feeding and play easier to pull off. Bring toys that are easily contained and won’t spill all over the ship.
  4. It’s generally a pretty smooth ride, but the Strait of Juan de Fuca can get a little rough in bad weather. Staff will generally let you know in advance. If you or the kids are prone to seasickness (my son often yaks, no matter the transportation option), prepare beforehand. I bring quease-easing lollipops and try to sit toward the front of the Victoria Clipper, looking forward. Or sit near the bathrooms (rear of ship) for quick visits.
  5. Breakfast and meal packs are offered aboard the Clipper. I like to pack my own easy-to-eat breakfasts: sandwiches, juices, fruit. Remember that you’ll need to toss leftover-and-now-contraband fruits and veggies before disembarking in Victoria. Tip: The Clipper Cocoa is a enormous whipped-cream-smothered delight. It’s best right before arrival, unless the kids can handle their caffeine.
  6. At the front of some Clipper vessels, the crew shows kid-friendly films during the voyage. Ask at check-in if your ship will show a movie. If yes, sit near the front of the ship, where the movie plays on small, floor-level screens.
  7. You can get up and walk around during the journey. However, it’s not a good idea to let kids run, play or get too rowdy. The ship can tilt suddenly, catching kids off-balance, and aisle traffic can annoy other passengers.
  8. On-board or during booking, the Clipper offers extras, including tea at the Empress, Butchart Gardens admissions, and other Victoria must-dos. Check beforehand whether their prices save you money by looking up the direct-buy option from the attraction; depending upon the exchange rate, you may save a few dollars by booking through the Clipper.

Do you have any tips for riding the Victoria Clipper?