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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Strange Natural Wonders in the Pacific Northwest and BC

These odd Oregon, British Columbia and Washington State destinations can compete with even the best video game or smartphone and win. Don’t tell kids the science behind the weird natural wonder’s unusual nature — at least not right away — and see what interesting and creative explanations they might come up with, then explain the science.

1. Mima Mounds. The Mima Mounds seem like something out of a sci-fi movie — a meadow of grassy mounds in a repeated pattern, as if carved or created intentionally. In the past, locals thought perhaps “pocket gophers” created these little bumps. Turns out that the mounds are generated by plant growth — but aliens indeed would’ve been more fun.

2. Oregon Vortex. Dare your Wicked-loving daughter or son to belt out “Defying Gravity” here. Things seem to roll uphill at the Oregon Vortex, and nothing is quite as it seems. Turns out the vortex is part of a “gravity hill optical illusion.” There are many in the U.S., but this is the Northwest’s own.

3. John Day Fossil Beds. Spread out geographically over three “units,” spectacular reds, yellows and greens seem etched into The Painted Hills Unit, and the Clarno Unit looks like a cathedral for space-men (but is only viewable from below, along the highway). I recommend the Painted Hills over all others, thanks to easy-going paths that wind through super-vivid hills. But watch out for snakes!

Painted Hills Cove Trail, Oregon

Painted Hills Cove Trail, Oregon

4. Gingko Petrified Forest. I know you’re imagining a standing forest made of stone, but the Gingko Petrified Forest is not that cool. This is a dry, mountainous area with more than 50 fossilized tree species, along with a park museum center that shows off fossils in funky shapes. Read more about the Gingko Petrified Forest. 

5. Lost Lake. When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a Lost Lake. Every winter, the lake basin fills up, and every spring, it leaks down a giant hole that’s actually a dried-up lava tube! — sort of like your tub’s drain. Also, families can camp here at Lost Lake, in Oregon.

6. Beacon Rock. The Northern Hemisphere’s second largest free-standing monolith! A hiking trail winds around Beacon Rock to the top; keep an eye on impulsive children next to the barely-guardrails on this 722-foot monster of Southwest Washington. Other unusual rocks include Hat Rock in Eastern Oregon and Haystack Rock on the Oregon Coast.

7. Soap Lake. It’s like a giant bubble bath…kinda. Washington’s Soap Lake contains more than 20 minerals that give the lake a sloppy, soapy texture (complete with a brownish froth), and make the water buoyant. Oily ichthyols also float in the lake; Europeans believe these help heal skin issues. Fun gross-out kid fact: these ichthyols come from decomposing shrimp. Ew!

8. The Octopus Tree. A 250-year old Sitka spruce with branches that grow out and up, in a many-legged octopus pattern. Located at the Cape Meares Lighthouse along the Oregon Coast.

Octopus Tree Oregon Coast

Octopus Tree: Oregon Coast

9. Spotted Lake. In Eastern British Columbia, Spotted Lake (Kliluk Lake) is covered in blue and yellow circles of varying sizes, thanks to colorful mineral deposits and summer’s evaporation. Located just west of the Washington-BC border town of Osoyoos.

10. Sea Lion Caves. Billed as the “America’s Largest Sea Cave,” this Oregon attraction is full of sea lions and pretty rank sea lion breath. But it is actually probably the largest sea lion cave in America. Take that for what you will, and the attraction will take $14 (adults) and $8 (ages 5-12).

11. Oregon Caves. These dark batcaves are the”marble halls of Oregon.”  They bear 15,000 feet winding of marble, formed by underground cave women. No — just lava made it long ago. The Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve’s excellent tour is recommended for big kids only: at least 42 inches tall (107 centimeters) and able to climb steep stairs without help. You can’t carry little ones. And yes, there are bats,but don’t worry they don’t bite. Another tunnel: Horne Lake Caves.

12. Oregon Dunes. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area offers 40 miles of Tattooine-like mountains of sand that can reach up to 500 feet tall, and rapidly overtaking local businesses. Wear serious hiking boots or comfortable shoes, bring a sled or snowboard for slipping down hills of sand. Sunglasses help prevent sand in your eyes.

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Sandboarding at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

I think we can agree that Oregon is definitely one of the odder regions of our area, due to the diversity of natural oddities left behind by Earth’s evolution. I left volcanoes off this list, although they’re also extremely terrifying and fun.

Newport, Oregon with Kids

Newport, Oregon is a similar destination to Cannon Beach, Oregon for the annual family vacation. You’ve got the lovely, cream-toned sand, the toy stores and kite shops, the upscale and midrange restaurants.

But there’s one big difference between Cannon Beach and Newport — you won’t sleep at Cannon Beach hotel prices (which can easily leap into the $300- $400-dollar range). Plus, Newport offers many outdoor and indoor attractions, whether you’re there on a sunny summer day or on a rainy weekend getaway.

The downside? It’s a haul from Portland, Seattle or further north or east. You’ll tack on about two hours of drive time each way to reach Newport (we typically get a Priceline room to rest on the journey between Seattle and Newport). So once you’ve arrived, you might as well stay for a few days, exploring the historic community of Nye Beach, combing for beautiful stones at Agate Beach or perusing the c-shaped Bayfront district.

Fun things to do with kids in Newport

Newport Aquarium with kids

Newport Aquarium’s plexiglass tunnel

The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s top attraction is undoubtedly the over 200-foot-long acrylic tunnels, where tropical fish, reef sharks, graceful rays and other denizens of the deep swim right above you. I’m also partial to the 29-acre aquarium’s Bizarre and Beautiful Gallery and the Dangerous and Deadly Gallery – how does an electric eel make sense in any way? One of my favorite, kid-friendly aquariums in our area. If you’re an AAA member, bring your card, as you’ll get a discount on admission.

Hatfield Marine Science Center a fun thing to do in Newport with kids

Hatfield Marine Science Center

Hatfield Marine Science Center overflows with nerdly fun. All the center’s signs seem to gush over science, courtesy of Oregon State University’s marine science research facility. My kids liked the slightly icky exhibit on invasive species and the please-touch tidepool exhibit. It’s worth the donation (all they ask for). The museum shop’s books can help identify critters you see on any upcoming tidepool walks; if you’re going to buy a book on your trip, why not buy it here?

Yaquina Head Lighthouse Center

Yaquina Head Lighthouse Interpretive Center

Yaquina Head Lighthouse’s Interpretive Center is worth a half-hour visit or so. The center describes lighthouse history, a lightkeeper’s life and how lighthouses work with hands-on exhibits; there’s a small children’s area with activities and period-era toys. Chat with the well-informed staff and volunteers and pick up a few insider tips on touring Yaquina Head.

Devil's Punch Bowl

Never swim in the Devil’s Punch Bowl

Devil’s Punch Bowl is a deep bowl-shaped rock formation where vivid blue ocean water enters, swirls around and makes a scene. During low tide, spot ocean creatures along nearby shoreline. The Punchbowl is a neat stop, but not worth more than about 5 minutes or so.

Sea lions at the Newport Pier

Sea lions in Newport

Walk along Bay Boulevard’s charming mural-infused waterfront, past fishing boats and working fish processing plants and canneries, restaurants and ticky-tacky shops. You won’t be able to miss the noisy, rowdy (and slightly disgusting) sea lions, which eat and burp and hoot and fart. The Homer Simpsons of the sea, as it were. Not the best role models for dinner table behavior, but the seals are an amusing spectacle. You won’t miss the loudmouths if they’re in the harbor — just follow the braying.

A fun toy store in Newport Oregon with kids

Sandcastle Toys, Newport Oregon

Serious fun! Sandcastle Toys offers a lovely collection of card games, beach toys, Playmobil and more. If the knowledgeable owner’s in, ask him for a new toy or board game recommendation.

If you’d rather pick up a flying toy, visit The Kite Company, a delightful 6500-square-foot shop offering high quality kites for every age and skill level. You’ll soon realize what you’ve missed out on by buying kites from lesser shops — as the staff at this store guide you to the perfect kite for your toddler, teen or tangle-prone husband.

AVOID: The Undersea Gardens, Wax Works and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The first two because they are in no way worth the expense. The latter two because it’s too scary for young kids, culturally insensitive and seriously run-down with buzzy videos featuring Jack Palance. I complained even as we left, and I rarely do that. It didn’t matter — the teen staff didn’t seem to care a bit. Not a destination I can recommend.

Family Restaurants in Newport, Oregon

A family restaurant in Newport Oregon

Local Ocean in Newport

Pick up a really fresh cut of fish at the informal, casual Local Ocean Seafoods – you’ll see just-caught seafood behind the fish-market counter as you enter, and the restaurant is right across from the fishing boat “parking lot,” as my son called the pier. With so many options on the salad, soup, sandwiches and big-plate menus it can be hard to pick just one item per person. I recommend ordering a diverse selection so you can try more dishes. There is a kids’ menu, but try to talk the kids into sharing your feast. One of my favorite restaurants along the Oregon Coast. My picks (so far) are the diverse Salade Nicoise and spicy Los Fish Taco with fennel slaw and avocado salsa verde.

Newport Oregon restaurant for families

Saffron Salmon interior

Saffron Salmon isn’t a typical “kid-friendly” restaurant, so go here with the kids when you’re reasonably sure they’re going to behave well, you’ve brought your own small playthings/crayons and the kids aren’t crazed with hunger. I would recommend heading to Saffron Salmon during lunchtime for a less-formal (and less-expensive) experience. Kids will enjoy the bayside view of fishing boats heading in and out of the Newport harbor. With a commitment to local farms and wild food, the restaurant serves natural-beef burgers, fresh Dungeness crab and kid-pleasing shoestring frites.

OK, so you’re a little tired of fish ‘n’ chips by day two at the beach. Head to the unassuming little shack Noodle Café for some pan-Asian dishes. The noodle dishes, pho, and Korean meals are tasty and yes, you can still have just off the boat seafood if you like. We ordered food and brought it back to our room for a no-stress dinner with the kids.

More family restaurants in Newport: My husband has fond childhood memories of Mo’s Annex’s, a Newport institution. Rogue Brewery is a solid choice wherever you find one. Rogue features kids’ menus and the signature Pacific Northwest family-friendly pub atmosphere.

Newport Oregon Hotels for Families:

View from our family hotel room at the Hallmark Inn

View from our room at the Hallmark Inn

On our recent trip, I stayed at the Hallmark Inn. I visited a few family hotels before we chose our room, and we liked what we saw at Hallmark. We slept soundly in the Queen/Queen Stateroom: a spacious double queen with a.ma.zing ocean views and a small kitchenette. To reach the sandy shore, you have to hike down a series of steps, but it shouldn’t be too difficult with toddlers.

If you’re seeking large, apartment-style rooms with kitchenettes, look at Greenstone Inn, located in Newport’s teeny-tiny (but adorable) Nye Beach community. I visited a few rooms — the facility was built so recently that it still has a “new building” smell. Greenstone boasts about its eco-approach to building and outfitting rooms.

Additionally, people rave about the Elizabeth Street Inn, although we did not stay there. I would still recommend the hotel; I stopped in and liked what I saw.

North Oregon Coast with Kids

Check out that view to the right of this post. Looks pretty sweet, right? The photo wasn’t taken in Cannon Beach, Seaside or Lincoln City, but in the tiny burg of Pacific City, on The Pelican Pub’s outdoor, beach-facing deck. If you’re ready to explore further, along the North Oregon coast, consider these 11 options (heading from south to north, about two hours if you’re driving straight through). Whether you want to watch whales or watch storms for spring break or just book your summer getaway, there’s a town for you:

Newport. One of my favorite coastal towns for activities, dining and accommodation options. Kids love the Newport Aquarium and the Mark O. Hatfield Science Center and there are multiple delicious restaurant options. Skip anything titled or associated with “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” or the Underwater Aquarium (ignore the coupons and discounts!) and spend your time on the beach instead.

Newport Aquarium

We stayed at The Hallmark Resort for just $99 for a lovely autumn-season oceanfront room. I also visited Elizabeth Street Inn and kitchen-equipped Greenstone Inn – they’re all great options; the latter doesn’t have the views of the first two, but there are suites available.

Depoe Bay. A slip of a town lining the Oregon Coast Highway. One recommendation: Stop at the donation-only Whale Watching Center (you won’t miss it, but it’s on the western side of the highway) to whale-watch on the western horizon. Trained volunteers will help you spot the distinctive spouts and kids can look at whale skeletons and facts. Although it’s an adorable town, I’m not sure I would stay here with younger kids, as the road traffic is very busy. More info: Depoe Bay.


Lincoln City. This was where my family vacationed when I was a kid. It’s a built-up conglomeration of mega-hotels, jam-packed antique stores, family fun centers and restaurants designed to feed and house thousands in summer. Sounds like fun? You’ll have a good time here. More info: Lincoln City.

Neskowin. As if designed in direct contrast to Lincoln City, the upscale town of Neskowin seems to say, “We want a piece of coastal peace.”  Here, the cozy grid streets are filled only with kids on bikes and city cars (cars filled with Costco buys — dining picks are slim to none).

Indy 500 vacationers not welcome in Neskowin

Dozens of hand-painted “slow down” signs decorate houses, electrical posts and fences. Look for rental houses through VRBO or Grey Fox (not much in the way of hotels, either). This town is very cute, and just right for the family wanting to get away from it all. More info: Neskowin.

Pacific City. Incredible views and good eatin’ put Pacific City on the map. Sit right in the shadow of a haystack rock (one of a few along the North Oregon Coast)  and drink a beer on Pelican Pub’s porch and watch the kids play in the sand. Breakfast or lunch at kid-friendly, window-surrounded The Grateful Bread is always a wise idea. The well-heeled Inn at Cape Kiwanda has a wine and cheese hour, lovely views, cute giftshop with kids’ toys and a DVD rental option; I loved this homey hotel. A caveat: The rooms can get noisy, as sit right on the two-lane highway.

Pelican Pub, Pacific City

In the morning, drive north from Pacific City along the Three Capes highway, which winds through mountains and valleys to heart-stopping viewpoints.More info: Pacific City.

Oceanside. It makes me nauseous to look at the houses built into the cliffs – but at the same time, I absolutely want to stay in one of the tottering homes (I’ll just pray that my stay won’t coincide with an earthquake or tsunami). The Oceanside community is tiny, at just 326 residents, so the town’s another quiet get-away spot.

Oceanside’s steep hills

One coffeeshop, (Brewin’ in the Wind), one upscale restaurant (Roseanna’s Oceanside Cafe). Not much on the web for Oceanside, other than a rather useful real estate broker’s website.

Garibaldi. Founded in 1867, but there’s not much to draw crowds today. Skip it, unless you really want to visit the Myrtlewood Factory Outlet. More info: Garibaldi.

Rockaway Beach. Vacation homes, antique shops and a family fun center line the streets of this small destination town. It welcomes all visitors — Upper Crust pizzeria even dishes up a gluten-free pizza. The famous 7-mile sandy beach is a treasure for families. More info: Rockaway Beach site and Greg Goes to Rockaway Beach.

Wheeler. A quaint two-block town with a romantic and rustic vibe. No beach here in the town proper, just lovely views of ships and piers. A pleasant getaway for mom and dad at the B&B-style Wheeler Inn. More info: Wheeler city site.

Nehalem. This town is unusual for the area; it’s located on Nehalem River, not the ocean. It’s a touch warmer too, removed from the cooling Pacific winds. Houseboats bob, and a vintage village vibe hums in summer. Hanging flower baskets decorate white-painted porches.

Nehalem’s false-front buildings

It’s not far from the Nehalem Bay State Park, a perfectly picturesque campground featuring yurts, a playground, campsites — all amid short pine trees and twisted sitkas. More info: Nehalem city site.

Manzanita. If you love Cannon Beach’s views but want to get away from the crowds, Manzanita’s a stellar selection. Well-heeled restaurants, spas, yarn shops, bookstores; like a mix of a New England village and Oregon coast. Manzanita attracts repeat visits from families, year after year. Look for a vacation rental, but book it early or go off-season, because most families made plans last summer for this summer.  More info: Manzanita site.


What’s YOUR favorite family-friendly Oregon Coast town, village or city?

A Stop-By-Stop Guide to the Oregon Coast with Kids

 

Kids at the oregon coast dig in the sand

Oregon Coast with Kids

A friend recently told me about her upcoming Oregon Coast trip, and asked, “Where should I stop along the Oregon Coast?” So I’ve made up a quick itinerary of where I’d go and what I’d do if driving the Oregon Coast, from Astoria to the California-Oregon border.

This stop-by-stop guide down Hwy 101 along the Oregon Coast shows great stops and kids activities. Plan frequent stops into your day, and you’ll discover less complaining and more cooperation.

Drive along the Oregon Coast’s Hwy 101 with my Google Maps directions. (But always double-check directions and open hours, etc. before going anywhere)

Stop 1. Start your trip in Astoria. Pick up pastries for a snack from Blue Scorcher Bakery Café.

Stop 2. Drive 8 miles, about 16 minutes to Lewis and Clark National State Historical Park. Check out the recreated cabins where Lewis and Clark spent their first dreary winter and check out some of the kids activities.

Stop 3. Drive 14 ½ miles, about 22 minutes to Seaside. Ride the Carousel in Seaside Town Center or play a few games in the Funland Arcade.

Stop 4. Drive about 9 miles or 12 minutes. Stop at the gorgeous Haystack Rock and Tolovana Beach and poke around in the tidepools.

Stop 5. Drive 38 miles or about an hour to the Tillamook Cheese Factory for a quick tour (if available) and a sample or two – plus lunch.

Stop 6. Drive 45 miles (about one hour) to Lincoln City and visit The World’s Shortest River: D River.

Stop 7. Drive 27 miles or about 45 minutes to Oregon Coast Aquarium. Eat dinner. Sleep!

Stop 8. Drive 37 miles or about 1 hour 15 mins to the Sea Lion Caves and meet some stinky lions of the sea. (Kids love this attraction, but it is a little … redolent). If Sea Lions aren’t your thing, visit Heceta Head Lighthouse, two minutes away.

Stop 9. Drive about six miles to the 18-acre Darlingtonia State Natural Site (or Darlingtonia Wayside), where the kids can meet another sort of wild creature – carnivorous plants that only grow in S. Oregon and N. California.

Stop 10. Drive 12 minutes to and stop in Florence at Nature’s Corner Café and Market and pick up sandwiches, chips and an almost-bad-for-you drink.

Stop 11. Drive about 21 miles or a half-hour to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park and the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, where towers of beach sand reach up to 500 feet high. Enjoy a picnic.

Stop 12. Drive 75 miles or about two hours to the Prehistoric Gardens, a wild, weird spot that dino-loving kids will adore and older kids may find a bit cheesy, but still amusing.
Order fish and chips at at Crazy Norwegians in Port Orford.

Stop 13. Drive 30 miles or about an hour. Stop in Gold Beach, Oregon and go crabbing.

Stop 14. Drive those last 36 miles (about an hour) to Alfred A. Loeb State Park to visit the only stand of Myrtlewood and Redwood trees in Oregon. Cook your Oregon crabs and sleep in an Oregon yurt!

Read more about the Oregon Coast with kids at Travel Oregon.

 

Cannon Beach Guide: Family-friendly picks

Oh, the Oregon Coast — golden beaches, great food, and thriving coastal communities full of art galleries and cool toystores and bookstores. Enjoy a misty morning tidepooling adventure with a hot coffee in hand. Or recline in a beach chair with a new book — while the kids create turreted castles from crystals of warm sand. Your choice.

Haystack Rock

One of my favorite destinations along the Oregon Coast is Cannon Beach, only about an hour west of Portland. Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock offers probably one of the most-photographed scenes in Oregon: Sundown, when the skies turn impossible shades of pink and purple, and the sun sinks behind the basalt monolith.

Keep in mind — all of the photos here were shot in November. Yes, November. It was awesome.

Go tidepooling. Pick up delicate anemones and grouchy crabs at Haystack Rock, near Tolovana State Park. Bring binoculars to find nesting birds in Haystack Rock’s cliff face (and oh yeah, watch your head). Look for one of the HRAP volunteers, who will tell you all about the creatures and features of the park.

Pick up Haystack CookieCannon Beach Bakery, where a bag  of Haystack Macaroon Cookies is only a few bucks. Named after the signature landmark, these treats are thankfully NOT made from rock and bird poo. Nope, just flour, dates, coconuts and walnuts.

Sea stacks off of Ecola State Park

Hit the trails. I like Ecola State Park, where the kids can count rings in felled trees, hike up and down a bluff, gather smooth coast stones and watch surfers catch the perfect wave. Don’t miss the striking sea stacks right off shore.

Eat fish ‘n’ chips. Sit at Ecola Seafood’s vinyl-covered tables. You’ll love the enormous, perfectly cooked portions of salmon, razor clams and halibut. Kid meals are served with a lollipop – as if they’d have room after all that fish fare.

Rent bikes. Check out Family Fun Cycles (1160 S Hemlock St.), where the knowledgable staff will get your butt in the gear. Rents during low tide – check those tide tables.

Pick up a picture book. Sit a spell at Cannon Beach Book Company, the solution to a sandcastle full of rain. You’ll also find Klutz books, great for little crafters, and nice chapter book selection.

Sandcastle construction at Surfsand Resort

Sleep in. I love Surfsand Resort, where kids can enjoy roasted hot dogs, craft projects and ice cream socials. And that’s before you get to the two-pager DVD list and luxe rooms featuring kitchenettes, Haystack-rock-view rooms and the sound of the surf. The hotel is right on the beach — perfect for quick cleanup.

Wind down. “Bedtime Stories,” on 89.5 (KMUN) from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., an evening radio program of kid-oriented stories and songs.

Go fly a kite. Pick your high-flier from one of dozens at the Kite Factory (339 Fir St.), then head to Tolovana State Park.

Bring home taffy. Choose your chewy goodness from Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, a local landmark, where the stretchy goodness is made on-site. Toss together a bag from the choices offered, whether you want traditional (root beer) or different (pomegranate).

This is just the tip of the monolith — I list more Cannon Beach restaurants, activities, restaurants and shops in my book Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver.

Beachy Keen! 5 NW Spring Break Spots

kid-friendly cannon beach

Sure, some families are heading to Mexico, Hawaii and Florida for spring break. But you don’t have to fly thousands of miles to get your sand fix. Save time and money by checking out one of the five sweet Northwest beaches.

Okay, you won’t find 80-degree temps or swim-ready water — not in the spring, at least — but the following destinations offer cool prices to match the chilly days.

cannon beach with kids

1. Family-friendly Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Why go? Cannon Beach in the off-season offers mellow charm, mild weather and no summer-crowd insanity. But the infrastructure is ready year-round, whether you want to buy a kite, nosh on Haystack cookies or browse for books.

Go tidepool-peeping for anemones and barnacles. Or take it easy –while the kids create sand McMansions, watch the still-gorgeous sunsets from your Pacific-front hotel — at one-third to one-half the price of a summer stay.

Sites to explore: Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce and Our Cannon Beach

astoria museum with kids

2. Kid-friendly Astoria, Oregon

Why go? If forecasters are calling for rain, Astoria’s Victorian-era architecture and art-rich community is a sure bet. Enjoy great kid-friendly breweries and bakeries, an indoor water recreation center and downtown Astoria’s toy store and comic shop.

After visiting Columbia River Maritime Museum, make a splash at the Astoria Aquatic Center. Not far out of town, visit the atmospheric Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent their first dreary winter. Then retreat to your heated hotel and praise modern conveniences.

Sites to explore: Astoria and Warrenton Chamber of Commerce and Astoria Oregon

kid-friendly long beach washington lighthouse

3. Kid-friendly Long Beach, Washington State.

Why go? On Southwest Washington’s tip, Long Beach hosts funky curios like Jake the Alligator Man, chainsaw-carved logs and beachfront houses with eccentric decor. Personally, I love the house with hundreds of buoys displayed out front.

But beyond the video games, go-karts and beach trappings (and kids love all of it), you’ll also find an amazing foodie community’s restaurants in Long Beach and neighboring towns of Ilwaco, Seaview and Nahcotta. And gentle hikes through Cape Disappointment State Park provide see-forever views of the Pacific Ocean before you come upon a stately lighthouse.

Sites to explore: Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau and Bailey’s Bakery and Cafe, which serves up some of the best baked goods I’ve ever enjoyed.

4. Kid-friendly Newport, Oregon.

Why go? The furthest south (a little over 120 miles from Portland), Newport embodies that taffy-in-your-teeth memory of childhood beach vacations. Fly kites, ride bikes on the beach, tread water in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s underwater tunnel, or go whale-watching in the early spring.

The Oregon Coast is famous for great crabbing and clamming, plus warm, California-sent breezes. Although spring brings iffy weather, nothing could  ruin that fresh batch of caramel corn and bubblegum-flavored taffy.

Sites to explore: Newport Oregon (Don’t miss that free child’s admission on the “Special Deals & Promos” page) and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association

kid-friendly westport donuts

5. Westport, Wash.

Why go? Westport’s rocky shoreline is about as far as you can get from the silky sands of Mexico or Cannon Beach’s art galleries. But that’s part of the fun — this is old-world Washington, rugged and unrefined.

Pick through sea-smoothed rocks for a favorite, walk down Westport’s tourist-tacky marina, and down a cup of hot clam chowder at Merino’s Seafood. In winter and spring, watch storms create spectacular, crashing walls of water.

Sites to explore: Westport Washington

What’s your favorite taffy flavor?