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

High Desert, Kid Friendly: Bend, Oregon

Have you been around the Bend? Bend, Oregon’s warm, dry air is the perfect prescription for rain-inflicted doldrums. As a kid, I loved going to Bend and rubbing scented sagebrush between my fingers, riding bikes along flat (flat! really!) paths and hiking the twisted trails by the Deschutes River.

So why don’t we ask a local family for their favorite Bend locales? Bend resident Sarah Laufer and husband Justin met while they were both guiding whitewater rafting trips in Colorado. They soon moved to Bend, where they’ve been raising their two kids, 5-year-old daughter Chloe and 3-year-old son Avery.

Sarah’s also the co-founder of, an online store specializing in children’s adventure gear and clothing. This mom knows her great outdoors. Here are Sarah’s tips on where to eat and play in Bend, Oregon.

Where does your family like to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Bend? Which Bend restaurants are kid-friendly?

Breakfast: Go to Cafe Sintra. Manuel, the owner, loves kids and the food is so yummy and family friendly.  It’s breakfast with a Portuguese twist.

Lunch: Go to Croutons, which offers yummy sandwiches and salads, along with special kids meals. Locally owned, totally affordable and with great outdoor seating.

Dinner: Pastini in the Old Mill right near the river trail. What kiddo doesn’t like pasta?! There is awesome outdoor seating and food is yummy and comes out lickity split! Want Mexican instead? Try La Rosa in Northwest Crossing.

If you knew of family friends coming into town with kids, where would you take them? What are some things to do in Bend with kids?

In the winter, we would head up to the Wanoga Snow Play Area with some treats and a thermos of hot cocoa for some sledding and cross-country skiing.  There is even a warming hut with a wood stove and plenty of wood to get cozy and take a break for the next round of romping in the snow. Don’t forget your Sno-Park Permit.

In the summer, we would probably head to Shevlin Park for a picnic, rock skipping in the river and a nice walk/hike. Also fun to bring bikes and go for a ride on the pavement or trail.  there is actually a dirt road that goes all the way to Sunriver Resort, if you’re up for it.

Drake Park is a great place to take a walk around Mirror Pond. The park also hosts summertime concerts (Munch and Music) and the Bend Farmers Market. It’s right near downtown.

Bend Oregon with kids

Drake Park with kids. Photo courtesy of Play Outdoors.

But there’s just so much to do outside in Bend year round! In the spring, you can float the Deschutes River, ski Mt. Bachelor, go for a bike ride, and head out for a walk on the Deschutes River Trail all in one day.  That makes for very happy — and tired — kidlets.

And in bad weather? What would you do in the rain with kids in Bend?

The High Desert Museum is by far the best museum in Central Oregon!  They have great kids programs along with current exhibits all about the plant and animals in the high desert.


For more family-friendly ideas on what to do on your Bend vacation with kids, see the Visit Bend’s Family Fun Page. Or order The Children’s Travel Guide to Bend, Oregon by Crystal McCage.

For more kid-friendly restaurants, read Top 5 Family Friendly Restaurants in Bend, Oregon, an article in True North, a parenting magazine for Central Oregon families. Browse True North’s calendar to discover timely activities and events.

And read this highly opinionated (and hilarious) piece from Bend Oregon Restaurants, “Family Friendly Restaurants” — with notes on where to have a not-too-annoying kid birthday party when you’re in town.

Which kid-friendly restaurants, activities, shops and hotels do you recommend in Bend, Oregon?