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.

Oregon Dunes (Florence) with Kids

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area — the largest coastal sand dunes in North America – makes you feel exactly like Luke Skywalker. Well, maybe you won’t look or sound like him, but after 10 minutes here, you’ll empathize with Luke’s long walk over those huge, majestic dunes on Tatooine.

Naturally, kids LOVE this place.

As if  dropped right into a giant’s sandbox, you’ll find giant 500-foot-tall (152 m.) peaked mounds and “tree islands,” where trees cluster together, surrounded by sand.

The Oregon Dunes NRA Visitors Center offers hiking tips through the dunes, info on the area’s natural history and summertime programs on the plants and animals of the dunes. No tusken raiders actually live here, boo.

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park is a great place to experience the area’s unique landscape — walk the dunes, watch kids sled or snowboard down dunes, and visit the beach. The park’s freshwater lake (Cleawox) was warm enough to qualify as a “bath” for my kid, who hates baths but didn’t complain here.

Cleawox Lake, Florence Oregon with Kids

Cleawox Lake, Florence Oregon

The dunes stretch for forty miles long along the coast, so many visitors opt to see them in a giant, slow-moving dune buggy (you can even bring a baby in a carseat on a buggy) or a faster sand rail (required: goggles, a helmet and age 3 & up).

In either case, reservations must be made in advance with one of the dune buggy outfits. Sandland Adventures has a nice little Family Fun Center with bumper boats, if you want to cool off after a Sandland buggy ride.

If sandboarding looks more your kids’ speed, Sand Master Park rents gear, gives lessons and offers family packages. The park is right next to a Fred Meyer, and it’s funny to see the sand actually moving into the parking lot – it creeps inland 16 feet per year. Maybe some day we’ll all be driving sand buggies.

Oregon sand dune

View from the top of a Oregon Sand Dune

Where to stay in Florence with Kids

You can stay at Jessie M. Honeyman in one of the yurts — or bring your tent. Book far in advance, because it’s a popular destination with great weather.

We stayed at the Driftwood Shores Resort right on the beach, which was fine and clean, if a bit dated and mildewy in spots (hey, it’s the Northwest Coast — only so much you can do about things like this). A bonus: The Inn has a small children’s aquatic play area with fun showers and sprinklers — a nice back up if you do arrive on a very windy or rainy day.

Where to eat in Florence with Kids

After some deep research, we went with a few fun places:

Mo’s in Florence Old Town. 1436 Bay St., Florence, Oregon. So,  the seafood is similar, perhaps, to your grandparent’s seafood restaurant (like a fancy Skipper’s, maybe). You can’t beat the location (right on the water), the kid-friendly aspects (really noisy restaurant, crayons, kid menu) and the fact your child’s palate and your grandparent’s palate are probably not too dissimilar. It’s fine. Order an appetizer if the restaurant is busy, as you may wait a while for your food.

Maple Street Grille. 165 Maple St., Florence, Oregon. An upscale restaurant with solid meal options, including well-cooked salmon, chicken and pasta. A bit more formal and expensive. No kids’ menu, but kid-friendly restaurant staff will help your children find yummy food, such as mac ‘n’ cheese.

Nature’s Corner Cafe and Market. 185 Hwy 101 Florence, Oregon. Hearty, healthy breakfasts in a very casual setting  — more like a store than a restaurant. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. It can take a while for the food to arrive (maybe order something small to take the edge off). But when it does  arrive– yum.

1285 Restobar also looks like a decent option for pizza and Italian food.

Read more about Florence with Kids.

Oregon Coast Road Trip with Kids

Oregon Coast Road Trip with Kids

Just south of the busy tourist towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside is the 40-mile, quieter Three Capes Drive, which has a few haystack rocks of its own. From north to south, you’ll follow the gentle C shape from Tillamook to Pacific City. This coastal drive — rich in over 2,500 acres of warm-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, dunes dotted with evergreens and coastal rainforest – encourages you to slow down, smell the sea air and unwind. Here’s an all-day itinerary for enjoyment:

10 a.mOregon Coast Road Trip 1: Tillamook Cheese Factory with Kids, Oregon

The town of Tillamook acts as a road-trip gateway to the coast, tying Highway 6 from Portland to the Oregon Coast’s Highway 101 (Portland is about 90 minutes away). A quick 30-minute self-guided tour on at the Tillamook Cheese Factory reveals quirky facts. For example: Why is the Oregon Coast a great place to make cheese? Facts are always best served with samples and treats, so try the facility’s complimentary samples and pick up a picnic lunch for later.

Tillamook Factory Signs

Tillamook Factory Mad Men-Era Ads

11 a.m. Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 2: Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint 

Just 8 miles from Tillamook and over 200 feet above the ocean, Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint offers ocean-view housing on a bluff – to the largest colony of common murres south of Alaska. From the parking lot, walk a paved .2 mile down to the 1890s-era lighthouse and watch for migrating grey whales (nearly 18,000 pass Oregon’s shores annually), puffins, seals and Stellar sea lions. Kids will love running the paths guarded by giant evergreens — and don’t miss the “Octopus Tree,” a 250+ year-old sitka spruce shaped by time and wind into a many-trunked fascination. Read more about the Octopus Tree so you sound like an expert to the kids.

Octopus Tree Oregon Coast

Octopus Tree

12 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 3: Oceanside

From Cape Meares, take Bayshore Drive south and pop into Oceanside’s heart-stopping idea of real estate. Oceanside’s vacation community steps up the face of sheer cliffs, rewarding inhabitants with incredible views of the offshore Three Arch Rocks Refuge, the oldest National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi, where over a quarter-million nesting birds land annually. Grab a latte at local coffeeshop Brewin’ in the Wind, dig your toes into Oceansides’s sliver of sand and marvel over the gravity-defying habitats surrounding you. I would really like to stay here someday.

1 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 4: Cape Lookout State Park

Stop at the 700-foot Cape Lookout State Park for a hike and picnic lunch. Set right in a lush coastal rainforest, the cathedral-like setting also acts as a sanctuary for deer, elk and yes, even a bear or two (hide the roast beef sandwiches). Get back in the car and move south along the two-lane Cape Lookout Road past glossy salal, stout firs and twisted spruces blanketing eastern hills. Blackberries brambles offer juicy gems in summer, a roadside snack that one-ups store-bought candy. To the west, waves fall like dominoes on sandy, quiet beaches.

2 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 5: Whalen Island

The Clay Meyers State Natural Area at Whalen Island‘s gentle contours are the perfect setting for a post-picnic hike with the kids after a long day on the road. It’s an easy loop hike, about a mile and half long through a variety of Oregon Coast land, from mudflats to dunes. Read more about the Whalen Island hike at the Portland Hikers Field Guide.

4 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 6: Pacific City

Spend the night in Pacific City’s beachfront community, the southern entrance to the Three Capes drive and home to Cape Kiwanda and the Pacific dory fleet. Pacific City is similar to Cannon Beach, right down to the signature haystack rock and sandy coastline — but it doesn’t have the shops or crowds. It’s like Cannon Beach’s shy Oregon Coast sister.

Surfing, shopping and sunsets are all here in Pacific City. Put down the car keys and pick up a micro-brew at Pelican Pub and Brewery. The brewery offers a sophisticated kids menu (grilled salmon is an option),  and the staff brings a packet of goldfish crackers ASAP after you order a kids’ meal, a godsend for starving kids and anxious parents. After the meal, sit on the pub’s back deck, immerse yourself in the salt air and let the craggy-faced haystack rock offshore hypnotize you as the kids play in the sand.

Pelican Pub: Oregon Coast with Kids

View from the Pelican Pub outdoor patio

You can walk from the pub to the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where every room has an ocean view. However, be aware that the hotel’s rooms are right above the road. Although I was anxious about reviews that disparaged road noise, I really enjoyed this hotel.  The Inn kindly rents DVDs from a complimentary library with many family options, a board game library and a hunt through the hotel’s trinket “toy chest.” Other cool benefits of staying here: Free chocolates, manager’s reception on Friday nights (cheese, wine, etc.), free coffee for mom and dad, and nice family-sized vacation packages.

If you need lots of room or are staying multi-generational, you might look into the vacation rentals that dot the Oregon Coast; VRBO or Google some options.

Inn at Cape Kiwanda: Kid-friendly Oregon Coast Hotel

Inn at Cape Kiwanda: Kid-friendly Oregon Coast Hotel

For breakfast, head to Grateful Bread Bakery and order the Gingerbread Pancakes. Do it for me…and tell me how you liked them!

From here, it’s about two hours back to Portland, without traffic. Not as beautiful of a road trip, but you’ll have your memories, right?


View Larger Map

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?

Coastal Kids: Things to Do in Florence, Oregon with Kids

Today, we interview mom (and Eugene, Ore., native) Emily Forsha. Emily grew up with the central Oregon coast as her playground. She knows that a foggy day in the Willamette Valley often means clear sunny skies at the coast, and that salt water taffy is best enjoyed sitting on the boardwalk in Old Town Florence. Now as the Tourism PR Manager at Travel Lane County and a mother to a 4 year-old and 15 month-old, Emily offers her fresh perspective as both a tourism industry professional and busy mom. All photos were provided by Emily.

Q. Do you have a favorite Oregon coast town? Why do you like it?

Emily: For us, Florence, Ore., is perfect; only an hour’s drive from Eugene and Interstate 5, we can go for just a spur-of-the-moment day trip, or stay for the whole weekend. The boardwalk in Old Town Florence is a special place for the entire family – it has an authentic, less “touristy” feel. We usually have a bowl of clam chowder at Mo’s, then head across the street for a scoop of homemade ice cream and salt water taffy from BJ’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Q. What’s your favorite family activity on the Oregon coast? What kinds of things do you like to do (with kids) in Florence and nearby?

We’re a family of hikers, so the hikes around this area are usually our go-to destinations. Washburne State Memorial Park’s Hobbit Trail is an easy 0.4-mile trail that evokes imaginative fairies and gnomes and leads to a flat, sandy beach. If your family is up for a longer, steeper jaunt, the 6-mile round-trip trail to the Heceta Head Lighthouse has outstanding seascape views.

Washburne State Park.

Cape Perpetua is the highest point on the Oregon coast, and alive with trails to explore. We’ve spent many days wandering old-growth forests and whale watching, but the best trail for families is the easy 0.6-mile walk on Captain Cook Trail, where you can investigate tidepools rich with marine life.

The giant dune buggy tour is the best way to see the 40 miles of Oregon Dunes in the Siuslaw National Forest – a truly awesome sight. We took both of our boys on our last trip to Florence, and it was the highlight of the trip for all of us. We rode the buggies from Sandland Adventures, then made an afternoon of it with fun train and go-kart rides, bumper boats and miniature golf.

Oregon Sand Dunes

Oregon Sand Dunes

But if I had to pick only one destination for families, it would probably be Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. You can canoe, kayak, paddleboat or swim one of two freshwater lakes (Cleawox is our favorite). There are summer interpretive programs in the amphitheater for children, and huckleberries and blackberries galore.

Emily and son canoeing

Q. Any favorite kid-friendly restaurants in Florence? Formal/foodie (but where kids are OK) and informal?

We love having breakfast at the Nature’s Corner Cafe & Market – I let my kids fill up on the house-made organic chocolate milk and pancakes. Feast is the newest addition to Florence for foodies, and it is delicious. Definitely a more formal atmosphere, but we’re comfortable taking our kids for an early-evening dinner or Sunday brunch (my favorite!).

Q. Do you have a favorite time of year or season to visit Florence?

This is a tough question. It’s sort of a well-known secret that fall is a beautiful time on the central Oregon coast; less windy and often sunnier and clearer than in the Willamette Valley. As a kid, I loved the winter and spring whale watching weeks, and still enjoy them as an adult.

We’ve taken the kids for a winter getaway at Driftwood Shores; even if we don’t get lucky with weather, the hotels has a brand-new indoor kids’ pool and water play area that they absolutely love.

Florence oregon places to stay

Indoor pool!

Winter is also the best time to see the sea lions perched inside the Sea Lion Caves. In 2009 there were a record number of California sea lions inhabiting the caves during the winter months – between 300-500 on any given day. We’re excited to see how many will show up this year.

And for some reason, they know that during the winter months I’m more likely to let them sample the homemade fudge from the gift shop on the way out.

Read More about Florence with Kids:

Eugene, Cascades & Coast Tourism Information on Florence, Oregon

Florence Chamber of Commerce

Disclosure: I have worked with Emily in a professional context. When I wrote two articles for the Travel Lane County Visitors’ Guide (my employer was Saga City Media), I met Emily while in Eugene, while I was performing research. We hit it off (Emily’s super sweet) and she knows a lot about Florence, so we thought a joint post might be a great addition to Cascadia Kids. I am responsible for all links to businesses offered here.

Seaside, Oregon with Kids

Fall might be the perfect time to hit the beach. At least according to Jackie Boucher, a Vancouver, BC mom who also blogs at Wee Life (and that beautiful blog is more than a wee bit addictive). Last year, Jackie traveled over six hours to reach the gorgeous Oregon Coast, along with her husband Adrian and their son, Spenser, then age 5.

The family loved their destination, the outrageous family-fun town of Seaside. “It was quirky and kitschy and fun with loads of stuff for kids,” Jackie says.

Jackie and hubby had been to the Oregon Coast before, pre-baby Spenser. But back then, the coast was only a stopover on a longer trip. “We always knew that one day we would make it our destination and give it the attention it deserves,” Jackie says. “The coastline is simply stunning.”

Q: What did your family enjoy doing in Seaside, Oregon?

We walked the two- or three-mile promenade. We brought hockey and soccer equipment to play on the firm smooth sand, and hung out on the beach. We ate razor clams and candy (in particular, salt water taffy) because that’s what you do when you are in Seaside.

Playing hockey on the Oregon Coast

Playing hockey on the Oregon Coast. Photo courtesy Jackie Boucher

We noted other unique culinary delights too. I wish now I was brave enough to try the chocolate covered bacon at the Buzz on Broadway.

Another must-do is renting a surrey to pedal up and down the main drag. We also took a half-day trip to Cannon Beach where they have a nice playground, gorgeous beach, good shopping and The Wayfarer, a good restaurant with a killer view.

Riding bikes on the Oregon Coast.

Riding bikes on the Oregon Coast. Photo courtesy Jackie Boucher.

Q. What kinds of kid-friendly things did you do in Seaside? Which activities did your son enjoy most?

Seaside’s main drag. We walked up and down that street several times stopping in candy shops, riding the carousel at Seaside Carousel Mall, and spending time on the bumper cars in Funland, the arcade. Our favourite candy store was Seaside Candyman. The Seaside Carousel Mall has a great toy store, Under the Big Top Toys.

We went in last October and stumbled across a captivating pumpkin festival; we witnessed a giant pumpkin smash an old surrey to smithereens. I documented the craziness on my Wee Life blog here.

Q. Where did you stay?

The Sandy Cove Inn was a bit off the beaten track but had a kitchen, a good restaurant across the street as well as a small family run grocery store and the beach/prom was practically right there.

Q. Did you find any kid-friendly restaurants to eat in?

If you love seafood, this is your part of the world. Our favourite was the Bell Buoy at 1800 S Roosevelt Drive. This establishment has two parts, a factory/fish market and a restaurant. The first is the fish market and micro-cannery. They smoke their own salmon and make their own cocktail sauce. This is where you would get your razor clams to take back to your kitchenette (if you are so lucky to have a kitchenette).

Bell Buoy a kid-friendly restaurant in seaside oregon

The Bell Buoy, a kid-friendly restaurant in Seaside, Oregon

The Bell Buoy also offers a family-style restaurant, which cooks up delicious clams, oysters, crab cakes or just simple fish and chips. Oh, and clam chowder.

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.

Families Travel: Oregon Coast’s Astoria with Kids

Last year, in August 2009, Seattle-based photographer Alex Nguyen and her husband took their two boys (then 1 years and 4 years old) to Astoria, Ore. Here’s what they enjoyed about this oceanside city founded back in 1810 – shortly after Lewis and Clark spent a winter at the nearby Fort Clatsop. All photos are provided by Alex — and were taken by her as well.

Q. Was Astoria, Oregon very family-friendly?

Overall the town of Astoria was very kid-friendly. It was walkable, there were some great hikes just a short drive away (we ended up driving back across the Washington for some hikes), and there was a cute children’s museum in town as well.

Q: Did you find a family-friendly hotel in Astoria, Oregon?

We stayed at Clementine’s B&B. They were very family friendly!  Our downstairs room included a living and eating area plus a kitchen and bath area. Upstairs was the bedroom with two queen beds, and another bath. It was great putting the kids to sleep upstairs and still be able to go downstairs and have some grown up time.

Q: Which Astoria museums did you visit with kids?

We visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which was a big hit with my 4 year old, but really boring for my 1 year old. My older son liked it so much, he wanted to return. The boys also enjoyed being able to step out on the real boats outside and checking those boats out.  The staging of a US Coast Guard rescue inside the museum was great discussion material for my oldest.

things to do in astoria oregon with kids

The Children’s Museum was upstairs, the Uppertown Firefighting Museum was downstairs. It was a big hit with both kids. I think the Children’s Museum stated it was moving to a different location, but I’m not sure where. (Lora’s Note: It moved, but retains many of the  play centers).

Downstairs there were two different fire   trucks, plus all sorts of hoses, hats and  gear for the kids to try on and pretend to  be firefighters. There was also a huge  chair for reading stories. Upstairs it was  much more geared toward the younger set  (I would say ages 1-3 would be ideal). My  oldest enjoyed playing with the special  doctor’s office exhibit and a really cool  log cabin.

Q: Did you go to any kid-friendly Astoria restaurants?

kid-friendly astoria oregon restaurant

We ate at the Wet Dog Cafe and Astoria Brewing Company (Facebook page), which served pub-style food (sandwiches, really good burgers, a few  salads, fish and chips and some other really good seafood options). The  kids’ menu had fish and chips, chicken  fingers, mac ‘n’ cheese and the like.

The fries for the kids were actually cut    like thick coins, and had a happy face cut out in the middle (two eyes and a smile).  You could hold it up to your face and see  through the eye. My son totally loved  those fries. And the food is served in an  actual (clean) dog bowl.

We also ate at a Bosnian restaurant called Drina Daisy. Very friendly staff, good atmosphere. My kids are adventurous eaters, so I would not recommend it to people who maybe have picky eaters, but it was quite delicious.

Most restaurants were closed on Monday, and we were there Monday through Wednesday.

Q. What other kinds of things did you do with kids in Astoria, Oregon?

We drove to and hiked in Cape Disappointment, a 10-minute drive across the border in Washington . The campground and park itself was beautiful, but the actual lighthouse WAS a big disappointment. I thought there would be an open area to visit.  But the whole area is fenced off. The hike was pretty, but I wouldn’t have trekked it if I had known it was just for the view.

When you arrive in the park, there’s a lighthouse called the North Head Lighthouse that you can drive right up to. They gave tours, even though it was a working lighthouse.

If I had to do it again, I would have hiked to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, where my husband went with my 4 year old. The center had some interesting facts, so my 4 year old liked it a lot. Plus there were bathrooms there.  :)

The trails were fairly easy, so even my older son was able to hike the whole way. I carried my toddler in a ring sling because he fell asleep, but the lighthouse was only about a half-mile, maybe ¾-mile hike from the parking lot.

Along the hiking trail at Cape Disappointment State Park, the trail splits to the lighthouse and the Interpretive Center. They had all these wonderful trees and my son played peek-a-boo in the trunks.

———————————————————–

Getting There: Astoria is two hours west of Portland, Ore. Also of note: The Astoria Aquatic Center‘s twisty slides, 88-degree pool and waterfalls galore. Astoria is also a short drive from kid-friendly fun in Long Beach, Washington.

Astoria Family Vacation