No Hotel Rooms? No Problem.

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

These Washington campgrounds east of the Cascades welcome families with playgrounds of all types, including tiny one-swing facilities and giant slide-swing-and-balance-toy contraptions. Eastern Washington’s weather tends to be predictably dry and hot, which makes it a great place camp with kids until winter sets in. Worried about the heat? Many campgrounds are near lakes and rivers — plan to slip in for a dip.

Central and Eastern Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

Alta Lake State Park. Pateros, Washington. Families will find a playground great for preschool-aged kids with a corkscrew slide at this 91-site campground near Alta Lake.

Bridgeport State Park. Bridgeport, Washington. Just a few camping spaces here (14), and a small playground, but next to the freshwater shores of Rufus Woods Lake.

Conconully State Park. Conconully, Washington. Families will find slides, a plastic climbing wall and monkey bars at this shower-equipped North-Central Washington playground, along with 39 tent spaces and five cabins.

Eastern Washington Kid-Friendly Playgrounds

Eastern Washington kid-friendly playgrounds: Conconcully Campground. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks

Daroga State Park. Orondo, Washington. Sleep in one of 17 tent spaces at night at this Washington campground with showers; kids can play on the petite play equipment (and slides) during the day.

Lake Chelan State Park. Chelan, Washington. These very popular 109 campsites can be reserved in advance; let the kids scramble on the playground, which features climbing platforms, monkey bars, slides, standing swings and more.

Lake Easton State Park. Easton, Washington. Families will find 90 tent spaces at this campground on the (sunny, dry) eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, just off I-90. Bring the bikes — there are more than six miles of bike trails here, along with a lakeside  playground featuring toddler- and kid-friendly climbing structures, monkey bars and slides.

Lake Wenatchee. Leavenworth, Washington. A fun preschool- and toddler-age playground with a triple slide, monkey bars and climbing platforms plus 155 tent spaces and 42 water and electricity hookup sites.

Lincoln Rock State Park. East Wenatchee, Washington. A larger children’s playground, including wide climbing walls, a bridge, slides and a variety of monkey bars alongside deluxe family-friendly cabins and 27 reservable tent spaces.

Riverside State Park. Nine Mile Falls, Washington (near Spokane). A smaller campground with just 16 campsites, but this state park does offer rentable canoes ($25) and a small playground.

Eastern Washington kid-friendly campgrounds:  Lake Easton

Eastern Washington kid-friendly campgrounds: Lake Easton State Park. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Steamboat Rock State Park. Electric City, Washington. This campground offers a toddler- and preschool-aged kid playground with slides, mini-climbing wall and a bridge. Three family-friendly cabins can be reserved, along with 26 tent spaces, 136 utility sites, and 44 primitive sites north of the main park.

Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park. Coulee City, Washington. Families will find 152 campsites along with a small, partially-shaded play structure featuring bridges, slides, wheels and monkey bars.

Wenatchee Confluence. Leavenworth, Washington. A miniature playground with slide, rock wall and climbing structure near this larger campground; reserve one of 155 tent spaces or 42 RV hookup sites.

Southeast Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds with Playgrounds

Lewis and Clark Trail State Park. Dayton, Washington. Just a few swings at this 24-site campground, which is also constructing teepees for overnight stays.

Potholes State Park. Othello, Washington. More than 60 tent sites here, along with 60 utility spaces, and five family-friendly cabins and a small playground.



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.


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 I will also add photos as I receive them from state parks.












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).

All Aboard! Take the Amtrak Train from Seattle to Leavenworth

The scenic three-hour, 20-minute ride between Seattle and Leavenworth on the Amtrak offers enchanting scenery and incredible views. Seat children next to the window to look for wildlife among the fir-layered mountainsides and rambling rivers. You’ll also pass through the second-longest tunnel in the U.S., the Cascade Tunnel, while traversing 4000-foot peaks. You won’t deal with closed mountain passes or the twisting highways —  just sit back and relax in the giant seats. The only disappointment: the train’s schedule makes it impossible to go on a daytrip (it leaves Seattle in the evening, and returns in the early morning).


13 Tips for Taking the Amtrak Train to Leavenworth

  1. Book your ticket through and note that kids go half-price, which makes for a sweet (and less-expensive ride). Adult tickets range from $23-40+ each way, depending upon traffic volume. Also, check the “Smart Fares” section of the Amtrak site to find more deals.

    Kid on Amtrak Train

    Kid on Amtrak Train

  2. The Amtrak train departs from three stations en route to Leavenworth: Seattle King Street, Edmonds and Everett. Those living in North Seattle may want to board in Edmonds, Snohomish County residents may want to board in Everett, and South Seattle at King Street.
  3. Parking is limited at King Street, Edmonds and Everett stations. Bring cash for any olden-days pay lots (though most take credit cards), and arrive at least a half-hour in advance to scope out your parking choices. Better yet, ask a friend to drop you off at the station.

    Vintage Amtrak Dining Car Menu

    Vintage Amtrak Dining Car Menu

  4. Weather and freight train backups can delay Amtrak trains. Our train from Edmonds to Leavenworth was delayed by an hour and 15 minutes; our return train from Leavenworth to Edmonds was delayed by three hours and 30 minutes. Sign up for alerts through the site, and check the site for real-time schedule changes. If you’ll be arriving late at night (10:30 p.m. for us), you might think about how to set the kids up to sleep for an hour or two.
  5. Meals are served aboard the train – but for lunch and dinner, only for those with reservations. Sign up as soon as you board the train headed toward Leavenworth, but realize that some seatings may sell out, and you may not make reservations when booking your ticket. Bring extra food if you think you might be hungry.
  6. That said, our dinner was an unpleasant combination of mediocre and expensive; seemingly microwaved vegetable mix and rice, although the meat was okay. Maybe it was an off night (although others told us they had the same experience). The children’s menu was fine, although mostly comprised of cheese and white bread. Bring your own meal, or ask your waitress what she would recommend. Snacks are also served, but those prices aren’t much better. You may also be seated with strangers, if you’re a party of three. Here’s a link to the Empire Builder / Leavenworth train menu Eastbound (dinner, toward Leavenworth) and Westbound (breakfast, toward Seattle). The service was very good and homey, though. I’m pretty sure my waitress even called me “hon.”

    Amtrak Dining Car

    Amtrak Dining Car

  7. Entertainment is limited, and there aren’t movies (as on the Cascades trains) but there are 120-volt plugs next to two-seat configurations. Bring a laptop, card games, books and quiet activity books.
  8. Amtrak passenger seats offer generous proportions, with reclining seat backs, extendable trays, footrests and seat pockets. So don’t worry about leg room – think about three times the size of an airplane seat setup. Seat reservations aren’t available, but the conductor, whenever possible, will try to keep groups together.

    Leavenworth Train Station

    Leavenworth Train Station

  9. Train shelters are heated, so you’ll be warm while waiting. Heat lamps even warm outdoor waits, in Leavenworth. Spend a few moments at the stations to look at historic documents and knickknacks.
  10. The Leavenworth Amtrak station (‘Icicle Station”) is located only about a mile outside town along a quiet road, but you must walk up a steep hill without a wide shoulder. I would not attempt to walk this route with kids, but instead take Leavenworth Shuttle and Taxi, which charges about $5 per passenger. Book your pickup in advance, and drop-off at the Leavenworth station. Our driver was courteous, prompt, and gave us frequent updates on the train delay. The driver does not have a carseat available for babies or younger children, so if that’s important to you, bring one with you.
  11. The Leavenworth Amtrak train leaves early in the morning – boarding is at 6 a.m. (unless late). Ask your hotel if they’re willing to pack a sack breakfast for you, to go – our hotel, the Bavarian Inn, was happy to do so. Request this upon check-in or when making a reservation.
  12. Amtrak rail employees seem both stressed and patient. Employees appear to be doing the best they can, despite demanding, upset passengers — some of whom stuffed paper towels into the toilets on our train, rendering the toilets inoperable. That wasn’t cool.
  13. No changing tables are available, so bring extra changing pads for baby. There are toilet receptacles for diapers in the bathroom,but you might want to double-bag any disaster-scented works.
View from Amtrak Rail Car

View from Amtrak Rail Car

Read more about things to do in Leavenworth hotels, Leavenworth for kids and Sleeping Lady Resort.

Crystal Mountain with Kids in Summer

Recently, my family went for a long weekend to Mt. Rainier and Crystal Mountain. Here’s what we found ~

Gondola rides at Crystal Mountain

A cherry-red gondola takes you to the top of Crystal Mountain and a viewpoint. The gondolas seat six comfortably, but your family probably won’t have to share, even if there are only three of you. The gondolas arrive quickly and frequently. It’s not cheap ($20/adult r/t), but kids under age 10 are only $5 r/t.

Gondola ride up Crystal Mountain

Gondola ride up Crystal Mountain

On the 10-12 minute ride straight up the mountain, look sidelong for eagles, blue jays and red-tailed hawks as they fly from fir to cedar or chase prey, and look down on pockets of lupine and magenta paintbrush that grow in tidy bunches. The diversity and abundance of wildlife is a kid’s dream — other mountain denizens include black bears, Roosevelt elk, marmots, bobcats and blacktail deer.

Even on a windy day, the gondola doesn’t rock…much. Just a little, enough to get a tiny thrill.

Once the gondola delivers you to Crystal’s peak, sit back in one of the forest-green lawn chairs and enjoy views of Mt. Rainier’s glaciers  and clusters of smaller mountains, including Mt. Shuksan and the adorable Sourdough Mountain. Or watch brides and grooms gettin’ hitched on the outdoor patio.

Wedding viewpoint at Crystal Mountain

Wedding Viewpoint at Crystal Mountain Resort

Eating at Crystal Mountain with Kids

Located on the top of Crystal Mountain, Summit House  is Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant (it’s at 6,872 feet, to be exact) with almost 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. With a claim like that, I expected them to rest on their lofty laurels and serve fairly standard Food Service of America food (bleh). Instead, my waiter brought free-range chicken, fresh, sweet heirloom tomatoes. The potatoes were so well cooked that my 7-year-old stole them from me. Even the sausage (Uli’s Famous Sausage, from the Seattle Pike Place Market) and my daughter’s hamburger were good here.

Eating with kids at Summit House at Crystal Mountain Resort

Summit House at Crystal Mountain

Overhead, there are antler ceiling lights; outdoors, amazing views on the flower-box-rimmed outdoor patio (bring coat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and maybe all three). To keep the kids entertained, watch for the random chipmunk who might attempt to snatch a crumb (but don’t feed the critters — it’s not good for them). Children’s meals are available, but it will still run you about $8 for a burger or noodles. I suggest splitting one of the generously sized adult meals.

I looked at the Yelp reviews and it seems not everyone has had such a positive experience. I went at a quieter time of day (no wait for a table) and food was delivered promptly, at the right temperature. So I don’t know. Your altitude (and attitude) may vary, but Summit’s lunch was the best meal of my weekend.

For more casual grub, peer into cave-like The Snorting Elk Cellar. Located at the mountain’s base, Snorting Elk doesn’t boast the same alpine views but it’s a bit cheaper, and serves sandwiches, pizza and hot dogs for kids.

Activities at Crystal Mountain with Kids

Relaxing after hiking paths at Crystal Mountain

Post-Hike Relaxation at Crystal Mountain Resort

In summer, downhill ski runs become hiking trails suited to various abilities. Here is Crystal Mountain Resort’s hiking paths in PDF form; many of the hikes take at least 90 minutes though, so prepare for variable weather and wear sturdy shoes (the usual). Also, keep a tight rein on antsy or impulsive toddlers — sharp drop-offs  abound.

Forest Service Ranger-guided walks take place Thursday through Sunday.

Complimentary hiking poles for Crystal Mountain

Complimentary hiking poles for Crystal Mountain

Play disc golf with bigger kids — the path is free, so you can either bring your own discs or purchase them at Snorting Elk Cellar or one of the local shops. Read more about the sport of disc golf at the Disc Golf Association.

From here, it’s a short drive to Mt. Rainier. A quick word of note — cell phone service is available at the resort, but once you drive or hike outside the resort, cell phone coverage is spotty or nonexistent. Plan accordingly, make sure your car is well-fueled and you have everything you need.

If you’d like to read more staying and hiking at Crystal Mountain, check out Northwest Tripfinder’s post on Mt. Rainier North and Three Day Hikes.

Bainbridge Island with Kids

Bainbridge Shops with Kids

Bainbridge shops

On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than catching a Washington State Ferry from Pier 52, bound for Bainbridge Island. En route, ask the kids to find the mountains — they’re all around you. Olympics to the west, Cascades (behind Seattle’s high-rise office buildings) and Mt. Rainier looming to the south. Once you’ve arrived, hop off and enjoy some island time: slow down, ramble along the streets, poke your head into independently owned shops and say “hello” to store owners.

Things to Do on Bainbridge Island with Kids

Bainbridge Aquatic Center, 8521 Madison Avenue N.
Rainy day on Bainbridge Island with kids? No problem! Ride down the 180-foot water slide, cruise along the lazy river, take your stir-crazy toddlers to the play area or encourage your teen to jump off the diving board.

Bainbridge Cinemas at the Pavilion, 403 Madison Avenue N.
In downtown Bainbridge Island, catch a first-run movie or matinee on one of five screens, along with the usual popcorn and popcorn-powder toppings.

Farmers’ Market, Town Square at City Hall Park (spring, summer, fall – Saturdays, 9-1)
This market’s rules say the veggies, fruits, handmade cheese and crafts must be island-grown or island-made, so when they say local, they mean local.

Kids Discovery Museum (KiDiMu), 150 Madrone Lane N.
KiDiMu’s sweet little museum welcomes babies, toddlers and preschoolers with a child-sized village, a cute Smart car, a realistic treehouse and upstairs hands-on science lab. It’s not big, but makes up for size in enthusiasm.

KiDiMu: Bainbridge Island Attraction with Kids

KiDiMu: Bainbridge Island Attraction with Kids

Waterfront Park
Native plants gather around hiking trails and a playground in this 5.5-acre park. Picnic tables welcome picnicking families.

Bainbridge Island Historical Museum may interest older children. Or it might not. Skip it with any child under the age of 10 or so; the museum probably isn’t hands-on enough to engage younger kids.

Where to eat with kids on Bainbridge Island

Blackbird Bakery, 210 Winslow Way E.
Pastries include wheat-free and vegan options, along with rich pies and quiches. I love the unusual drinks; once, I enjoyed a nettle lemonade here. Pack up your snacks and take them to the Waterfront Park (above).

Café Nola, 488 Winslow Way E.
Draw on the paper-topped tables before your pecan-orange challah bread arrives (breakfast). Great lunches and dinners too. The kids’ menu has everything from ravioli to quesadillas to PB&J. Long lines – make a reservation if you can. One of my favorite restaurants in Puget Sound.

Doc’s Marina Grill, 403 Madison Ave S.
Fish ‘n’ ships! Your meal comes with a fine view of boats on Eagle Harbor, whether you’re seated indoors or outdoors. The menu doesn’t stray too far from the typical burgers, sandwiches and breaded fish.

Mora Iced Creamery, 139 Madrone Lane
Mora serves Bainbridge-made seasonal favorites like eggnog (winter) and lavender (summer) along with more typical flavors. But mostly, I love going here for the funky flavors.

Pegasus Coffee House, 131 Parfitt Way S.W.
Order breakfast, salad or dinner, listen to an open-mike or jam session (weekends only), or try absinthe (adults only!). Pegasus coffee for adults, and drinking chocolate for the kids, which is like drinking a slurry of melted chocolate bar – rich enough to share, for sure.

That’s a Some Pizza, 488 Winslow Way E.
Easy-cheesy, pick up a slice to go for the ferry ride home or a pie for your hotel room.

Bainbridge Stores for Kids

Bon Bon Confections, 230 Winslow Way E
Enough candy to scare a dentist: Bainbridge Island Fudge, chocolate in jars, pastel-colored beauties and more than a dozen varieties of licorice. And fudge. Yum.

Calico Cat Toys, 104 Winslow Way W.
A fun little toy shop with great unique selections, including locally made toys and a fantastic stuffed-animal collection.

Eagle Harbor Book Company, 157 Winslow Way E.
Sit on the hardwood floors or an armchair and read from a picture book or a tween paranormal romance – this indie bookstore has it all. Yes, a great selection of books for grown-ups, too.

Lollipops Children’s Boutique, 278 Winslow Way E.
A children’s boutique with upscale brands for girls and babies, with some locally made extras that make fun souvenirs.

Where to Sleep on Bainbridge (Family-Friendly Hotels)

Eagle Harbor Inn, 291 Madison Avenue S.
Four boutique hotel-style rooms (including one with a queen bed and a foldout couch) within walking distance of the ferry and the village center.

Best Western Bainbridge Island Suites, 350 N.E. High School.
Spacious, kitchen-outfitted suites that are great for families, although you’ll need a car to get here and the views are lacking (parking lots, the road, etc.).

Seattle Restaurants for Families (Take the Kids!)



My kids are pretty good at eating — if there was an extracurricular award for it, I’m sure we’d be putting it on future college applications. So I’ve tried a ton of restaurants with them from babyhood to the tween years. Here’s my mega-list.


Breakfast for Families
Family Coffeehouses and Cafes
Desserts for Families
Seafood for Families
Kid-friendly Seattle Restaurants

Seattle Breakfast for Families

So, for breakfast, I really feel like Portland and Victoria count their eggs, hatch them, and then make them

The Crumpet Shop (Downtown Seattle). Right around the corner from Pike Place Market, this homey storefront serves organic crumpets with savory (pesto and cheese) and sweet toppings (like walnuts, honey and ricotta) . The scones are topped with lemon curd or raspberry preserves. Super delicious but a three-wet-wipe cleanup. Opens at 7 a.m.

Daily Dozen Doughnut Company (Pike Place Market). The “doughnut robot” makes an automatic process out of making mini doughnuts, whether you like them topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, brown sugar or just plain. Opens at 8:30 a.m.

Hi Life and other Chow Foods (Ballard). I’m not a huge fan of this chain for meals other than breakfast, but wow, they know how to serve up a kid-friendly Seattle breakfast. A children’s menu accompanies adult menus, with perfectly proportioned plates available, along with crayons (don’t eat those). Adult meals are filling and could be split with toddlers or preschoolers, if you can bear to share. Some outdoor seating, and all of the Chow Foods restaurants are kid friendly (highchairs, high tolerance for children, etc).

Honore (Ballard). Say oui to awesome French pastries, savory tarts and other breakfast goodies. Kids will go nuts for the brightly colored macarons that come in a dozen or so flavors, filled with a delicious creme. Other French options: Cafe Besalu (downtown Ballard) and Bakery Nouveau (West Seattle).

Original Pancake House (Ballard).  The variety is worth a visit — pancakes, dutch babies, crepes and gluten-free ‘cakes  make an appearance on the menu. Kids love this place and the all-sorts of toppings  (nuts, cinnamon apples, berries, etc. etc.) that come with your flour extravaganza. I find the pancakes just OK, but lots of people do love them — and you might too. I do enjoy the fully wood-paneled appearance of the Ballard restaurant, a throwback to vintage-flavored Pacific Northwest (yes, I think there might be a maple syrup smell cooked into the walls, at this point).

Portage Bay Cafe (Ballard, University District, South Lake Union near Downtown). Really, kids love this place for The Breakfast Bar, where you can load-your-own pancake with a buffet-style layout of fruits, nuts, maple syrup and whipped cream.

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Seattle Family Coffeehouses and Cafes

We’re in a friendly rivalry with Portland and Vancouver for coffeeshops-per-capita. Well, someone’s gotta stay awake to take care of the kids, right? Head to one of these places for a pick-me-up that kids can enjoy too.

Fresh Flours (Greenwood.) Japanese pastries and green-tea lattes near the so-wonderful Woodland Park Zoo. That is all.

Twirl Café (Queen Anne). A play area takes up half of this cafe, perfect for hungry kiddos under age 6. Head here for early morning breakfast and free play (7-9) before Seattle Center opens, or come for an open play session ($5/child) and a lunch or dinner sandwich featuring gourmet Northwest ingredients like Zoe meats, Tillamook cheese and Macrina bread.

Coffee to a Tea (West Seattle). Cupcakes, tea, coffee, muffins, scones… and a train table. Afternoon tea by reservation.

A few more cafes with toddler/preschooler play spaces that serve OK food: Firehouse Coffee (Ballard), Serendipity Cafe (Magnolia). Some coffee shops in Seattle also have petite areas dedicated to children (and amazing coffee), such as Espresso Vivace.


Seattle Desserts for Families

Seattle families love all kinds of desserts, from ultra-carby cupcakes to tangy custard ice cream to pie. Here are my favorite restaurants for dessert-time.


Getting a scoop at Molly Moon's

Getting a scoop at Molly Moon’s

Bottega Italiana (Downtown/Pike Place Market). Creamy, classic gelato right next to Pike Place Market.

Beard Papa (International District). Puff pastries filled with heavenly amounts of vanilla cream (or chocolate cream). Each is filled fresh, right before your eyes.  The Papa serves doughnuts too, but really, those cream puffs are particularly good.

Fuji Bakery (International District). East meets West at this tiny bakery, where you can pick up a salmon brioche, Japanese milk bread and other savory and sweet surprises.

Cupcake Royale (Ballard, Capitol Hill, West Seattle and more). Cupcakes were sort of a trend for a while, and now, maybe they’re not — kids don’t care. Kids love cupcakes.

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream (Capitol Hill, Wallingford). Fancy flavors like maple walnut, honey lavender and salted caramel.

D’Ambrosio (Ballard). Great Italian gelato made from scratch. Teeny-tiny seating area, so plan to get your scoops to go (Marvin’s Garden is a few steps away).

A La Mode (Greenwood). The best pie shop in Seattle. Giant slices can be shared between two kids, or one kid and an adult, or go one of the kid-sized “pie babies.” Near Woodland Park Zoo.

Peaks Frozen Custard (University District). The tarted-up version of gelato, IMO.  Limited flavors (check the daily calendar for today’s recipes) but good stuff. Kid tables. Beware poor imitations…

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Seattle Seafood for Families

Seattle’s waterfront neighborhoods often means the fish was literally caught right on the restaurant’s doorstep — or at least not hauled far. Here are some great seafood restaurants that offer children’s menus, or kid-friendly picks like fish and chips. Nom.

ck seattle seafood with kids

Ivar’s Acres of Clams (Pier 54; multiple locations). Okay, this place can have the reputation of a tourist destination, but it’s a solid choice when on the pier, if you want a quick bowl or fish ‘n’ chips (watch out for greedy seagulls who demand you share, share, share.) Go inside for the more carefully prepared meals, which are surprisingly good, fresh and locally focused. Yes, really.

Pike Place Chowder (Downtown Seattle/Pike Place Market). With flavorful broth and big chunks of seafood served in a bread bowl or regular bowl, this restaurant is an award-winner and kid-pleaser. One bread bowl is enough for two, if you’re looking for ways to save money while eating out with the kids. I like the smoked salmon chowder.

Chinook’s at Salmon Bay (Interbay, near Ballard and Ballard Locks). Half of the draw is the view — giant plate-glass windows look out over fishing vessels and Salmon Bay, a passageway between Puget Sound and Lake Union. The food is fine, too, with a children’s menu coloring placemat and seafood-centric options. A great place to go after a hike at Discovery Park.

Little Chinook’s (Interbay, near Ballard). The cheaper, to-go counter version of Chinook, with a focus on items like fish ‘n’ chips and salmon tacos. Kid-friendly booths for eating.

Ray’s Boathouse Cafe (Ballard). Sustainable seafood in a four-star location. The upstairs portion of the restaurant (the cafe) is often filled with families and highchairs, and where I would recommend eating. Make a reservation in summer, and cross your fingers you’ll get an outside table, which overlooks a sparkling blue bay, crisp white boats and active sealife. One of my very favorite Seattle seafood restaurants to take kids.

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Kid-friendly Seattle Restaurants

Downtown/Seattle Center/ID

Piroshky Piroshky (Pike Place Market). Russian. Piroshky is a thick, fist-sized pocket of dough wrapped around an infinite variety of fillings (but usually involving meat, potatoes, cheese and maybe broccoli). Kids like the familiar flavors; parents like the easy-to-eat aspect.

Tutta Bella (Multiple Locations; Westlake is near downtown Seattle in South Lake Union). Pizza. Fancy thin-crust Italian pizza where waiters may also give you balls of dough or wikistix for the kids to play with, if you ask nicely.  Tip: Sign up for the restaurant’s e-mail notices — they send great coupons.

Wild Ginger (Downtown Seattle) Thai. Upscale pan-Asian restaurant where kids are welcomed with their own children’s menu, which offers dishes like skewered chicken ($3.50) or fried rice and chicken. It’s fancy enough to feel special, but not so fancy as to exclude kids.

Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant(ID/Chinatown and Belltown). Vietnamese. A tiny two-story restaurant that will give you children’s plastic plates and cups and serves well-flavored fresh veggies, noodles and meat dishes. Try to ask for upstairs seating at the International District location, where you dine on unusual wooden benches with wheels on each side (like a wagon bench).

Pagliacci Pizza (Multiple locations). Pizza. We have a lot of pizza restaurant chains in Seattle. This is one of them. Thin-crust, zesty toppings with Northwest ingredients, and kids like the make-your-own-pop touch-screen machine at the Queen Anne location, which allows them to make perfectly disgusting drinks that never existed…until now.

McMenamins (Queen Anne/Near Seattle Center). Sit-down restaurants that welcome families aren’t so common Lower Queen Anne (near Seattle Center). It’s more of an upscale or nightlife destination. I like McMenamin’s for the dependable food and children’s menu (with vegetarian options for kids), and because honestly, I really like the Ruby Red ale.

Armory (Seattle Center). Multiple options at this food court for families, including Skillet (think fried chicken and burgers), Kabab (vegetarian and meat-eating mideastern fare) Bean Sprouts Cafe (kid size portions and fun),  and MOD Pizza (my favorite), with $3.88 personal pizzas.


Central/South Seattle Restaurants

Cafe Flora (Madison Valley). Vegetarian. A long-time Seattle institution, this vegetarian restaurant welcomes children with a super-healthy (but delicious) children’s menu, books and toys. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free kids items available. Near the Seattle Arboretum.

Louisa’s Cafe & Bakery (Eastlake). Bistro. Half off the kids’ menu on Wednesdays, cozy bistro food seven days a week, although the location may be a bit out-of-the way. Nearish to South Lake Union if you’re driving.

Vios (Capitol Hill and Ravenna). Greek. Two locations, two kid-friendly play areas inside the restaurants, one great Greek restaurant. Head to the Ravenna location if you’d like to combine bookstore shopping with your dinner; to Capitol Hill if you want an after-downtown dinner or Sunday morning brunch with kids. The play area can get a little noisy.

Randy’s Restaurant, is what would happen if a Boeing jet flew into a 1970s-era Denny’s and made itself comfortable. For your transportation-obsessed toddler, this restaurant puts 
vintage plane paraphernalia on the walls, grilled cheese sandwiches on
 the menu, and retired Boeing engineers in the seats. Very close to the Museum of Flight.

Ballard/Fremont Restaurants

La Carta De Oaxaca (Ballard). Mexican.  Authentic Mexican fare in an informal environment. You won’t find cheese-smothered enchiladas on the menu, but kid pleasers like homemade corn chips, quesadilla fritas and tostadas are all well represented.

Uneeda Burger (Fremont). Yummy grass-fed burgers that come dressed in a variety of ways — or plain, or with veggie patties. A wonderful outdoor dining space (on picnic tables, no less) welcomes families in summer. Young kids may not like the spicy house sauce. Near the Woodland Park Zoo, and a great post-zoo stop.

PCC Natural Markets (Multiple locations, but the Fremont, Green Lake and West Seattle locations are most convenient for kid activities). It’s a grocery store, but PCC’s deli demands a stop if you’re in a hurry. Pick up a quick sandwich, salad, burger or dessert and take it to any one of Seattle’s parks for a picnic. Throughout the store, the “Kid Picks” logo indicates child-approved foods (yes, the store really tests the items!).

Pho Than Brothers (Multiple Locations). Vietnamese. Let’s face it, kids really just want to come here for the cream puffs, one per customer, served for some reason at the beginning of the meal. Getting some inexpensive pho in them is an extra. YMMV.

The Yard (Greenwood). Mexican. It’s a bar, it’s a Mexican restaurant, it’s super yummy and it lets you bring kids in. There’s even a large outdoor seating area with heaters. What’s not to love?


U District/North Seattle

Agua Verde Cafe (University District). Mexican. Amazing Mexican food — my son tends to take over the guacamole and chips and make it his meal. Some children may find certain selections too spicy, so ask waitstaff which options are literally not-so-hot (the mango quesadillas w/o the chiles are a good pick). The best part about dining here is the outdoor patio, which is heated in winter and open-air in summer. However, there can be a loooong wait for an Agua Verde table in summer, so you might need to order from the to-go window and sit outside at a picnic table.

Taste of India (University District). Indian. Other than a near-intrusive institutional need to constantly refill everyone’s water glass, this restaurant is a great place to take the kids for first-time Indian food. A pages-long menu creates infinite variations on traditional Indian staples, and the chefs will make your kids’ korma as mild as necessary. Lots of seating.

Chaco Canyon Cafe (West Seattle, U District). West Coast. Organic, gluten-free and often raw. Yet, the smoothies and sandwiches are pretty darn good. The West Seattle location offers a small play area for kids, and a healthy menu for children.

Blue C Sushi (Multiple Locations, including Fremont, Downtown Seattle, University District). Japanese. Although I’ve found the choices to be inconsistent lately, the novelty of picking your own avocado roll off of a conveyor belt makes kids happy — three cheers for instant gratification.

Old Village Korean BBQ (North Seattle). Korean. In-table charcoal burners allow you to grill your own beef or pork, which you’ll eat with white rice and an assortment of sides, including kim chee, green beans…(and potato salad?!). Because of the in-table burners, this might be a better choice for well-behaved kids or older kids — but what fun it is. Also available: hot pot (cook your own food in a pot of boiling soup).


Old Village Korean BBQ: for families

Old Village Korean BBQ

Outside Seattle

Mayuri Restaurant (Bellevue). Indian. If you’re ready to stray beyond the typical Indian menu, this restaurant dishes up dosas (flat, pancake-like wraps stuffed with savory fillings) and other North and South Indian dishes. Worth a drive over or if you’re headed home from the Cascade Mountains.

Facing East Restaurant (Bellevue).This Taiwanese restaurant serves dishes similar to Chinese cuisine, so most children will feel comfortable — but different enough to interest adults tired of American-style Chinese food. Delicious, fresh buns stuffed with pork, sweet potato pancakes, and a truly impressive sweets menu (kids will like the Everything Shaved Ice, although they might not be able to recognize all the ingredients).

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Hey readers, what are your favorite kid-friendly Seattle restaurants suitable for families and why do you like them?


Suncadia Resort with Children: Trip Report

Cycling on the Suncadia Resort Paths

Cycling on the Suncadia Resort Paths

Recently, Josie Swanson, her husband and her two sons  (2.5 and 5.5) visited Suncadia Resort, just east of Washington’s Cascade mountains. She shared some new restaurants she found (which sound SO good) and activities at the resort. Let’s hear more!

How did you like Suncadia Resort? What kinds of things did you do with the kids while at the resort?

The kids liked the playgrounds, water slides/pool/hot tub, hiking/biking/scootering around, seeing lots of wild animals (elk and deer), etc. I liked the sauna, steam room and gym. It was a great place to run (except for the altitude!).

I didn’t do the spa, but would next time. We stayed in the Lodge one-bedroom and a full kitchen and a washer and dryer was nice. It would be fun to be there in the winter to use the ice-skating rink and do other snow sports.

The thing I liked a lot about Suncadia is how CLOSE it is to Seattle. We hate long drives. The trip back was so fast! And the service was great, too.

In Cle Elum, we took the kids to Interactive Toys, which is now called The Plaza. She’s going to still have toys, but fewer, and is adding in some other things.

Where did you eat with your kids at Suncadia or in Roslyn?

The Roslyn Cafe has new owners as of December and was really good and kid-friendly! Kind of reminded me of Endolyne Joe’s and some other Seattle places. Full bar, great drinks!

The newish Roslyn cafe Pie in the Sky was excellent and the brunches were better than Seattle brunches. Rustic, down-home, perfectly seasoned. I’d eat anything on the menu. The owner is AWESOME. We’d eat there all the time if out there more.

Village Pizza was good! Crust could be better, but the browned cheese on top was a nice touch. We were starving, so it was a hit with us.

The ambiance in the family dining room was terrible at The Brick Saloon. If you can’t go there without kids and eat in the bar (which is very cool), it may not be worth it.

Safeway is the only real store out there. The little natural foods store in Roslyn — Maggie’s Pantry — was very limited, but nice to have in a pinch.

Eating with Kids at Roslyn Cafe

Eating with Kids at Roslyn Cafe

Any caveats or things you wish you knew in advance about staying at Suncadia?

They do nickel and dime you. Our final bill for three nights was BIG.

Our good friends happened to plan a trip there that overlapped, and they have boys the same age as ours. Our friends also liked it a lot, except the nickel-and-diming and they only stayed two nights and felt that they needed three.

I can only compare this place to places like Alderbrook, Semiahmoo, Sleeping Lady and Surfsand. We thought it was substantially better than most.

Running on the Suncadia Resort paths

Running on the Suncadia Resort paths


Read more: Suncadia Resort Hotel Review with Kids and Kid-Friendly Roslyn Picks

Whale Watching in Washington State with Kids: Seattle, San Juan Islands & Beyond

Whale watching tours near Seattle

Orca Whales. Photo via NOAA.

Three resident orca whale pods (family groups of whales) circle our waters  June through September — along with visiting orcas in April, May, and late September and early October. Minkes, humpbacks and gray whales also pop up here and there, along with smaller whales such as white-sided dolphins. Whale-watching trips are fun for creature-crazy kids — the tours’ naturalists also point out the wild variety of birds, deer and other island or sea residents. Here’s a quick rundown of whale-watching trips in Puget Sound (Washington only), including prices and ages welcome aboard.

With young children, look into the short trips; older kids and teens can (probably) handle the longer cruises. Most of the excursions listed here are on bigger sightseeing boats (not the zodiac-style inflatables that are not typically recommended for young children).

Questions to ask about taking children on whale-watching trips:

  • Do children often ride the boat? (More to get an idea of the kid-friendliness of the tour company)
  • How many people do you take on outings?
  • Do you have kids’ activities on board, such as coloring books, toys, etc.
  • Is there a naturalist or marine biologist on board?
  • Is there a heated indoor space?
  • Is there an on-board restaurant?
  • Are there changing tables or a place to change my baby or child?
  • What do you suggest we bring with us? (Binoculars, route maps, snacks, bird ID guides — or are they supplied?)
  • What’s your cancellation policy?
  • What if we don’t see any whales? Do you offer a free trip or money back (or just tissues for the kids, boo hoo).

Whale Watching Options in Puget Sound (Seattle, Friday Harbor, Orcas Island, Bellingham) :

San Juan Excursions
Departs from: Friday Harbor, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids ages 3 –12: $59
Tours last: 3-4 hour trips
Kid extras:  A children’s library, coloring crayons and books, a $1 snack bar, complimentary binocular use and a visit to the wheelhouse where they can “drive” the boat with the Captain.

San Juan Safaris
Departs from: Friday Harbor, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids ages 2-12: $55
Tours last: 3 hours

Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours
Departs from: Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington State.
Ages: All ages on Western Prince II; Kids 6+ only on Western Explorer
Kids on WP II 2-12: $56; Kids on Explorer 6-12 $76
Tours last: 2.5-5 hours
Kid extras: On-board snack bar, coloring sheets, toys, two naturalists on boards who are kid-friendly.

Clipper Vacations
Departs from: Seattle, Washington State.
Ages: Age 6 and up. Clipper Folk Say: “The day is long, nearly 12 hours with all but 2.5 hours onboard the vessel.  It is a lot of sitting time to keep young kids entertained.  Although we often see whales along the way, the whale watch excursion itself is 2.5 hours including to/from the dock.”
Kids under age 12: $20
Tours last: All day (12 hours).
Kid extras: An experienced, family-friendly naturalist is on board; three decks seating up to 200 people; rent binoculars for $5/pair; changing table in washroom.

Puget Sound Express
Departs from: Port Townsend, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 2-10: $65
Killer Whale Tour lasts: 4 hours
Kid extras: Coloring offered to children; kids can accompany parents to the bridge to meet the Captain  (weather and conditions permitting).

Island Adventures
Departs from: Anacortes, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 3-12: $49+ (lots of deals though)
Tours last: 3-6 hours
Kid extras: Guests receive a 64-page color-photo wildlife viewing guide, free binocular use while on board.

Mystic Sea Charters
Departs from: Anacortes, Washington State
Ages: All ages
Kids 3-17: Start at $49
Tours last: 5-6 hours

Island Mariner
Departs from: Bellingham, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 4-17: $49
Tours last: 6.5 hours

Deer Harbor Charters
Departs from: Orcas Island (Rosario & Deer Harbor), Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids under 17: $42 & up
Tours last: 3.5 hours

Orcas Island Whales
Departs from: Orcas Island Ferry Landing, Washington State.
Ages: All ages
Kids 12 & under: $59
Tours last: 3.5 hours