10 Tips for Visiting the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival with Kids

Who’s ready for spring? I know I am. So I recently visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival to take in the eye-candy of thousands of poppin’ blooms. Here’s a quick guide to visiting fields of tulips and daffodils (usually on display from April 1-30).

1. Get a map of the tulip fields. Which ones are open for viewing, photos and more. You can find a printable map of the tulip festival locations. If you’d like to pick up a printed guide, stop at the visitor’s center or most shops in Mount Vernon.

Tulip fields in Mt. Vernon

Tulip fields in Mt. Vernon

2. Leave your house early. Even though most of the travel time is spent on the multi-lane I-5, car backups can happen in Seattle, Everett or at the US/Canadian border (coming from Canada). Road work or an accident can slow you further. I recommend leaving early (so you’re at your first destination close to opening). That said…

3. Prepare for slow traffic.Lots of traffic. Even on a weekday visit to the tulip fields, we saw traffic jams and general slow-downs, after leaving I-5; lots of people are here, in one place, jostling for their spot on a two-lane country road. People sometimes park on the shoulder to jump out and snap the shutter. Tractors and logging trucks may also contribute to delays.  If you’re going with kids, bring plenty of in-the-car snacks, a water bottle and playthings or an audio book. Alternately, bring cash so you can stop at one of the locally owned farm stands for a snack and to stretch your legs.

A fun game to play in the tulip fields: Ask the kids to find the "odd one out."

A fun game to play in the tulip fields: Ask the kids to find the “odd one out.”

4. Porta-potties are available in the fields. Grossed out by that? Use the loo in Mount Vernon (but please buy something, anything from the store owner). I didn’t see any changing tables, anywhere out in the fields/display gardens, so bring the equipment necessary to do a back-seat diaper change.

5. Prepare for a weather all-sorts. In the time we were there, it was cloudy, sunny and rainy…all at once. Pack a raincoat, clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and waterproof boots. You may want to bring a change of dry clothes for the kids, and maybe a towel or wet wipes for grimy hands. Even if it’s not raining, you’ll probably step in a standing puddle or get dusty and dirty; these tulips are grown in dirt, no surprise. I would not recommend an umbrella (too unwieldy, if you’re trying to juggle a camera, a child’s hand, change for an ice cream cone). If you bring a stroller, I would suggest a heavy-duty one that can motor through mud.

6. Do not forget your camera. Also, your battery and extra memory card. You’ll need all three. Those cards fill up fast. Just one more, just one more! If your kids are old enough, encourage them take photos as well, or pick up a disposable camera.

Roozengaarde show gardens

Roozengaarde show gardens

7. Dress the kids for maximum tulip-festival cuteness. If you’re bringing the kids, think about bright colors to contrast with the tulips (which are generally vibrant shades of orange, red, pink, purple) or daffodils. At Roozengaarde, there’s even a windmill. I really liked Roozengaarde. Tulip Town has trolley rides, though. Which one do you like better?

8. Remember that in some tulip fields, you are not supposed to walk into the flowers. And they will see you doing it. And they will yell at you.

9. When you take photos, take photos with your back to the sun. Yes, even if it’s a cloudy day.  The colors will be brighter in the Skagit County tulip fields; you can also photograph into the sun for a nice backlit effect (with people though, the photo may come out a bit dark).  However, shooting with the sun at your back may mean the light is in your child’s eyes. Which brings me to tip #10…

10. Pack sunglasses. You can probably leave the sunscreen at home.

Extra Tips for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival: 

Ordering at the deli at Skagit Co-Op

Ordering at the deli at Skagit Co-Op

Eating: I eat at Skagit Valley Food Co-Op, a natural grocery that sells great pre-wrapped sandwiches (great for in-the-car dining or picnicking at the nearby Edgewater Park, which has a playground). The Co-op also offers a salad bar, full deli, sandwiches made to order and coffee. Two dining areas inside, too: along the windows and upstairs, in a loft-like perch overlooking the store, near a very sweet children’s area (with toys for purchase). There are also bathrooms, if you need ’em. Another option is Calico Cupboard (particularly for an early breakfast, before the tulip fields).

Kidstuff toystore in Mt. Vernon

Kidstuff toystore in Mt. Vernon

Shopping: If you need a bribe toy to get you through a few hours of traffic/rain/drive home, the Kids Stuff store in Mount Vernon sells a lovely little selection of travel toys, including the Melissa & Doug Family Road Trip Box Of Questions. If you need an emergency kid-size coat, check the racks at Sprouts, a locally owned consignment store.

Downtown Mt. Vernon, a nice stroll post-tulip festival

Downtown Mt. Vernon, a nice stroll post-tulip festival

Also, downtown Mount Vernon is few blocks long and adorable — kite stores, bookstores and antique shops with cool old toys, vintage comics, funky furniture. Walking along the street is good for a half-hour or hour of fun, post- or pre-tulips.

Do you have some Tulip Festival Tips for other families? Leave ’em here!

Whidbey Island with Kids: Activities, Restaurants and More!

Taking the kids to Washington State’s Whidbey Island for spring break, a summer vacation or day trip? We spoke with Deb Crager, author of 101 Things to Do on Whidbey Island, for her suggestions on what to do on this beautiful 35-mile-long island, an easy day trip from Seattle (it’s only 30 miles north of Seattle), or weekend getaway from British Columbia or North Washington.

Why is Whidbey Island a great destination for a family vacation?

I think there are plenty of things to do for all ages. Being out on the water in a boat, or watching the tankers make their way through the sound, or hiking in the outdoors is always a great way to tire kids out! Environment is very important to the residents of Whidbey, so the water is clean, the beaches are clean. The people are so friendly, you can feel safe bringing your children here.

What kinds of things can you do with younger kids on Whidbey Island?

The libraries on Whidbey Island have many things for the kids to do, including storytimes and craft projects.  Even if the structured events don’t appeal to the kids or you, walking on the beach, collecting the rocks and shells is a timeless hobby.

In February, the Mystery Weekend in Langley always has whole families taking the challenge and it seems to keep them going for two days straight! During other times of the year, there is a Fishing Derby for the young kids, a Driftwood Day (a contest to build a themed structure with only driftwood found on the beach), and a contest to build the largest pumpkin at the Coupeville Farmer’s Market in October.

Can you recommend any hiking spots for kids on Whidbey Island?

It’s pretty rugged, although there is a flat one near Sunnyside Cemetery (Lora’s note: This area is called “one of the prettiest areas on the Pacific Northwest”), and Deception Pass has a short one that’s pretty stable near the bottom (Lora: here’s a map of Deception Pass State Park, including hiking trails) Lots of beaches to roam along though, such as Maxwelton Beach and in the campgrounds at Libbey Road in Fort Casey Park.

Fort Casey, a fun thing to do with kids on Whidbey Island

Fort Casey, Whidbey Island

Do you have any favorite family Whidbey Island beaches?

The best beach for kids is Double Bluff Beach in South Whidbey Island. It’s got the gentle open water—with a good view of Mt. Rainier—but also has a small “kiddie” pool, where the water comes up and pools within a small area. The water gets pretty warm there because it’s shallow too. Another place might be Cranberry Lake, which is within Deception Pass Park and completely enclosed, there might even be a lifeguard, but I’m not sure. They also have a place to rent paddleboats and canoes, so I know the older kids like it there too. Lora’s Note: Here’s a great map of family-friendly beaches on Whidbey Island, from the Whidbey-Camano Islands Visitor Bureau. 

What kinds of things can big kids do on Whidbey Island?

Occasionally, there are events for the pre-teens to get together to dance or mingle, usually in Bayview. Other things that might interest that age range are at the Whidbey Highland Games, where the contests with riding and music may interest them. There is a fenced in area that has children’s activities, including jumping platforms, or those with plastic balls. The Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival in July offers a pirate ship and stations where the young artists can show their stuff!

Fishing can be done right from the shore, and paddleboards are often seen in the quieter areas around the island. The Polar Bear Dive might be good for the older kids, there are lots of families that do it every year, and it’s a good fund raiser for the 4-H groups here on the island.

Which Whidbey Island activities are great for teens?

Again, I think the dances offer some options for meeting other teens, and many teens enjoy going to the fair to see the others, the animals, ride on the amusement rides, basically just hang out! Occasionally, there are art classes that are only for this age range, or they can blow glass at Callahan’s Firehouse in Langley. The state park at Deception Pass also has classes and a learning center where they sometimes have classes. Hiking would be great too. Up at Deception Pass during the summer, you can rent paddleboats or canoes and spend some time paddling around the cove there.

Deception Pass: A fun family activity on Whidbey Island

Deception Pass: A fun family activity on Whidbey Island

Do you have a favorite family-friendly restaurant on Whidbey Island?

While all the restaurant accept children, the menu may not be as accommodating as it is for adults. The kids do like the Pizza Factory, there is one in Coupeville and one in Oak Harbor, where there are video games too. Some of the sandwich shops on Coupeville’s Front Street are nice for kids too because they have some control over what they eat and can still be on the water. (Lora’s Note: Knead ‘n’ Feed gets good reviews)

Knead 'n' Feed, a good family restaurant on Whidbey Island

Knead ‘n’ Feed, a good family restaurant on Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is an island that offers so much, every day, every month. There are events every weekend that cover the range of environmental issues to historical events, to art events. There is a lot of topics to choose from, and most of what happens takes place because of volunteers, the great Whidbey residents will make it happen.

Enter to win a copy of 101 Things to Do on Whidbey Island by leaving a comment below by Friday, March 22. Winner will be selected at random and notified by e-mail. 

13 Things to Do on San Juan Island with Kids

Visitors flock to San Juan Island — in Washington State’s Puget Sound — in summer. Yes, it’s lovely to go when the days are long and nights are warm, but we treasure our winter daytrips and weekend getaways to the mellow island. Remember, those hotel stays are less expensive, you (probably) won’t need reservations at a restaurant and the kids get a little more attention from the locals.

What to do, where to sleep and where to dine while on San Juan Island? Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites, mostly centered around the sleepy little burg of Friday Harbor. It’s a quaint, walkable town. Want more? Read my book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver to get a more complete picture and additional kid-friendly ideas.

1. Watch a movie: At the simple, low-key Palace Theater, if there’s a family-friendly movie playing (the tiny theater only has room for one flick).

2. Go bowling: At Paradise Lanes, where family-style bowling is available, along with a video game or two. Try your hand at a strike — open bowling all weekend.

3. Eat a waterside dinner: Downriggers serves up platters of fresh, local seafood. Kids will love watching over the boats arriving and departing from Friday Harbor’s pier; there’s a kids menu to keep them happy, too.

4. Color while at the table: Order Let’s Discover the San Juan Islands: A Children’s Activity Book for Ages 6-11 before you go to keep little hands busy during the dinner wait.

5. Munch a lavender cookie: Pelindaba Lavender‘s Friday Harbor shop sells a variety of herbally scented sweets and salves, but the lavender-chocolate-chip cookies are a family favorite.

6. Curl up with a cozy cup of soup: At Cafe Demeter, served alongside the signature olive oil ciabatta. It’s an informal spot to pick up lunch — perfect with kids.

7. Snuggle with a childhood classic: Head to Griffin Bay Bookstore, where you can browse the children’s department for the perfect Pooh or Potter.

8. Pick out a puzzle, a puppet or a plaything: Among the cluster of shops in Friday Harbor, seek out Osito’s (120 S 1st St), an adorable children’s shop crammed full of imported toys and cute clothing.

9. Go nose to nose with a whale: At the San Juan Whale Museum, where orca skeletons swoop overhead and whale calls echo from a phone booth.

10. Hike with the little ones: Yes, even if the weather is a bit rainy, you’ll enjoy Lime Kiln Point State Park’s trail, which weaves through Madrona trees and sports spectacular vistas to the west (squint, and you may even spot Vancouver Island).

11. Learn a little (piggish) history: In 1849, the U.S. and the U.K. almost went to war. Over a pig. Right here, in Washington State. Learn more about this odd bit of history and help your kids become Junior Rangers at The American Camp. A tip: Print out the workbook ahead of time and read up before your trip on the ferry ride over.

12. Ride a watery roadway: Take a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, whether you wish to travel passenger only or with your car.

13. Catch some zzzs: At Friday Harbor’s Earthbox Motel (go for the suite-style room, complete with kitchen). Or head for the island’s northern tip, to Roche Harbor Resort, where your family can explore the nearby art park from a true home base (check out those cottages!).

If this catches your interest, check in again on Wednesday. We’re going to be having a giveaway…

Things to Do with Kids in Semiahmoo and Birch Bay, Washington

For an escape that feels hours away — but is located a mere 15 minutes from Bellingham and 50 minutes from Vancouver, BC — head to Semiahmoo Resort and Birch Bay. Spend a weekend at this laid-back, waterside location and experience total relaxation. Oh, and did I mention that it’s great for kids too? There’s just enough to do to not feel bored, but not so much that you feel like you have to hurry-hurry all weekend.

Semiahmoo with kids

Skipping stones on Semiahmoo Resort's beach

Semiahmoo Resort sits on a long spit, with picturesque views of Semiahmoo Bay and White Rock, BC. It’s great weekend getaway with kids – the resort strives to offer families plenty of fun little extras. Kids can watch movies in the movie-theater-like auditorium, swim in the indoor-outdoor pool (although it may get a little chilly in winter, it’s heated to 80F year-round), relax in the hot tub, or complete the scavenger hunt and pick a little toy from the treasure box after completing the on-site scavenger hunt. Front desk staff can lend buckets and shovels, and you’re just steps from the pebbly beach.

The resort’s Seaview Room looks out onto Semiahmoo Bay. Pick out a board game from the resort’s collection (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly Junior, Sorry, Connect Four) or bring your own. In the library, a roaring fire burns in winter (or you can ask the staff to start one for you). Pick up a hot chocolate for the kids at the resort’s gift shop/coffee bar, and a hot toddy for the grown-ups at Packers Lounge. This resort is upscale enough to host weddings, but low-key enough for families to feel comfortable.

Often, resort food is known for poor quality and overpriced totals, so I was pleasantly surprised by Packers. Our meals were generously sized, very good and reasonably priced.

Semiahmoo Washington State

Dining outside at Semiahmoo's Packers

A variety of hotel rooms are available, but I recommend the The Deluxe Waterview Rooms, which open up to the outside grassy area via a door. The rooms aren’t super-swank and feel more like homey hotel rooms, with knotty pine built-ins. It’s not an exclusive resort, so there’s no need to pack anything but jeans and a sweatshirt. Rates range all over the place, but rooms are frequently available for under $100 in the off-season, with deals for multiple nights and midweek stays.

Deluxe Waterview room, photo courtesy Semiahmoo Resort

Deluxe Waterview room, photo courtesy Semiahmoo Resort

In summer (June 18-September 6), ride the cute-as-a-clover Plover Ferry between Semiahmoo and Blaine’s dock. This ferry ride was a hit with the kids, as it putters through the harbor past fishing boats and barking seals. Blaine, the last stop in Washington before the U.S.-Canadian border, doesn’t have a whole lot to offer – but the town’s main street holds a decent Mexican restaurant and a few little shops.

So I recommend heading south for 15 minutes to Birch Bay, a quaint saltwater community where families have vacationed for generations. Birch Bay itself is rumored to be the warmest spot on the Pacific, north of California, and it’s easy to see why — the land shelters the estuary in a gentle c-shape. You’ll see families crabbing in the calm waters and combing the tidepools for treasures, including hermit crabs, seastars and sea urchins. The 194-acre Birch Bay State Park is open year-round for camping and tidepooling.

Tidepooling at Birch Bay

Tidepooling at Birch Bay

Not loving the crab? In summer, Birch Bay Waterslides offer six low-key slides for families to slip down. During weekends (weather permitting), families drive go-karts and play mini-golf  at Miniature World. And they always bring bikes, it seems. I frequently see dozens rolling along calm Birch Bay Drive.

Riding bikes at Birch Bay

Riding bikes at Birch Bay

Year-round, pick up chocolate, candy and other perfect sweets in the vintage-styled The C Shop. The Bay Café slings sandwiches, chips and other straightforward fare.

Birch Bay C shop

The C shop

Other local attractions include the windmillish town of Lynden (modeled on a Dutch village) and the shopping and movies and kid-friendly fun in Bellingham. But once you arrive in Birch Bay or Semiahmoo, I doubt you’ll want to leave. It just has that sort of effect on a family.

Families Travel! Corene goes to Orcas Island

Luckily, Seattle-area foodie blogger Corene Caley (foodiepatootie.com), husband Calvin and daughter Arden (age 5 ½) always knows where to eat when arriving on Orcas Island.

The happy family

Caley is more than qualified to dish on Orcas’s culinary delights. “We go to Orcas two or three times in the summer and about every other month in the fall/winter/spring. I’m sure that will change now that Arden is starting elementary but hopefully we’ll fit it in.”

Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands, is located about two hours northwest of Seattle via Anacortes, Washington and the Washington State Ferry system.

Why does your family frequently visit the San Juan Islands?

I was lucky enough to marry a great guy. His family just happens to have a place on the North Shore. Lucky me.  His father built the house himself in the 60’s. We get up there often and have watched the island become a true foodie family destination over the past 10 years.  “Farm to Table” is an understatement – It’s incredible!

Can you tell us about your favorite, kid-friendly Orcas Island restaurants?

Roses Bakery and Roses Bakery Cafe, Eastsound (382 Prune Alley, Eastsound, 360-376-4292) Local produce is the star for breakfast and lunch.  Food is excellent, but our favorite is the bakery attached to the cafe. The bread rivals any I’ve eaten worldwide. Our favorites are the Hearth loaf (available daily, can be sliced for you) and the Tortano (a very large circle of the most delicious bread you’ll ever have) which is only available on Saturdays and sells out quickly. The cold case is filled with a nice selection of cured meats, cheeses and (when available) beautiful house-made pâté.  House made pies, pie dough and meat pies available in the freezer case. Roses is always busy and deserves all the praise it receives from locals and visitors alike.

Allium in Eastsound – We had the pleasure of dining at this 3 month-old restaurant a couple weeks ago. Owner and chef Lisa Nakamura took over the space once occupied by Christina Orchid, who is an island and foodie legend.  Lisa’s resume includes the Herbfarm and French Laundry so needless to say we were excited. The staff was very accommodating to our 5 year old (who of course used her princess manners the whole time).  Beautiful views and even better food.  Favorites were Roasted Vegetables with Caramelized Onion and Herb Dip, Chilled Roasted Baby Beet Soup
Fresh Dill, Toasted Hazelnuts and our chicken and halibut “bigger plates” were excellent.

The Madrona Bar & Grill, Eastsound. This restaurant is another newcomer to the island.  Kids allowed!  We were wowed by the casual fare here.  Fish and chips, best burger I’ve had in a long time and our daughter wolfed down her pasta with pesto cream and perfectly cooked prawns.  Delicious.

Orcas Island kid-friendly restaurant

An Orcas Island restaurant

Vern’s Bayside, Eastsound. Vern’s is a local institution on Orcas.  Big portions, big view and sassy service.  Mostly Americana and Bar fare – but the real treat is breakfast.  The Crab Omelet is embarrassingly full of fresh Dungeness. Plenty to split.  Crab Benedict is also delish.  Definitely kid-friendly – when we walked in the owner gave our daughter a logoed flying disc and made sure we knew they were “the only restaurant in Eastsound to offer a kids menu!”.  Not sure on that one.

The Orcas Hotel, Orcas Ferry dock.  This is the place that makes going home a little easier.  We arrive at the Ferry dock early (which you need to do anyway) and head straight to the hotel for breakfast.  There is a full service dining room but we like order at the counter cafe which is serving up a great breakfast sandwich.  We are not talking low fat here…it’s a freshly baked croissant stacked with always perfectly scrambled egg, sharp cheddar and your choice of bacon or giant sausage patty.  Served with a nice selection of fresh fruit.  Hot chocolate, coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice.  Should we get that homemade cinnamon roll too?  Sure, throw it in – we’re still on vacation right?

What does your family like to do on Orcas Island?

Orcas Island Farmers Market (Saturday, Village Green, Eastsound). FOOD FOOD FOOD!  Local artists, jewelry makers, farmers and FOOD. Locally made grilled Italian sausage, ribs, vegetarian goodies, cupcakes… seriously good food abounds.

Orcas Island Pottery. Drive up the country lane, look for the “Faint not…” sign and you’re there. The island pottery and views are lovely but our favorite is the recently added tree house.  Total delight.  Plus they are open every day except Christmas and Easter and encourage picnicking and general lingering.  What’s not to like?

Black Dog Farm, just up the road from our place on the North Shore (short drive or longer walk from Eastsound).  Open Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus they do the Saturday Farmers Market in Eastsound. Produce, meats, eggs and flowers. Family owned by very nice folks.

Howe Art Sculpture Park (items for sale), just outside of Eastsound. You can see a few of the kinetic sculptures from the road but make the trip up the winding hill to this magical sculpture park.  Everyone in our family loves the moving sculpture – truly a special place.

Orcas Island structure

A wood ball at Howe Sculpture Park

What does your daughter like to do on Orcas Island? Any child-friendly favorite activities?

She loves to play on the beach, visit the farms, walk to the “point,” which is a rocky outcrop along Orcas’ North Shore, S’mores, collect shells, visit Howe Art sculpture park, eat Roses Bread, catch crab, take walks in the woods, hike to Cascade Falls (this is a VERY easy hike for kids…it’s more like a walk and it’s only a few minutes for big payoff)

Hiking in Moran State Park

A kid-friendly hike on Orcas Island

We’ve also been to the Funhouse, a very cool kids play and learning space with drop in learning/play. It’s surprisingly fantastic for something on an island. There was a craft ‘yurt’ with tons of supplies which she loved. I would compare it to a more interactive version of the Seattle Children’s Museum – on Orcas Island!

San Juan Island: Cheap camps and free tours

The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island) is offering two great family activities this summer. But if you want to take advantage of either one, you’d better act fast! San Juan Island offers a truly spectacular family getaway — picture pastoral countryside and artisan farms alongside regular family-fun attractions like a movie theater, great food, toy stores and a bowling alley. Here are the details on the activities (and read my Whale Museum review here):

Pod Nods at the Whale Museum, San Juan Island, Washington State

If your kids are between the ages of 6-10 and you’d like a fun (yet separate) escape for the whole family, try sending the kids off to the Whale Museum’s Pod Nod. Pod Nods are pajama-party sleepovers – during which kids learn about whales, the environment, try out science labs and get a flashlight tour of the Whale Museum. Pod Nods start at 6:30 p.m. and end at 8:30 a.m., and include a bedtime snack and light breakfast.

Which means you and your S.O. can go out for a romantic Friday Harbor dinner and cozy up overnight at a bed and breakfast, then pick up the kids for a day of San Juan Island exploration.

The cost? A reasonable $49 per child per night, or $39 for members’ kids.

Remaining dates are July 17, 21, 31 and August 6.

For more information or  to register a child (required) in a Pod Nod, read more at the Whale Museum site, or call The Whale Museum at (360)  378-4710 extension 23 or email cindy AT whalemuseum.org.

Whale Museum wildlife tour on San Juan Island

OK, maybe you’re craving more family togetherness than a sleepaway on the island. The Whale Museum is also providing Saturday land-based tours, led by a trained and certified naturalist. These three-hour tours (better for older kids) whisk you the San Juan Island’s western shores to look for killer whales, learn about other marine life (seals, porpoises, sea lions) and perhaps visit a tidepool or two.

The staff provides snacks and water, you bring your cameras, binoculars, hiking boots and a light jacket, in case it rains.

These tours are FREE, thanks to National Oceans and Atmospheric (NOAA) underwriting.  You must make reservations though (like, right now) before seats are gone for these Saturday afternoon tours.

Contact The Whale Museum at 360 378-4710 ext. 23 or stop in to register. Find more information on this flier from the Whale Museum.

7 Don’t-Miss Oregon & Washington National Parks

Painted Hills, Oregon

Painted Hills at John Day Fossil Beds

Desert sands, old-growth forests, mountain glaciers, spooky caves, dino bones and pig wars. There, I’ve summed up the National Parks for you — but your kids need to see these sights for themselves. Here are seven don’t-miss National Parks in Washington and Oregon, in honor of National Park Week. Can you visit all the parks by the time your offspring turn 18?
  1. John Day Fossil Beds (Oregon). Can you imagine dry Eastern Oregon covered with rainforest? It was in prehistoric times. Three separate land areas – or “units” as the NPS calls them – make up the John Day Fossil Beds, a window into the past. Dino bones are still being uncovered in this area, so keep an eye on the red, gold and black  soils of the Painted Hills. The Sheep Rock Unit offers the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where you can touch (not taste!) dinosaur fossils or ask someone on staff to I.D. one of your fossils.
  2. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington). Located only 50 miles southeast of Seattle, Mt. Rainier sits like a goddess above 235,625 acres of National Park. Look for black bears while hiking. Even if you don’t spot a bear, you’ll probably see one of over 56 mammal species while out and about. Catch gorgeous views of windswept mountains and wildflower meadows at the Paradise location and spend the night at the 1916 Paradise Inn. Or camp — we loved the family-friendly campground at Cougar Rock, which featured sing-a-long and storytelling during our stay.
  3. North Cascades National Park (Washington). You want drama? This is where you’ll find it. Knife-sharp peaks surround the winding Highway 20, which takes you past emerald-green and sapphire-blue lakes. Animals howl, screech and huff at night in the park’s wilderness area. This park’s six visitor info centers also offers Junior Ranger activity booklets for four different age groups — even preschoolers can get a ranger badge.
  4. Oregon Caves National Monument (Oregon). These hardcore, 90-minute cave tours are for big kids only – children must be over 42 inches tall (and not afraid of dark caves, of course) to climb stairs, sidle through passageways and avoid steep drops. Learn about bats and geology as you wind past otherworldly stalactites and stalagmites – and enjoy some creepy fun, as well.
  5. San Juan Island National Historic Park (Washington). Don’t let your preteen think that history’s a bore. Come here to learn how Washington State’s history is also a little weird. The Brits and the Yanks almost went to war over a dead pig. Visit the American Camp and the British Camp – only 13 miles apart – to consider the hair-trigger tempers of 1859. If odd history doesn’t interest you, spotting orcas from the American Camp probably will.
  6. Olympic National Park (Washington).  The whole park’s diversity is fascinating, featuring rocky tidepools, a jumble of mountains and plenty of deer sightings.  But it’s the Hoh Rain Forest that your kids will remember forever. Trees dripping with moss and water, giant mushrooms blooming on the (pine) needle-covered ground, and the scent and heaviness of a true Pacific rainforest. Head to the Hoh!
  7. Crater Lake (Oregon). I first came here at age 8, and I’ve never forgotten the visuals of the United States’ deepest lake, surrounded by cliffs and firs. And look — a small island pops out of Kodachrome-blue water, looking like a giant’s knee in the bathtub. Cool facts for your 8-year-old kid: that island is called Phantom Ship, and look for “Old Man,” a hemlock log that’s been floating upright in the lake for over 100 years.

Photo at right: North Cascades National Park

Do you have a favorite NW National Park?

Families Travel! Sharlet Goes to Orcas Island

In February 2010, Sharlet and her son Liam (9) went to Orcas Island with friend Marci and her three children: Issak (8), Sydney (5) and Will (6 months) Orcas Island is part of Washington State’s gorgeous San Juan Islands, a ferry ride and drive from either Seattle or Victoria, BC. The San Juan Islands usually show up on a Top 10 Islands list every year in a travel publication or site, and are a don’t-miss experience if you’re visiting Seattle.  The three islands (Lopez, Orcas and San Juan) each offer various kid-friendly options, but Orcas is a nice pick if you want a balance between stuff to do and a secluded retreat.

a baby on the beach at orcas island washington state

Baby Will in a beachside Bumbo

Q: Did you find a child-friendly hotel on Orcas Island?

Sharlet: We had a great family get-away at the West Beach Resort. Definitely a great place for kids to roam the beach and play; very family friendly at a reasonable cost.

We stayed in a beach-front cabin, two-bedroom arrangement.  We liked that it was casual, so we didn’t have to worry about the kids tracking sand in. We just opened the door and swept it back out.  The cabin had a small kitchenette that we were able to prep all our own  meals in.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was clean, comfortable and reasonably priced.  We also liked that each cabin had a wood burning stove inside (good on chilly days) a picnic table on the porch, and a fire pit & outdoor chairs right in front by the beach.

Q: What kinds of things did you do with kids on Orcas Island?

The resort helped to connect us to Outer Island Expeditions, and had a fantastic half-day boat tour north of Orcas. We saw porpoises, seals, sea lions, lots of herons, bald eagles and other bird life. Captain Beau was fantastic with our children. He was patient with their busy-ness and tendency to interrupt when he was talking — which is typical of young kids — but it’s not so typical of tour guides to be patient with them!

Apparently his mother was a school teacher, and Captain Beau seems to have picked up some of her skills!  The highlight was a trip to Suscia Island, where he took us to a fossil beach with fossils approximately 65 million years old; which is hard to even wrap the brain around.  It was fascinating for all of us, and like finding buried treasure for our children!

(Lora’s note: Recent census data says Suscia Island’s permanent population is four.)

Q: What else did you do on Orcas Island with kids?

We puttered around Orcas just looking at other beaches, but our kids were so happy at West Beach that we spent most of our time there.

orcas island with kids

Beach leaps

The website has a link to some pottery places that we wanted to take in, but we ran out of time. At The Right Place Pottery, next to the resort, kids can make their own stuff on the pottery wheel. We’d like to try it in the future though.

Downtown Orcas is charming and almost everything is in walking distance.

There’s also a children’s art and science museum called The Fun House. We were saving it for a rainy day — which luckily didn’t occur — but it looked enjoyable.

We went to Moran State Park and putzed around, but we didn’t stay in the park.  Although we did see deer that were so tame they walk right up to you- hoping for snacks. A big thrill for the kids!

Q: Did you eat in any family-friendly Orcas Island restaurants?

We cooked meals in our kitchenette at the resort, so no food recommendations.  We did get groceries at the Island Market though, which isn’t big but has a reasonable selection. Not a lot of organics or specialty foods though, so I recommend taking those with.  Although we saw that they have some great summer open-air markets (Orcas Island Farmers Market) later in the year.

We were able to dig clams at the resort- and even though it wasn’t at low tide time, we were able to cook up enough for each kid to try them and say “ewwwww….!”.  They just haven’t developed a taste for shellfish yet! The kids can also fish off the dock there.  We were there at off-season time, so no luck, but they had fun trying.

Q: What was it like to go in the off-season to Orcas Island, to go in winter? Did you find cheaper rates?

February was unusually warm this year, so no extra coats required. Most years, however, I would think you’d want rain gear.  It was quieter in the off-season, and a little less expensive — we got lucky with the weather!  But that wood-burning stove in the cabin would be great on a cold rainy day.

family vacation on orcas island at a resort

An Orcas Island beach walk

Q: Anything else you’d like to add about your family vacation on Orcas Island?

Only that we would definitely go again, and we’re hoping to plan a trip there with multiple families at the same time.

Bellingham’s Fairhaven Toy Garden

This weekend I had the chance to stop by the Fairhaven Toy Garden in Bellingham, Washington.

This 1,900-square foot shop encourages families to play with puppets, pick costumes and test out a toy car’s wheels. Anyone over age 10 can try their hand at needle-felting pocket-sized rabbits and sheep at the store’s Saturday workshops.

Shelves of yarn and art supplies keep creative kids happy. A window-side table encourages families to sit and color with wax crayons and Lyra pencils.

The Toy Garden’s Waldorf-inspired owners supply wooden building toys, colorful roving, moldable beeswax and other natural playthings.

It’s a sweet little shop, and it’s within sightline of the Fairhaven Village Inn, which you might win a free night’s stay at with my Midweek Getaway Giveaway.

Even if you don’t win, you might drive to Fairhaven for a felting workshop. As one of the store’s owners told me: “Mostly adults show up!” But it would be a fun late-morning jaunt with your tween.

After the toy store, play tag in the village green, near the store, or explore the rest of Fairhaven with your child. It’s a relaxing way to spend the day.

Spotlight: Boats & Bikes in Bellingham

Fairhaven, Wash., August 2009.

I love looking at this photo on grey Northwest days. It reminds me that summer — my favorite time of year — is just around the corner. Summer means bike and boat season, endless daylight hours and sunsets that drip with color (instead of noses that drip with…well, you know).

I cannot wait.

Find more inspirational photos at Delicious Baby.