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

Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Port Townsend

Port Townsend’s well-travelled residents wouldn’t accept just any ol’ menu. So you’ll find a wealth of kid-friendly picks to refuel your family travels and adventures.

Breakfast

In the “Uptown” above downtown Port Townsend, you’ll find two excellent breakfast options within walking distance of the town’s Victorian-era mansions.

Pane d’Amore

Enjoy the fruits of residents’ refined tastes at Pane d’Amore, a tiny shop that brims with customers, before the sign is flipped to “open.”  Kids love the cinnamon twists, a braid of crunchy, buttery delight. Adults might opt for the sophisticated apple-shaped danish. Eat these flaky delicacies outside or you’ll find crumbs under the carseats for weeks.

If you’re looking for a little more ooh-la-la, take the family to Sweet Laurette’s Café and Bistro: chocolate croissants, pear galettes, metal chairs in a verdant outdoor dining area and full by 9 o’clock a.m.

And back in downtown, the brand-new Water Street Creperie’s (1046 Water St.; 360-385-1151) sweet and savory options satisfy everyone in the family. Order your cinnamon or chicken pesto crepe, then snag an outdoor table facing Water Street, the town’s main drag.

Lunch

So many choices. Such limited stomach real estate.

Follow your nose to Waterfront Pizza (951 Water St.; 360-385-6629), then choose from downstairs’ bustling take-away window or upstairs seats overlooking Port Townsend’s water street. Pizza takes time here – at least 20 minutes – so enjoy the Trivial Pursuit card-filled baskets, color with crayons and look jealously at your neighbor’s pie. The cornmeal-dusted crust is piled high with vegetables and meat; this is knife-and-fork pizza.

A fruit-faced bear pancake at Salal Cafe

Want something a little lighter? Salal Café (634 Water St.; 360-385-6532) presents sandwiches, soups and eggy entrees inside a window-wrapped, light-filled interior or out on the flower-full patio. Crayons and paper make their way to you upon your seating, and kids’ meals include a bear-faced pancake (banana nose!) and a heart-shaped grilled cheese. Try the homemade strawberry jam. If you love it, you can buy some to take home.

For organic and locally-grown fare, Better Living Through Coffee serves hearty sandwiches, salmon chowder and small pastries from a premium location overlooking the water.

Better Living Through Coffee’s fresh options

Lunch on one of the low couches, while the kids read from the basket of picture books or look for the toy bags filled with simple games.

Don’s Plaza Soda Fountain (1151 Water Street; 360-385-2622) serves a straightforward, no-nonsense meal. It’s an authentic 1961 diner spot housed in the rear of Don’s Pharmacy. Go to the back right of the store to sit on swiveling stools and order at a low counter. Burgers, dogs, malts, sundaes and phosphates are on the menu — same as 50 years ago — but with a modern-day addition of a Gardenburger.

Dinner

Here’s where things can all fall apart. You’ve hopefully had plenty of adventures by 5 p.m., and wisely choosing your evening restaurant makes for a memorable day (in a good way).

A ferry-side view from La Isla’s booths

Are the kids all kinds of whiny? Could you care less what you’re eating and want a view of the ferries leaving the Port Townsend dock? Eat at La Isla Family Mexican Restaurant (1145 Water St., 360-385-1714), a Mexican restaurant long on views and short on stylish décor. The menu is mediocre but it works; the cabbage salsa is different and delicious.

Are the kids doing reasonably well? You want a beer, nice conversation, pub-style food and paper tablecloths the kids can draw on? Eat at The Public House Grill, a local favorite. The kids’ menu includes fish ‘n’ chips, salmon fritters and burgers.

Are the kids behaving exceptionally? You want wine, foodie fare, sophisticated dining and $7/plate children’s meals? Eat at Silverwater Cafe, a restaurant that knows how to grill piece of fresh, wild salmon and serve it on a bed of wild rice and asparagus. Portions are small but perfectly cooked.

Dessert

After dinner, pick up an ounce of ice cream at Elevated Ice Cream & Soda Shop. This ice cream shop actually sells ice cream by the ounce, so even the baby receives a right-sized portion of vanilla-mint or one of the shop’s flavors of ice cream or Italian ices. Kids can sit at a petite French-style café table to devour their cone. Next door, a dentist’s nightmare of a candy shop sells delectable chocolates and giant lollipops.

Bring change — for 75 cents, the shop’s vintage bison provides rides.

A bison-ridin’, ice-cream eatin’ cowpoke in Elevated Ice Cream.

Port Townsend Family Vacation