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!

13 Washington Spring Break Ideas for Families

Whether you plan to drive near or far, there’s a Washington State destination just right for your family spring break getaway.

Northwest Washington Family Spring Break Ideas

1. Bellingham. A sweet little city often overlooked by families motoring up I-5; the college town of Bellingham deserves it own multi-day stay. See my post on 20 Things to Do in Bellingham with Kids, go on a scenic drive (stop often for candy!) and play in the snow at Mt. Baker.

2. San Juan Islands. Go whale watching on the ferry ride, then arrive in the supercute village of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where you’ll probably stay, unless you go out to Roche Harbor. Drive around the island, using the article 13 things to do with kids on San Juan Island as your guide. Great vacation with bigger kids (elementary age).

3. Whidbey Island. An often less-expensive alternative to San Juan Island, Whidbey Island’s got it all: great dining, an unbelievably cool bookstore-puppet shop, and plenty of hikes and beach excursions.

Puget Sound Family Spring Break Ideas

4. Seattle. Spend a day or two at Seattle Center, and don’t miss these 35 free and cheap things to do with kids in Seattle. You could also combine a trip here with Bainbridge Island, just a ferry ride away. Check out the island’s guide to kids’ activities.

5. Tacoma. Yes, you’re very near Seattle, but Tacoma deserves its own spring break exploration, in my opinion, particularly with toddlers and preschoolers. Visit the beluga whales at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (and let the kids go nuts on the great outside play structures) then bring toddlers to the new Children’s Museum of Tacoma.

6. Great Wolf Lodge. Read up on these 18 tips for staying at Great Wolf Lodge (in Grand Mound, about halfway between Portland and Seattle). You could combine a trip here with a stop in Olympia (Olympia is cool, but not worth an overnight stay, IMO).

Washington Coast & Olympic Peninsula Family Spring Break Ideas

7. Long Beach. Washington’s low-key answer to the Oregon Coast, with plenty to keep you busy for a weekend. Ride a horse, visit Jake the Alligator Man at Marsh’s Free Museum, play in the Long Beach sand (well, after you’ve put on a raincoat) and tour Cape Disappointment State Park.

8. Port Townsend. This Victorian seaport is inherently charming, and offers great family-friendly dining and activities for families. You could easily spend a few days here, with excursions to visit Port Angeles‘s kid-friendly picks.

South and East Washington Family Spring Break Ideas

9. Columbia Gorge. I grew up here! But don’t hold that against the Columbia Gorge. Check in at the Skamania Lodge (offering MANY kid-friendly spring-break activities), then go for a hike and count the violets for me.

10. Leavenworth-Lake Chelan. Tiny Leavenworth is great for a day or two — check out these quick guides on things to do with kids in Leavenworth and kid-friendly dining. But this destination can be combined with other destinations. Lake Chelan is another two hours away, but if you’re willing to make this a road trip, Lake Chelan’s pedestrian-friendly town and lovely lakeside views are worth another day or two.

11. Spokane. A wonderful getaway with chilly (but probably sunny) weather. Check out my article on the best of Spokane with kids and enjoy the brand-new Mobius Science Museum.

12. Suncadia. Combine a resort stay at Suncadia with a tour of the still-very-vintage (AKA rustic) ex-mining town of Roslyn-Cle Elum.

13. Walla Walla. If you like to unwind from a family day with a glass of wine, Walla Walla has you all set, with more than 100 wineries in town. But there’s plenty of non-vino activities (thank goodness!) to keep kids occupied, including a children’s museum.

 

Seattle with Kids: 10+ Things to Do at Seattle Center

Just a Monorail ride away from downtown, Seattle Center is a 74-acre emporium of educational amusement, amusing education and more than a few free things to do. Seattle Center is home to many of our city’s kid-friendly attractions—The Pacific Science Center, The Children’s Museum, The Chihuly Museum and EMP|SFM – all sheltered under the 605-foot-tall Space Needle.

No one can see all the Center’s sights in a day, so our family advises visitors to plan a Seattle Center-ic day appropriate for the age of your child or children, and your budget.

10+ Things to Do with Kids at Seattle Center

1. Climb, scramble, swing and thrill at the brand-new (2015) Artists-at-Play outdoor playground, featuring innovative equipment (inspired by real kids’ suggestions) such as a labyrinth, a kid-powered carousel, an enormous slide, tall climbing platforms (nets keep kids contained) for big kids, and a smaller toddler-friendly playground as well. This downtown Seattle playground can be a real zoo around lunchtime, so go early or go late. It’s free. 

Seattle Center Playground

Artists at Play outdoor playground: Photo courtesy Jodie Marks-Dias

2. Babies through preschoolers love the 22,000-square-foot Seattle Children’s Museum. Toddlers enjoy kicking back in a Japanese tatami-lined living room, producing a lightening-lit and thunder-enhanced play, serving up a plastic-taco feast in the Mexican restaurant or assembling a deli sandwich (mm, felt!) in the mini-grocery. There’s a baby-play area as well, so don’t worry about little sibs. On the downside, some exhibits have been looking a bit tired lately.

3. Animatronic dinos, Jersey-accented talking bugs and naked mole-rats are the teachers at The Pacific Science Center, and there’s no test afterwards. In the butterfly exhibit, docents ask visitors to check their reflections in mirrors, because the blue morphos often try to hitch a ride out. There’s also a well-padded toddler and baby play area in the Science Playground (in fact, big kids aren’t supposed to play in this zone, and staff keep an eye out for trespassers), so baby sister will be busy scrambling on the toys and splashing in the water.

Pacific Science Center Toddler Area: A fun thing to do with kids

Pacific Science Center Toddler Area

4. Preschoolers through big kids thrill when riding the gold capsule elevator to the top of the Seattle Space Needle. Visiting is something most Seattleites do once every 10 years or so — the view from up here is pretty impressive, and gives a good sense of the city’s layout. However, it’s not a cheap thrill.

5. The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum’s design inspired a lot of debate. Many Seattleites compare Frank O. Gehry’s building to wadded-up Christmas wrap…which happens to be a child’s favorite under-the-tree gift. The interior is worthwhile for music-savvy older kids and teens: paying homage to Hendrix’s Woodstock Fender Stratocaster, learning to play drums or piano in a (thankfully) soundproof room, or becoming a full-fledged rock star in the “On Stage” activity, complete with smoke, stage lighting and thousands of adoring fans.  Kids 4 and under are free.

6. Older kids and teens will also love the fantastic shapes (and great Instagram opportunities) inside the Chihuly Garden and Glass, where a rainbow of spires, swirls, orbs and mobiles decorate the museum’s interior. It can be a challenge to visit with younger kids. Because, let’s face it, that glass looks irresistibly touchable. King County residents should bring proof of address, and they’ll pay less.

Chihuly Museum with Kids

Chihuly Museum with Kids

7. Families with more time at the Center can play “chicken” with the free International Fountain (outfitted with over 150 nozzles and jets) on sunny days. Free. 

8. See a production created, directed and dramatized just for kids at the Seattle Children’s Theatre in auditorium-style seating, and seek out matinee tix whenever possible.

9. Catch Seattle’s beloved, family-friendly women’s pro basketball team, the Seattle Storm.

10. Snag seats to hear a Top-40 singer at KeyArena (those nosebleed seats are seriously high — I’ve taken teens to concerts here), although prices can be high.

11. Inside the free Seattle Center House, you’ll find the Armory, which offers moderately priced international cuisine. I’ll be honest — the food court’s food was once not great, but it’s become much better, with high-quality options.

12. If you’re lucky, a (free!) Festal Event will be going on: I love the dance and music performances, and fascinating booths full of treasures from around the world. Get cash, so you’re prepared if desserts and foods are for sale.

13. The Seattle Center also hosts some of Seattle’s best family events, including summer’s Movies at the Mural and Northwest Folklife Festival.

14. In winter, check out Whirligig (read my tips on saving money at Whirligig).

If you don’t want to ride the Monorail, inexpensive street parking can be found NORTH of Seattle Center, often. Not always, as the parking situation depends on events. But often.

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. 

Seattle Airport with Kids: Play Areas, Rocking Chairs and More

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is one of the biggest in the Pacific Northwest, with non-stop flights daily to places like Paris, Dubai and Amsterdam. Whether you’re jetting for a distant land or coming into Seattle to enjoy the salmon and (evasive) sun, the Seattle Airport offers great play areas and one of the best central terminal areas I’ve seen in the world. Pull a rocking chair up to the massive windows and enjoy the view.

Seattle-Tacoma Airport Rocking Chairs with Kids

Play Areas for Kids at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The airport’s cute play area attracts families to the intersection of the A and B concourses. (Here’s a map of the Seattle airport) It’s a lifesaver if a flight is delayed, or you need to check in extra early for an international flight. There’s seating for adults, and plenty for toddlers and preschoolers to do — kids love playing on the giant toys shaped like airport mainstays.

Children's Play Area at Sea-Tac

Children’s Play Area at Sea-Tac

 

In the restroom, there’s a child-sized step to make using the bathroom a little easier.

If you’re looking for a slower pace, the “Quiet Zone” at the B4 gate might be perfect for the family who’s seeking some peace from a hectic airport. Curl up with a book or a sleeping baby.

Family Restrooms at the Seattle airport

All restrooms have children’s changing facilities. There are also 13 family restrooms: one at the North Satellite, four at the South Satellite (including the train level), five on the A Concourse, two on B Concourse, one on D Concourse.

Areas for Nursing Moms at Sea-Tac

The play area offers a nursing room with a rocking chair.

Of course, in Washington State, moms are free (and encouraged) to nurse wherever they like, whenever they like. I’m not making it up — it’s a Washington State law. While it’s fine if you don’t breastfeed, breastfeeding in public is very normal throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Rocking Chairs at Sea-Tac: Fun for everyone

Near the gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling central terminal window, Sea-Tac offers wooden rocking chairs, so you can rock a toddler and watch the aircraft on the airfield. Or let the kids rock while you eat lunch (this area is essentially the dining area for the food court).

Seattle-Tacoma Airport Rocking Chairs with Kids

Central Terminal Sea-Tac Rocking Chairs: Fun with Kids

“The central terminal debuted in 2005 and the rocking chairs became so popular they were virtually loved to death,” says Perry Cooper, airport media manager at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “Our carpentry shop kept having to repair them when they broke to get them back out in the area. Since then we’ve ordered more than two dozen more and they are now found throughout the airport at different gates looking out the windows – even though they are supposed to be just for the central terminal.”

Family Extras: 

Like many airports in the U.S., Sea-Tac airport’s TSA also offers a time-saving family lane — look for it when you join the security line, or ask someone for help in finding it, particularly if you’re pushing a stroller.

 

Thanks to Perry Cooper for background information. Photos Courtesy Port of Seattle/Don Wilson.

Northwest Trek: A Fabulous Seattle Day Trip

Several months ago, we visited Northwest Trek Wildlife Park for the first time. Located in rural Pierce County, Northwest Trek is a fabulous way to meet some of the Northwest’s critters up close and in the animals’ natural habitat — yes, at the same time.

The Tram Tour takes passengers on a 50-minute circular loop through tall grass, evergreen forest and past mountain-fed lakes. The guide kept up the informational, fact-packed patter on our trip, and answered all and any questions — no question was too silly or small. She slowed so we could take photos of bison, bighorn rams and bull elk. Half the fun was watching the tramful of children get so excited at spotting well-camouflaged deer or

Reindeer harem at kid-friendly Northwest Trek in Tacoma

A reindeer harem at Northwest Trek. Really, that’s what it’s called…

The animals are obviously used to visitors; I swear a few posed for the excited toddlers and preschoolers (and photo-taking parents). The tram tour was my favorite part, but the guides make it clear that the tram is not stopping or turning back, so it’s not a good idea for babies, overtired and upset preschoolers or well, claustrophobes.

Once off the tram, we splashed in puddles along the pavement on the Walking Tour. The kids (being kids) often spotted the  creatures faster than adults did, from black bears to turkey vultures.

Walking Tour at NW Trek

Walking Tour at NW Trek

The Cheney Family Discovery Center resembled one of the better National Park visitor centers. Here, kids could touch pelts, compare their armspan to an eagle’s or play with puppets.

Cheney Family Center NW Trek

Measuring up at NW Trek’s Cheney Family Center

I’d like to go back and try the ziplines, which welcome kids from ages 6 and up; we’ll need to make a reservation to try those.

I didn’t love the cafeteria food in the cafeteria, however, and I didn’t love the nonexistent breakfast options. I would bring a lunch, next time, or drive to Tacoma, about 45 minutes away.

It’s not cheap ($18.25 for adults), you’ll often find Northwest Trek deals and coupons, if you keep an eye out. For example, the Chinook Book offers one free youth admission with one paid adult admission.

The story behind Northwest Trek (part of Metro Parks Tacoma) is fascinating and beautiful; read more about Connie Hellyer, the woman who donated the land.

Seattle’s New Kid-Friendly Museum of History and Industry

Recently, my kids and I visited the new 50,000-square-foot facility of the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), which has now relocated to Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood’s Naval Reserve Building (Armory), right next to the Center for Wooden Boats. It’s easily accessible by South Lake Union Streetcar from downtown Seattle. The former museum was a place we visited…well, once.

What a difference $90 million and more exhibit space can make. Just walking into the into the museum’s Faye G. Allen Grand Atrium, you’re wowed. Planes soar overhead, the Toe Truck is parked in the corner and a tower of Seattle-centric signs and brands is arranged along Wall of Icons. Using small cranks, you can make an Ivar’s Clam dance, a cowboy raise and lower his pistol, and the Rainier beer sign light up. There’s some cool art (“Wawona,” an 11,000-pound sculpture carved from a dismantled schooner, that seems to grow up through the ceiling and down into Lake Union below) and an interactive exhibit that takes your photo and asks questions like, “How do you deal with all the rain?” and “How do you take your coffee?”

Atrium at MOHAI kid-friendly museum in Seattle

Atrium at MOHAI

The previous building also didn’t seem to consider the kids quite as much as it could. But now, children get in free (14 and under with an adult chaperone), and the museum’s exhibits regularly offer interactive aspects. In the main exhibit, “The Seattle Journey,” Kids can help build the railroad in a Simon-says like game…

Pounding railroad spikes at MOHAI

Pounding railroad spikes at MOHAI

watch a humorous short musical film on the 1889 Seattle Fire (really well done, in my opinion – watch for the glue pot’s star turn), and pull a casino-style slot machine to find out the fate of various early boomtown settlers. Push a button, and discover whether Puyallup is a Native American, Spanish, American or British word.

The Seattle Fire at MOHAI

The Seattle Fire at MOHAI

The history here covers Seattle’s Native American days through our “Wobbly” union period to today’s multicultural Pacific Rim-focused tech boom (although this section is quite small).

Looking over 1950s-era children's toys at MOHAI

Looking over 1950s-era children’s toys at MOHAI

Rotating exhibits are also engaging (I’ll cover those in a future post), and it looks like additional unoccupied room is available on other floors, so the museum could always expand in the future.

Compass Cafe

Compass Cafe at MOHAI

The Compass Café offers a lovely view of the water and boats. There are a good handful of children’s dining options: spaghetti ($3.95), pb&j half-sandwiches ($2.50), mac and cheese ($3.95). My kids loved the Compass Cookies, which turned their tongues blue.

Compass cookies at MOHAI

Compass cookies at MOHAI museum’s Compass Cafe

The front desk provided a children’s scavenger hunt, but honestly, we were so engaged in the museum’s hands-on activities that we didn’t have time to play the suggested games.

So I bought a membership; now we have one more wonderful way to spend a rainy day.

Bonus: Family and early-learning options, including Saturday morning “Family Lab.”

Read more about the hours and prices.

Sleeping Lady Resort: Enchantment for All Ages

I’m not quite sure what I expected when I planned a stay at Sleeping Lady. But I figured I would be close to Leavenworth (one of my favorite little Washington towns), and I’d heard good things about the Central Washington resort — although mostly from adults.

But I had no idea that Sleeping Lady was such an enchanting and magical place.

On the 67-acre grounds (which also host a local radio station), quiet pathways weave between native trees, plants — and art. The outdoor Art Walk takes visitors past quirky works sure to delight children, such as a salmon catching a human (“Shaman Salmon”), the nine-foot tall “Chichuly Icicles” and the “Evil Eye Tree,” where the bright-blue glass eyes (traditionally used by Turkish and Greek people as a talisman to ward off evil) hang like teardrops from a living tree.

Sleeping Lady art walk

Along the art walk in late autumn.

Winter is the perfect time to go, perhaps, as snow usually blankets the ground mid December through February. At the resort’s doorstep, 8K of track and skate groomed trails offer a way to nordic-ski off all the calories you’re about to eat (more on that, in a bit).

On check-in, front-desk staff gave us a fun booklet packed with cool facts about the property, jokes, wildlife tips and dot-to-dot and Sudoku activities, and told us about the Saturday night kids’ movie.

Sleeping Lady Trail

An ice-covered pond at Sleeping Lady Resort

We stayed in the double alcove room, which featured hand-hewn fir log beds and desks and down comforters. There was an adorable little alcove that my six-year-old son claimed as his own; he created a tent hideout that entertained him during downtime. But I’ll be honest, the floor space is a bit tight – it’s better for reading and relaxing (there’s no television). To run off kid energy, you gotta get outside.

Alcove room at Sleeping Lady Resort

Playing in the one-bed alcove.

Luckily, you can walk down the trail to the The Grotto for a glass of wine next to the fire pit or inside by petroglyph-laced rock walls (kids allowed until 8 p.m.) or The Library, well-stocked with books, a fireplace and a piano.

The cozy library at Sleeping Lady Resort.

The cozy library.

The Play Barn acts as a game room, with foosball, table tennis and room for a board game or two. You can check out board games at the front desk or bring your own.

In warmer seasons, kids love taking a dip in the resort’s rock-lined swimming pools. But the outdoor adjacent hot pool is heated year round, however. If you think you’ll go, don’t forget to pack sandals and cozy bathrobes for the kids to prevent frozen toes and noses en route from your room to the pool.

You can read more about activities and amenities at Sleeping Lady.

Kid- (and Parent-)Friendly Food at Sleeping Lady

The rosemary-flecked crispy rolls were still warm from the oven at The Kingfisher Restaurant; this was my first hint that Sleeping Lady’s dining experience would be anything but typical.

Most stay packages include dinner buffet and/or breakfast buffet; let me tell you, the food here is worth every penny. “Buffet” is not usually a word that excites me – most buffets are half-warmed congealed cheese-food bakes. Here, the buffet includes all natural grassfed, hormone-free beef hangar steak, served with organic roasted carrots and parsnips and organic pumpkin soup. Local organic produce is sourced from Leavenworth and Sequim.

Oh, and the desserts. Tiny, perfect desserts (flans, custards, pie, cake) in miniature espresso cups, saucers and shot glasses.

Yummy desserts at Sleeping Lady buffet

Yummy desserts at Sleeping Lady buffet

There’s a PB&J station for picky eaters (a great idea I might steal for the next playdate/party I host) and stuffed grape leaves and potato salad for epicurean preschoolers.

Breakfast, well – do you remember that Richard Scarry illustration regarding Kenny Bear’s breakfast? It’s sort of like that. Breakfast included: fruits, assorted cheeses and salami, boiled free range eggs, Samish Bay yogurt, organic steel cut oatmeal, chicken and pork sausage, grilled roma tomatoes, free-range scrambled eggs, boiled free-range eggs, waffles, pancakes, raisin bread French toast. And yes, coffee. There were even more food options, but I got a hand cramp from writing it all down, and I figured you would probably get the idea from the list above.

One of the buffet tables at Sleeping Lady Resort, in the morning.

One of the buffet tables at Sleeping Lady Resort, in the morning.

If you can, ask for a window-side table, so you can enjoy the beautiful views of Icicle Canyon and the soaring Sleeping Lady mountain.

Extra: The small Mercantile has that homespun feeling and sells arty-crafty kits, regional clothing and books and journals.

Caveats: It’s not cheap, generally speaking. But the prices are justified if your children really do eat like Kenny Bear, of course, and some of the packages are good deals. For example, Lowest rates are $208 for Bed & Breakast package and $318 for the Great Escape Package for two adults, 2 kids 5-12 Sunday – Thursday through April 30, 2013.

If I were staying again, I would stay for at least two nights and plan to explore Leavenworth during the day, do some cross-country skiing and spend more time in that pool. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a one-night stay, as Leavenworth is fairly remote and requires a two- to three-hour drive, unless you live nearby. I personally wouldn’t want to drive those roads in the dark. In the winter, the short days and long drive times would make the visit way too brief to be enjoyable with very small children. Trust me — once you get here, you’ll want to stay as long as you can.

But there’s so much to do in the area and at Sleeping Lady itself that your family will never get bored. Sleeping Lady is now one of my favorite destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

Where to Ski with Kids in Washington State: Ski Camps, Lessons, Lodges and Daycares

All those rainy days have an upside, too. Thanks to the wet stuff, Washington State residents enjoy a plentiful mountain snowpack and a long season of skiing, snowboarding and tubing with kids. Even if you don’t (yet) enjoy any of the above sports, there’s always the option of making a snowman or two with your toddler. All the better if a lovely lodge is nearby, so you can run inside for a cup of hot chocolate or bowl of hot chili.

Pack the winter-weather apparel, your skis and mittens; don’t forget to check road conditions on Washington State passes before heading out with your tot or tween. Here are Washington State’s winter destinations and their kid-friendly aspects — from cheap and inexpensive cross-country ski trails to upscale snowboarding and skiing resorts.

 

Where to Ski with Kids in Western Washington  

Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area

Near: Port Angeles

This National Park Service site offers opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, children’s tubing and  ranger-guided snowshoe walks. The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is a nice place to warm up and learn about the region.

Mt. Baker

Near: Bellingham (about one hour east of Bellingham)

Slopes here offer multi-week kids’ ski lessons, parent/child or grandparent/child ski lessons. To save money on your ski vacation, look into the family passes.  The 31 runs here trend toward the black diamond and intermediate levels — so a good spot to go with experienced teens, perhaps.

The Summit at Snoqualmie

Near: Seattle and Bellingham

This peak family ski experience is the closest to the Seattle metro area, about an hour or so east of Seattle. Here, kids can learn to ski or snowboard on slopes or parks and pipe. The tubing hill is popular with families, too. Stay in a rental or just stay in the city. Unfortunately, no childcare is provided at The Summit at Snoqualmie.

Crystal Mountain

Near: Two hours south of Seattle, 90 minutes from Tacoma/S. Puget Sound

A sweet little cherry-red gondola (the only one in Washington State, I believe) whisks skiers and daytrippers alike up Crystal Mountain. Brief 50-minute private lessons teach families to ski (and even chair lift) together – kids as young as two can participate – but you have to book in advance. The Kid’s Club program combines learning and fun; supervision plus two-hour ski lessons for ages 4-12 and snowboarding lessons for ages 7-12.

Where to Ski with Kids in Central Washington:

Loup Loup Ski Bowl

Near: Winthrop and Omak

Kids equipment rental, a tube slide area and tots lessons make this low-key introduction to winter sports. More than 20k of groomed tracks for cross-country skiers and 1,240 vertical feet with 10 cut runs for downhill skiers.

Stevens Pass

Near: Leavenworth.

Stevens Pass puts kids on skis from the age of 3, and generations tend to return to play in the powder again and again. There are teen camps, kids ski lessons, kids specials and Nordic ski opportunities. Read over the informative FAQs regarding youth. A short drive from Leavenworth, and plenty of restaurants to feed hungry families.

Leavenworth Trails

Near: In town of Leavenworth, Washington

More than 26k of beginner-friendly Nordic and snowshoe trails wind through, past and around the uber-cute Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth. It’s a nice place to try skiing or snowshoeing for the first time – more than five shops will help you and the kids get set up on skis.  A projected ice skating rink should be fun for the whole family too (once completed), and tubing is already a go.

Cross-Country Skiing in Leavenworth; Photo courtesy of Sleeping Lady Resort

Cross-Country Skiing in Leavenworth; photo courtesy of Sleeping Lady Resort

Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort

Near: 12 miles from Wenatchee.

Novice through advanced skiers enjoy that dry-side powder, and the mountain’s 36 runs and 2,000 acres of trails and chutes. For children, there are the Kids Club, which combines just-right portions of skiing, indoor supervision and hot chocolate. Half-day, full day, holiday camp and two-hour sessions available for preschool-aged kids through 12-year-olds.

Methow Valley Sport Trails Association

Near: Winthrop, Mazama

More than 120 miles of trails – but with many family-friendly features. For example, kids 17 and under ski free. Another cool feature: the keep-‘em-engaged StorySki loops that reveal a picture book  as kids ski along the 1k trail, and a fun “obstacle course” at the Town Trailhead in Winthrop. Pulk sleds (for non-walkers/small non-skiiers) can be rented at the Methow Valley Ski School (I loved pulks when my daughter was too small to ski).

Lake Chelan Nordic Ski Club at Echo Valley Ski Area

Near: Chelan

Save money, ski cheap. At Echo Ridge, kids 17 and under ski free, and the daily rate for adult skiers is only $10/day. There are more than 25 miles of groomed skate and classic x-country ski trails at this U.S. Forest Service facility co-run by the Chelan Ranger District and Lake Chelan Nordic Ski Club. As the site says: “Groomed trails follow the ridges of the terrain, creating a great skiing experience for all ability levels.  Because the trails are located on the ridge tops they are generally above the fog layer that settles in the valleys. So, if you are looking for sunny skiing head for ECHO RIDGE!”

White Pass

Near: Rimrock, Packwood

This 6,500-foot peak offers child care and Pee Wee Skee lessons – plus an 18-kilometer Nordic network and a day lodge at 4,500 feet. Walk-in lessons are available too, for those age 4 and up.  Once a year, there’s a Cross-Country Ski and Snowshoe Jamboree; all ages can take free intro nordic and snowshoe lessons.

Echo Valley Ski Area

Near: Chelan

The laid-back Echo Valley’s Family Ski Area has four-lane snow tubing runs – and they supply special tubes for a rapid ride.  The area runs three rope tows, and one lift for skiers and snowboarders. Old-school ski fun, like the equivalent of a roller-rink night.

Where to Ski with Kids in Eastern Washington: 

Mt. Spokane

Near: Spokane

A mere half-hour from Spokane takes you up into a great family-friendly ski resort with lots of snow play opportunities. Tube, ski, snowboard; ride the lift or head for the terrain park. Enroll the kids in one of the children’s ski programs. Or if the kids are too young to ski, the on-site ski daycare keeps kids busy – and even provides breakfast.

 49 Degrees N.

Near: Spokane or Chelawah

Nordic, downhill and snowboarding, plus a terrain park. For the kids there are children’s group ski lessons, one-on-one ski lesson options, and an on-site daycare that features arts and crafts, movies, snacks, and snow playtime. The Li’l Cub Private Lessons (Ages 2-4) packages up a 1-hour lesson, lift, rental, and all day daycare for $119.

Bluewood Ski Area

Near: Dayton, WA or Walla Walla

Bluewood is the second-highest base elevation in the state, but still serves the tot crowd well.Teens like skiing and snowboarding the 24 trails and three terrain parks. The Kinderski program is a parent-child group ski or snowboard lesson designed for kids 5 and under (1 hour, $35); there are also one-on-one preschool lessons for skiing and snowboarding.

Sitzmark Ski Area

Near: Tonasket

The 80 acres at Sitzmark include a double chairlift, rope tow, bunny hill and terrain park. There’s also a ski and snowboard school (6 week classes), and it’s open Thursday through Monday.

Badger Mountain Ski Area

Near: Waterville

A volunteer-run ski area in Eastern Washington with limited hours, but fine if you’re in the area or want a snow-play experience with younger children.

Sno-Parks with Kids in Washington State

Washington State Sno-Parks

Enjoy a variety of winter activities (for cheap) in the Washington State Non-Motorized Sno-Parks; trails and play areas welcome Nordic ski, snowshoe and tube enthusiasts of all ages in winter. Sno-Parks differ in trails – some are groomed, while others are backcountry-only.

 

Last-Minute Kid-friendly Winter Escapes in Washington & Oregon

It’s not too late to go somewhere for winter vacation. Here’s a quick rundown (and a few opinions) on Destination Resorts’ getaway options in our area.

SUNRIVER RESORT

Web: Sunriver Resort

Location: Central Oregon

Phone: 541-593-1000

Sunriver Resort is my favorite property in our region. This winter, Sunriver is offering over 100 workshops, camps and childcare options through “Traditions.” Among the offerings: sleigh rides, snowshoe and caving tours, magic shows and Fort Funnigan (both of my kids gave the Fort their approval). I love the new indoor pool, generously sized condos, solid dining options and all the great options in Bend. It’s close to Mt. Bachelor, too, for the fresh-powder fans.

Sample rate: $189 for a lodge room. I recommend a vacation rental (usually the same price or less) when staying here; the kitchens make a huge difference in a pleasant family vacation. But the website doesn’t always work well (it was nonfunctional, this morning, for example)– call to get exactly what you want. Sunriver’s knowledgeable reservation agents are great.

 

SKAMANIA LODGE

Web: Skamania Lodge

Location: Southwest Washington

Phone: 800-221-7117

In the Columbia Gorge (and only about 45 minutes east of Portland), the Skamania Lodge offers Elf Story Time through December 29, along with s’more roasting and wine tasting (only for grown-ups). Check the event calendar for more information. There’s a page on “family offers” but honestly, nothing seems all that family-friendly, so I’d just stick with a rack rate unless you’re planning to eat in the restaurant (which is quite good).

Sample rate: $174

 

SUNCADIA RESORT

Location: Central Washington

Web: Suncadia Resort

Phone: 509-649-6400

Located about 90 minutes east of Seattle, Suncadia Resort has two popular waterslides, an indoor pool and outdoor sports galore (rope-tow sled hill, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and more) and s’mores by the fireplace. Campcadia offers childcare (so you can relax in your room with a good book, get a spa treatment or go out on a cross-country excursion). Check the current schedule for more information. The bad news: this place is quite sold out, and rooms that remain aren’t cheap. Activities are extra.

Sample rate: $349


RED LION HOTEL ON FIFTH AVENUE

Location: Seattle

Web: Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue

Phone: 206-971-8000

Maybe you just want to enjoy the big city’s pleasures, kids in tow. The Seattle Family Vacation Package includes an overnight stay, welcome bag with bottled water and snacks, a “Red the Lion” plushy, tix to the Woodland Park Zoo, overnight parking AND a $50 Chevron gas card. Not bad. I haven’t stayed here or visited the property yet, so if you end up going, e-mail me and let me know what you think. Here’s a quick link to the Tripadvisor reviews.

Sample Rate: $159