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

 

One-Tank Trips: 3 great day trips from Seattle with author Chloë Ernst

Wow, this week we have a special treat — an interview with Vancouver-based freelance journalist Chloë Ernst, who has penned guidebooks, newspaper articles and magazine stories. She’s the author of Day Trips from Seattle: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler. I own this book; it’s well researched and a fabulous find (which is why I asked her to do a quick Q&A with me).

Ernst doesn’t just try to drop in to local sites: “When I travel (on a day trip or a 3-month stint), my mission is to become a local in each place I visit. Over the years that has meant surfing on the Washington coast, dancing in the Fería de Sevilla, shopping in the New York Garment District, and avoiding bears in Whistler.”

Chloë Ernst

Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you wrote the book? How much time did you end up spending in the Seattle area? Any experiences that you learned from?

I put together Day Trips from Seattle during a series of long-weekend trips. Maps are my major travel must-have. I get lost easily so I try to study road maps intensely before I head anywhere.

During one solo road trip I left my wallet at a gas station. When I backpack, I always have cash and credit cards stashed in different places. But when I travel by car I relax more and am (unintentionally) a little less protective of my valuables. It reminded me to be more prepared if things should be lost or stolen while on the road.

Luckily a lovely gentleman in Arlington bought me lunch (which I couldn’t pay for due to the missing wallet), phoned the gas station where I last was, and ensured I got my wallet back.

Which Seattle day trip is your personal favorite — a destination to which you always want to return?

Heading east on I-90 means a sunnier climate than we’re used to in Seattle and Vancouver. One day trip that stands out connects Roslyn, Cle Elum, and Ellensburg. I love the small-town-nature and history that each offers. Roslyn mixes mines and cemeteries with its faux-history as Cicely in Northern Exposure. Cle Elum has a railroad feel as well as the spirited, community-run Carpenter House Museum. (Read more about Roslyn/Cle Elum with kids)

And Ellensburg make a great final stop, with museums, the eclectic art at Dick and Jane’s Spot, and the chimps at the “chimposium” on the Central Washington University campus who communicate with sign language.

Is there a Seattle day trip in your book that you would recommend for families?

Day tripping south to Federal Way, Puyallup, and Eatonville offers lots of family activities. In Federal Way there’s the pick of Wild Waves Theme Park (with water slides) and West Hylebos Wetland Park (with nature trails). Going on to Puyallup, you’ll find superb bakeries (such as Pioneer Bakery) and the restored Meeker Mansion — although I’m still creeped out by the framed, Victorian-era hair sculptures in one of the rooms. The intricate flowers and shapes are made entirely from strands of human hair!

Eatonville is close to Mt. Rainier and feels very rural. Both Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and Pioneer Farm Museum have lots of animals to engage and activities to entertain kids.

Is there a budget-minded Seattle day trip that stands out for you?

When I think budget day trips, I always think the beach. Driving out to Ocean Shores or Westport is a fair distance, but the sand and saltwater are worth it. Ocean Shores has a free interpretive center with hands-on exhibits, and we always see wild deer along the road. But I prefer Westport. It’s less glossy and has more state parks. The Westport Maritime Museum features a free outdoor exhibit of whale bones and other sea life. [Note: Here’s my piece on Westport with kids]

In the fall, drive a few minutes down to Grayland and you can watch the cranberries being harvested. Before visiting I had no idea that the farmers harvest the berries by flooding the fields so the cranberries float to the surface.

Do you have a favorite day trip from the Vancouver area? Can you give a few highlights of that day trip?

From Vancouver, Squamish makes a quick day trip with wilder nature than we’re accustomed to in the city. The Stawamus Chief is one of my favorite hikes on a sunny day. Hikers climb ladders and rocky slopes to reach one or all of the three peaks on the hulking granite massif. In winter, bald eagles congregate on the nearby rivers and especially in Brackendale.

Also on the Sea-to-Sky Highway (which extends up to Whistler and beyond), the Brittania Mine Museum can happily eat up hours with gold panning. Someone will — almost guarantee-ably — get gold fever and have to be dragged from the sand beds that are salted with gold and pyrite. There is also a fabulous mine tour there that includes a ride on a squeaky mine train and mining equipment demonstrations. The noises can be loud and perhaps not great for younger children, but it’s tons of fun.

Read more:

Washington State Round-Up from Cascadia Kids.

Family Day Trips from the Seattle area from Cascadia Kids.

9 Great Day Trips from Seattle from the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau.

4 Great Day Trips from Seattle from RoadTrip America.

Family Day Trips from the Seattle Area

If you’ve only got a day, try one of these family-friendly daytrips from the Seattle area for winter break, spring break or a weekend escape:

Bellingham with kids daytrip

Take I-5 North to Bellingham and enjoy the town’s artsy vibe, parks and museums, then get a cool scoop at Mallard Ice Cream. In fact, there are over 20 family-friendly things to do in Bellingham.

If you don’t want to drive as far as Bellingham, try the picture-perfect, riverfront town of La Conner for spring’s tulip festivals or just to stroll streets stacked with bookstores, toy shops and museums.

A typical storefront in La Conner

Don’t forget to try the Banana Coconut Cakes at Calico Cupboard Cafe.

Time one-way to Bellingham: About one hour, 40 minutes.


Kitsap County with kids daytrip

A quick ferry from downtown Seattle delivers you to Bremerton, where you can pick up a pack of Belgian frites at Fritz European Fry House or tour the U.S.S. Turner Joy warship (my son loved the maze of sleeping bunks and chow hall).

Maybe you can find your sea-legs aboard the U.S.S. Joy — I obviously didn’t!

Drive up the peninsula to enjoy’s Poulsbo’s Nordic theme and the Poulsbo Marine Science Center (note: currently closed for repairs — keep an eye on their website), then end your day on Bainbridge Island’s KiDiMu. Ride the ferry home.

Time one-way to Bremerton: About one hour; round-trip drive time about two hours.

Olympia daytrip with kids

Visit Olympia’s stellar Hands On Children’s Museum with little kids or the Washington State Capitol Building with big kids. Then spend a few hours in the local toy stores, cafes and at Olympia’s April-December farmer’s market. Read more here: Daytrip: Olympia with Kids. Need more to do? On the way down, you can always make a stop at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and a 19th-century fort at Fort Nisqually’s Living History Museum.

Finding out what’s up with George at the Washington State Capitol

Time one-way to Olympia: About one hour


Snoqualmie Pass daytrip with kids

If the snow skipped your neighborhood, there’s still a chance of catching the white stuff up on Snowqualmie Pass, even into early spring. Whether sledding at Hyak, skiing at Summit West, tubing at Summit Tubing Center or just playing in the snow, the Cascades offer dramatic vistas of cloud-wrapped, evergreen-studded peaks. Read more at The Summit at Snoqualmie website.

Sledding and snowshoeing at Hyak

In summer, either enjoy the cool breezes or push on just a little further over the mountains and let the kids visit “The Other Washington,” featuring a dry, arid landscape and rolling hills of bleached grass. A prime pick: Washington’s weird little Petrified Gingko Forest (about 2 hours from Seattle; head to downtown Ellensburg for food).

Time: 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending upon road conditions. Pack chains and check road conditions before leaving.


Kid Picks for Seattle Restaurant Week

On Sunday, October 17, Seattle Restaurant Week kicks off. For almost two weeks (October 17-28), Sunday through Thursday, diners will enjoy three-course dinners for just $25 at over 100 area restaurants.

Evado PR helped me collect information on kid-friendly restaurants that offer children’s menus. I’ve highlighted menu items that might be more adventurous, along with the standards. Of course, these menu items are offered the other 51 weeks, so you’re not limited to dining during SRW.

Don’t see your favorite restaurant listed here? Don’t stress. Call ahead and ask whether they make special accommodations for kids, whether smaller portions or appetizer options.

Go to the Seattle Restaurant Week site to look up restaurants, make reservations and view adult menus.

Restaurant Name Kid-friendly items Sample kid menu items
13 Coins Coloring, kids menu French toast; spaghetti with meat sauce or marinara; fried ravioli.
Barking Frog Kids menu (12 and under), includes soft drink or milk and a cookie Cheeseburger; gourmet mac attack and cheese; chicken tenders.
Barrio Bellevue High chairs, kids menu Cheese quesadillas; taco duo; chicken torta.
Bastille Café & Bar Kids menu Croque fromage; lamb burger; grilled chicken breast w/fries.
Betty Restaurant Kids menu Menu changes, always fresh.
Carmelita Kids menu (12 and under only). Buttered noodles, available w/cheese; delicious veggies; cheese pizza.
The Georgian Kids age 6 and younger eat free, kids under age 12 each for half off (during tea service, main dishes and holiday brunches), 100% organic and trans-fat free kids menu, includes choice of beverage. Hot dog w/french fries; peanut butter and jelly sandwich; tuna fish triangles on whole wheat bread w/fruit salad and chips.
The Historic Woodman Lodge Steakhouse & Saloon Kids menu Extra creamy cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese house sautéed and served w/a slice of cheese toast; burger served w/lots of Lodge fresh-made fries; kosher beef dog dipped in Lodge-made batter and cooked golden brown served w/fries.
Il Fornaio Kids menu Cheese ravioli in marinara or cheese sauce; bowl of seasonal vegetables; pasta with parmesan, tomato or meat sauce
Ivar’s Salmon House Kids menu served w/cookies and choice of French fries, potato chips or fruit cup, plus milk, fruit juice or soft drink. Fresh steamed vegetables can be substituted Pasta tossed with butter and parmesan cheese; alder-barbecued wild salmon; fish ‘n chips; melted cheese between warm toasted bread.
La Medusa Provides kids with pizza dough to play (and bake upon request), kids menu for 12 and under. Spaghetti butter & cheese; spaghetti marinara;  cheese or pepperoni pizza.
The Pink Door Verbal kids menu Pasta w/marinara sauce; pizza bianca; meatball panini.
Ponti Seafood Grill Kids menu Bronzed salmon quesadillas; breaded chicken tenders w/bistro fries; pasta with cheese and butter; Ponti bacon cheeseburger w/bistro fries.
Purple Café & Wine Bar “Milk Flight” featuring chocolate, strawberry, caramel and regular milk, plus kids menu Grilled chicken sandwich w/choice of shoestring fries or side salad; cheese pizza; mac-n-cheese; cranberry chicken salad; grilled salmon w/seasonal vegetables.
Ray’s Café Kids menu Cheese quesadilla; kids fish and chips; kids grilled salmon w/mashed potatoes and veggies; steamed clams in dill butter broth; crispy chicken dinosaurs w/fries, carrot sticks and ranch dip.
Salty’s on Alki Beach Kids menu Wood-oven pizzas, choose pepperoni or cheese; fish and chips with Alaskan ling cod and tempura batter served w/Salty’s seasoned fries; Salty’s kid’s burger w/cheddar cheese.
Salty’s at Redondo Beach Kids menu Peanut butter and jelly Sandwich w/potato chips and fresh fruit; cheesy macaroni served w/slice of focaccia; Salty’s chowder and salad.
Sazerac Kids Menu Organic baby mixed lettuces with whole lemon vinaigrette; chicken fingers w/ honey mustard and hand-cut french fries; cornmeal fried Idaho catfish w/fries and tartar sauce.
Seastar Restaurant Kids menu Chicken penne pasta; grilled chicken salad; sushi or sashimi plate; sirloin steak.
Six Seven Restaurant & Lounge Kids menu Spaghetti w/tomato sauce, grilled cheese sandwich, kids cheddar sliders w/fries; chicken fingers.
tidbit bistro Crayons on every table, kids menu Golden fried risotto cake with tomato, saffron and mozzarella, served with salsa; mac’n cheese with rigatoni, mozzarella, goat cheese, gorgonzola, parmesan; Zoe’s Molten Cheese (A bed of melting mozzarella filante with shaved parmesan).
Urbane Kids menu (all items served w/your choice of celery, carrot sticks or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese) Chicken Nuggets w/choice of ranch or barbeque dipping sauce; Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup w/celery and carrot sticks; turkey hot dog on plain bun w/ketchup and mustard.
Waterfront Seafood Grill Kids menu Fish and chips, grilled tenderloin and mashers; Pasta w/butter, cheese, red or white Sauce
Wild Ginger Kids menu Fried rice, noodles, skewers

The I-5 Drive: Stops from Portland to Seattle

Three hours is just too long to sit in the car. The infamous slog between Seattle and Portland invariably adds a few more hours due to bizarre traffic snafus. (What is the energy vortex causes the mysterious slowdowns in Tacoma, Olympia and Chehalis, anyhow?) Put it all together, and you’ve got a real tantrum starter for parents and kids alike. Unless you give up for a little bit, pull over and chill out. Here are a few of our favorite kid-friendly stops along the Seattle-to-Portland I-5 route.

the salmon creek burgerville in vancouver is a fine place to stop along i-5 with kids

The Salmon Creek Burgerville.

Exit 7: Burgerville. This Salmon Creek Burgerville (on the edge of Portland) is a fast-food diner that thinks it’s a restaurant – thank goodness. There’s outdoor seating, an indoor play area with crayons and a few toys and small kid-size picnic tables. Eat your local blackberry shake, Walla Walla onion rings or juicy natural-beef burger; on some weekends, you’ll also encounter no-cost kids’ events. Free wifi, too. Exit 76: Recreation Park and Penny Playground. If a three-year old designed a fort, it might look a bit like this park’s peaked playground: a delightful maze of levels, hiding spots and peek-a-boo corners. Even the stairs surprise here – they shake beneath your feet while leading you up to tunnels and turrets. A large grassy area encourages running, if you packed a boomerang, kite or frisbee. Cool off with the on-site spray park and pool in summer.

penny park in centralia a good stop for kids off of i-5

At the Penny Park in Centralia

Exit 81: Olympic Club Hotel & Theatre. This historic building in the McMenamins chain offers lovely outdoor dining next to a train track, so kids can watch rail cars hustle through downtown Centralia. A cozy pub-style interior restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; the movie theater and last-minute hotel may bail you out if there’s sudden snowfall or a four-hour traffic delay on the freeway. Exit 82: Burgerville. Yes, another Burgerville. But the Centralia location is the first that southbound travelers encounter and the last that northbound roadtrippers can dine at. Pick up a healthy kids’ meal (served with apples instead of fries, if you like) right at the halfway stopping point between Portland and Puget Sound.

Exit 88: Great Wolf Lodge. If you decide you’d like to make a stopover between Portland and Seattle, this is a popular destination. Read more about what to do in Grand Mound at 18 Tips for Visiting Great Wolf Lodge. 

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant, activity or playground along I-5?

Beat the Heat in Seattle: Wading pools, beaches and more

I received this press release from Seattle Parks and Recreation in my in-box and couldn’t help but share! Whether you’re visiting Seattle or live here, you’ll need a way to chill, and this list offers the perfect way to do so.

———Following is from Seattle Parks and Recreation Press Release ——-

Seattle Beaches

Parks offers safe, lifeguarded beaches at nine sites around the city (Seattle), and we strongly recommend swimming only where lifeguards are present. Beaches are open daily, weather permitting, from noon to 7 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Amenities range from swim rafts and low and high diving boards to nearby wading pools, play areas, ballfields, and more.

These Seattle beaches are open through September 6:

  • Matthews, 9300 51st Ave. NE
  • Madison, 1900 43rd Ave. E
  • Mt. Baker, 2301 Lake Washington Blvd. S
  • Seward, 5902 Lake Washington Blvd. S
  • West Green Lake, 7312 W Green Lake Dr.

These beaches are open through August 29:

  • East Green Lake, 7201 E Green Lake Dr. N
  • Magnuson, park entrance at NE 65th and Sand Point Way NE
  • Madrona, 853 Lake Washington Blvd.
  • Pritchard Beach, 8400 55th Ave. S

Seattle Outdoor Pools

Parks operates two unique outdoor pools for summer fun. Each offers swimming lessons, family swimming, water exercise programs, and special events. And you can rent the whole pool for your own special event!

Lowery C. “Pop” Mounger Pool, at 2535 32nd Ave. W, 206-684-4708, is open daily through September 12. Mounger Pool is really two pools in one place. The “big pool” has a 50-foot corkscrew slide and the warmer, shallower “little pool” is great for relaxing and for teaching little ones. Call the pool to reserve it for your own birthday party or other special event!

Colman Pool, at 8603 Fauntleroy Way SW, 206-684-7494, opens at noon each day through

September 6, and is also open the weekend of September 11 and 12. The pool enjoys a spectacular view of Puget Sound from its prime location on the beach in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park. It features heated salt water and the Giant Tube Slide! Please note Colman Pool will be closed for the Seattle Open Swim Meets July 8-10 and July 16-18.

Seattle Wading Pools and Water Spray Features

Your little ones will love the cool, shallow water and you can cool your own grown-up toes too! We will operate 25 wading pool sites this summer, and there are five parks with spray features to enjoy. Please note that the pools take about an hour to fill and drain each day, as required by law.

Three-Day Wading Pools:

Bitter Lake, 13035 Linden Ave. N, noon to 7 p.m. Wed, Thu, Fri through Aug. 20.

Cal Anderson Park, 1635 11th Ave., noon to 6:45 p.m., Fri, Sat, Sun through Aug. 22.

East Queen Anne, 160 Howe St., noon to 7 p.m. Sun, Mon, Tue through Aug. 22.

E.C. Hughes, 2805 SW Holden St., noon to 7 p.m. Wed, Thu, Fri through Aug. 20.

Hiawatha, 2700 California Ave. SW, noon to 6:45 p.m. Mon, Tue, Wed through Aug. 18.

Soundview, 1590 NW 90th St., noon to 7 p.m. Sat, Sun, Mon through Aug. 22.

South Park, 8319 8th Ave. S, noon to 7 p.m. Sun, Mon, Tue through Aug. 18.

Wallingford, 4219Wallingford Ave. N, noon to 7 p.m. Wed, Thu, Fri through Aug. 20.

Daily Wading Pools:

Green Lake, N 73rd and E Green Lake Dr. N, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

Lincoln Park, 8600 Fauntleroy Ave. SW, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

Magnuson, eastern end of NE 65th St., noon to 6:30 p.m. daily through Aug. 29.

Van Asselt, 2820 S Myrtle St., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

Volunteer Park, 1400 E Galer St., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

Water Spray Features:

Ballard Commons, 5701 22nd Ave. NW, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Oct. 15.

John C. Little, 6961 37th Ave. S, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

Lower Judkins, 2150 S Norman St., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

Miller, 330 19th Ave. E, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Oct. 15.

Pratt, 1800 S Main St., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 6.

For a more complete listing of fun summer activities in Seattle parks, please visit www.seattle.gov/parks and click on “2010 Summer Guide” on the home page.

Photo Friday: Pike Place Market

One of the best things about living in Seattle is watching travelers enthuse over the Pike Place Market. Visitor linger over fresh blackberries, laugh at the salmon-slinger’s antics, clap along with the buskers and marvel at the hand-made goods. Kids try fruit samples, while parents give in and buy a wind-up toy. Or three.

I took this photo about a year ago. The market, for some reason, was awash in the prairie-print dresses, somber black stockings and head-coverings of a religious community, probably Amish. In predominantly liberal, agnostic Seattle, the conservative clothing choice was more unusual than piercings and tattoos (which function as everyday work accessories here).

Vendors looked mildly surprised, then welcomed the newcomers with smiles and samples.  Although the visitors’ dress was of an era long ago — and you’d expect some gravitas to go with that style — the younger women could hardly contain their excitement over the market’s goods, as they buzzed from one stall to the next.

The market has historically been a village’s collective space, a place where populations can share ideas, food and merchandise on common ground. Shots like this remind me how lucky I am to live in a city with a thriving market culture.

This photo and post is a proud participant in DeliciousBaby’s Photo Friday.

Seattle Things To Do

Vacationing on a Seattle Houseboat Rental with Kids

Seattle mom Leah Adams recently took an exciting and unusual staycation. She slept for two nights on a Seattle houseboat with her husband, daughter (10) and son (8). Leah took advantage of a weekend-only special (the houseboat usually rents by the month) and found that a houseboat serves up a rockin’ (and rollin’) family vacation.

Q: What did you enjoy about the Seattle houseboat?

I loved the cedar paneling (smelled just like I imagined a houseboat would). The efficiency of being in a small space appealed to me. There’s something so lovely about being totally satisfied in a small space, leaving all the extraneous stuff in our house behind. The Lake Union location, near Fremont, was fantastic. Fremont deserves the designation as “Center of the Universe.”

seattle with kids

Leah's son enjoying typical Seattle shorts-and-t-shirt weather

I loved being able to walk everywhere. The small conversations that happen when you’re walking past someone’s garden (and peeking in their windows! ha!) really bond a family.

The resident momma mallard and her three ducklings enchanted my son; it seemed every time we looked out the window, there they were, swimming in circles right in front of our houseboat.

Everything you would expect in an efficiency kitchen was there – coffee maker, toaster oven, stove, full size fridge and freezer, dishes, cups, utensils. Plenty of towels and linens. We brought our own pillows, only because three of us are very picky. Checking it out first before packing gave me a good idea of what to bring.

Q: What did you do with kids while staying on the “Molly Brown” Seattle houseboat?

On Saturday night, we walked to dinner at Blue Moon Burgers, had Royal Grinders gelato with Lenin, walked to the troll where we posed with lots of other tourists (seems our kids had never officially visited before), then walked home.

Sunday morning, we walked up to the Varsity Inn for a mediocre diner breakfast. We should have walked further into Fremont, even to the Essential Baking Company, but I wasn’t sure it was open.

As we walked back from breakfast discovered an amazing mosaic on the Wallingford steps. Then we visited Gas Works Park, running to the top of the hill, down to the terrace, through the painted refinery room (kinda gross), bushwacked a bit through the park, discovered a shortcut back to the marina. I was worried about surprising people in the bushes, but we didn’t see (or even smell) anything foul.

gas works park, seattle with kids

View from Gas Works Park.

Sunday afternoon, we took the bus from 35th to Northwest Folklife Festival, and back home around 5 p.m.

Monday morning, Lance and my son walked to the Essential Baking Company for breakfast coffee, while my daughter and I lounged around, reading and rocking. Lance chatted for ages with the neighbors, who were transplants from Bothell, about life in the marina. They glowed about the amount of community there is at the marina compared to their neighborhood in Bothell.

Q: Could you cook in your houseboat?

There was a full kitchen, though not a ton of counter space. I would call it a very efficient kitchen. You could definitely have frozen pizza, burritos or any prepared food from the Fremont PCC frozen foods/deli case heated up to eat on houseboat.

The kitchen table is small, and that’s where the television sits, so I wouldn’t want to eat too many meals there. The marina is so close to the park, I would probably choose to picnic most of the meals besides breakfast.

Q: Would a houseboat be difficult with a toddler or preschooler?

I guess it would depend on your particular toddler or preschooler, but it really wasn’t a challenge at all. There are no railings on the dock, so I suppose if your child was impetuous and couldn’t tell the difference between the dock and water, you might have a problem.

Q: Any challenges involved with a houseboat vacation for four family members?

This houseboat had a tiny little pump-action toilet, but there was a ‘cabana’ with a full bathroom and shower for the use of the residents. It was just a short walk down to the dock.

The shower was lovely, but once we found out that the entire marina pumps all of their grey water into Lake Union, I started thinking differently about how much conditioner I used in my hair. The neighbors said their 40-gallon septic tank gets pumped once every two weeks, and that is even with using the toilets in the cabana most of the time. I guess you would just make a point of stopping in the cabana every time you left the property. Time to take a potty break everyone!

My husband’s perception of the experience was very different than mine. He can’t put his finger on exactly what bothered him, but he said he wouldn’t do it again. I loved everything about it, and he wouldn’t go again. Go figure. He couldn’t wait to pack up Monday morning, and I really wanted to stay there all day, lounging around, reading and listening to the rain.

Q: So, would you suggest a Seattle houseboat stay as a family-friendly vacation?

I do think staying on a houseboat is a family-friendly vacation, especially if the kids are 5 and up. We could have rented kayaks from Agua Verde Cafe or the Northwest Outdoor Center for additional fun around Lake Union. How cool would it be to kayak up to your front door?

We didn’t bring our bikes with us, but the Burke Gilman Trail goes right past the marina. If we had planned a little further in advance, we would have biked from the houseboat to the Seattle Center for Folklife.

Thanks, Leah. Find out more about the boat Leah stayed on (Molly Brown) at VRBO.com. And you can find more VRBO.com houseboat rentals on Lake Union.

Would you stay on a houseboat?

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do With Kids in Seattle

Visiting Seattle on a budget? No problem.

Check out these 35 free and cheap family-friendly activities in Seattle:

1. Ride a bike on the Burke-Gilman Trail.

2. Run through the 9,000-gallon International Fountain.

3. Watch fish and boats navigate through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.

4. Cower under giant traffic cones and play hide-and-seek among the art at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

5. Ride the West Seattle Water Taxi to West Seattle.

6. Sample fruit and meet the Doughnut Robot at the Pike Place Market.

7. Pick the Fremont Troll’s nose and take a picture with Lenin in the Fremont neighborhood.

8. Check out the cheese-making process at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.

9. Visit a kid-friendly museum art on a free day.

10. Ride the Seattle Monorail between Seattle Center and downtown Seattle.

11. Buy a cheap cup of Ivar’s Clam Chowder and stroll along the waterfront piers.

12. Listen to buskers at a neighborhood farmer’s market.

13. Eat fish and chips, then people-watch along the seawall at West Seattle’s Alki Beach Park.

14. Ride the Seattle-Bainbridge route of Washington State Ferries for awesome views.

15. Sit in the $7 Center Field Bleachers at a Mariners game.

16. Go beachcombing for crabs and shells at the 534-acre Discovery Park.

17. Enjoy a storytime, pick out a comic book and consider the intestinally (!) colored Red Room at Seattle Public Library’s Central Library.

18. Fly that cool kite at Gas Works Park.

19. Chew a pack of gum and add your Hubba Bubba to the nasty-but-cool gum wall.

20. Wave at passing Amtrak trains and ride down a salmon slide at Carkeek Park.

21. Play on the giant tree and go camping at REI Flagship Store.

22. Check out vintage boats at the Center for Wooden Boats.

23. Pick up one piece of free fruit for kids (ages 12 and under) at a neighborhood PCC.

24. Take your toddlers to one of the Environmental Learning Centers.

25. Take your teen to a retro flick in at Fremont Outdoor Movies.

26. Go for a kid-friendly urban hike.

27. Skip along to ska and boogie to Brazilian jazz at the free Out to Lunch Concerts.

28. Travel ’round the world via a Festal! Event in the Center House.

29. Splash in a community wading pool and meet the locals.

30. Get a scoop of premium ice cream at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream.

31. Rent a rowboat from the University of Washington’s Waterfront Actvities Center.

32. Check out a $2 movie at Seattle’s Crest Cinema Centre.

33. Grey day got you down? Visit the cacti in the Volunteer Park Conservatory.

34. Watch (and perhaps catch) a salmon at Pike Place Fish.

35. Buy Japanese strawberry-cream milk candy at Uwajimaya.

Find more great things to do with kids in Seattle in my book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver (and if you decide to order it, please use my link! Thanks!).

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Seattle Family Vacation


Daytrip: Olympia with kids

Think State capitols aren’t kid-friendly? Towns plagued by boring subcommittee meetings, too-fancy restaurants and dull plazas, right?

Olympia, Washington, may take you by surprise.

Lavender at the Olympia Farmers Market

When to go: Saturday, so you can check out the Olympia Farmers Market, the people-smorgasbord that is Olympia. You’ll see patchouli students from the nearby Evergreen State College, farmers in overalls, embroidered-denim grandmas, toddlers riding on dad’s shoulders. The market’s a nice mix of locally made items:  soaps, herbs, baked goods and of course, tie-dye shirts.

Where to eat: At the market, order honkin’ huge sandwiches from Heyday! Cafe and listen to live music on the market stage. As an alternative, go to Meconi’s Italian Subs for the best subs this side of the Mississippi.

Getting buried with (plastic) rocks at the Hands On Children's Museum

Little kids will love: The Hands On Children’s Museum, where the museum’s town allows kids to grow apples on a farm, deliver them with a truck, sell them the store, turn them into apple fritters in the bakery – and then visit the dentist for a tooth cleaning afterward. At the other end of the museum’s U-shaped layout, a kids can don lifejackets and pretend to drive a ceiling-height container ship (with a working crane!). The $7.95 per-person entry fee pays off with at least two hours of fun; one of the best children’s museum’s I’ve visited in the Northwest.

George's nose is shiny because so many people rub it for good luck.

Big kids will love: Discussing how government works in the hushed marble halls of Olympia’s Legislative Building, which sports the fourth-tallest, self-supported masonry dome in the world. Tours are offered between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends, but it’s probably best for you to drop cool history facts on your way through the building’s three floors. Look for the giant brass bust of George Washington — and don’t forget your camera.

Where to shop: Wind Up Here keeps little hands busy with dolls, wooden toys and other playthings. Perfect for a sticker book or two to keep the kids busy in the car.

Trying a mocha-dusted hazelnut.

What to take home: Don’t leave town without picking up treats from the Olympia Farmers Market — dinosaur cookies from San Francisco Street Bakery’s stall or a blend of nuts from Jawa Gourmet Nut Roastery. Recommended: lavender walnuts with orange and mocha hazelnuts.

Find more hotels, attractions and restaurants at Visit Olympia.