Newport, Oregon is a similar destination to Cannon Beach, Oregon for the annual family vacation. You’ve got the lovely, cream-toned sand, the toy stores and kite shops, the upscale and midrange restaurants.
But there’s one big difference between Cannon Beach and Newport — you won’t sleep at Cannon Beach hotel prices (which can easily leap into the $300- $400-dollar range). Plus, Newport offers many outdoor and indoor attractions, whether you’re there on a sunny summer day or on a rainy weekend getaway.
The downside? It’s a haul from Portland, Seattle or further north or east. You’ll tack on about two hours of drive time each way to reach Newport (we typically get a Priceline room to rest on the journey between Seattle and Newport). So once you’ve arrived, you might as well stay for a few days, exploring the historic community of Nye Beach, combing for beautiful stones at Agate Beach or perusing the c-shaped Bayfront district.
Fun things to do with kids in Newport
The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s top attraction is undoubtedly the over 200-foot-long acrylic tunnels, where tropical fish, reef sharks, graceful rays and other denizens of the deep swim right above you. I’m also partial to the 29-acre aquarium’s Bizarre and Beautiful Gallery and the Dangerous and Deadly Gallery – how does an electric eel make sense in any way? One of my favorite, kid-friendly aquariums in our area. If you’re an AAA member, bring your card, as you’ll get a discount on admission.
Hatfield Marine Science Center overflows with nerdly fun. All the center’s signs seem to gush over science, courtesy of Oregon State University’s marine science research facility. My kids liked the slightly icky exhibit on invasive species and the please-touch tidepool exhibit. It’s worth the donation (all they ask for). The museum shop’s books can help identify critters you see on any upcoming tidepool walks; if you’re going to buy a book on your trip, why not buy it here?
Yaquina Head Lighthouse’s Interpretive Center is worth a half-hour visit or so. The center describes lighthouse history, a lightkeeper’s life and how lighthouses work with hands-on exhibits; there’s a small children’s area with activities and period-era toys. Chat with the well-informed staff and volunteers and pick up a few insider tips on touring Yaquina Head.
Devil’s Punch Bowl is a deep bowl-shaped rock formation where vivid blue ocean water enters, swirls around and makes a scene. During low tide, spot ocean creatures along nearby shoreline. The Punchbowl is a neat stop, but not worth more than about 5 minutes or so.
Walk along Bay Boulevard’s charming mural-infused waterfront, past fishing boats and working fish processing plants and canneries, restaurants and ticky-tacky shops. You won’t be able to miss the noisy, rowdy (and slightly disgusting) sea lions, which eat and burp and hoot and fart. The Homer Simpsons of the sea, as it were. Not the best role models for dinner table behavior, but the seals are an amusing spectacle. You won’t miss the loudmouths if they’re in the harbor — just follow the braying.
Serious fun! Sandcastle Toys offers a lovely collection of card games, beach toys, Playmobil and more. If the knowledgeable owner’s in, ask him for a new toy or board game recommendation.
If you’d rather pick up a flying toy, visit The Kite Company, a delightful 6500-square-foot shop offering high quality kites for every age and skill level. You’ll soon realize what you’ve missed out on by buying kites from lesser shops — as the staff at this store guide you to the perfect kite for your toddler, teen or tangle-prone husband.
AVOID: The Undersea Gardens, Wax Works and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The first two because they are in no way worth the expense. The latter two because it’s too scary for young kids, culturally insensitive and seriously run-down with buzzy videos featuring Jack Palance. I complained even as we left, and I rarely do that. It didn’t matter — the teen staff didn’t seem to care a bit. Not a destination I can recommend.
Family Restaurants in Newport, Oregon
Pick up a really fresh cut of fish at the informal, casual Local Ocean Seafoods – you’ll see just-caught seafood behind the fish-market counter as you enter, and the restaurant is right across from the fishing boat “parking lot,” as my son called the pier. With so many options on the salad, soup, sandwiches and big-plate menus it can be hard to pick just one item per person. I recommend ordering a diverse selection so you can try more dishes. There is a kids’ menu, but try to talk the kids into sharing your feast. One of my favorite restaurants along the Oregon Coast. My picks (so far) are the diverse Salade Nicoise and spicy Los Fish Taco with fennel slaw and avocado salsa verde.
Saffron Salmon isn’t a typical “kid-friendly” restaurant, so go here with the kids when you’re reasonably sure they’re going to behave well, you’ve brought your own small playthings/crayons and the kids aren’t crazed with hunger. I would recommend heading to Saffron Salmon during lunchtime for a less-formal (and less-expensive) experience. Kids will enjoy the bayside view of fishing boats heading in and out of the Newport harbor. With a commitment to local farms and wild food, the restaurant serves natural-beef burgers, fresh Dungeness crab and kid-pleasing shoestring frites.
OK, so you’re a little tired of fish ‘n’ chips by day two at the beach. Head to the unassuming little shack Noodle Café for some pan-Asian dishes. The noodle dishes, pho, and Korean meals are tasty and yes, you can still have just off the boat seafood if you like. We ordered food and brought it back to our room for a no-stress dinner with the kids.
More family restaurants in Newport: My husband has fond childhood memories of Mo’s Annex’s, a Newport institution. Rogue Brewery is a solid choice wherever you find one. Rogue features kids’ menus and the signature Pacific Northwest family-friendly pub atmosphere.
Newport Oregon Hotels for Families:
On our recent trip, I stayed at the Hallmark Inn. I visited a few family hotels before we chose our room, and we liked what we saw at Hallmark. We slept soundly in the Queen/Queen Stateroom: a spacious double queen with a.ma.zing ocean views and a small kitchenette. To reach the sandy shore, you have to hike down a series of steps, but it shouldn’t be too difficult with toddlers.
If you’re seeking large, apartment-style rooms with kitchenettes, look at Greenstone Inn, located in Newport’s teeny-tiny (but adorable) Nye Beach community. I visited a few rooms — the facility was built so recently that it still has a “new building” smell. Greenstone boasts about its eco-approach to building and outfitting rooms.
Additionally, people rave about the Elizabeth Street Inn, although we did not stay there. I would still recommend the hotel; I stopped in and liked what I saw.