Eugene with Kids: Activities and restaurants for family fun

Eugene offers multiple options to keep your family entertained and well-fed. For this piece, I visited Eugene, and I also consulted with Melanie Willson, a Vancouver Island mom that lived in Eugene for several of the past few years; she still visits regularly. I trust Melanie’s opinions and found her Eugene-with-kids suggestions wonderful and spot-on accurate. I hope you find them equally useful.

Here are over 15 things to do with kids in the Eugene area:

Ride a six-foot wave at Splash! At Lively Park in Eugene’s neighboring city of Springfield, about 20 minutes from downtown Eugene. This swim center is a lap above similar community pools; there’s a baby pool, a corkscrew slide, hot tubs – and oh yeah – that crazy, deep wave pool that tosses swimmers around like driftwood. In a fun way, of course. This is one of my favorite pools in the Pacific Northwest.

Eugene Playground

Lively Playground

Once you’re done playing in the pool, a giant climbing playground waits outside for a second round of fun (as in, yes, you should bring lunch/snacks – you’ll be here a while).

University of Oregon Eugene museum with kids

Sitting in a meteorite outside the U of O’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History

My favorite Eugene experience? The University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, where kids can consider ancient traditional slippers and examine dioramas of traditional Native American life. Then, inquisitive kids give archeology a hand in the “Think Like a Scientist” lab, where they can use a magnifying glass to unravel bone and fossil mysteries or wonder at the evolution of a horse’s hoof.

At the U of O, learning about the Oregon Coast (and a great stop pre-Coast).

The compact, child-friendly area of the museum is clean, new, and stocked with interesting artifacts and hands-on options that make history and science come alive.

Eugene Raptor Center a kid-friendly thing to do in Eugene

Avian eyes at the Eugene Raptor Center

Spy an eagle or falcon at the evergreen-sheltered Cascades Raptor Center, where over 60 resident birds represent 33 species in outdoor cages. Each bird’s short story is right next to their cage, so you can discover more about each raptor – or maybe even “adopt” one. Wear sturdy shoes, as the ground is uneven.

The Science Factory, a fun thing to do with kids in Eugene

The Science Factory in Eugene

Play for an hour or two at the Science Factory Children’s Museum & Exploration Dome, the petite, well-loved cousin of science museums. You won’t find the multi-story experiences offered in the big cities, but it’s a fine way to spend an half-hour or so, and admission is only $4/person.

Science Factory in Eugene with kids

Inside the Science Factory in Eugene

Check the website for the current exhibit; when we were there, the museum focused on balls and ramps.

Run it off at RiverPlay Discovery Playground, where kids can uncover fossils in sand dig, climb a 25-foot replica of Skinner Butte or make a dam of sand and water in a replica Willamette River.

Browse nature’s bounty at the Eugene Saturday Market; farmers deliver fresh produce to downtown Eugene while artisans sell their eco-wares. Order lunch from an on-the-go restaurateur dishing up Mexican, Thai, Indian cuisines or US-style sandwiches. Listen to live music and give the kids a few bucks for a treat or two. “More tie-die stands than any other market I’ve encountered,” Melanie says, “and awesome Afghani food in the food court. The adjacent farmer’s market with everything you can imagine from the Willamette Valley, from duck eggs to huckleberries.”

Hike the 209-acre Mt. Pigsah Arboretum with your family – and bring the camera for photo-ready moments along wildflower meadows and in Evergreen forests. Check the website before you go and see if there’s a guided family walk on the calendar – then sign up for an educational ramble through the woods.

If you’re going to visit a toystore in Eugene for travel-ready playthings, The Elephant’s Trunk should be your destination. Located in downtown Eugene, this shop crams hundreds of toy options into a tidy, well-organized store. Dolls, animals, toddler toys and more.

Eugene 5th Street Public Market

The store’s nestled in the adorable, flower-strewn shopping center 5th Street Public Market.

Eating Out with Kids in Eugene

Dig into Thai at Ring of Fire, located in an unassuming strip mall. Ask for a seat in the back room, where your family can sit under giant umbrellas. This is a good option with adventurous, older children.

“So many kinds of beer from all over the world, the best local and far-away microbrews, and simple soups and delicious panini,” Melanie says of The Beer Stein. “It’s where U of O students and faculty often head for a beer, and where my playgroup would occasionally meet. As a Canadian used to paying 3-4 times as much for beer, I was in heaven.”

“Hideaway Bakery has a sandbox under cover on their patio, which is also heated,” Melanie says. “They have a terrific brick oven and yummy breads and treats, and the sandbox is filled with baking stuff for digging, like measuring cups, ladles, etc.”

Pluck a pie or pick up a tart at Sweet Life Patisserie. This patisserie takes its sugar seriously, with dozens upon dozens of cakes, pies, cupcakes, cheesecakes, tarts and tiny delectable chocolates, all laid out in several glass cases (try to refrain from licking the cases, it’s just not becoming of a mom). An amazing selection – even Eugene’s vegans are catered to — and it’s hard to go home with just one dessert.

kid-friendly Eugene restaurant

Morning Glory Cafe, a kid-friendly restaurant in Eugene

Get in touch with your inner tofu-yoga queen at Morning Glory Café. Yes, this is crunchy hippie food (you will find tempeh and sprouts) but there’s lots of food (split plates!) and those scrambles taste good. This café sits within a stone’s throw of the railroad terminal, so toddlers will have something to watch for, while you’re watching for breakfast’s arrival. A good option for those sensitive to wheat, dairy and other issues. “Don’t overlook their amazing tea blends,” Melanie says.

Laughing Planet and Café Yumm are both solid options with babies, toddlers, preschoolers and other picky personalities. The menus offer simple and  straightforward wrap, soups and bowls with Mexican and Asian twists. “Café Yumm is a Eugene classic,” Melanie says. “Rice and bean bowls with the ubiquitous Yumm! sauce that all of the locals are so addicted to that there are cafe yumms all over town, and sauce to buy and take home if you can’t wait for your next fix.”

How about Laughing Planet? Melanie made up a song to entertain toddlers en route to the popular stop: To the tune of  Frere Jacques: Laughing Planet, Laughing Planet/ Where are You? Where are you? / I want a burrito, I want a burrito/ And some soup, And some soup. “The soup of the day is generally delicious and the Che Burrito (Plantain, black bean and sweet potato) is not to be missed,” she says.

“In a city with lots of Thai restaurants, Sweet Basil is the place we went for consistent and delicious curries,” Melanie says. “”Good, basic Thai food at reasonable prices.”

“Iralia serves amazing Mediterranean food,” Melanie says. “They use simple, whole ingredients and a variety of influences to create amazing hearty dishes. Iraila is Eugene’s best kept secret.”

Thanks, Melanie! Readers, do you have any kid-friendly Eugene suggestions? For more information on the Eugene area, consult with Travel Lane County.

Coastal Kids: Things to Do in Florence, Oregon with Kids

Today, we interview mom (and Eugene, Ore., native) Emily Forsha. Emily grew up with the central Oregon coast as her playground. She knows that a foggy day in the Willamette Valley often means clear sunny skies at the coast, and that salt water taffy is best enjoyed sitting on the boardwalk in Old Town Florence. Now as the Tourism PR Manager at Travel Lane County and a mother to a 4 year-old and 15 month-old, Emily offers her fresh perspective as both a tourism industry professional and busy mom. All photos were provided by Emily.

Q. Do you have a favorite Oregon coast town? Why do you like it?

Emily: For us, Florence, Ore., is perfect; only an hour’s drive from Eugene and Interstate 5, we can go for just a spur-of-the-moment day trip, or stay for the whole weekend. The boardwalk in Old Town Florence is a special place for the entire family – it has an authentic, less “touristy” feel. We usually have a bowl of clam chowder at Mo’s, then head across the street for a scoop of homemade ice cream and salt water taffy from BJ’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Q. What’s your favorite family activity on the Oregon coast? What kinds of things do you like to do (with kids) in Florence and nearby?

We’re a family of hikers, so the hikes around this area are usually our go-to destinations. Washburne State Memorial Park’s Hobbit Trail is an easy 0.4-mile trail that evokes imaginative fairies and gnomes and leads to a flat, sandy beach. If your family is up for a longer, steeper jaunt, the 6-mile round-trip trail to the Heceta Head Lighthouse has outstanding seascape views.

Washburne State Park.

Cape Perpetua is the highest point on the Oregon coast, and alive with trails to explore. We’ve spent many days wandering old-growth forests and whale watching, but the best trail for families is the easy 0.6-mile walk on Captain Cook Trail, where you can investigate tidepools rich with marine life.

The giant dune buggy tour is the best way to see the 40 miles of Oregon Dunes in the Siuslaw National Forest – a truly awesome sight. We took both of our boys on our last trip to Florence, and it was the highlight of the trip for all of us. We rode the buggies from Sandland Adventures, then made an afternoon of it with fun train and go-kart rides, bumper boats and miniature golf.

Oregon Sand Dunes

Oregon Sand Dunes

But if I had to pick only one destination for families, it would probably be Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. You can canoe, kayak, paddleboat or swim one of two freshwater lakes (Cleawox is our favorite). There are summer interpretive programs in the amphitheater for children, and huckleberries and blackberries galore.

Emily and son canoeing

Q. Any favorite kid-friendly restaurants in Florence? Formal/foodie (but where kids are OK) and informal?

We love having breakfast at the Nature’s Corner Cafe & Market – I let my kids fill up on the house-made organic chocolate milk and pancakes. Feast is the newest addition to Florence for foodies, and it is delicious. Definitely a more formal atmosphere, but we’re comfortable taking our kids for an early-evening dinner or Sunday brunch (my favorite!).

Q. Do you have a favorite time of year or season to visit Florence?

This is a tough question. It’s sort of a well-known secret that fall is a beautiful time on the central Oregon coast; less windy and often sunnier and clearer than in the Willamette Valley. As a kid, I loved the winter and spring whale watching weeks, and still enjoy them as an adult.

We’ve taken the kids for a winter getaway at Driftwood Shores; even if we don’t get lucky with weather, the hotels has a brand-new indoor kids’ pool and water play area that they absolutely love.

Florence oregon places to stay

Indoor pool!

Winter is also the best time to see the sea lions perched inside the Sea Lion Caves. In 2009 there were a record number of California sea lions inhabiting the caves during the winter months – between 300-500 on any given day. We’re excited to see how many will show up this year.

And for some reason, they know that during the winter months I’m more likely to let them sample the homemade fudge from the gift shop on the way out.

Read More about Florence with Kids:

Eugene, Cascades & Coast Tourism Information on Florence, Oregon

Florence Chamber of Commerce

Disclosure: I have worked with Emily in a professional context. When I wrote two articles for the Travel Lane County Visitors’ Guide (my employer was Saga City Media), I met Emily while in Eugene, while I was performing research. We hit it off (Emily’s super sweet) and she knows a lot about Florence, so we thought a joint post might be a great addition to Cascadia Kids. I am responsible for all links to businesses offered here.