Oregon Dunes (Florence) with Kids

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area — the largest coastal sand dunes in North America – makes you feel exactly like Luke Skywalker. Well, maybe you won’t look or sound like him, but after 10 minutes here, you’ll empathize with Luke’s long walk over those huge, majestic dunes on Tatooine.

Naturally, kids LOVE this place.

As if  dropped right into a giant’s sandbox, you’ll find giant 500-foot-tall (152 m.) peaked mounds and “tree islands,” where trees cluster together, surrounded by sand.

The Oregon Dunes NRA Visitors Center offers hiking tips through the dunes, info on the area’s natural history and summertime programs on the plants and animals of the dunes. No tusken raiders actually live here, boo.

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park is a great place to experience the area’s unique landscape — walk the dunes, watch kids sled or snowboard down dunes, and visit the beach. The park’s freshwater lake (Cleawox) was warm enough to qualify as a “bath” for my kid, who hates baths but didn’t complain here.

Cleawox Lake, Florence Oregon with Kids

Cleawox Lake, Florence Oregon

The dunes stretch for forty miles long along the coast, so many visitors opt to see them in a giant, slow-moving dune buggy (you can even bring a baby in a carseat on a buggy) or a faster sand rail (required: goggles, a helmet and age 3 & up).

In either case, reservations must be made in advance with one of the dune buggy outfits. Sandland Adventures has a nice little Family Fun Center with bumper boats, if you want to cool off after a Sandland buggy ride.

If sandboarding looks more your kids’ speed, Sand Master Park rents gear, gives lessons and offers family packages. The park is right next to a Fred Meyer, and it’s funny to see the sand actually moving into the parking lot – it creeps inland 16 feet per year. Maybe some day we’ll all be driving sand buggies.

Oregon sand dune

View from the top of a Oregon Sand Dune

Where to stay in Florence with Kids

You can stay at Jessie M. Honeyman in one of the yurts — or bring your tent. Book far in advance, because it’s a popular destination with great weather.

We stayed at the Driftwood Shores Resort right on the beach, which was fine and clean, if a bit dated and mildewy in spots (hey, it’s the Northwest Coast — only so much you can do about things like this). A bonus: The Inn has a small children’s aquatic play area with fun showers and sprinklers — a nice back up if you do arrive on a very windy or rainy day.

Where to eat in Florence with Kids

After some deep research, we went with a few fun places:

Mo’s in Florence Old Town. 1436 Bay St., Florence, Oregon. So,  the seafood is similar, perhaps, to your grandparent’s seafood restaurant (like a fancy Skipper’s, maybe). You can’t beat the location (right on the water), the kid-friendly aspects (really noisy restaurant, crayons, kid menu) and the fact your child’s palate and your grandparent’s palate are probably not too dissimilar. It’s fine. Order an appetizer if the restaurant is busy, as you may wait a while for your food.

Maple Street Grille. 165 Maple St., Florence, Oregon. An upscale restaurant with solid meal options, including well-cooked salmon, chicken and pasta. A bit more formal and expensive. No kids’ menu, but kid-friendly restaurant staff will help your children find yummy food, such as mac ‘n’ cheese.

Nature’s Corner Cafe and Market. 185 Hwy 101 Florence, Oregon. Hearty, healthy breakfasts in a very casual setting  — more like a store than a restaurant. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. It can take a while for the food to arrive (maybe order something small to take the edge off). But when it does  arrive– yum.

1285 Restobar also looks like a decent option for pizza and Italian food.

Read more about Florence with Kids.

Bainbridge Island with Kids

Bainbridge Shops with Kids

Bainbridge shops

On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than catching a Washington State Ferry from Pier 52, bound for Bainbridge Island. En route, ask the kids to find the mountains — they’re all around you. Olympics to the west, Cascades (behind Seattle’s high-rise office buildings) and Mt. Rainier looming to the south. Once you’ve arrived, hop off and enjoy some island time: slow down, ramble along the streets, poke your head into independently owned shops and say “hello” to store owners.

Things to Do on Bainbridge Island with Kids

Bainbridge Aquatic Center, 8521 Madison Avenue N.
Rainy day on Bainbridge Island with kids? No problem! Ride down the 180-foot water slide, cruise along the lazy river, take your stir-crazy toddlers to the play area or encourage your teen to jump off the diving board.

Bainbridge Cinemas at the Pavilion, 403 Madison Avenue N.
In downtown Bainbridge Island, catch a first-run movie or matinee on one of five screens, along with the usual popcorn and popcorn-powder toppings.

Farmers’ Market, Town Square at City Hall Park (spring, summer, fall – Saturdays, 9-1)
This market’s rules say the veggies, fruits, handmade cheese and crafts must be island-grown or island-made, so when they say local, they mean local.

Kids Discovery Museum (KiDiMu), 150 Madrone Lane N.
KiDiMu’s sweet little museum welcomes babies, toddlers and preschoolers with a child-sized village, a cute Smart car, a realistic treehouse and upstairs hands-on science lab. It’s not big, but makes up for size in enthusiasm.

KiDiMu: Bainbridge Island Attraction with Kids

KiDiMu: Bainbridge Island Attraction with Kids

Waterfront Park
Native plants gather around hiking trails and a playground in this 5.5-acre park. Picnic tables welcome picnicking families.

Bainbridge Island Historical Museum may interest older children. Or it might not. Skip it with any child under the age of 10 or so; the museum probably isn’t hands-on enough to engage younger kids.

Where to eat with kids on Bainbridge Island

Blackbird Bakery, 210 Winslow Way E.
Pastries include wheat-free and vegan options, along with rich pies and quiches. I love the unusual drinks; once, I enjoyed a nettle lemonade here. Pack up your snacks and take them to the Waterfront Park (above).

Café Nola, 488 Winslow Way E.
Draw on the paper-topped tables before your pecan-orange challah bread arrives (breakfast). Great lunches and dinners too. The kids’ menu has everything from ravioli to quesadillas to PB&J. Long lines – make a reservation if you can. One of my favorite restaurants in Puget Sound.

Doc’s Marina Grill, 403 Madison Ave S.
Fish ‘n’ ships! Your meal comes with a fine view of boats on Eagle Harbor, whether you’re seated indoors or outdoors. The menu doesn’t stray too far from the typical burgers, sandwiches and breaded fish.

Mora Iced Creamery, 139 Madrone Lane
Mora serves Bainbridge-made seasonal favorites like eggnog (winter) and lavender (summer) along with more typical flavors. But mostly, I love going here for the funky flavors.

Pegasus Coffee House, 131 Parfitt Way S.W.
Order breakfast, salad or dinner, listen to an open-mike or jam session (weekends only), or try absinthe (adults only!). Pegasus coffee for adults, and drinking chocolate for the kids, which is like drinking a slurry of melted chocolate bar – rich enough to share, for sure.

That’s a Some Pizza, 488 Winslow Way E.
Easy-cheesy, pick up a slice to go for the ferry ride home or a pie for your hotel room.

Bainbridge Stores for Kids

Bon Bon Confections, 230 Winslow Way E
Enough candy to scare a dentist: Bainbridge Island Fudge, chocolate in jars, pastel-colored beauties and more than a dozen varieties of licorice. And fudge. Yum.

Calico Cat Toys, 104 Winslow Way W.
A fun little toy shop with great unique selections, including locally made toys and a fantastic stuffed-animal collection.

Eagle Harbor Book Company, 157 Winslow Way E.
Sit on the hardwood floors or an armchair and read from a picture book or a tween paranormal romance – this indie bookstore has it all. Yes, a great selection of books for grown-ups, too.

Lollipops Children’s Boutique, 278 Winslow Way E.
A children’s boutique with upscale brands for girls and babies, with some locally made extras that make fun souvenirs.

Where to Sleep on Bainbridge (Family-Friendly Hotels)

Eagle Harbor Inn, 291 Madison Avenue S.
Four boutique hotel-style rooms (including one with a queen bed and a foldout couch) within walking distance of the ferry and the village center.

Best Western Bainbridge Island Suites, 350 N.E. High School.
Spacious, kitchen-outfitted suites that are great for families, although you’ll need a car to get here and the views are lacking (parking lots, the road, etc.).

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. 

Tofino with Kids: Advice from a dad insider

Tofino BC with Kids

Tofino with Kids

Tofino is where wilderness and luxury meet. It’s a wave-washed destination where even the public campgrounds are never far from million-dollar views.

John Platenius is the parent of two children (ages 5 and 7) and a resident of Tofino, a top summer vacation spot along Vancouver Island’s western shore. Platenius has just put out a fine new book on the region, Tofino Guide, retailing for $19.95. Read more at his Tofino-focused website or leave questions below in the comments.

Here are Platenius’ tips on things to do with kids in Tofino, his recommendations for great hotels and campgrounds, and even the best hiking trail with a preschooler. (Photo at right, Platenius’s son playing on a Tofino beach)

1. Can you recommend a good Tofino hotel, if you’re staying with kids?

Platenius: Oh oh — prepare yourself for long answer, because there are so many great hotels and resorts in Tofino. Most people come here for the beaches, so it’s a natural fit to recommend a place located on one of the beaches. I can truly say that you can’t go wrong by any of the hotels and resorts that are located on a beach. For many families visiting Tofino, price is the main determining factor. Luckily for budget travelers, our peak season of July and August is relatively short, and there are incredible deals outside of these months. If adventurous families want to come to Tofino in the winter months, they can find a room or even a cabin at a luxury resort for $100 per night — and that’s for a stupendous beach location with cushy amenities!

The most established family-oriented hotel and resort on the beach is Pacific Sands Beach Resort. It’s located on Cox Bay and is a great choice. But it really comes down to taste and what’s available at the time. Pacific Sand’s neighbors, Cox Bay Beach Resort and Long Beach Lodge get rave reviews and are equally stunning in terms of location and amenities.

Chesterman Beach only has one hotel, the Wickaninnish Inn. The Wick is a Relais and Chateâux property and it’s the definition of luxury. My family goes there for coffee fairly often to take in the incredible atmosphere and feel special. If price is not your determining factor for accommodation, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. They have a kid-friendly   special called “Wick Kids” which has a kid-version of a gift basket and they offer complimentary child care when guests dine at their restaurant perched over the Pacific.

And then there is MacKenzie Beach, which has two places that I often recommend — again depending on the price and need for amenities. Middle Beach Lodge is an established resort that offers an out-of-this world experience. It was built with heritage materials and is appointed with marine antiques and artifacts that create a warm and relaxing mood. The owner likes to quote a writer who visited there and said “Ralph Lauren would be happy here,” and I too think that’s a great description. Middle Beach has a good approach to welcoming kids to a resort, with family-specific cabins, which are located a great distance from their adult-specific lodge. It’s a 40-acre property, so there’s lots of room for everyone.

The last place I’d recommend on the beach is Ocean Village Beach Resort on MacKenzie Beach. It was recently purchased by a green development team that revitalized the property. It is one of the few places in Tofino that has an indoor swimming pool. It also has an expansive lawn that leads down to the sandy beach, which makes it very attractive to families with wee ones.

OK – there’s one more on MacKenzie Beach that I should mention: Crystal Cove Resort. This place has an awesome private play park for kids. While it is mostly set-up for RVs, they have some really nifty cabins for rent that are built up on stilts, so it feels like your sleeping in a tree fort.

It’s also important to point out that many families choose to stay in vacation rentals — entire houses that have been set up for nightly rentals. My family loves to stay in a vacation rental when we travel, because we can cook our own food, and the kids have more space to roam around and play freely. Most of the resorts that I mentioned above have cabins that they rent in this fashion and there’s two large vacation rental management companies in town: Tofino Vacation Rentals and Tofino Beach Homes. Additionally there are over 100 privately owned vacation rentals in Tofino, so there are tons of options available.


2. Which beach is the best for toddlers or preschoolers visiting Tofino?

Platenius: In my mind, all beaches are great for young ones. Exploring, digging, boogie boarding, skipping rope with bull kelp — what fun! In Tofino Guide, I recommend MacKenzie Beach as the calmest beach for toddlers looking to wade around in the water. It’s relatively protected from the swell and wind, which generally makes for calmer water. There’s also some spectacular tidepools at one end of the beach that make for wonderful exploring if it’s a low tide. Kids love to squish their fingers into sea anemones and giggle as the alien-like blob squirts out water and closes it’s tentacles.

3. Can you recommend any family Tofino/Ucluelet restaurants where you can take kids?

Platenius: Ooooh. That’s a tough one. Most of the restaurants in Tofino are attractive for families, and all of them are good. Three come to mind, and I’ll explain the perks of each. All three give crayons and have kid-friendly choices.

SoBo — which stands for Sophisticated Bohemian — is run by parents of two young ones, so it’s a natural first choice. The owners recently commissioned a local father to build an attractive but functional play toy for kids to use on their patio. He built a mini replica of the purple bus that they used to operate out of when they first opened and it’s a great draw for kids. Our kids love to eat lunch at this restaurant, and they usually order a kid-friendly version of their miso oudon noodle soup. SoBo’s polenta fries are practically a staple for many Tofino families.

Shelter Restaurant is another great choice for kids, especially for lunch. It’s a bit darker, and more lounge-like than the other three, which I think can be fun for kids to experience. They have the best booths in Tofino — big and cushy. They also play surf movies on four or five TVs, which my kids love to watch. The kid’s pizza there is a great choice.

And then there’s the restaurant at the Weigh West Marine Resort, which has been around for a long time. It’s perched right over the water on wooden pilings, so kids can lean over the window and watch the marine life below. It’s common to see river otters and sea lions swimming right by your window, and you can watch the star fish clinging to the pilings. You are literally dining in an intertidal zone! The kids fish and chips is great, and it’s a good value too.

4. What is your favorite hiking trail in the area (that would be suitable for a family with young kids), and why?

Platenius: The Rainforest Trail, Loop B is my first choice. It’s about one kilometer long (0.6 miles), which I find a perfect distance for my 5-year-old daughter. The entire loop is boardwalked, which makes for easy walking, and there are great interpretive signs about the temperate rainforest ecosystem. One section of the trail crosses a ravine by way of a huge log that fell who-knows how long ago, which impresses the kids and the adults in the crew.

5. Can you recommend a favorite family-friendly campsite near Tofino? Why is it good for kids?

Platenius: Before I answer this one, I should mention that if families are looking to camp in Tofino in July or August, they should make reservations well in advance.

All of the campgrounds are family friendly, but I think Green Point Campground, in the Pacific Rim National Park is probably the top choice for families. It’s situated up above Long Beach, which is about a five-minute walk from most campsites. The reason I choose this one is because it gets you away from it all, but still has all the amenities you’d expect at a campground. Because it’s in the National Park, it’s significantly cheaper than the others. There’s a theater in the campground that hosts naturalists and park staff who present evening shows on topics like black bears, gray whales and the local indigenous culture.

Best Hikes with Kids near Portland, Oregon

Today, we interview Bonnie Henderson, the author of Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon. Let’s find out more about hiking in Northwestern Oregon.

Do you have any favorite rainy-day hikes in Oregon? Is there an area of Oregon that’s particularly wonderful for family hiking, even during spring or fall? Why do you like that kid-friendly hike?

Bonnie: I love hiking at the Oregon Coast in the winter when the weather is crummy. Not if it’s pouring, and not on the beach itself, but when you’re tired of the same old trails around your house and the Cascades are still snowed under, the forest right along the coast is a great place to go. I’m thinking of the Fort to Sea Trail near Astoria-Warrenton, for instance, and trails in Oswald West State Park. The big trees provide some protection from rain and wind, and the forest is so lush and alive. In the fall you’re likely to find lots of different kinds of mushrooms popping up, and in the early spring there’s bright yellow skunk cabbage.

I live in Eugene, so I love to hike at Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats, in the winter. It’s usually not too cold on rainy days; wear decent rain gear, bring a change of clothes, have a thermos of something hot to drink back in the car, and don’t worry about getting a little wet.

The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is great for hiking with kids in fall and winter (as long as there’s no ice storm) and even better in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming and waterfalls are gushing. I haven’t been out to the Sandy River Delta Trail since the Confluence Project bird blind was completed, but I look forward to going; I expect that will be a great hike with kids, and just a short drive east of Portland at the west end of the gorge.


Q. What’s your favorite hike that’s either in or near Portland?

Bonnie: There are SO many, but with kids I really like Tryon Creek State Park (lots of choices of short-ish loop trails) and trails on Sauvie Island (especially Oak Island). Sauvie Island is great because it’s SO close but feels like you’re really getting out of the city (which you are). The trails at the Audubon Sanctuary on NW Cornell Road are close in and great to walk with young children.

Q. Can you suggest a good one-night backpacking hike with kids, anywhere near Portland or Eugene?

Bonnie: My very favorite is Bobby Lake Trail, in the Willamette National Forest. It’s probably farther than Portlanders want to drive, so I’ll describe it and you’ll see what qualities I think make a great backpack with kids; you could look for something like this close to wherever you live. (It’s hard to find something this good that’s close to Portland AND uncrowded.) Bobby Lake is a smallish lake near Waldo Lake Area in the central Cascades. It’s a pretty boring hike in, but it’s flat and only about 2.5 miles, so very doable for almost any kid. There are a number of good campsites scattered along the edge. There’s a huge rock that slopes into the lake, which is great for sunning and launching a swim. (Many beautiful mountain lakes have marshy or rocky shoreline and aren’t inviting for swimming). And from the lakeside campsite you can stage day hikes, such as a circumnavigation of the lake or a hike up a nearby peak for a great view. It is very mosquito-y there, which is true for many lakes in the high Cascades, so I wouldn’t recommend going (especially with kids) before the second half of August.

Q. Are there any accessible, close-in to Portland hikes that are great for snowshoeing after snow falls or before it melts?

Bonnie: The Crosstown Trail on Mount Hood comes to mind. It goes through the woods just above Government Camp, so you can rent snowshoes in the village and be snowshoeing in a few minutes. It’s in the trees, so you aren’t exposed to wind and driving snow if it’s a snowy day. It’s about an hour’s drive from Portland, but it’s rare that there is snow any closer than that (enough for snowshoeing). It’s great to be out in the deep quiet of winter, and if you stop to eat, guaranteed you’ll immediately be found by a party of “camp robbers” (gray jays or Clark’s nutcrackers) trying to snatch food out of your hand!

Readers, do you have a favorite family hike in Oregon, Washington or British Columbia? Do you mind sharing your secret ramble?