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.

Northern Exposure: Kid-friendly picks in Roslyn, Washington

Drive 90 minutes east of Seattle along I-90, and you’re transported into another era.

In Roslyn, Washington, two blocks of false-front wooden storefronts stand shakily across the street from one another, like cowboys frozen in a standoff since the early 1900s. Docile, fat dogs wander through town, begging for scraps from restaurants. Shacks – once houses – look like they’re ready to collapse into the earth’s embrace. Chill winds race down the mountain and wipe the smile off of your face. To live in Roslyn, Washington, you have to be a little tough. And that is awesome.

Roslyn restaurants and stores near Suncadia

False-front buildings in Roslyn, Washington

But these few blocks also yield a wine store, a natural foods shop, coffee shops, well-maintained bed and breakfasts and an art gallery.  To live here, you also have to be clever and flexible.

The name Roslyn won’t mean much to your kids, unless they’re huge fans of Northern Exposure (unlikely). Roslyn, Washington, was the backdrop for the 90’s TV show; it stood in for Alaska’s Cicely.

Roslyn is just a few miles from the popular Suncadia Resort (I’ll be writing a review of Suncadia soon), so it’s a nice excursion from the complex.

Neighboring Cle Elum — a former railroad town –- seems a little more put together, with wide streets and a tidy main street. It feels more like a suburb of the wild west. It’s OK, but no Roslyn.

Here’s how to spend an afternoon in Roslyn:

Meet a miner. In the log-cabin-sized Roslyn Museum, where you’ll discover Roslyn’s history, from mining heyday to Hollywood set. There’s no attempt to whitewash ugliness in Roslyn’s past, so be sure to read the story of how African-Americans were brought in to break a coal miners’ strike for better working conditions. Cynically set against each other for a day’s wages, it ended as you might think.


kid-friendly attraction in Roslyn like the roslyn museum

Checking out a 100-year-old 3D photo at the Roslyn Museum

Appreciate modern plumbing. No honeybuckets back in the day, hon. You’ll appreciate your tiny bathroom after viewing the maroon outhouse, right outside the Roslyn Museum, near the coal car replica.

Buy board games. The enormous inventory at Cle Elum’s Interactive Toys offers hundreds of choices for bored kids. On a budget? Clear plastic bins brim with inexpensive finger toys, crayons and animals.In the store’s rear, there’s a ceramic-painting spot; pick your hues and paint a dog or cherub.

Catch a flick. The vintage Roslyn Theatre is certainly appealing, with balcony seating and a dogs-allowed policy. But the tiny theater only shows one first-run movie. If that movie’s is rated anything over G, you probably won’t be taking the kids. Unless you’re a bad, bad parent like me (“cover your eyes!”).

Drink up. Check out The Brick, the longest-operating saloon in Washington State. The family entrance and family side offers booth seating, a giant TV and a kids’ menu; the bar side provides pool tables, beer and a running water spittoon that streams beneath the barstools. In the old days, miners didn’t want to move their aching bones from their drinkin’ seats fer a spit.

Make your condo neighbors jealous. Buy a 6-pack of maple-walnut or cinnamon-raisin rolls from Cle Elum Bakery (501 E 1st St., 509-674-2233). Stick ‘em in your Suncadia oven the next morning and let the smell waft through the building.

cheap food and souvenirs at the roslyn natural market

In the Roslyn Natural Market

Get your granola gear. The Roslyn Natural Market offers organic produce, interesting foodie imports (we tried some olive-oil-soaked tortillas from Spain), and shopping bags benefiting the nearby Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW. Everything in here appears delicious. Except the hats.

Feast on pizza. Village Pizza (105 W. Pennsylvania Ave., 509-649-2992) offers baskets of trivia cards on each table, thick-crust pizza with not-so-spiced tomato sauce and unusual toppings (we had cashew and spinach). You don’t eat on plates, but right off of the white-and-red-checked papers setting each table place. My family loved the restaurant; I thought it was so-so, and didn’t love the crust.

roslyn restaurants and cafes

Roslyn Cafe

Eat breakfast with a legend: Known as “Roslyn’s” on Northern Exposure, the hard-working, family-friendly Roslyn Café serves up the staples: burgers, sandwiches and kids’ meals. Try the parmesan-sprinkled fries. Irregular hours in the off-season, so call before arriving.

Discover more: Drop into Cle Elum’s tiny box of a visitors bureau. Helpful staff will stuff your pockets with brochures and pamphlets and offer advice on kid-friendly trails, campsites and excursions.

Stay overnight. If you’d like to sleep in a miner’s home, check out Roslyn Rooms.