Oregon Coast Road Trip with Kids

Oregon Coast Road Trip with Kids

Just south of the busy tourist towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside is the 40-mile, quieter Three Capes Drive, which has a few haystack rocks of its own. From north to south, you’ll follow the gentle C shape from Tillamook to Pacific City. This coastal drive — rich in over 2,500 acres of warm-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, dunes dotted with evergreens and coastal rainforest – encourages you to slow down, smell the sea air and unwind. Here’s an all-day itinerary for enjoyment:

10 a.mOregon Coast Road Trip 1: Tillamook Cheese Factory with Kids, Oregon

The town of Tillamook acts as a road-trip gateway to the coast, tying Highway 6 from Portland to the Oregon Coast’s Highway 101 (Portland is about 90 minutes away). A quick 30-minute self-guided tour on at the Tillamook Cheese Factory reveals quirky facts. For example: Why is the Oregon Coast a great place to make cheese? Facts are always best served with samples and treats, so try the facility’s complimentary samples and pick up a picnic lunch for later.

Tillamook Factory Signs

Tillamook Factory Mad Men-Era Ads

11 a.m. Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 2: Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint 

Just 8 miles from Tillamook and over 200 feet above the ocean, Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint offers ocean-view housing on a bluff – to the largest colony of common murres south of Alaska. From the parking lot, walk a paved .2 mile down to the 1890s-era lighthouse and watch for migrating grey whales (nearly 18,000 pass Oregon’s shores annually), puffins, seals and Stellar sea lions. Kids will love running the paths guarded by giant evergreens — and don’t miss the “Octopus Tree,” a 250+ year-old sitka spruce shaped by time and wind into a many-trunked fascination. Read more about the Octopus Tree so you sound like an expert to the kids.

Octopus Tree Oregon Coast

Octopus Tree

12 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 3: Oceanside

From Cape Meares, take Bayshore Drive south and pop into Oceanside’s heart-stopping idea of real estate. Oceanside’s vacation community steps up the face of sheer cliffs, rewarding inhabitants with incredible views of the offshore Three Arch Rocks Refuge, the oldest National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi, where over a quarter-million nesting birds land annually. Grab a latte at local coffeeshop Brewin’ in the Wind, dig your toes into Oceansides’s sliver of sand and marvel over the gravity-defying habitats surrounding you. I would really like to stay here someday.

1 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 4: Cape Lookout State Park

Stop at the 700-foot Cape Lookout State Park for a hike and picnic lunch. Set right in a lush coastal rainforest, the cathedral-like setting also acts as a sanctuary for deer, elk and yes, even a bear or two (hide the roast beef sandwiches). Get back in the car and move south along the two-lane Cape Lookout Road past glossy salal, stout firs and twisted spruces blanketing eastern hills. Blackberries brambles offer juicy gems in summer, a roadside snack that one-ups store-bought candy. To the west, waves fall like dominoes on sandy, quiet beaches.

2 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 5: Whalen Island

The Clay Meyers State Natural Area at Whalen Island‘s gentle contours are the perfect setting for a post-picnic hike with the kids after a long day on the road. It’s an easy loop hike, about a mile and half long through a variety of Oregon Coast land, from mudflats to dunes. Read more about the Whalen Island hike at the Portland Hikers Field Guide.

4 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 6: Pacific City

Spend the night in Pacific City’s beachfront community, the southern entrance to the Three Capes drive and home to Cape Kiwanda and the Pacific dory fleet. Pacific City is similar to Cannon Beach, right down to the signature haystack rock and sandy coastline — but it doesn’t have the shops or crowds. It’s like Cannon Beach’s shy Oregon Coast sister.

Surfing, shopping and sunsets are all here in Pacific City. Put down the car keys and pick up a micro-brew at Pelican Pub and Brewery. The brewery offers a sophisticated kids menu (grilled salmon is an option),  and the staff brings a packet of goldfish crackers ASAP after you order a kids’ meal, a godsend for starving kids and anxious parents. After the meal, sit on the pub’s back deck, immerse yourself in the salt air and let the craggy-faced haystack rock offshore hypnotize you as the kids play in the sand.

Pelican Pub: Oregon Coast with Kids

View from the Pelican Pub outdoor patio

You can walk from the pub to the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where every room has an ocean view. However, be aware that the hotel’s rooms are right above the road. Although I was anxious about reviews that disparaged road noise, I really enjoyed this hotel.  The Inn kindly rents DVDs from a complimentary library with many family options, a board game library and a hunt through the hotel’s trinket “toy chest.” Other cool benefits of staying here: Free chocolates, manager’s reception on Friday nights (cheese, wine, etc.), free coffee for mom and dad, and nice family-sized vacation packages.

If you need lots of room or are staying multi-generational, you might look into the vacation rentals that dot the Oregon Coast; VRBO or Google some options.

Inn at Cape Kiwanda: Kid-friendly Oregon Coast Hotel

Inn at Cape Kiwanda: Kid-friendly Oregon Coast Hotel

For breakfast, head to Grateful Bread Bakery and order the Gingerbread Pancakes. Do it for me…and tell me how you liked them!

From here, it’s about two hours back to Portland, without traffic. Not as beautiful of a road trip, but you’ll have your memories, right?


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Writers’ Round-up: Camping in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia with kids

Reading a first-person online camping story is excellent way to feel out a possible campsite – before you’ve even arrived! Here’s a quick round-up of sites (and sights) around the blogosphere, along with great takeaways. If you’d like me to include your camping related-post, leave a comment.

Northwest Cheapsleeps: I love this Seattle-based mom’s car camping checklist.
Takeaway: StingEze takes the bite out of mosquito nibbles. You don’t know how badly I needed this information.

Weelife: What’s a roof-top tent? Let BC-based camping expert weelife tell you all about this new way to camp, then let her tell you about kid fun on camping trips, and then how her hubby MADE A CAMPING SHOWER (yes, that deserves all caps). I think she married MacGyver, but without all the explody parts. After that, check out all her posts under the “wee camp” tag for recipes, crafts and more.
Takeaway: I’m going camping with Weelife.

Royal BC Museum: How did families camp in the olden days? Check out these photos. As archivist Ann ten Cate says of one photo, “This group seems to be the living embodiment of the phrase ‘happy campers’… they’ve got a guitar, a fiddle, a paddle and a rifle. What more do you need?”
Takeaway: Name your tent or RV. Artist Emily Carr named her caravan … “The Elephant.”

PDX Family Adventures: Learn about camping near Portland at Oxbow State Park or camping the Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua.
Takeaway: Our region has become a confusing morass of day-use fees and annual passes, and the rules change all the time. Call your campground in advance to see what you need to bring with you – or pay up.

Growing Up Green: Vancouver-based mom Tovah from Gumboot Adventures tips us off to natural bug protection, a holistic first-aid kit and even solar-powered heat for your tent trailer.
Takeaway: A little research reveals worthy green alternatives to traditional camping equipment.

Kids in the Woods: Camping with a baby at Rialto Beach in the Olympic Peninsula.
Takeaway: “Bring plenty of burp cloths.  Staying dry is a worthwhile effort on the trail, and spit up is just as wet as (and much more predictable than) rain!”

Calico Garden: Inspired by tales of kid-friendly Washington State campgrounds? Check out Calico Garden’s photo-rich post on Penrose Point (one of our family favorites) and Middle Fork.
Takeaway: Don’t let a little rain scare you away from the campground.

Mad Hatter Mom: There are 10 Reasons to Camp with Kids from this Oregon-based mom.
Takeaway: Even if you don’t like camping, camping with kids is fun.

Sunset Magazine: Not a blog, but this story on car camping on the Oregon Coast is told from a mom’s perspective.
Takeaway: Don’t leave the French press at home, and don’t book a campground next to a highway.

The Travelling Mom: The best campgrounds in British Columbia.
Takeaway: Book BC spots up to three months advance at Discover Camping.

Sillimanians in British Columbia: A photo-only post about camping at Cultus Lake, BC.
Takeaway: Camping is more fun with music.

Otownmommy: Camp in Revelstoke, BC alongside the amusing Otownmommy and then read her “Rules of Camping.”
Takeaway: If you’re in bear country, wear “tent clothes” and “day clothes” so the bears don’t think you’re dinner.

Play Outdoors: Survive tent camping with kids in Central Oregon.
Takeaway: Embrace dirt!

Life with the Boo: Find out what it’s like to stay at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Campground with a toddler.
Takeaway: Bring a bike or ride-on toy for little ones’ entertainment.

Savvymom: Sleep peacefully at Alice Lake with Michelle.
Takeaway: Book a campground near enough to civilization to make a marshmallow run if you forgot yours at home.

The Urban Momtographer: Another Alice Lake Post, with a set of wet-weather pictures in documentary style. You can almost taste the Jiffy Pop and feel the rain.
Takeaway: Don’t leave your camera at home!

The Pleasants: Beach camping might be the best of all worlds for kids – see this family’s post about camping in Long Beach, Wash.
Takeaway: When going to the beach, plan for every type of weather.

Bike Portland: Combining camping with a 41-mile family bike trip? Why not? (Great photos!)
Takeaway: After a 41-mile bike trip, you may want to sleep in a cabin.

Newport, Oregon with Kids

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

Newport Aquarium with kids

Newport Aquarium’s plexiglass tunnel

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 a fun thing to do in Newport with kids

Hatfield Marine Science Center

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 Center

Yaquina Head Lighthouse Interpretive Center

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

Never swim in the Devil’s Punch Bowl

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.

Sea lions at the Newport Pier

Sea lions in Newport

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.

A fun toy store in Newport Oregon with kids

Sandcastle Toys, Newport Oregon

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

A family restaurant in Newport Oregon

Local Ocean in Newport

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.

Newport Oregon restaurant for families

Saffron Salmon interior

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:

View from our family hotel room at the Hallmark Inn

View from our room at the Hallmark Inn

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.

What You Need to Do in March: 7 things to put on your calendar

Want to plan for an awesome spring and summer? Achieve a few (or all) of these items in March:

  1. Make your camping reservations for this summer, if you haven’t done so yet. Reserve through Washington State Park Online Reservation Service (Washington) or Reserve America for Oregon. They’re going fast – when I checked, availability was very limited at some popular parks. The scramble for BC campsite and yurt reservations starts on March 15 at 7 a.m. PST at the BC Camping Reservation Service (Discover Camping). Read more on camping with kids in Washington State, camping with kids in British Columbia and camping with kids in Oregon.
  2. Book your room for hot summer properties: Oregon Coast, Whistler and Leavenworth. Particularly if you’re planning for a popular summer weekend.
  3. Decide which weekend you’re going to set aside for your local family tulip festival and make plans, just in case spring arrives early (here’s to hoping!).
  4. Go on a weekend daytrip to break up a rainy month; we have suggestions for Portland and Seattle.
  5. Play with kids in the snow before it melts away. Even if you have to drive up to the Cascades for the afternoon.
  6. Take advantage of off-season Priceline rates in the big cities: Portland, Vancouver, Seattle. Or take advantage of shoulder-season rates at one of the NW’s popular year-round destinations: Oregon Coast, Whistler, Mt. Hood and Victoria (you won’t find excellent Priceline deals in these cities, although Whistler sometimes offers a few).
  7. Enjoy this month’s free (or discounted) museums and attractions in Portland and Seattle.

North Oregon Coast with Kids

Check out that view to the right of this post. Looks pretty sweet, right? The photo wasn’t taken in Cannon Beach, Seaside or Lincoln City, but in the tiny burg of Pacific City, on The Pelican Pub’s outdoor, beach-facing deck. If you’re ready to explore further, along the North Oregon coast, consider these 11 options (heading from south to north, about two hours if you’re driving straight through). Whether you want to watch whales or watch storms for spring break or just book your summer getaway, there’s a town for you:

Newport. One of my favorite coastal towns for activities, dining and accommodation options. Kids love the Newport Aquarium and the Mark O. Hatfield Science Center and there are multiple delicious restaurant options. Skip anything titled or associated with “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” or the Underwater Aquarium (ignore the coupons and discounts!) and spend your time on the beach instead.

Newport Aquarium

We stayed at The Hallmark Resort for just $99 for a lovely autumn-season oceanfront room. I also visited Elizabeth Street Inn and kitchen-equipped Greenstone Inn – they’re all great options; the latter doesn’t have the views of the first two, but there are suites available.

Depoe Bay. A slip of a town lining the Oregon Coast Highway. One recommendation: Stop at the donation-only Whale Watching Center (you won’t miss it, but it’s on the western side of the highway) to whale-watch on the western horizon. Trained volunteers will help you spot the distinctive spouts and kids can look at whale skeletons and facts. Although it’s an adorable town, I’m not sure I would stay here with younger kids, as the road traffic is very busy. More info: Depoe Bay.


Lincoln City. This was where my family vacationed when I was a kid. It’s a built-up conglomeration of mega-hotels, jam-packed antique stores, family fun centers and restaurants designed to feed and house thousands in summer. Sounds like fun? You’ll have a good time here. More info: Lincoln City.

Neskowin. As if designed in direct contrast to Lincoln City, the upscale town of Neskowin seems to say, “We want a piece of coastal peace.”  Here, the cozy grid streets are filled only with kids on bikes and city cars (cars filled with Costco buys — dining picks are slim to none).

Indy 500 vacationers not welcome in Neskowin

Dozens of hand-painted “slow down” signs decorate houses, electrical posts and fences. Look for rental houses through VRBO or Grey Fox (not much in the way of hotels, either). This town is very cute, and just right for the family wanting to get away from it all. More info: Neskowin.

Pacific City. Incredible views and good eatin’ put Pacific City on the map. Sit right in the shadow of a haystack rock (one of a few along the North Oregon Coast)  and drink a beer on Pelican Pub’s porch and watch the kids play in the sand. Breakfast or lunch at kid-friendly, window-surrounded The Grateful Bread is always a wise idea. The well-heeled Inn at Cape Kiwanda has a wine and cheese hour, lovely views, cute giftshop with kids’ toys and a DVD rental option; I loved this homey hotel. A caveat: The rooms can get noisy, as sit right on the two-lane highway.

Pelican Pub, Pacific City

In the morning, drive north from Pacific City along the Three Capes highway, which winds through mountains and valleys to heart-stopping viewpoints.More info: Pacific City.

Oceanside. It makes me nauseous to look at the houses built into the cliffs – but at the same time, I absolutely want to stay in one of the tottering homes (I’ll just pray that my stay won’t coincide with an earthquake or tsunami). The Oceanside community is tiny, at just 326 residents, so the town’s another quiet get-away spot.

Oceanside’s steep hills

One coffeeshop, (Brewin’ in the Wind), one upscale restaurant (Roseanna’s Oceanside Cafe). Not much on the web for Oceanside, other than a rather useful real estate broker’s website.

Garibaldi. Founded in 1867, but there’s not much to draw crowds today. Skip it, unless you really want to visit the Myrtlewood Factory Outlet. More info: Garibaldi.

Rockaway Beach. Vacation homes, antique shops and a family fun center line the streets of this small destination town. It welcomes all visitors — Upper Crust pizzeria even dishes up a gluten-free pizza. The famous 7-mile sandy beach is a treasure for families. More info: Rockaway Beach site and Greg Goes to Rockaway Beach.

Wheeler. A quaint two-block town with a romantic and rustic vibe. No beach here in the town proper, just lovely views of ships and piers. A pleasant getaway for mom and dad at the B&B-style Wheeler Inn. More info: Wheeler city site.

Nehalem. This town is unusual for the area; it’s located on Nehalem River, not the ocean. It’s a touch warmer too, removed from the cooling Pacific winds. Houseboats bob, and a vintage village vibe hums in summer. Hanging flower baskets decorate white-painted porches.

Nehalem’s false-front buildings

It’s not far from the Nehalem Bay State Park, a perfectly picturesque campground featuring yurts, a playground, campsites — all amid short pine trees and twisted sitkas. More info: Nehalem city site.

Manzanita. If you love Cannon Beach’s views but want to get away from the crowds, Manzanita’s a stellar selection. Well-heeled restaurants, spas, yarn shops, bookstores; like a mix of a New England village and Oregon coast. Manzanita attracts repeat visits from families, year after year. Look for a vacation rental, but book it early or go off-season, because most families made plans last summer for this summer.  More info: Manzanita site.


What’s YOUR favorite family-friendly Oregon Coast town, village or city?

The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest

Still looking for that perfect last-minute gift? Last week, I picked up The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest by travel writer Joan Tapper, with lush photos by Nik Wheeler.

Tapper knows her stuff.  She’s the founding editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine and she’s a great judge on what makes for a beautiful destination– she highlights those smaller, quaint towns that feel like they’ve gracefully aged for the past 100 years. Each village or town is accompanied by text and large photographs; this is as much a coffee-table display book as it is a dream-guide of where to go during your lifetime.

The downside is obvious – it’s a pictorial wish list. You won’t find specifics, you won’t find much on what to do with kids. The price is steep at $40 USD, $45 CAN, yet understandable, due to the photo-heavy format. The book sells for considerably less on Amazon.com.

Regardless of these issues, if you (or your gift recipient) flips through the pages on a rainy, wintry day, you’ll find yourself taking mental notes for next summer. I think I’d like to head to Florence’s waterfront neighborhood and ride Kaslo’s streetcar. The photos and narratives complement each other; it would be difficult to imagine the Oregon Coast’s jagged haystack rocks and soft sand without a photograph. And without the text, you wouldn’t understand historical transformations that many of these towns went through, as logging and fishing economies fell away.

Which villages are covered in the book? Here’s a rundown. Do you agree? What was left off the list – and out of the book?

Oregon’s Most Beautiful Villages and Towns:

  • Albany and Brownsville
  • Ashland
  • Astoria
  • Baker City
  • Bandon
  • Cannon Beach
  • Florence
  • Hood River
  • Jacksonville
  • Joseph
  • McMinnville

Washington’s Most Beautiful Towns and Villages:

  • Coupeville
  • Ellensburg
  • Friday Harbor and Eastsound
  • Gig Harbor
  • La Conner
  • Oysterville, Ilwaco, Seaview and Long Beach
  • Port Townsend
  • Walla Wall and Dayton
  • Winthrop

British Columbia’s Most Beautiful Villages and Towns:

  • Fernie
  • Fort Langley
  • Fort Steele
  • Ganges
  • Ladysmith and Chemainus
  • Nelson and Kaslo
  • Revelstoke
  • Whistler


Daytrip! Four Portland day trips with kids

On certain winter weekends, you’re cooped up inside the house, kids bickering and frustrated while the rain pounds outside.

Sounds like it’s time for a daytrip.

A daytrip is a break from the usual routine. Hop in the car for an hour or so, motoring down the freeway and along country lanes. Enjoy a movie or a museum or a hot chocolate (or all three). Bring a change of clothes in case the kids want to play at a park (despite rain or snow). Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore daytrips based out of the Portland, Vancouver and Seattle metro areas.

Home Base: Portland

Oregon Coast with kids daytrip

Take Hwy 26 out to Seaside and Cannon Beach, where the kids can fly kites, make mud castles and storm-watch from the warm safety of a café. Or make your way out west toward Tillamook, Ore., and tour the Tillamook Visitors Center before visiting the quiet little towns of Rockaway Beach and Manzanita.

Time one-way: About 90 minutes.

Mt. Hood with kids daytrip

Take Hwy 26 east to Portland’s beloved mountain and take a free tour of Timberline Lodge, counting animals you find hidden in ironwork, woodwork and on the mountain. Play in the snow, drink hot chocolate at the lodge, then go to Government Camp and stop for a brief 10-minute self-guided tour of Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum (check out those tiny, vintage hiking shoes from an elementary-aged mountain climber).

Time one way: About 90 minutes

N. Bonneville Hot Springs with kids daytrip

Fed up with the rain? A day pass to the Bonneville Hot Springs offers a pool and two jetted hot tubs featuring heated, sulfate-rich water. Weekdays are the deal here, though ($15/3 hour pass for adults), and weekends incur significantly higher rates ($25/3 hours pass for adults). Kids under age 2 are free, and the Family Swim Time runs on Sundays from 1:30-7:30. Post pool, head into Stevenson, Wash. (my hometown!) to visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center or a meal at the upscale Skamania Lodge.

Time one way: About an hour

Salem with kids daytrip

Head to the Oregon state capitol to enjoy A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, an interactive children’s museum, the Riverfront Carousel and an indoor playground featuring four themes (trains, princess, music and market).

Time one way: About an hour

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.

School-year vacation: Why and how to pull it off

Just because school’s in session doesn’t mean you have to swear off all family getaways. In fact, non-summer travel offers some of the best bargains on hotel and transportation options.

Here are lessons in school-year travel:

1. Shoulder season travel is a steal. Spring and fall are called “shoulder seasons” in the travel biz. Book during the shoulder season, and you’ll typically save about 25% off of summer prices.

2. Winter offers dark days and deep discounts for hardy travelers. Up to 40% in some tourism-dependent regions like Victoria, BC and the Oregon Coast. If you select a city location with plenty of indoor options (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver or Victoria), you may be happier and drier.

3. Research weekend getaways that only require a two- or three-hour drive. From Portland, a Friday night departure can offer two full days for coastal stormwatching. Remember though that winter nights start early in the Pacific Northwest – around 4:30 p.m. – so for a daylight drive, see whether you can leave work a few hours early or pick your child up at noon.

4. Return home on early Monday mornings to ensure a full weekend getaway. We typically leave Vancouver, BC at 5:30 a.m. The kids sleep en route, and we arrive in time for work and school.

5. Plan a trip around a long three-day weekend falling on a holiday like Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day. Then take the kids out on Thursday for a five-day fall or spring vacation. Or look for teacher in-service days (which seem to fall in random fashion), which can also give you three-day weekends.

6. Select a destination with plenty of hands-on learning possibilities. Particularly if you’re going to pull the kids out of school for a few days, Seek out museum-rich cities, tidepool-dotted coasts and historical sites. You may even find an educational   option on your trip, such as a glass-blowing class at the Museum of Glass (ages 8+), create a historical lantern at the Burnaby Village Museum or a engage in a hands-on science lab at OMSI where kids can build robots or dissect a squid eye (ew).

7. Chat with your child’s teacher beforehand. Many teachers are OK with a short trip or smarts-building journey. Offer to create a parent-child journal or online blog while on vacation and spend a half-hour reading and writing about the smart stuff you’ve learned while traveling. But ensure that you’re not leaving during the class pizza party or an important test.

8. Integrate learning into your travel day. Money management teaches math, reading a ferry schedule is real-world time-telling, a museum weaves real stories into history and beachcombing reveals natural science. But remember, you’ll need to take the lead on integrating fun, interesting facts and learning opportunities into the day. Do your parental homework when choosing a destination (#6) and researching the trip.

9. Bring a little homework help. Worried about your child falling behind? It’s unlikely that five days off will ruin your kid’s future at Harvard. (But you’re taking advice from someone who never did any homework until sixth grade. Long story.). If you’re so compelled, ask the teacher what will be covered. Some parents worry more in middle school, but by this age, your child should be able to juggle assignments. If not, then a three-day holiday break may be best.

10. Listen to your child. If they resist a school-year trip because they’re afraid of missing out, that should be respected as well. Seek a series of days that work well for everyone’s schedule.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for taking kids out of school to travel? What’s worked for you?

Stormwatching at the Coast: Tips and Hints

Winds howl outside at 55 miles per hour – fast enough to tip over a toddler. Waves explode on the beach, each one more spectacular than the last. The lights flicker, but stay on. Your family is inside, dry and happy, playing “Apples to Apples” with a warm drink (Hot chocolate? Hot cider? Hot toddy  — just for grown-ups) in hand.

During this season of storms and seas, some upscale resorts even offer a “stormwatcher’s package,” like this one at the Wickannish Inn in Tofino. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the wild weather at the coast.

Here are tips for enjoying stormwatching in the Pacific Northwest and BC:

The best months for stormwatching, generally, are November-March. Low season for travel in the Pacific Northwest, so you should benefit from lower room rates. This year’s winter season will be more powerful than in many other years, according to weather forecasters.

Watch or read the weather forecast and book when it looks like a weekend storm’s a-brewin’. A “storm” on the Beaufort Wind Scale includes very high waves (20-30 feet) with overhanging crests, a white sea with foam and lowered visibility. Winds reach 55-63 miles per hour. Either choose a destination with lots of rocky shore (Depoe Bay, Westport, West Vancouver Island) for wave-meets-cliff explosions or sandy beach (Cannon Beach, Newport, Long Beach, Ocean Shores) for a milder experience.

Reserve a room with double-pane windows and an ocean-front view. No partial views, no peek-a-boo views. Just listening to the wind howl isn’t as interesting as watching the waves crash on shore.

Bring cozy-day essentials: books, blankets and board games. Make bets with your kids on which wave is the biggest, and let them take pics from the hotel room. Talk about or watch a video on how waves work. Trust me, nature’s rage captures a kid’s attention immensely. And sort of puts that whole post-naptime tantrum in perspective.

During a storm, when the wind is strong enough to make walking difficult, stay away from sea cliffs (ulp!) and don’t walk outside. Wind and sneaker waves can sweep you out to sea, and branches or driftwood can make a surprise, airborne appearance. Bring waterproof jackets for the whole family, if you must venture out for dinner or groceries. But remember that more than 30 people lost their lives to storm-watching in Oregon, in the past 20 years.

Even after the storm’s passed, remember that large waves can still approach. Check the tide times and don’t get trapped on outcroppings, as always. However, many say that the best beachcombing is right after a storm – all those knickknacks got kicked out of the sea.

The storm may knock out electricity, as it did during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007. It’s not a big deal, and unlikely. Still, it may make sense to keep extra water, snacks and flashlights on hand.

Do you have a favorite storm-watching spot in Washington, Oregon or BC? Any favorite board games or tips for storm-watching with kids?