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

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

Great Gifts for the Local Family Traveler

What to buy the traveler in your life? Check this list:

Spot It is my favorite new game, hands down. It’s easy to learn (you’ll get it in about two seconds), scales well by age (I’d say 5 and up) and comes in a very portable tin.

Gift certificates to a favorite hotel or restaurant. Many come with bonuses for you, too. I’ve seen a 10% bonus for purchases for the Victoria Clipper, an extra $25 gift card when you purchase one $25 gift card at the Cannon Beach’s Wayfarer restaurant and a few more I can’t really mention — they were only for e-mail subscribers to the hotel e-mail lists. But you’ll find these sort of “secret deals” when you sign up for a restaurant or hotel’s e-mail li.

Reusies are one of our favorite ways of transporting snacks for the kids (particularly crackers, nuts, cheese, etc.) in the car. Children can chow down, then seal up the container themselves — no plastic lids to struggle with. ReUsies 2 Pack Reusable Sandwich and Snack Bag – Pirate

If I were buying just one gift for the family traveler, it would be a picnic backpack. We’ve had ours since our wedding day and have used it over and over again — it’s a fantastic way to save money. Eat oatmeal in your hotel room or create a picnic from yummy things you’ve collected at Granville Island market. Here’s one example: Picnic at Ascot Classic Blue Picnic Backpack for Four with Blanket

A NW-centric book, like Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest Trips or (my book) Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver or The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest.

Chicco Capri Lightweight Stroller. I don’t have the money for a Maclaren. But I think a Chicco umbrella-style stroller ($65-75) is a great value for those of us on a budget. This particular stroller works well no matter what the streets throw at it — cobblestones, dips, bumps or grass-covered hills. It fits easily into most crowded urban restaurants and the handles work well for my tall husband. If you don’t want to buy from Amazon, head to your local Babies R Us, which typically has this stroller in stock.

A membership to a local zoo or science center. All the better if they’re participating members of the ASTC Passport Program or the Association of Zoo and Aquariums, which allows the recipient to visit nearby cities’ zoos and science centers for free or at huge discounts.

Is there anything you hope Santa brings you this year?

Military Travel Deals in the Pacific Northwest and BC

Today is Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada; a good opportunity to highlight ways that active duty personnel and veterans can travel our region for a little less:

Active-duty U.S. military personnel save 10% on Amtrak, while VIA Rail Canada offers 25% off fares for Canadian active personnel and veterans.

Disabled veterans can benefit from free camping in Washington State Parks through the Washington State Parks Pass Program.  Both disabled veterans and active military on leave can get a special access pass for camping in the Oregon State Parks.

Great Wolf Lodge, in Grand Mound, Wash., offers discounts to Armed Forces members, with the word HEROES entered into the code box of the reservation page. Proof will be required, and you might check with the hotel in advance to ensure you’re getting a great deal.

Check the “deals” options offered through Northwest Military.

Canadian and US military can benefit from the Victoria Clipper’s special “Military and First Responder Appreciation” rates.

The Military Merits site offers BC, Washington and Oregon hotels with military discounts, along with family attractions, museums, gardens and restaurants. A great site, particularly for travel in the Pacific Northwest.

Veterans Advantage Card, for around $50/year, offers 5% off Continental airlines, 15% off Amtrak and 20% off Choice Hotels, among other deals.

Are there any military discounts or deals you’d like to add to the list?

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?

Hot Springs in Oregon and Washington with Kids

Northwest hot springs with kids

Northwest hot springs with kids

If you were a miner back in the 1880s, how did you get really clean? You planned a trip to the closest hot springs.

Hot spring trips have long been a traditional pastime in the BC-Washington-Oregon region, says Jeff Birkby, author of Touring Washington and Oregon Hot Springs, a history-rich guidebook to hot springs in the Pacific Northwest. Hot springs are formed when ground and rain water sinks below the Earth’s surface, then heats in volcanic pots deep below the surface. The mineral-infused water springs back out once it’s at a boiling point, then cools in pools.

“Hot springs were social centers,” Birkby says of olden-days hot spring spots. The hotter the springs ran, the more popular they became in winter. Posh ladies booked a room for a week or more to shake the chill and recover from a host of maladies. And back in pre-plumbing days, hot springs (whether in a resort, in a simple a-frame building or on undeveloped property) were the only clean-up spot available to miners.

Unfortunately, few of the grand resorts still stand today. Most (constructed of wood) burned to the ground long ago. However, families looking to enjoy the magical heat of warming waters find plenty of places to soak their bones.

And with an extra-cold winter approaching, you may want to reserve your getaway now.

Hot spring resorts

For families, an established resort offers the most amenities and secure surroundings. Differing pool temps mean that you can get your extra-hot tub experience while the kids enjoy cooler pools.

In Washington State, Bonneville Hot Springs Resort provides a family-friendly atmosphere and spa treatments. It’s located about 40 minutes east of Portland, Oregon. If you continue east along the Washington side, Carson Hot Springs is a historic property — but a little ragged around the edges.

Near the Seattle area, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is Birkby’s pick. The resort, nestled in the Olympic National Park, offers a retreat for all ages and waters between 94-104 F. “Sol Duc has really nice campground,” Birkby says, “It’s great for kids, great waterfall, cabins and a restaurant.” However, Sol Duc closes on October 23 and reopens in May 6, 2011; the nearest year-round hot springs is Harrison Hot Springs, located about three hours north in British Columbia.

Oregonians can try central Oregon’s Kah-nee-tah Resort, just over Mt. Hood (about two hours from Portland). “There are a lot of wonderful kid-friendly pools,” Birkby says, such as one with bear statues spouting mouthfuls of water.

The new-agey Breitenbush Hot Springs is two hours southeast from Portland, and offers vegetarian meals in a forest setting. Birkby says it’s a fine resort if you don’t mind the clothing-optional tubs, and as long as parents check out the workshops going on. Don’t bring kids when there’s a couples-only weekend retreat.

And finally, Belknap Hot Springs, Lodge and Gardens offers day-use passes and overnight stays (lodge rooms, RV, cabins or tent sites). There are several affordable options at this central Oregon resort, where rooms range from $65-$250 in dreary November.

Undeveloped hot springs

Of course, there’s also the age-old tradition of jumping into a “wild” hot springs – the kind that bubble up in the midst of a forest, clearing or rocky scrub. These undeveloped hot springs, whether on public or private land, don’t come with a lifeguard or resort atmosphere. In exchange, the only price paid is the day-use pass. There aren’t mobs of tourists in these springs, often only known to locals.

Families can ease into the Cougar Hot Springs at Terwilliger, which offers a changing area and an alcohol-free atmosphere.

At Terwilliger — and most undeveloped hot springs — there’s an interesting dilemma: “Birthday suit or bathing suit?” Most established hot spring resorts in the Pacific Northwest ask everyone to keep their clothes on, with the exception of Breitenbush. But in undeveloped hot springs, you’ll often find a liberal, back-to-nature attitude toward clothing. What’s the expectation? First one in the pool sets the standard, says Birkby. If you arrive and everyone’s in a bathing suit, that’s the dress code (for now). However, it’s unlikely that anyone would look askew at someone wishing to wear a suit (particularly if it’s your kid).

Undeveloped springs can attract car theft. Just don’t leave valuables in sight. If you’ve gone hiking or camping, you already know this. At some hot springs, there may be drug or alcohol use; read up on the springs via online sites like Hot Springs of Oregon or in Birkby’s book and make sure you’re comfortable with the scene.

Family considerations at hot springs

“At any major resort, the big pools are comfortable, but the smaller, hotter indoor pools I’d be cautious about,” Birkby says. A comfortable zone is around 100 to 104, but anything over 104 feels too toasty, he adds. Ask at check-in for the pool temps and stay aware, particularly with younger children under age 12. Keep a cool head – don’t let anyone in your party submerge in hot springs water.

Parents of young children should also ask about the swim-diaper scene. Some resorts required children to be toilet-trained and do not allow swim dipes, ever.

And finally, in undeveloped hot springs, bring flip-flops or aquasox (to protect against jagged rocks), never let the kids drink unchlorinated natural hot springs water (blech) and stay close to children, as the water can be murky.

But your feet will finally feel warm.

Have you visited a Washington or Oregon hot spring destination with kids? What’s your favorite way to warm up in rainy, cold weather?

9 Amusement Parks in the Northwest and BC

We don’t have any mega-big-deal-amusement parks* here in Cascadia. But we do have several options within easy driving distance of major cities, including water parks and kid-friendly rides. The parks are all fairly inexpensive (at least when compared to airfare for four, lodging and ticket prices at mega-big-deal-amusement parks). It’s low-key fun, an easy getaway in pleasant weather.

Oaks Amusement Park

Oaks Amusement Park

1. Oaks Amusement Park. Portland, Oregon. One of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest operating amusement parks, Oaks Park pops with options: a year-round roller rink, big kid thrill rides, gentle toddler rides. I love this quaint amusement park. Free admission, pay per ride. It’s well-shaded and nestled along the banks of a river, so you can take over-excited kids for a chill-out walk before hopping back into the car. A 15-minute drive from downtown Portland in the quaint Sellwood District.

2. Wild Waves: Theme & Water Park. Federal Way, Washington. In the summer, corkscrew-style slides deliver hordes of screaming kids. It’s not all wild, as the gentle wave pool welcomes younger children. Post-swim, visit the the Enchanted Park and drive bumper cars, ride the ferris wheel or discover your scream on a kiddie coaster. Big problem though – the food here is distinctly sub-par, and you can’t bring in your own. Plan for a car picnic.

3. Great Wolf Lodge. Grand Mound, Washington. Located halfway between Portland and Seattle, this indoor waterpark offers raging river slides, family-friendly rooms (with bunk beds), a kids’ spa, and a magical wand that kids can use to play an interactive game throughout the building. Caveat: You can’t enter without staying the night – but a night’s stay allows you to come and go from the water as you please. It’s sort of like an all-inclusive, right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Playland at PNE

4. Playland at the PNE. Vancouver, BC. Like a county fair in the big city, all summer long. This amusement park is about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Vancouver, and worth the cost with elementary-age kids or middle schoolers. But even my son (then 2) found plenty of just-ride rides among the selection of over 20 options. Cool big-kid rides: The wooden roller coaster and the “Hellevator.” Bring sunscreen or go during evening hours (like we did); buy the pass for hours of fun.

5. Enchanted Forest Theme Park. Turner, Oregon. If you find yourself driving along Oregon’s I-5 this summer, check out this campy, cheesy and amusing park. Stand in a giant’s mouth, get mildly spooked in the Haunted House, take a stroll through Storybook Lane, Western Town or English Village. It’s the sort of amusement park you’d enjoy if you like old-school Paul Bunyan statues, Roadside America and other oddities still hanging around the Northwest like old moss. I’d go; I’m not sure you would. But you should.

6. Cultus Lake Waterpark and Slides. Cultus Lake, BC. In British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, about 80 km (50 miles) east of Vancouver, the weather dries out and the lakes warm up. So Cultus Lake Waterpark is a fine place to spend the day. Tweens can tear down the maze-like Blasters and Twisters, while the more hesitant (like me!) can enjoy the milder Kiddie Slides. The unusual “Valley of Fear” slide is set up like a skater’s half-pipe; families can slip along in double or triple tubes. Bonus feature: You can bring in your own food.

7. Riverfront Park. Spokane, Washington. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for decades, ignorant to this unique – and diverse — park. In Spokane, the 100-acre Riverfront Park offers: a SkyRide past waterfalls, tour train, wide grassy areas for picnics and running, mini golf, a garbage-eating metallic goat, a ginormous red wagon, a pavilion of amusement rides, an IMAX theatre and water bumper boats. Whew. I’m tired from just listing the options. Worth a weekend’s exploration.

8. Dinotown. Bridal Falls, BC. Yes, it’s a theme park based on dinosaurs.  Three hours from Seattle and a 1 ½ hours from Vancouver, this park is basically like an outdoor Chuck-E-Cheese, but with a sorta-dino-themed train, a musical tribute to the Flintstones, dinosaur mascots, bumper cars and other quasi-dino choices. Not a must-see unless your kid really, really, really loves pink dinosaurs. Update 7/25 CLOSED.

9. Slidewaters. Lake Chelan, Washington. It’s almost always dependably sunny and hot on Washington’s eastside – so there will never be an excuse for skipping the eight slides. At Slidewaters, the new “Purle Haze” ride slips you through 420 feet of disorienting darkness. As a parent, you’ll probably prefer the hot tub and cool pool. Wear sunscreen, because the sun’s rays are a bit sneaky — I think I still have scars from my Chelan burns.

*Full disclosure: My husband works for The Mouse.

Did I miss an awesome waterpark, theme park or fabulous fun center? Let me know.

13 iPhone Apps for Your NW Trip

Need ferry fares, Oregon traffic maps or the Spokane weather forecast? There’s an app for that. Need the kids to chill on the long I-5 drive? There’s a nap for that. Here are 13 apps to consider for your trip in and around Washington, Oregon and BC. You’ll find all in the iTunes Store.

A caveat: If you plan to use a web-boosted app in a country not included in your iPhone coverage, find out how much it’ll cost you to use your data plan.


1.  BorderWait by RBJZ Post Industries | $0.99

This app displays times at the American/Canadian border, so you can decide which crossing to take. Locals often choose the crossing with the least wait time, not necessarily the easiest one (Peace Arch). Crossing points are lined up vertically, in order, from Vancouver to New Brunswick. But you’ll need a map to navigate to nearby border stations, if you’re not already familiar with the crossings.

2.  Pacific Northwest US by Steve Parker | $0.99

Pacific Northwest weather can be undependable. Rain one minute, brilliant sun the next. This app offers expected temperatures, wind conditions and precipitation on color-coded maps. You’ll find weather from Astoria to Zillah, covering all of Washington and Oregon. The downside? No BC weather.  The upside – kids seem to love playing with weather maps.

3.  Atmospherique by Quadrant Newmedia | Free

So, because there’s no BC weather in the previous app, you’ll need this one, which lists the latest temps (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin), plus a 7-day forecast. You choose the location(s) that you’ll be in, or let the GPS tell Atmospherique where you are. Should you bring a jacket for your walk through Victoria? The app tells you the chance of precipitation.

4.  Twilight: Movie Tour by Audama Software Inc | $2.99

If you share your home with a Twilight fan, check out this app. It shows various Washington and Oregon filming locations, along with maps so you can find the exact destination. It even outlines the movie’s run time in the Twilight for each locale. I’m not a huge Twilight fan, so I’m not the best person to fact-check this one. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

5.  Olympic National Park Field Guide by Nadistra, LLC | $4.99

Identify the Olympic National Park’s animals, trees, flowers and plants with gorgeous full-color photographs. Download details on all of the above, plus info about local towns, campgrounds and special points of interest. I do wish that the Google Map displayed all 900,000 acres with push-pins for towns, campgrounds and points of interest. It can be difficult to understand the lay of the land, unless you’re already familiar with the park.

6.  Woodland Park Zoo by AVAI Ventures Inc. | $0.99

Why does a certain snake’s Latin name translate to “silent fate?” Find out this fascinating fact – plus dozens more – from the Woodland Park Zoo’s fantastic app. I really like the valuable daily schedule: when the giraffes are fed, when zookeepers give talks and when the puppet show begins. Find your travel companions on the grounds with the GPS-enabled app, or use the map to make your way around the 188-acre zoo.  A fabulous use of technology.

7.  Visit Victoria by Jordan Mann | Free

This app functions like a simple, selective tourism guide. You’ll see Victoria’s 30 main attractions listed with a brief description of each, the hours, website, phone number and address. Tap on the address, and your web browser opens to the attraction’s exact location on Google maps.  It’s a great, basic app for anyone Victoria-bound for the day or a weekend.

8.  iFerry by Web X.0 Media | $1.99

This app makes quick work of the Washington State Ferry System, and it’s a necessary asset for anyone traveling through the Pacific Northwest during the crowded summer season. Real-time info on schedules, crossing times, fares, alerts and delays throughout the Pacific Northwest’s most popular destinations, including the San Juan Islands, Friday Harbor, West Seattle and Sidney, BC.

9.  Portland Art Museum by Spotlight Mobile | Free

The Portland Art Museum offers awesome, ongoing family programming. But if you’re not at the museum on a family programming day, this app offers streaming podcasts from experienced curators, who explain the PAM’s collection to you (and then you can explain that ultra-modern piece to the kids, perhaps). Some teens may also enjoy the podcasts. Bring earphones – and be aware that some explanations can be rather lengthy. The app’s map is solid and useful.

10.  The Oregon Trail by Gameloft | $4.99

Many children played a simpler, green-screen version of this game in elementary school. Now your children can round up the wagons, cattle and kids for a journey out west. Learn to hunt, fish and pan for gold – while avoiding dysentery, bandits and bad weather. The game presents one-line history trivia on the Oregon Trail, so kids get a dose of pain-free learning. Advancing levels ensure that there’s always a new challenge, and the graphics are simply adorable.

11.  Tourism British Columbia by Near Me BC | Free

A phonebook-like app pointing out over 4,000 of BC’s popular attractions, restaurants, visitor centres and towns. The app interacts with your phone’s GPS to point out great options by distance, in kilometers and miles from your current location. The attractions aren’t organized, so you’ll find spas mixed in with whale watching and casinos next to military museums. However, the app is extremely comprehensive. There are phone number and website for each listing, plus links to additional information on

12.  Parks Envi NW by Open Door Networks, Inc. | $1.99

An image-heavy app of Pacific Northwest National and State parks. View Oregon and Washington mountains, lakes, parks and historic sites. The web icon on each takes you directly to the online National Park sites for more information. But basically, it’s a slideshow of travel possibilities, with photos of varying quality. Try the “Ken Burns effect” for fun.

13.  Oregon by Moonshadow Ecommerce, Inc. | Free

In this app, you’ll find traffic cams throughout the state, the speed of traffic in the Portland area, and events categorized by Oregon region. All information is sourced from the Oregon Department of Transportation and Travel Oregon.  I wish that more non-event activities were listed in “Things to Do,” and that more lodging options were listed (only two?!). But the statewide traffic information is handy.

What did I miss? E-mail me your suggestions.