9 Awesome Seattle Day Trips with Kids

Just because you’re between vacations doesn’t mean you have to stay home. These nine fun excursions get the family out of the house for the day. Whether you have one or two hours or an entire 12 hours to drive, play and explore, you’ll find a great escape below.

Seattle to Whidbey Island Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Whidbey Island?

The Mukilteo ferry dock is about 35 miles north of Seattle, then there’s a half-hour sailing time to Clinton. Ferries run every half-hour on weekends and cost $24.85/RT for a family of four. Driving from Clinton to Fort Casey takes about 40 minutes.

Fort Casey batteries and bunkers fun for kids

Exploring the Fort Casey Batteries is always a fun thing to do with kids on Whidbey Island.

Things to do with kids on Whidbey Island on a day trip?

Seattle to Vashon Day Trip:

How long does it take to get to Vashon?

Take a ferry from West Seattle, then drive a few miles of two-lane country roads. Ferries leave about once an hour, and costs about $26/RT for a family of four in a car. Ferries run mostly once an hour, sometimes twice during peak hours, and sailing time is about 20 minutes.

Things to do with kids on Vashon Island on a day trip?

Seattle to Bainbridge Island Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Bainbridge Island?

A few miles to the downtown Seattle ferry dock. Ferries leave about once an hour, and a round-trip trip costs about $40 for a family of four in a car (with kids over age 6). Passenger-only (walk on) saves about $10 on that total, and most attractions are in the downtown Bainbridge core, which is more like a small town.

Things to do on a Bainbridge day trip with kids?

Seattle to Bremerton and Poulsbo Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Bremerton and Poulsbo?

Ferry from downtown Seattle to Bremerton takes about an hour for the crossing time, then you’ll need to drive another 17 miles to Poulsbo. Ferries leave once an hour – every 90 mins, and costs about $40/RT for a family of four in a car. You can return via Bremerton or push on to Bainbridge Island and sail back to Seattle from Bainbridge.

Things to do on a Bremerton and Poulsbo day trip with kids?

Seattle to Bellingham Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Bellingham?

Bellingham is about 90 miles via I-5, or around 1 h 30 m.

Things to do with kids in Bellingham on a day trip?

  • Watch a Tesla coil light up at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention.
  • Learn about the beauty of nature and science at Mindport.
  • Sehome Hill Arboretum.
  • Take your teen to a movie at the Pickford Center.
  • Hike a trail at Larrabee State Park.

Seattle to LaConner Day Trip:

How long does it take to get to LaConner? 

Laconner is about 70 miles along I-5, so around 1 h 20 m.

Things to do with kids in LaConner on a day trip?

Pierce County Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Pierce County?

About an hour south along I-5, then along Hwy 167.

Things to do on a Pierce County day trip with kids?

Discovery Village toddler area a fun place to take kids in Gig Harbor

The toddler area at Discovery Village; it’s a fun little place to take kids in Gig Harbor.

Seattle to Tacoma Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Tacoma?

Tacoma is about 40 minutes south, along I-5.

Things to do with kids on a Tacoma day trip?

Seattle to Olympia Day Trip

How long does it take to get to Olympia?

About an hour south, along I-5.

Things to do with kids in Olympia day trip?

12 Tips for Family Road Trips

Road trips help cement the family lore and introduce good travel habits to little ones. Here are 12 tips for family road trips.

12 Tips for Family Road Trips

1. Start early on your road trip. Hate to sound like your grandpa, but there it is. Get up at 6 or 7 a.m., but leave by 7:30 a.m. Pack the night before, and include breakfast sandwiches so you don’t have to stop too early. Kids are on their best behavior in the mornings – and may even snooze – while you’re at your most alert for the drive. You’ll arrive at your destination by noon at the latest, freeing you from the car and ensuring a good lunch.

2. Drive for only two hours at a time. Unlike your grandpa, I’d never drive for more than two hours straight. Stop for 20 minutes at a playground, a coffee shop, a toy store. The break will do the whole family good and free you from GottaGetThereItis. It also allows for the serendipity of the road, discovering a cool stop — a delicious local ice cream shop or a shaded playground — that isn’t in any guidebook.

3. Plan your road trip around the young child’s nap. Plan to be on the road in the afternoon. Don’t expect a very young child (under age 2 or 3) to self-entertain. You may all have a more enjoyable trip if an adult sits in the backseat to sing, read books and chat.

4. Do pre-trip research on the website Roadside America. Find wacky stops along the way. Kids tend to love these weird attractions: giant hats, lumberjacks, teapot gas stations? Yup. 

5. Snap to it. Give children a camera to photograph the weird attractions (above), a sibling’s drool while sleeping or odd cars you see on the road.

6. Plan for family car fun. Half the fun is getting there! Print out a list of kid-friendly travel games from FamilyFun.com to resolve emergency freak-outs. I also created a Pinterest board of family car trip activities and game ideas

7. Sleep over. When planning a road trip, stay for at least two nights in one town. Take it easy, see one attraction or two, make time for naps and know that there will always be a next time (in case you didn’t get to do everything).  Tight planning often makes for stressed-out kids and parents.

8. Go car-free. Try to plan a car-free day where you walk everywhere, visit parks and enjoy the outdoors, instead of driving. My kids are used to the intense travel style of a travel-writer mom, so they think anything other than five activities per day is weird. But we still plan car-free days on our trips, and we walk everywhere on those days.

9. Pack snacks. Bring fantastic, new snacks that require little refrigeration – fruit, bars, crackers, hard cheese, trail mix. Avoid melty snacks with chocolate. My sister-in-law recommends a lollipop (it keeps ’em quiet and takes a looong time to eat). I also created a Pinterest board of family travel recipes and snacks

10. Make clean-up easy. Bring wet wipes, freezer-size Ziploc bags, a towel and several large plastic bags, no matter the age of your children. You will need all of these items at some point.

11. Keep the kids surprised. Keep kids entertained with new books, small surprise toys and pocket-sized magic tricks. You can even pick up a treasure trove’s worth at your local Value Village, Savers or Goodwill. Let the kids open one package or surprise, every hour or two. 

12. Just go for the tech solution! The Apple Touch or iPhone is fantastic — just load it up with games and movies and bring headphones (we make the kids share one and use a splitter to connect the headphones). See the Apps4Kids site and the Best Kids Apps sites. My kids don’t get to watch a lot of television at home, so enjoying a movie en route is a total treat. There’s a time and place for tech — and long, dull stretches of I-5 is that time and place.

Road warriors, what are your tips for family road trips? Do you have a favorite game or activity?

Want to read about a truly intense road trip? Check out Amy’s “Pit Stop a Day” road trip from Pit Stops for Kids — she went on a 22-day journey through Oregon, Washington, Montana and down to California. Wow!

The Great Road Trip: 5 fantastic, family-friendly trips

Are the kids are out of school and bickering already? Here are some excellent, longer BC road trips, Washington State road trips and Oregon road trips, along with links to Google maps, so you can customize each one.

I tried to choose points en route that are really worth a stop for families, and create circles, so you’re always seeing something new. I suggest always spending a few nights in one destination along the drive — it’s too easy to get burnt out on the road otherwise.

1. Waterpark Fun on Google Maps

Starting Location: Vancouver or Seattle
Distance: 767 miles / 1,215 kilometres (15 hours drive time)
Days: 8
Route: If starting in Seattle, drive a little over three hours to the always-sunny Lake Chelan for the Slidewaters waterpark. Stay for two nights. Next, drive an hour up to Osoyoos, BC, home to one of BC’s warmest lakes. Spend one night. Drive to Lake Okanagan, BC for two nights near the Vernon Atlantis Waterslides. Spend two nights in Kelowna, Vernon or Penticton. Then head down for the long drive (4+ hours! Pack lots of movies!) to Cultus Lake WaterPark or Harrison Hot Springs for one night. Spend a night in Vancouver, BC and take the kids to the Variety Kids Waterpark at Stanley Park. Drive home!

2. Spectacular City Escape on Google Maps

Starting Location: Victoria, Vancouver or Seattle.
Distance: 340 miles / 513 kilometres (some by ferry) (9 hours + ferry)
Days: 6

Route: Take the ferry from Vancouver, BC to Swartz Bay, then drive to Victoria. Spend two nights in Victoria. From Victoria, take the Black Ball ferry to Port Angeles. Swing by the historic seaside town of Port Townsend and spend one night. Head to Seattle for two nights, then return home. This route can be reconfigured a number of ways, but it’s rare to drive for more than two hours in any direction – except between Seattle and Vancouver. A great choice for those with younger children, because some of the time is spent on child-friendly ferries.

3. Salish Sea Islands on Google Maps

Starting Location: Seattle, Victoria or Vancouver
Distance: 461 miles /742 kilometres (about 15 hours drive time plus ferry)
Days: 10

This meandering trip creates a necklace of Salish Sea island jewels. Starting from Seattle or Vancouver, take the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands. Spend one night. Continue on by ferry to Victoria for two nights. Next, take the ferry to the gentle farmlands of Salt Spring Island. Spend one night. Continue up to Nanaimo. Spend two nights to prep yourself for the next big haul to Comox BC, then taking the hour-long ferry across to Powell River. From here, you’ll hopscotch to Vancouver via ferry along Hwy 1. Choose three more nights to stay from the child-friendly Sunshine Coast accommodation options. With very young children, halve this trip and return to Vancouver via Nanaimo.

4. Golden Circle Route on Google Maps

Starting Location: Portland
Distance: 575 miles / 925 km (about 12 hours travel time, but traffic can impact)
Days: 8

Drive from Portland to Cannon Beach, Oregon, a family-friendly favorite. Spend two nights, then pack snacks (and your mental energy) for the long, gorgeous drive along The People’s Coast down to Newport, Oregon — be sure to stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for lunch and a quick visit. Spend two nights in Newport, visiting the aquarium and hanging out on the beach. Then get ready for a big change in scenery — you’ll drive almost three hours east along Hwy 20, through the forests and into family-friendly Bend. Spend two nights. Then head north to Mt. Hood, spending one night at the historic Timberline Lodge. Return to Portland! You can shave time and distance off this trip by halving it — and driving back up I-5 to Portland.

5. Olympic Glory road trip on Google Maps

Starting Location: Seattle or Victoria
Distance: 361 (Seattle)- 581 km (9 h)
Days: 4-6

For this trip, you’ll need to pack a raincoat — and garlic! Leaving from Seattle or Victoria, drive (or ferry) to Crescent Lake, Washington to stay in the Lake Crescent Lodge. Spend one night. From here, swing by the Hoh Rain Forest, then drive to one of the Olympic Park’s campgrounds. You can reserve a spot at Kalaloch, take your chances at the first-come, first-served campgrounds or stay in a Forks, Washington hotel if you’re living with a vampire fan. Spend one night in any destination. Then, drive to Lake Quinault Lodge to spend one more night before driving home. If “home” is in Victoria, spend two extra nights in Seattle, fortify yourself, then drive home via Port Angeles or Anacortes.

Travel Tip Tuesday: Road trip snacks

Every Tuesday, we’ll chat with experienced family-travel bloggers to discover cool tips and tricks. I’d love to hear your opinions and suggestions as well.

Question for this week:

Which kid-friendly snacks do you bring on a road trip to fight low blood sugar and growling bellies? Are there any snacks that you avoid at all costs (the problematic snacks cause messes, crazy behavior, and general nuttiness)?

Answers:

So the snacks changed as my kid got older, but really they fall under three categories crunchy (crackers, pretzels, chips), protein (nuts and cheese), and the occasional cookie, granola bar or chocolate bar.

I prefer water as the drink of choice because I hate the way those juice boxes spill all over the car. We keep the coolers and snacks in the back seat within easy reach, and if I’m really organized my kid gets his own snacks all packed up in his own container.

Now, the very best snacks are those that you pick up at roadside stops along the way. They bring in a bit of the local flavor to your trip. I love to check out small local markets whenever we get the chance. And I’m not opposed to pulling in to the drive-thru for some fries with our shakes.

— Carolina at Kids Go West: Tales of family travel in the Western U.S.

Related post: Waimea Canyon with a Side of Chip.

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We have a few tried and true car snacks (the criteria being: they can’t melt, they have to last a long time, and SOME of them have to be healthy!).

Our favorites are Babybel cheeses (the kind that comes in wax), because they’re fun, playful, and don’t melt everywhere; Jelly Belly jelly beans, because picking out flavor combinations is both a snack AND an activity; and cored apples stuffed with peanut butter (healthy, quick protein, and not messy!).

— Amy from Pit Stops for Kids: Find kid-friendly stops by airport, state or Interstate Highway.

Related post: Road Trips! (tips, including a section on snacks).

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When we’re on road trips, I come well-armed with snacks for the kids. Crackers, cereal, and raisins are our standby items, as they’re easy to pack and portion out.

Cheez-its are favorites of the kids, as well as fun cereals like Froot Loops. I put it into containers or small bags, or sometimes buy the individual portions at Sam’s Club. And, while not healthy in any way, a large bag of Tootsie Pops can buy us a lot of happiness in the car!

Our food choices while on the road are more restrictive than some travelers’ because we have a child with food allergies. We try not to let it slow us down, however!

— Linda from Travels with Children by Minnemom: Finding fun with four kids.

Related post: Traveling with Kids with Food Allergies

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Can you suggest any great snacks for road trips?