50 Free Museums in Washington & Oregon for Military Families

This summer, military families get free passes into over 50 fantastic Pacific Northwest museums. The Blue Star Museums initiative is a partnership among Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts, and more than 1,000 museums across America. Blue Star Museums offer free admission to active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, through Labor Day, September 5, 2011. Read more at the Blue Star Museums page.

A few of my favorite family museums: High Desert Museum (in Bend, Ore.), Portland Art Museum (Portland, Ore.), University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History (Eugene, Ore.), Kids Discovery Museum (Bainbridge Island, Wash.), KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, Wash.), Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum (Leavenworth, Wash.), and the Burke Museum, Museum of Flight, Seattle Art Museum and Museum of History & Industry (Seattle).

Oregon Museums participating in Blue Star Museums

Washington Museums participating in Blue Star Museums

Vacation Rentals with Kids in BC, WA and OR

Imagine creating a gourmet spread in your temporary house: warm Seattle-baked bread, locally-crafted cheese, and tiny strawberries from Seattle’s Pike Place Market. After lunch, your toddler naps in the house’s second bedroom while you catch up on your reading. She wakes and you head to the local playground. There, your family exchanges a hello with newfound friends.

It’s like a little slice of Northwest life.

Or perhaps you’d rather stay on the San Juan Islands, where water laps the shore outside your door. Then again, how about a condo in Portland’s Pearl district? If only to be closer to the  neighborhood pub – which welcomes children, of course.

Vacation rentals are both romantic and practical. You experience life as a temporary local, while children enjoy solid home base. You get to enjoy local food, the kids usually have more room to roam and you may find that a vacation rental price is equivalent to (or less than) a standard hotel room. Vacation rentals are often a great idea for families with kids who don’t “travel well,” as the homelike atmosphere is reassuring.

Yet, not all temporary stays are equal in terms of amenities, location, and layout. Here’s a guide to renting with kids.

Vacation rentals in metro Vancouver, Washington countryside or on the Oregon Coast?

What’s your domicile style? From North Cascades farmhouses to Vancouver’s cosmopolitan condos, vacation rentals exist in every Northwest and BC locale. Choosing your location first (city, country, or suburb) will determine rental options.

In the countryside and on the Washington, Oregon and BC coasts, vacation rental houses welcome large families, or those with young, very active children. It’s easy to explore a wide radius from your “home base” (a la Slow Travel) from a rural home, via car. Look for access to arterial roads and plentiful parking.

Rental condos and houses are available throughout in Northwest and BC neighborhoods. All cities in the Pacific Northwest and BC offer multiple family-friendly areas: Try a vacation rental in Kitsilano (Vancouver), Phinney Ridge (Seattle), Oak Bay (Victoria) or Hawthorne (Portland).

In-city living means you won’t need a car – or at least not as often. Buses, bikes, and strollers will take you to museums or restaurants.

When narrowing your location to a specific home or condo, look for nearby physicians, hospitals, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and other important services. Most vacation-rental owners present a notebook upon your arrival, with emergency contacts and local services.

Google search tips for vacation rentals

Ask friends for suggestions and pore through vacation rental reviews to find prescreened gems. Search a vacation rental-by-owner website or do a Google search.

My favorite Google term: +city  +”children welcome” or “Kid friendly” +vacation rental type (apartment, house, condo) or +vacation rental.

For example, if searching for a vacation rental in Seattle, type into the Google search bar:

+Seattle “children welcome” +”vacation rental”

or

+Vancouver “kid friendly” +”vacation apartment”

If you’d rather browse a rental website, most listings specify whether children are welcome, or only children over a certain age. A quick way to tell if families are a benefit or a burden? If the rental listing says the vacation home accommodates two, they’re probably thinking of honeymooners, not the Hansen family. The rental owners probably won’t be happy with even a parent/child duo.

Rental requirements

Take note of the vacation home’s rental measurements. Personal space becomes more important as children age. But “enough” can be as simple as a small nook for favorite toys or clothes. Multiple bathrooms are nice for teens, who need more time and room to prepare for the day.

When renting a condo, ask about bedrooms – are they separated by a full wall or a partial wall? Does the couch fold into a double-size bed?

Small infants or toddlers can sleep in a port-a-cot or in bed with mom and dad. We rarely rented an apartment with more than one bed until our daughter was two.

And whatever your children’s ages, inquire about noise levels inside the apartment or house (for longer naps). Are the walls thin? Can you hear neighbors or street noise? Is construction going on across the street?

Take a very close look at those rental photos. Do decorative vases (however ugly) decorate the antique shelves? Ask yourself, “If my child accidentally broke items in this home, would it affect her college savings?”

Look for solid, high railings on balconies, particularly the second floor and up. If the ground-floor sliding door opens onto an outdoor area, ask whether there’s a fence.

Ask about safety issues, such as a scalding hot water heater. You can also bring or buy simple childproofing fixes (door handle covers, duct tape for electrical sockets).

Traveling with teens? Teens want the autonomy to explore, shop, and run errands. Will your Seattle vacation rental’s location allow that to happen? Is it fairly safe?

Kid-friendly vacation rental amenities

Some families don’t need vacation rental-provided entertainment, preferring to bring their own books or games from home. Other families pack light and appreciate a well-stocked library of books, magazines and/or board games.

While not a necessity, television is certainly one way to settle into a destination (and give mom and dad a break). We like to ensure that there’s a DVD player in our rental, and either bring movies from home or pick up rentals from a nearby city.

Check out on-site recreational facilities if renting in the countryside. And many condo-style vacation rentals offer pools, hoops or small play structures.

If renting with younger children, onsite equipment will make a stay easier. Owners often make cribs, high chairs, toys and strollers available (make sure they’re up to date — not 1970s baby-jail cribs). Some owners don’t have items onsite, but can acquire them from friends/relatives – it’s always worth asking if your vacation rental will have the equipment most helpful to you.

If you’re bringing baby gear with you, ask about storage areas. Can you park a stroller in the entryway?

Vacation rental paperwork and payment

Here’s the part where things can get worrisome.

Find out what’s included in your rental price. Electricity? Water? Maid service? Final cleaning? When comparing the total cost to staying in a hotel, make sure your expense will be offset by eating in your rental (and if you’re planning on eating out during your stay, then you might rethink the rental).

Next, you may find that the rental owner will bargain with you if you’re willing to be flexible, as well. Do you get a price break if you agree to stay a certain number of days? A mid-week break? Can you agree to clean the house to Mary Poppins standards, in exchange for skipping the cleaning fee?

Most vacation rentals will require a deposit when you book your stay. Depending on how near you are to the final check-in, you may have to pay most or all of your fees upfront. Find out whether you can pay by credit card — but remember those exchange fees (charged by your card issuer) if you plan to pay for a cross-border rental.

Appliance appeal

A washing machine in your vacation rental spares rigging your bathroom as a laundromat. No washer or dryer? Inquire about nearby laundering facilities, or bring your Woolite and laundry accoutrements.

Ask about heating in winter, and air-conditioning in summer. Is heat included in the cost? Air-conditioning isn’t considered a necessity in most Northwest and BC homes, so you may not find it in a Vancouver vacation rental.

Take a look at photos or ask questions. Can you boil a big pot of pasta on that burner? Will your family of five fit around the table? Is the fridge full-sized or a miniature version?Microwaves provide a handy self-serve option for older children and teens.

In-home dining is a key benefit to a rental, so ensure that the food prep and dining space meets your needs. In one vacation rental, we only found dishes and silverware for two, although the ad said it was furnished for four. After the owner’s dash to the store, we had plates for everyone.

Checklist for family-friendly vacation rentals

_ Size of vacation rental (measurement of total size)?

_ Number of beds and bedrooms?

_ Are there any safety issues a parent should be aware of? Railings, hot water, heaters, gas ovens?

_ Are there adequate bathrooms with showers or bathtubs?

_  Is the furniture sturdy?

_ What’s the size of vacation rental?

_  Is it noisy outside? How much noise can my kids make without disturbing others?

_ TV with DVD player or cable?

_ Books, magazines, or board games?

_ Recreational facilities on-site: large yard, pool, swingset, tennis?

_ Baby/toddler equipment: Crib, high chair, stroller, toys? Storage for items from home?

_ Washing/drying facilities on-site or nearby?

_ Adequate food storage, cooking, and dining space for your family size?

_ Is there a playground/park/play space nearby?

_ Where is the nearest pedestrian/shopping zone?

_ How close is the nearest physician or hospital?

_ How close is the nearest 24-hour pharmacy and grocery store?

_ Is the neighborhood safe? Can older kids and teens go out alone?

Cascadia Connections: Family Resources

Northwest Cheapsleeps: Favorite places for budget travelers (WA, OR, BC)

Kids in Victoria: For Vancouver Island families (BC)

KidsVancouver: A helping hand to provide a great family resource in Vancouver (BC)

BC Parents Forum: For parents, by parents (BC)

Portland Family Adventures: Parents’ guide to family fun in Portland, Oregon (OR)

Swings and Roundabouts: Vancouver and Victoria playground reviews (WA)

Urbanmamas: Portland mamas with tips on things to do, places to eat and more (OR)

Yoyomama: Keeping mums on-the-go in the know (BC)