From aquariums teeming with sea life to cowhands riding bucking broncos, the Pacific Northwest will spark any child's imagination. Whether you head to the coast, the mountains or rolling farmland, you'll be greeted with kindness and patience – this is a culture that loves kids and knows how to treat families right, whether they're giving wee ones a glimpse of rural life (who doesn't like to milk goats?) or showing them public art that was designed to be scaled by the younger set.
Best Regions for Kids
Kids will love the Pacific Science Center, Children's Museum, Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo and Pike Place Market. Nearby, Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium boasts sharks and elephants.
Frolicking fountains, the world-class Oregon Zoo and hands-on museums, including the Children's Museum and World Forestry Center.
- Oregon Coast
Miles of beaches, plus the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, the less flashy Seaside Aquarium and Port Orford's dinosaur-filled Prehistoric Gardens.
- Vancouver, Whistler & Vancouver Island
Vancouver highlights are Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium and Granville Island's Kids Market. And what could be better than BC's Victoria Bug Zoo, home to millipedes and tarantulas?
Pacific Northwest for Kids
The Pacific Northwest – from the sun, sand and surf along the coast to the snow-covered slopes further inland – is a fun and exciting destination for families. Kids will love exploring the many child-oriented museums, amusement parks, zoos and animal safaris. National and state parks often organize family-friendly exhibitions or activities, and whale-watching can be a big hit. There are also plenty of kid-friendly hotels, restaurants, shops, playgrounds and even skateboard parks in the region. Finding things to do with your kids won't be a problem, but dragging them away from all that fun might be.
For general information, advice and anecdotes, read Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.
- Whale-watching all down the Pacific Northwest coast, from November to June.
- Tide pools!
- Sea Lion Caves on the Oregon Coast.
Sun, Sand & Sea
History & Science
Fun Food Frolics
Kids often get discounts on motel stays, museum admissions and restaurant meals; the definition of child, however, can vary from age zero to 18 years.
Supermarkets have a great choice of baby food, infant formula, soy and cow's milk, disposable diapers (nappies) and other necessities. In urban areas you'll find all manner of organic and dietary-restricted kids food in restaurants and natural markets. If you don't want to lug gear around for your whole trip, head to a baby equipment–rental company, such as http://new.happylittletraveler.com in Seattle, www.katelynscloset.com in Portland or www.weetravel.ca in Vancouver. Diaper-changing stations can be found in many public toilets, including ones inside the multitude of rest areas along highways and interstates. Online services including www.sittercity.com and www.care.com can help you find a babysitter.
When crossing the border from the US into Canada, be sure to bring birth certificates or passports for each child; if a child enters the country with only one parent, she or he must have a letter from the other parent saying it's OK for the child to enter Canada.
What to Pack
- Raingear and galoshes – important gear for the drizzly Pacific Northwest.
- Extra dry socks – whether you're camping or hiking, it's good to prepare for wet feet.
- Extra water and towels – muddy hikes and sandy beaches can make car rides messy.
- Binoculars for wildlife viewing – the region is filled with cool birds and other animals.
- Outdoor toys, including kites, Frisbees and beach things.
- Water gear – swimsuits, sunblock, safety vests and waterproof sandals.
- Bicycle helmets – smaller-sized helmets can be hard to come by at rental stores.
Most hotels accept children; a few offer babysitting services. Motels are even more family friendly, sometimes boasting a pool, a playground and/or kitchenettes. Larger campgrounds often cater to families; yurts in state parks are a great way for families to camp in some luxury.
Places that aren't as good for kids are youth hostels and B&Bs, which often don't take children under a certain age. Consider asking some questions when booking. Do kids stay for free? Are playpens, cribs or roll-away beds available? Is the pool indoor or outdoor? How far to the nearest park or playground?
In general, restaurants welcome children of all ages and have high chairs and booster seats. Many have children's menus and some even supply crayons. If you're planning a special, high-end meal, especially one that requires reservations, ask if children are welcome. Most places will gladly serve older, well-behaved children.
While most eateries in Seattle qualify as kid friendly, some excel at welcoming little ones, including Molly Moon's. Portland is also considered particularly kid friendly, and some restaurants – and even some brewpubs, such as the Laurelwood Public House – have a playroom. In Vancouver, families love Little Nest.
Parks with water features, coffeehouses with playrooms and a variety of classes are all ways that parents and kids can meet new people. Seek out activities through websites such as www.urbanmamas.com, which has a calendar listing all kinds of events in Portland as well as weekly summer camps (a good way to entertain kids during longer stays). Similar websites in Seattle and Vancouver are www.redtri.com/seattle-kids and www.bcparent.ca. Also, look for city pool classes and programs in larger towns and cities, or head to specialty children's stores, which will have fliers and advice about events.
Check out (and into) these places if you have young ones along.
- Kennedy School in Portland, OR. It's a former elementary school, but there's no homework – just rooms in old classrooms and a theater in the old gym (showing 'Mommy Matinees'!)
- Out 'n' About Treesort near Oregon Caves National Monument, OR. Ever stay in a tree house? Here's your chance! Ziplines, tree climbs and horseback rides are also available.
- Stehekin Valley Ranch in Stehekin, WA. Stay in various types of cabins, set in the beautiful North Cascades. Activities include hikes, horseback riding, mountain biking and kayaking.
- Seabrook Cottage Rentals in Pacific Beach, WA. Vacation rentals on lovely Pacific Beach. Fly kites, ride bikes, watch birds, go clam digging, build sand castles, collect seashells…
- Ocean Village in Tofino, BC. A cabin beach resort that supplies families with beach toys, boogie boards, campfires, games, crafts, kids' programs and a 50ft, indoor saltwater pool.
Child-restraint laws vary state by state and are subject to change, so always double check before traveling.
In Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, BC, child passengers under 40lb (18kg) must be restrained in an approved child safety seat. Children over 40lb (18kg; or who are at the maximum weight limit of their car seat's harness system) must use a booster seat until they are 4ft9in (145cm) or eight years of age (nine in Vancouver). A child over 4ft9in (145cm) or eight years of age (nine in Vancouver) must properly use the vehicle's seat belt. Infants under one year of age and under 20lb (9kg) must ride in a rear-facing child safety seat away from air bags.
Most car-rental agencies rent safety seats for infants and older children. Reserve in advance.
In Washington and Oregon, there are reasonably spaced rest areas along I-5.