Hopping a plane doesn't compute for many budgets these days, but Puget Sound families can have just as much fun traveling closer to home. Here's the scoop on three awesome weekend getaways around the Northwest.
Oregon's Rose City offers first-class public transportation, excellent food, and superlative family experiences, whether for a weekend or several days.
Consider staying in Northwest Portland to experience one of the city's hottest neighborhoods: NW 23rd Ave. Northwest Portland offers shops, boutiques, galleries, theaters, and restaurants galore with appeal for families, as well as Powell's Books, the largest new/used bookstore in the world. From the Northwest district, it's an easy streetcar ride to downtown. In fact, you may want to ditch the car and travel light rail (TriMet's MAX) or streetcar much of the time.
Downtown's humming Pioneer Courthouse Square serves as the city's hub. Don't miss Finnegan's Toy Store (the Northwest's largest indie toy store) for kiddie-style fun, or catch Portland's Saturday Market at Waterfront Park. Older kids might enjoy cultural icons such as Portland Art Museum and nearby Lan Su Chinese Garden, a hidden treasure.
Kids will have the most fun, however, at Portland's family attractions: the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and Washington Park. A world-class museum for all ages, OMSI features five exhibit halls with interactive permanent and temporary exhibits. Be aware, the museum can take the better part of a day.
Washington Park, one of Portland's best-loved parks, features 400 acres of trees, gardens, playgrounds and attractions. From downtown, take the MAX to the Washington Park train stop, the deepest station in the U.S. You can easily spend a day here visiting the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children's Museum, World Forestry Center, International Rose Test Garden with the adjacent Children's Park, or Japanese Garden. The Children's Museum appeals primarily to the younger set (8 and under) but the 64-acre zoo is fun for all ages. For TriMet routes and schedules, check http://trimet.org/max/.
Stay: Inn @ Northrup Station, 2025 N.W. Northrup St. Suites in Alice-in-Wonderland colors come with kitchenettes. You'll have on-foot access to Forest Park for walking/biking trails. Rooms start at $180 with discount rates. 503-224-0543.
Eat: Food Carts, downtown and elsewhere; there's around 200 at any given time. Voodoo Doughnuts (two locations). This is an iconic experience that includes, ahem, a few naughty doughnut names (maybe your kids won't notice – mine did). Lines can be long but move quickly.
Tip: To visit multiple top attractions, try a Portland Attractions Pass to save 25 percent on admission fees. Discount packages come in four configurations.
For kids who haven't traveled to Vancouver Island, the waterfront British Columbian capital offers a Commonwealth experience we just don't get in the U.S., with English-style shops, double-decker buses, Parliament buildings and tea.
Victoria's compact size makes for easy sightseeing and shopping on foot. When little legs grow tired, hop a city bus – many are double-decker and extra fun for Yankee kids.
Centrally located Inner Harbour holds the Parliament Buildings and historic Empress Hotel, Victoria's focal point. Here also, the Royal BC Museum offers families a great introduction to B.C. history. Kids will love wandering through models of turn-of-the-century streets, a Chinese shop, and Chief Kwakwabalasami's house. Other area faves for kids include Miniature World, Victoria Bug Zoo, and Victoria Butterfly Gardens. (Note: The Royal London Wax Museum is currently closed.) Try Government Street for souvenirs and Chinatown's Fan Tan Alley to experience the thinnest street in Canada.
If the weather holds, Victoria's outdoor gardens are not to be missed. Butchart Gardens, 14 miles north of Victoria, offers premier display gardens. In spring, the gardens come alive with spring flowers. Meander through themed gardens on your own or pick up a Family Discovery Walk sheet for a self-guided tour.
If Butchart is outside your budget, Victoria's Beacon Hill Park is a beautiful (free) alternative and a short walk from downtown. The 200-acre park offers bridges, ponds, gardens and wildlife. The very young won't want to miss the Children's Farm (admission by suggested donation).
Getting there: passenger-only Victoria Clipper ferry from Seattle is the most direct route to Victoria. To drive, the best bet is the B.C. ferry from Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay, one hour north of Bellingham. Be aware the journey takes most of a day, but the ferry breaks up the driving.
For wilderness, head to Olympic National Park and the world-famous Hoh Rain Forest sans tourists (The park receives 3 million visitors a year, mostly during summer). Truly, it's the peninsula's best kept secret.
Home to one of the largest old-growth stands in the northern hemisphere, the Hoh receives 140-170 inches of rain annually, but chances are good you'll see it between showers. Walk the .8-mile interpretive Hall of Mosses trail for draping club moss, lichen, and Sitka spruce, as well as the adjacent 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail for views of the Hoh River. Watch for local Roosevelt Elk around the Visitor Center.
Try beautiful Second Beach near La Push for sand, sea stacks, and tide pools. The .75-mile access trail is perfect for all ages. Further south, Ruby Beach and a series of beaches (Beach 1, 2, 3 and so on) along the southern end of the coastal park strip also make for family-friendly beach combing, especially if you opt for Kalaloch Lodge. More at nps.gov/olym/.
Tiny Forks provides an inexpensive base from which to explore the "West End." Catch up on the Twilight action here, the tourist wave that erupted a few years ago after Stephenie Meyer's vampire series.
Eat: Pacific Pizza, 870 South Forks Ave. Try the tasty pizza and Twilight-themed entrees. 360-374-2626.
Twilight Fans: Take a self-guided tour of Twilight sites and for families with older kids.
Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in March of 2011.