My family and I headed on an adventure to the Tri-Cities in Eastern Washington a few weekends ago. There were so many kid-friendly things to do there, especially for my nine and 12-year-old children. From the alpaca farm to the grape vineyards to the historic sites and museums, we explored the town and immersed ourselves in nature, science and local foods. It’s a place you’ll want to add to your list of travel destinations soon!
On the way
The Tri-Cities is comprised of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick, all cities that are linked by the confluence of the Yakima, Snake and Columbia Rivers. The drive to the Tri-Cities is about 3.5 hours from Seattle – a distance requiring a stash of books, music, car games and many snacks. A couple of stops to stretch our legs, use the bathroom and reset for the drive also helped break up the journey.
On the way, there are several places to stop. Parks and rest areas are convenient, but if you want to break up your trip even further, Suncadia is a unique destination with lodging, restaurants, and entertainment for the family. We opted to move forward and chose rest stops closer to the Tri-Cities. One park in particular was the Sand Hollow Recreation Area, on the Columbia River. The park was well-kept, with clean bathrooms, camping sites, and plenty to explore. We skipped rocks, found tiny clam shells, and imagined what the world would have been like when large glaciers pushed through the land, creating these massive rivers.
As you drive, look around the beautiful brush steppe landscape, farmland and vineyards. We rolled our windows down at one point and got a whiff of onion. We noticed that huge buildings were overflowing with them. Trucks were loaded, some with corn and some apples, all zooming down one-lane highways, hinting at the city’s agricultural presence.
Where to stay
Like any bustling city, motels, hotels, and Airbnb options exist. We stayed at the Lodge at Columbia Point, a boutique hotel on the waterfront and within walking distance of many area restaurants. The views were lovely, especially in the morning when the water was calm and peaceful. The rooms are standard-sized, with balconies overlooking the river. The marina is open to the public; guests will endure some noise from the boats and patrons taking advantage of outdoor dining at the restaurants nearby. Rooms start at $189/night and go up based on the season and day of the week.
For my kids, the highlight was the outdoor pool, open late for all ages. Robes were provided in the room for use at the spa or at the pool. The water was cool, but a quick dip into the hot tub warmed and relaxed us before bedtime.
We tried several places offering yummy food, but Dovetail Joint Restaurant in Richland stood out. Located in Uptown Plaza, an unsuspecting hole-in-the-wall restaurant with modern decor and an open kitchen, the restaurant offered dishes made with local ingredients. We tried various foods, from potato wedges and meatballs with tomato and ricotta to Spanish shrimp with hummus and pita. The pita bread was a soft pillow of deliciousness. I recommend sticking to the small plates offering a unique variety of tasty bites. My kids loved their pizza (bacon and clam) and raved about the crispy fries and fried chicken sandwich.
Brimming with history and science
If your children are interested in science and technology, the REACH Museum is an excellent destination. It reminded me of going to the Burke Museum in Seattle. The REACH focuses on exhibits that study the environment, native animals, plants, and marine life. One wing of the museum is also devoted to the Manhattan Project, the government’s top-secret project that developed the first nuclear weapon during World War II.
My kids liked many of the interactive exhibits: opening and closing drawers to discover fossils, watching videos to learn more about the history of the nuclear plant, and studying the radioactivity of materials.
While there, don’t miss the small aquarium that packs a big punch. Spot the lamprey, steelhead, and other species of fish found in the Columbia River.
Also, take a walk outside to examine the sculptures and exhibits. There’s a path that will lead you down to the water. Along the way, read the placards that will tell you more about the native wildlife and their importance to the ecosystem. By the water, stay a while and play on the swings, or get your wiggles out on the grassy area.
A pack of fun on the alpaca farm
Make an appointment to visit this urban farm in Kennewick. A small farm set between two housing developments, Sandollar Farms is easy to miss, but worth some scouting. You’ll find a farm that’s home to the Suri Alpaca and the Great Pyrenees dog breed. Owners, Collins and Nikki Griffith share a love for animals, landscaping, and crafting.
Visit the alpacas and admire their mop-like hair, then learn all about the processing of alpaca wool, from shearing to carding to the creation of yarn, felt and more.
The Griffiths are self-taught artisans who create beautiful work using the fibers collected from the animals. Collins also makes leather goods, stamping belts, bags, chairs and horse saddles. Don’t miss the opportunity to purchase a unique gift from their shop.
If you’re looking for a puppy, the Griffiths also breed their Great Pyrenees. Loyal and gentle creatures, they make excellent guard dogs and pets for the family. Note: It was hard to resist taking one home. There will be a lot of begging from your kids if you don’t have a pet already.
Before you leave for your next destination, request a chance to see homing pigeons fly high. Released into the air from their close quarters, these pigeons fly in circles, twisting and turning as they stretch their wings. After twenty minutes of flying, they land on the roof and are gently shuffled back into their home.
Kid-friendly wine country
Eastern Washington is renowned for its wineries and vineyards. We were happy to find a place where the kids could visit with the animals (so many baby goats and horses!) and roast smores, while the adults enjoyed tasting local wines. The Red Mountain Trails winery is that very place and offers horseback riding and wagon rides, too.
We opted for a wagon ride through the red mountain vineyards, admiring the large bunches of grapes growing in the distance. We were offered a complimentary grape tasting, which was surprisingly sweet and delicious. Wagon rides are reasonably priced. Adults cost $20, kids aged 5-16 cost $10, and kids under 5 are free.
Exploring Indigenous history
I’m always curious to learn about the stories of our land. The Indigenous people are represented in many ways in the Tri-Cities, and we explored one place in particular, called the Sacajawea Historical State Park, in Pasco. Here, we learned that a young woman named Sacajawea bridged the communication and relationship gap between the Indigenous tribes and the explorers from the Lewis & Clark expedition. It was this young woman’s act of camaraderie that helped Lewis and Clark understand the land and the people better.
The park hosts a museum where you can explore native artifacts and learn various facts about the expedition. You’ll need a Discover Pass for the park, but admission to the museum is free.
Outside and on the grounds are seven circles installed by artist Maya Lin. Pick up an information sheet from the museum to learn more about each circle as you stroll around.
Family-friendly market stop
Before heading home, remember to stop at The Country Mercantile. A family-owned company, it started as a small produce stand and now offers an extensive selection of local foods, produce and handmade chocolates (which make great gifts for friends and relatives).
Treat your family to gelato or ice cream after lunch. The lunch menu includes wraps, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, and Mexican dishes. Don’t skip out on the enchiladas or the tamales here- both are delicious choices.
The best thing about this place? They have samples! Chocolate samples are abundant, and if you head to the produce section to buy juicy apples or any fruit that’s in season, the attendants will give you a taste before you buy- a win-win!
With bags of produce and treats packed away, it was a fantastic way to end our trip. My kids enjoyed the various activities and learned a little more about Washington’s history. There’s more to explore in Eastern Washington; we look forward to our return.