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Look beyond the big cities for family friendly adventures in the Pacific Northwest
The state of Washington is home to vibrant cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Spokane. For fun and memorable vacations in Washington State with kids, look beyond these major urban areas, or use them as your jumping-off points. You’ll soon find that Washington is full of relaxed, family friendly destinations that put you in touch with the outdoors and one another.
These areas make great road trips when coming from Washington’s major cities and from Portland, OR, or Vancouver, BC. For campers and RVers, these areas also have public and private campgrounds, not to mention great roads for getting around in your rig.
San Juan Island
Different regions of the Pacific Northwest have a way of defying expectations. If you think western Washington is all rain and gloom, the San Juan Islands, and their hub of San Juan Island itself, just might change your mind. The Olympic Mountains to the south create a rain shadow over this region and give the San Juans an average of 247 days of sunshine per year.
Our family’s experience in San Juan Island, WA
During our spring vacation in Washington State, misty mornings gave way to sunny afternoons. We filled our days with a sculpture garden, a whale museum, the shops and eateries of Friday Harbor, and an orca watching tour. But one of our biggest surprises? Learning that San Juan Island in the 1800s was where the USA and Britain almost went to war again—over a pig.
3 snapshots of our family vacation to San Juan Island, WA:
Start planning your trip to San Juan Island, WA with kids
Nowadays, a bridge connects Whidbey Island to the mainland, and you can drive here from the ferry terminal at Anacortes in about 20 minutes. Even though the mainland’s coastline is in view from much of Whidbey, the island still feels like it’s a world away. It’s also home to two welcoming small towns that felt calm yet vibrant.
Oak Harbor on the northern part of the island is Whidbey’s primary hub, and a tasty spot for dining and stocking up on supplies. However, Coupeville not only is the spot to catch the ferry to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a diverse small town with excellent restaurants and a downtown core that parallels the scenic waterfront. Hiking trails and water recreation also abound throughout the island.
Our family’s experience in Whidbey Island, WA
During one of our Washington escapes with kids to Whidbey Island, the kids build driftwood forts on a beach. We wandered a paved, accessible, flat path that connects Oak Harbor’s parks and downtown dining. In Coupeville, we made art and connected with folks at Meet Market. And in the seas beyond the eastern side of the island, we searched for gray whales. To the northeast, the peaks of the North Cascades peeked out, visible for the first time that season.
Start planning your trip to Whidbey Island, WA with kids
Think the Olympic Peninsula is all rain? Think again. Towns such as Port Townsend and Sequim can get plenty of sunshine. Areas of Olympic National Park, such as the Hoh Rain Forest, are notorious for rain and fog. We hiked the Hoh’s Hall of Mosses on a brilliantly sunny April afternoon.
Our family’s experience in the Olympic Peninsula, WA
We RV’d around the entire Olympic Peninsula, including Port Townsend (and its delicious Finnriver Cidery), Port Angeles, Crescent Lake, Forks, Hoh Rain Forest, and Lake Quinault. A few hints:
- The Forks Timber Museum has a delightful indoor scavenger hunt that was fun for the entire family
- On the way to Lake Crescent, Madison Falls is only a quarter-mile hike with decent accessibility, and a lovely waterfall at the end
- Port Angeles is home to a wonderful ADA playground, and an Olympic National Park visitor center is just a few minutes from downtown
Start planning your trip to the Olympic Peninsula, WA with kids
This is not the Seattle you’re thinking of, but it is a side of Seattle that is wonderful for families. Lakeside parks with beaches and views of Mount Rainier? Yup. A world-class aviation and space museum? You bet. Not to mention incredible dining—and all just minutes from Sea-Tac Airport.
Our family’s experience in Seattle Southside, WA
Our September visit came with sunny skies and hot-ish weather. What really surprised us was how well we could get around the different parts of this area, yet always find easy access to nature. Seattle Southside is home to state parks at the edge of Puget Sound, as well as a vast botanical garden full of roses and a Japanese-style garden with a distinct history.
Start planning your trip to Seattle Southside, WA with kids
Long Beach Peninsula
With nearly 30 uninterrupted miles of broad, sandy beach, this slender blade of land at the edge of North America is where Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific Ocean. On the way, stop in the town of Raymond for their incredible Carriage Museum, where dozens of restored carriages come with stories about how they were used in real life—and even in films such as Gone with the Wind.
Our family’s experience in Long Beach Peninsula, WA
We enjoyed the small towns with tasty, family friendly restaurants, as well as razor clamming and broadening our understanding of the Corps of Discovery’s long journey across the USA, in a museum located where Lewis and Clark once stood.
Start planning your trip to Long Beach Peninsula, WA with kids
Vancouver (the Washington one, not the Canada one)
Right across the Columbia River from Portland and just off I-5, Vancouver makes for easy day trips, weekend excursions, or longer vacations in Washington State. The waterfront’s level promenades help people of all mobilities enjoy being by the Columbia, and the kids loved the wading area. Downtown is also home to an excellent farmer and craft market, yet within half an hour of Vancouver you can also enjoy wildlife refuges, lakes, and trails.
Our family’s experience in Vancouver, WA
Our travels have now taken us to Vancouver twice, and both times we’ve had novel experiences. From a paved trail overlooking a national wildlife refuge, to accessible playgrounds minutes from town, we’ve found Vancouver to be a small city that gives access both to nature’s wonder and the delights of being in town.
Start planning your trip to Vancouver, WA with kids
Union Gap and Zillah
Vacations in Washington State aren’t just for the western side of the state either. East of the Cascade Mountains, Washington’s Yakima Valley is world renowned for its wines, hops, apples, cherries, asparagus, and more. Small towns like Zillah make it easy to explore farm stands. Nearby Union Gap is an area hub for excellent food, not to mention annual cultural events that bring together history, agriculture, and a celebration of harvests from apples to asparagus.
Our family’s experience in Union Gap and Zillah, WA
Paddling a pond, working an excavator, and tucking into James Beard award-winning tamales? Those were just a few of the things we got up in Union Gap and Zillah.
Start planning your trip to Union Gap and Zillah, WA with kids
Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco)
Our family’s first experience with Tri-Cities was when we adults went there for a conference in 2022. When we left, we knew we couldn’t wait to return with the kids. We’ve now visited Tri-Cities three times. This calm collection of three cities encompasses three rivers too: The Snake, Yakima, and Columbia rivers all flow here. Urban riverside hikes, diverse dining, and excellent museums are just a few reasons this area is one of our favorite places to visit in all of Washington State.
Our family’s experience in Tri-Cities, WA
Our various visits to Tri-Cities have included a mammoth dig site, a lunchtime cruise on the Columbia River, a tour of the Hanford nuclear reactor (and yes, it is safe and family friendly), and kayaking on the Yakima.
Start planning your trip to Tri-Cities, WA with kids
The International Selkirk Loop
Last but not least isn’t just a Washington trip, but a world-class scenic drive that encompasses northern Idaho, southern British Columbia, and northeastern Washington. The International Selkirk Loop is one of the most amazing road trips our family has ever taken.
Our family’s experience on the International Selkirk Loop
A waterfall you can only reach by boat and a kid-friendly cave tour are just a few highlights of the Washington segment of our week-long tour of the International Selkirk Loop. The Washington town of Newport is also a common starting point for the Loop, which continues east into Idaho, on a counterclockwise loop.
Start planning your International Selkirk Loop road trip with kids
Vacations in Washington State offer many ways to make a family escape into a trip of a lifetime
Whether flying into Seattle or coming in through Idaho or Oregon, it’s easy to figure out Washington escapes with kids. Whether eastern or western Washington, vibrant cities or far-flung peninsulas and islands, we always find ourselves not only returning to Washington for family trips. We also enjoy new places, revisiting old favorites, and always, always making new memories as a family.