It’s not too early to start thinking about summer vacation, especially if you want to get a jump on the crowds. But rather than head out to the same old destinations as everyone else, why not go a little off the beaten track to San Juan Islands, Bellingham and Tacoma, three of the most family-friendly locations in Washington State.
High-adrenaline kids can try skim boarding, skateboarding or cycling on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Islands, for example, or take a more relaxed approach to sightseeing onboard a whale-watching or sunset cruise on a sailboat, yacht or even a historic wooden schooner. Families who aren’t afraid of heights can get an aerial view of the islands on a 45-minute flightseeing excursion with Westwind Aviation.
Kids 8 years of age and older can tackle a three-hour forest zipline excursion. Anyone under 16 years of age needs to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Eight ziplines and a suspension bridge are appropriate for anyone in reasonably fit condition and weighing between 60 and 280 pounds.
You can also go kite flying; enjoy the 20-acre San Juan Islands Sculpture Park near Roche Harbor; spend a few hours out of the sun in the new San Juan Islands Museum of Art in Friday Harbor, where in August kids can even enroll in a Pod Nod sleepovers at Friday Harbor’s Whale Museum; or visit indoor games at the A Place to Play.
Meanwhile in Bellingham, just about three hours from Seattle, the North Cascades National Park is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. The National Park boasts backcountry hiking and camping in terrain that combines mountains and more than 300 glaciers. In summer, the North Cascades Learning Center offers a series of nature camps for families and adults, where you can interact with naturalists, dine on locally sourced organic fare, go canoeing and stay in a range of lodge and camping accommodations.
Also in Bellingham, multigenerational groups can get in on the fun at Grandparents U at Western Washington University. The fun, hands-on courses were designed for kids aged 7 to 14 and their grandparents, and accommodations are available on the university’s 215-acre campus overlooking the Salish Sea.
In Tacoma, Point Defiance Park, one of the country’s largest urban parks, is enjoying an upgrade with the addition of a two-mile pedestrian bridge that connects the park to a waterfront promenade. Activities in the 760-acre park, which draws more than 3 million visitors a year, include salt-water beaches, forest nature walks and, coming in summer 2018, a new aquarium to open at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The 250,000-gallon warm-water exhibit will feature hammerhead sharks, green sea turtles and spotted eagle rays, as well as a 75,000-gallon exhibit showcasing Pacific Northwest marine life.
The Tacoma Art Museum features, among other exhibits, the glass works of local artist Dale Chihuly, whose work you can also enjoy on the 500-foot Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Families can also rent a kayak in Gig Bay or try a sightseeing tour with Destiny Harbor Tours for a look at the city and its seafaring history as seen from the water. Those with a little more time can visit Mount Rainier National Park, located about an hour-and-a-half from Tacoma, with its nosebleed-high peaks and where, weather permitting, you can enjoy wilderness hiking and climbing year-round. Of course, you can also ascend via scenic auto route, and the park website offers information on road closures and tips on how to enjoy the park safely any time of year.
Young rail buffs might enjoy a two-hour, steam-powered train ride aboard the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad from May through October. The ride, which departs from the depot in Elbe, about 45 minutes away from Tacoma, wends through the forest and along the Upper Nisqually River to the kid-friendly Mount Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum, which features the biggest collection of steam locomotives in the country and where it stops for an hour before making the return trip to Elbe. The museum admission is included with the train ticket.