Family Fun In The Pacific Northwest

For years, I dreamed of introducing my husband and 11-year-old son to the Pacific Northwest, a place I had gotten to know while doing a newspaper internship in college. When we finally landed in Seattle on our recent trip, this slice of America ended up being even more awe-inspiring than I remembered. Truth is, my walk down memory lane was even better with my two guys in tow. Here’s  a little of what we experienced in the land of ocean views, unparalleled cups of coffee, and endless (and yummy) fish dinners.

Seattle is way more than the Space Needle

An NYC family explores Astoria, OR.

Flying into Seattle is kind of like landing in a pine forest. The shock of being surrounded by all things green is quickly replaced by ooh’s and aah’s over sightings of the snow-topped peak of Mount Rainier on the horizon. After a quick Light Rail ride from the airport to downtown (PS: Sports fans will go gaga over the sight of CenturyLink and Safeco Field along the way), we realized that walking is the name of the game in this slightly hilly but incredibly pedestrian-friendly town.

What to do: You don’t have to be a “Grey’s Anatomy” fan to know that a big draw here is the Space Needle, but an even higher vista is at-the-ready at the Sky View Observatory, on the 73rd floor (aka the highest lookout in the entire West Coast). Other musts include Pike Place Market. Don’t miss Pike Place Fish Market, the seafood stand right under the market’s main sign, which is almost more about theater—the fishmongers throw fish to each other whenever an order comes in—as it is about the glistening piles of salmon, crabs, and halibut all available to ship back East, and the Gum Wall, an icky, sticky spot for ABC gum. The Seattle Great Wheel, a Ferris wheel perched right on the water, is another picture-perfect way to view the city, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic mountains to the West. Follow this with a long stroll to Seattle Center, which happens to be a perfect way to burn off one or two Top Pot Doughnuts, Seattle’s finest. While over at Seattle Center, the home of more than 30 cultural, educational, and sports and entertainment organizations, be sure to check out the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center. You’ll be inspired to start your own philanthropic project, believe me. If time allows, hop a ferry to the glorious Mercer Island and the San Juans. If you don’t have time to make a day of it (most of the ferries have restaurants on-board), simple take a water taxi to Alki Beach and have a sunset dinner at Marination Ma Kai (see Where to Eat below).

Where to Eat: Duke’s Chowder House. While there are six Duke’s in and around Seattle, pick the Lake Union location and you’ll delight in the views of sailboats rolling by while your child stays occupied with a coloring page and tic-tac-toe. The kids’ menu offers grilled salmon and coconut “hulu” prawns served with organic, fresh-squeezed lemonade and a side of clam chowder or baby red potatoes. A healthy hit! (901 Fairview Avenue North, Seattle, 206-382-9963; dukeschowderhouse.com). Ivar’s Acres of Clams. At this fish emporium—pick the location near the Great Wheel for killer ferry and island views—even the pickiest eaters will appreciate the world-famous clam chowder and healthy kids’ menu, including grilled coho salmon and true cod fish-n-chips, an original recipe. (Pier 54, 1001 Alaskan Way, Seattle, 206-624-6852; ivars.com). Marination Ma Kai. Hawaiian-Korean fusion may not sound like it’s up your child’s alley, but believe me, the Pork Sliders and Kimchi Quesadillas are sure to please. Sit back and relax on the patio of this beachfront spot and watch as your child devours a shaved ice atop a tasty scoop of vanilla or coconut ice cream. (1600 Harbor Avenue SW, Seattle, 206-328-8226; marinationmobile.com).

Where to Stay: Hotel Monaco. Tucked in the Financial District, this playful, kid-friendly Kimpton Hotel, with rooms as fashionable as they are comfy, boasts a borrow-a-goldfish program that’s sure to make your little one feel right at home. Don’t miss the homemade granola at Sazerac, the restaurant just off the lobby. (1101 4th Avenue, Seattle, 206-621-1770; monaco-seattle.com). Hotel 1000. For a stylish stay at a boutique hotel that’s about as centrally located as you can get, this is the spot for you. And, bonus if you have golfers in the family—there’s a golf simulator in the basement and a spa where mom to unwind. (1000 1st Avenue, Seattle, 206-957-1000; hotel1000seattle.com). Westin Seattle. The first ever Westin looks a bit like a place the Jetsons would zip into, but the views here are unparalleled. An indoor pool and outdoor deck add to the fun of this two-towered hotel which boasts 891 guest rooms. (1900 5th Avenue, Seattle, 206-728-1000; westinseattle.com).

Portland is weirdly wonderful

DIY Pancakes at Slappy Cakes in Portland. Photo by Lambeth Hochwald.

What to do: Situated just three hours south of Seattle is the city (locals call it PDX) made famous by “Portlandia,” the epically quirky show on IFC. From the moment you pull into town, it’s clear that this is a place that takes its shops and its food very seriously. It’s another immensely walkable city, and the neighborhoods have their own micro-feel, so you can be walking along the Burnside Bridge, for example, and suddenly happen upon a block crammed with cafes, coffee spots and, even, a combo mustache waxing/jean hemming/magazine shop where it’s easy to think Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein might be filming inside. This is another food-lover’s delight as well, and you could spend an entire week and you’d never be able to fully partake of all the street food being cooked up along a large strip of food trucks on 10th and Alder. If you can, set aside time to visit the Oregon Zoo or browse through the stacks at the massive, Strand-like Powell’s City of Books, the largest independently owned bookstore in the nation. Another must-see: The Portland Children’s Museum, tucked right into Washington Park, a 400-acre swath of green space.

Where to Eat: The Urban Farmer at the Nines Hotel. Located right across from Pioneer Square, Portland’s Steakhouse offers way more than juicy steaks, with an expansive kids’ menu and decadent homemade Parker Rolls to start. (525 SW Morrison Street, Portland, 503-222-4900; urbanfarmerportland.com). The Original. For $5, your kiddie can opt for a Highland Oak Hot Dog or Mini Hamburgers (drink included). But don’t expect anyone to sit for too long with the temptation of an old-school Pacman game in the corner. It’s free, too, so no need to locate any quarters to keep your kids occupied. You’ll love the Donut Burger Sliders (yes, these are buttermilk donuts with cheddar and Highland Oaks Grass-Fed Beef). Need we say more? (300 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland, 503-546-2666; originaldinerant.com). Slappy Cakes. This place may be located off the beaten path from downtown, but you can’t miss with a jaunt to a DIY pancake joint. Picture getting your batter, toppings, and fillings, and then sitting back to enjoy the theater of flipping flapjacks surrounded by others doing the exact same thing. Tip: Arrive early to avoid waiting too long to make your stack. (4246 SE Belmont Street, Portland, 503-477-4805; slappycakes.com). Grilled Cheese Grill. Housed in a former school bus and tucked right next to the Tiny House Hotel, with vacation houses that are just 100 to 200 feet, this place has aced the gourmet grilled cheese scene for sure, with gourmet riffs on the kid-favorite including The First Grader, complete with two breads and two cheeses. (1027 NE Alberta Street, Portland, 503-206-8959; grilledcheesegrill.com). Portland Penny Diner. At this counter-service diner, you won’t go wrong with an order of the Buttermilk Fried Chicken or Blackened Trout. (410 SW Broadway, Portland, 503-228-7222; imperialpdx.com).

Where to Stay: The Sentinel. Hands down, this historic hotel (the West Wing was built in 1923 to house the Portland Elks Lodge) had something for everyone in our family. And, after many days on the road, we loved the fact that the room felt as stylish as it felt cozy and homey—piles of books and funky art will do that—and the extensive Pillow Menu prompted us to stay for a second night, too. Our son was hooked when he saw that you could order in ice cream from Portland’s renowned Salt & Straw. (614 SW 11th Avenue, Portland, 503-224-3400; sentinelhotel.com).

The Oregon Coast is a little slice of heaven

Enjoying Cannon Beach, OR. Photo by Lambeth Hochwald.

What to do: Head south two-plus hours from Portland and then due west to Lincoln City. Prepare to be amazed by a coastline bedecked with massive rock pilings emerging from sand, two-lane scenic roads slicing through marshland, and more ice cream spots, donut shops, and seafood joints than you can count. From Lincoln City, head north along the scenic highway and be sure to stop in the ultra-quaint, one-street town of Manzanita, before driving the gorgeous 14 miles north to Cannon Beach, legendary for Haystack Rock—a massive monolith, and a robust main street of shops. But don’t stop there. If you have time, it’s truly worth a 90-minute meandering drive north to Astoria, Oregon, a maritime town that’s older than San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, where the Columbia River provides endless photo ops. This is a town full of vintage shops, award-winning brewpubs, and the renowned Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Where to Eat: Wayfarer Restaurant. Dungeness Crab is the name of the game at this oceanfront fave. The kids won’t complain one bit about coming here, either, with Cheezer Pleezer, a grilled cheese sandwich made with local Tillamook cheddar, or a Haystack Burger, served in honor of the giant promontory just outside the window. (1190 Pacific Drive, Cannon Beach, 503-436-1108; wayfarer-restaurant.com). Bridgewater Bistro. The salads and fish served at this scenic spot will make your mouth water. Live jazz on weekends is another draw—and your kids will dig right into the tasty wild Alaskan cod and chips. (20 Basin Street, Astoria, 503-325-6777; bridgewaterbistro.com)

Where to Stay: Coho Oceanfront Lodge. When in Lincoln City, settle in for a relaxing night at this beachfront hotel that’s as welcoming as they come. In addition to the hotel’s friendly staff, there are homemade chocolate chip cookies stacked up at the registration desk. During afternoon wine and cheese, there’s even a massage therapist available to help untwist tight-from-travel neck knots. (1635 NW Harbor Avenue, Lincoln City, 800-848-7006; thecoholodge.com). Surfsand Resort. If there’s such a thing as the perfect place to relax, it’s at this resort perched right on the Pacific, just steps from Haystack Rock. Nights are meant for making s’mores, the indoor pool is a popular hangout, and kids are welcomed like rock stars (Tip: Be sure to ask about Taffy’s Kids’ Club, where kids play games and learn all about marine ecology). Just think of all the time you’ll get to veg on the beach. (148 W. Gower Street, Cannon Beach, 800-547-6100; surfsand.com). Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. In what might be the most picturesque location I can remember visiting, this hotel sits right on the Columbia River, and an afternoon’s entertainment might just be watching huge freighters drifting by on their way to Alaska, China, or Japan. (The front desk even keeps a list of which freighters are passing by and when). There’s on-site laundry (with free detergent)—a treat for families traveling multiple days—chauffeured rides to town in vintage cars, and plenty of 1950s style cruiser bicycles to use to see the sights along the river. Extra points for the free continental breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese, sauna, and hot tub. (10 Basin Street, Astoria, 503-325-4996; cannerypierhotel.com).