Exploring quirky shops in tiny seaside towns, licking drippy ice cream cones with the sun on your face, digging your toes into warm sand as your kids collect shells and find tiny crabs…finally, you and your family are going on that totally awesome tropical island vacation, right? But hold the alohas and grab the car keys because we’ve rounded up three island day trips where there will be no need for triple checked packing lists, no apologies to weary seat-mates as they brush soggy goldfish off their laps, and no tiny airplane bathroom diaper changes on a flight that feels like it took off three days ago. These totally relaxed, totally local island day trips will leave you and your family saying “Don Ho who?”
Is everyone in the family claiming boredom by 9am? Only 35 minutes away from downtown Seattle by ferry, Bainbridge Island’s downtown Winslow is the perfect answer to “what should we do today?” The area hosts a variety of spur of the moment, family-friendly and easily walkable goodies along Winslow Way to keep you and the Littles entertained from the moment you step off the ferry (and even before).
The small but mighty Kids Discovery Museum (KiDiMu) is ideal for the 0-10 set, where kids can spark their imaginations with a giant Lite Brite, learn about physics via golf balls (or just see how many they can collect) in the Motion Madness Room or get their hands dirty with themed events like Messy Mondays. The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (across the parking lot from KiDiMu; admission is free) and KiDiMu are currently co-hosting an Artful Discovery scavenger hunt until September 21. Grab a clue card and search both museums for eight kid-friendly items (and win a treat from local candy store Bon Bon). Speaking of scavenger hunts, the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association (BIDA) is currently hosting “Frogs on the Rock”, 36 frog sculptures decorated by local artists and displayed (or sometimes hidden) throughout the island. Pick up a postcard with a list of Froggy’s hideouts at BIDA or check out the map here.
Nearby family-friendly restaurants abound. Check out Blackbird Bakery just down the street from KidiMu for gorgeous cakes, gooey pastries (including gluten-free options) and a to-go cup of Seattle’s Herkimer Coffee for the easy-peasy stroll back to the ferry. If your family’s screamin’ for ice cream, Mora Iced Creamery will please even the pickiest vanilla-only cone licker. Make sure to taste a few flavors before deciding—we suggest pink grapefruit. Need more than a sugar rush? Kid-friendly and parent pleasing Madison Diner’s all-day breakfast is sure to be a home run. Their hand dipped milkshakes and always-a-winner Mickey pancakes will silence every last “I’m huuuuungry.”
All locations listed above are easily reached by foot from the ferry terminal. Your boat-loving kiddo will go crazy when you walk onto the ferry, and you’ll appreciate the savings—parking in downtown Seattle for a few hours costs less than the ferry’s car rates. Rather leave the stroller at home? The brand new Frog Hopper bus takes you to and from the Winslow ferry terminal on weekends (July through September), with routes on Winslow Way and along the north and south ends of the island to places like the Bloedel Reserve and Bainbridge Island Brewing (where kids are welcome!). Tickets can be purchased at the kiosk in the ferry terminal and are good for all day hop-on-and-off privileges ($7 for adults, $5 for seniors and kids 12 and under, and $20 gets families with 3-5 members an all-day pass). If you just have to have the kid taxi nearby, parking is always free along Winslow Way and in the museums’ shared parking lot.
West-Seattleites consider Vashon an extension of their ‘hood, and with the cool 20-minute ferry ride from Fauntleroy, it’s no wonder. Hop in the car with your sunscreen and your sense of adventure, and get ready to take a short trip to a quiet place that slows your blood pressure (and calms your kiddos) the moment the ferry bumps against the dock.
Once off the ferry, point your car south towards Point Robinson Park, a pretty 12-mile drive across the island. The park houses a working lighthouse, and retired Coast Guard Captain Joe Wubbold gives free tours (amazing views included) on Sundays from 12-4pm through September. Sundays are too full of soccer games and trips to Grandma’s? Call Captain Joe anytime, year-round at (206) 463-6672 to schedule a tour—he’s happy to accommodate almost any schedule and any size group. If tours aren’t your thing, just let the little ones roam the wide, driftwood-strewn beach, and you might see a baby harbor seal sunning itself, or a giant container ship making its way (very close to the shore) to points south. On your way back to town, check out the new Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC), where you can catch some air on your skateboard or inline skates during Open Skate for only $6 (or buy a year membership for $10 and the price goes down to $3), a surefire way to get out the wiggles before the quiet ferry ride home. Check the website for current hours.
Need a pick me up (and a sweet treat for the kiddos) on your way into town? Snapdragon Café is the ultimate in rustic, homemade food that will make you and your little foodies want to visit Vashon daily just for their Classic Danish Cinnamon Roll with fresh apples and currants, or a few of their doesn’t-matter-what-size $2.50 espressos. (Don’t rush there on Mondays or Tuesdays-they’re closed). Famished after a day of exploring? The historic Hardware Store (yes, it was once a hardware store) is a local favorite and serves up hearty and delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners, seven days a week.
Vashon isn’t walkable from the ferry, but the above restaurants are located along Vashon Highway in downtown Vashon, which is the main road to and from the terminal. BARC is located just off the Vashon Highway near Burton; Point Robinson Park is on Maury Island (connected by road; check Google Maps for the route) and there is ample parking in the shady upper lot. Parking is free throughout the island.
Whidbey Island’s motto is “The Shortest Distance to Far Away,” and when you enter the quaint town of Coupeville, on the island’s east shore, you immediately see why. Founded in 1853 and full of small town charm, homemade food and gorgeous views, you and your kids will love the old buildings, cool local artifacts and slower pace found along Front Street. And did we mention the food?
Park along Front Street and head over to the Island County Historical Museum, where the kids can puzzle through the wonder of a 120,000 year old Ice Age tree trunk, squished flat by the Vashon Glacier, or picture the animal that went with the bones on display in the Mammoth Exhibit, evidence of a large mammoth population that once lived on the island. After cramming their heads full of cool history, walk across the street to the Coupeville Wharf, where you can stroll the pier, taking in the views of Penn Cove, and say hi to Rosie, the 32-foot skeleton of a young Gray Whale on display in the Breezeway.
On the walk back to the car, peruse the battery-and noise-free toys (hallelujah!) at the sure-to-please toy store Honey Bear (open daily, 10:30am-5:30pm) before your leisurely drive (and hopefully naptime) back to the ferry. If your kids refuse to snooze, stop at farm and local food haven Greenbank Farm, or take a short detour to Fort Casey, where you can take a fantastic 45-minute guided tour (1pm Fridays & 1pm and 2:30pm Saturdays and Sundays, Memorial Day-Labor Day) of the historic gun batteries, complete with four artillery guns standing their silent guard over Puget Sound. The adventurous in your tribe will love the pitch black Tunnel Room, always a hit with kids and sure to silence the five-year-old’s questions, at least for a few minutes. Call 360-678-4519 for current hours; tours are free.
Grab an espresso and a freshly baked, melt in your mouth Everything Cookie (believe us, it’s the best cookie we’ve ever had) from local favorite Knead and Feed (open til 4pm weekends and 3pm weekdays), or if the kiddos are fall-apart famished after your road trip, take in the view and the delicious kids’ menu at Front Street Grill, where local Penn Cove mussels are on the menu for you while the kids munch on crispy fries and Kobe beef sliders on pretzel buns. If the kiddos are high on sun and low on sugar after their seaside adventure, grab a freshly made waffle cone at Kapaw’s Iskreme (open every day at 11:30am, March through November).
You’ll need your car for the drive to the Mukilteo Ferry and to get to Coupeville, but the town is completely walkable and street parking is free. Fort Casey is eight minutes south of Coupeville by car.
The ferry system can get crazy busy in the summer months, especially on festival weekends (and there are a lot of festival weekends!) Always check the WSDOT Ferry website for current delays, prices and times (most routes have varying weekend and weekday schedules) and pack lots of snacks and water before embarking on your island adventure.
Does your family have a favorite island? Let us know in a comment below.
Photos courtesy of: Erin Cranston, Kids’ Discovery Museum, Andrea Mackin, Allison Sutcliffe, Jim Patton, Pete Salutos/Kids’ Discovery Museum, Sue via Flickr, Chas Redmond via Flickr and Jeff Wilcox via Flickr