301When the days get longer, we often start jonesing for the open road. We don’t want to nest indoors anymore; we want to spread our wings. However, when there’s family involved, that spontaneous Thelma & Louise-style road trip is definitely out of the question (especially given the movie’s ending).

A quick day trip in the car is the most practical and fun for kids. So bust out those sing-along CDs and a plethora of snacks and get ready to feel the wind in your hair. We’ve spotlighted three trips to do right now and listed some possibilities for later.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Every April, this area could be mistaken for Holland (yes, there are windmills in Washington, too). Fields burst with bright tulips and masses of people come to celebrate them.

Go: April 1st through April 30th (FYI, weekends are the most crowded).
Approximate travel time: Less than 90 minutes each way on I-5; exits 221-236 are where the action is.
What to see: As many tulip farms as time permits–most have children’s activities.
Possible lunch spots: If you go between April 2nd and April 24th, hit the salmon barbeque at the Hillcrest Park Lodge in Mount Vernon. If you go later this month, try Mount Vernon’s Calico Cupboard Cafe & Bakery. Can you say ‘amazing baked goods?’
How to dress: In comfy warm clothes–you’ll be outside a lot–and walking shoes. Bring umbrellas just in case.
Need to know: Many tulip farms charge an admission fee for adults and, warning, you’ll see gift shops everywhere.
Bonus: The Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair is April 15th-17th.
Cost of trip: Moderate
Info.: 360.428.5959 (Tulip Festival office)
Online: http://www.redtri.com/seattle/explore-skagit-valley-tulip-festival and www.tulipfestival.org; download a festival brochure and a tulip field map from the official website.

Bainbridge Island
Sure, Bainbridge Island has been written about a million times, but with good reason–once you’re there, it feels like you’ve really escaped the city. The ferry ride alone is a big event for young ones (and, shhh, those of us at RT still rush to sit on the side of the boat with the best view).

Go: Now, before the tourists start swarming the ferries.
Approximate travel time: It’s a 35-minute ferry ride each way plus a 15-minute drive to the nature reserve (buses and taxis also available if you don’t want to take your car on the ferry).
What to see: The Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre nature reserve with jaw-droppingly beautiful areas such as the Moss Garden, the Japanese Garden, and more. Later in the day, while you’re in downtown Winslow, stop by the Kids’ Discovery Museum. It offers art and science-related activities and a stimulating rain forest exhibit.
Possible brunch/lunch spots: Upscale Cafe Nola in Winslow or cozy Pegasus Coffee House for a casual sandwich (both have kids’ menus).
How to dress: In comfortable clothes and walking shoes. There will be a lot of outside time.
Need to know: The reserve is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.  No reservations required.
Bonus: Parents can pop in to Grace & Company Paperie (at 271 Madison Ave. S, near the Eagle Harbor Inn) to look for darling invitations for Junior’s next birthday party.
Cost of trip: Moderate to expensive
Info.: Museum 206.855.4650; Reserve, 206.842.7631
Online: www.kidimu.org and www.bloedelreserve.org

Cougar Mountain and Gilman Village
While hiking can be invigorating, kids can tire quickly of the “boring” scenery. (And, if you’re carrying Little One in a pack, she can start to get awfully heavy.) Why not vary the day by throwing in a little shopping exhibition to a quaint outdoor anti-mall?

Go: Anytime except after a few days of rain (the trails can get muddy).
Approximate travel time: From Seattle, about 20 to 25 minutes. Take I-90 to exit 13 for Cougar Mountain and, after hiking, return to I-90 and take exit 17 for the Issaquah spots.
What to see: On Cougar Mountain, where there are 36 miles of winding (and often hilly) trails, just soak up nature; at Gilman Village, brake for these shops: Le Petite Kids, BooginHead (Sippigrip), X Marks the Tot, White Horse Toys, and Daisy (hip clothing for Moms only).
Possible lunch spot: Issaquah Brewhouse, just off Front St. South in Issaquah. It has a children’s play area and serves Rogue Ales, sandwiches for kids, and Kobe beef burgers, along with plenty of other menu items.
How to dress: Wear hiking-appropriate gear and bring an easy change of shoes/clothes for lunch and shopping.
Need to know: A picnic is a budget lunch option if the sun is out.
Cost of trip: Cheap (especially if you don’t buy anything while shopping).
Info: King County Parks, 206.296.4232; Gilman Village, 425.392.6802
Online: http://www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/inventory.aspx and www.gilmanvillage.com

Honorable Mentions

  • Nature-y Options:
  • Urban Options:
    • Tacoma
      Head down to see the fab Glass Museum and the zoo with the fun Kids’ Zone.
    • Portland (A three-hour drive–best to stay overnight, if possible)
      We go nuts for this kid-friendly city. Check out the kids’ section at Powell’s Books, Finnegan’s Toys, OMSI and the rose gardens, too.