Psst! Want to know about a secret beach day-trip, that’s only an hour from Seattle, but puts you on a practically deserted beach? Useless Bay on South Whidbey Island is a parent’s beach heaven. The Bay is actually useless–for boats, at least. At low tide, which happens once during the day, the tide goes out as far as you can see, revealing a huge sandy beach. You can spend all day exploring here – walk out to the water and do some splashing in the shallow water, check out the pools that are left behind by the tide and get warmed by the sun, pick through the hundreds of sand dollars that litter the beach or just find a spot in the sand and do some digging! Useless Bay is fun for all ages.

Go: When the weather is nice – spring & summer especially

Approximate travel time: Just over an hour, including a short ferry ride

What to bring: Gear for the beach! Useless Bay isn’t really a “sit by the water and relax” day at the beach – it’s all about exploring, chasing the tide out and splashing in the little pools that are left behind on the expansive beach. Babies need to go in back or front packs instead of strollers. Bring lots of water, sunscreen and some toys for digging in the sand! Don’t forget an extra change of clothes for the ride back to Seattle.

How to dress: Layers are best – even on the sunniest day, it can be a little windy, so bathing suits with warmer clothes on top that you can peel off is perfect. There is no shade on Useless Bay, so hats for the entire family are a must!

Where to shop: Go into Freeland, just a mile north of Useless Bay and check out Lind’s Freeland Pharmacy for a unique selection of toys and gifts. Also, The Star Store on the way to Langley is a fun spot to stop for gifts and local goodies.

Possible lunch spots: If you’re planning on just a beach day, you should definitely pack a lunch to bring with you, including lots of water. For a spot to grab a meal before heading back to the ferry, try Madistone’s Pizza – perfect for kids who are beat from a day in the sun. Mom and Dad will love driving through Whidbey Island Coffee Co for a cup of coffee on the way home.

Need to know: Check the tide schedule before planning a trip – the tide goes out once during the day so you want to make sure you’re there at the right time to catch the huge empty beach! Also, the beach just in front of the houses is private, so avoid setting up camp there.

Bonus: Make a weekend out of it and book a house right on Useless Bay! There are many rental options available right on the beach or just up the street so you can have a home base and place to take naps in between beach adventures. VRBO is a great resource for finding a weekend rental.

Cost of trip: The ferry trip will cost you about $20 (each way) for a family of four in a normal sized vehicle

Online: View the ferry schedule here for details about the 20-minute ride from Mukilteo to Clinton.

— Katie Kavulla