Exploring new and natural wonders with your children is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a parent. Eschewing video games, streaming videos, work emails, and other modern distractions for the calming clap of the surf is a great way to get some much-needed family R&R. But, inevitably, even with the sweetest kids, something goes wrong: Attention spans wane, sunburns appear, sugars crash, and you are left wondering what to do next. Luckily, the Columbia-Pacific region caters to the underage set without forgetting that parents like to have fun too.
There’s more than enough to do for the whole family both indoors and out. Try your hand at feeding the seals at the Seaside Aquarium (seasideaquarium.com), or learn about the Graveyard of the Pacific at the Columbia River Maritime Museum (crmm.org) in Astoria. Visiting Jake the Alligator Man at Marsh’s Free Museum (marshsfreemuseum.com) is always a trip. During the fairer months of the year, almost every community in the Columbia Pacific — from Manzanita up to Long Beach on the peninsula — has weekly farmers markets falling on different days of the week, while the mega Astoria Sunday Market (astoriasundaymarket.com) fills 12th Street in downtown Astoria with live music, food carts, and up to 200 individual vendors hawking everything from handmade furniture to mermaid tails and organic kale. Even if you don’t make it up to Long Beach for the Washington State International Kite Festival (kitefestival.com) held in August, there are plenty of places to buy and rent kites, and you can follow a breeze into the World Kite Museum and check out its Hall of Fame.
See? You’ve got this. Just remember: A stimulated kid is a kid who goes to bed on time, and a sleeping child is the most relaxing part of any parent’s holiday. Seeking out our recommendations will truly make your vacation a day at the beach for everyone.
FUN IN THE SUN
BEACHES — THE SURF’S TURF
Let’s face it, you didn’t pack up the Prius, buckle in the progeny, and push through traffic to not spend some time in the sand. Whether it’s an evening beach fire on the flat expanse of Manzanita’s shore or just getting your feet wet in front of Haystack Rock before dinner, visiting the ocean can be therapeutic for the whole family, which is why people have been trekking to Oregon’s pristine and publicly owned coastline since the 19th century. It’s easy to lose hours with either toddlers or tweens at the beach. A favorite with both locals and tourists alike, Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park is situated on a cove just a half-mile walk through a dense blanket of forest from a free parking lot off U.S. 101. Check out the last remnants of the Peter Iredale shipwreck on the beach in Fort Stevens State Park. Nearby Coffenbury Lake offers a picnic area, boat ramp, and public restrooms, and it boasts two freshwater swimming areas with a cache of free lifejackets available for safety. Across the Columbia in Cape Disappointment State Park, the driftwood-littered Waikiki Beach is popular with both surfers and families with young children since it has no riptide.
BIPEDAL TO THE METAL
From the shoreline of Cannon Beach to the Long Beach Peninsula’s eight-plus-mile Discovery Trail, there’s no better way to experience the Columbia Pacific and its communities than by bicycle, with the added bonus of getting in a little family fitness. Just in case you forgot to bring your bikes, Family FUNcycles in Cannon Beach rents recumbent tricycles that really move on both street and sand. With multiple locations across Seaside, Wheel Fun Rentals (wheelfunrentals.com) can hook you up with a beach cruiser or tandem bicycle to glide down the Prom or with a surrey big enough for the whole clan. Explore the Discovery Trail on a banana bike from Long Beach Rentals (longbeachmopeds.com), or hit them up for a moped and spend a few hours cruising the town. Pretty much every place that rents bikes also rents bike trailers so the little ones can glide in style.
PARKS AND REC
If the weather’s nice but the beach is no longer calling your name, the North Coast has plenty of public parks and lands to check out with the fam. Besides offering many major attractions to see and hours upon hours of hiking trails, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Fort Stevens State Park and the Discovery Center at Cape Disappointment State Park all participate in the Junior Ranger program, which tasks its budding naturalists with fun activities located across the parks and beyond. Tapiola Park on the south slope of Astoria has an impressive playground featuring recreations of some of Astoria’s most notable landmarks. Tapiola also has a skate park for older kids, as does Cannon Beach, located right next to the Visitor’s Information Center.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MARIO KART
No matter what time of the year you choose to visit the coast, it is always good to have an indoor Plan B just in case some of the region’s famous inclement weather rears its head. Know that there’s enough air hockey, Skeeball, and video games in the Columbia Pacific to keep the whole family happy when those afternoons go all doom and gloom. Funland Arcade (funlandseaside.com) in downtown Seaside has plenty of new and classic video games as well as bumper cars, Fascination, and an in-house Fultano’s Pizza for when the kiddos get hungry. Open since 1931, Seaside’s Funland is the area’s oldest amusement. Downtown Long Beach’s own similarly named (but completely independent) Funland Family Entertainment Center offers over 9,000 square feet of gaming, including a midway complete with carnival-style games and laser tag. The newest addition to the North Coast’s gaming community is The Arc Arcade on Commercial Street in downtown Astoria. A nerd’s paradise specializing in retro arcade games as well as the latest console games displayed on HDTVs, there’s a TARDIS in one corner, a concessions counter offering hot dogs and ice cream, and an extensive comic book section as well. It’s certainly the best place in town to fondly relive the spirit of the Spielbergian 1980s with the next generation.
TOYS FOR ALL
Whether looking for a souvenir or a welcome distraction on a rainy day or even just as a reward for good behavior, the North Coast is home to many unique toy stores. Voyages Toy Company in Cannon Beach has tons of games, action figures, and doodads, and while Geppetto’s Toy Shoppe just down the road also offers modern wares, the shop specializes in stocking plenty of old-fashioned toys and puzzles. Inside the Carousel Mall in Seaside, Under the Big Top deserves a browse or an impulse buy after you take the young one for a spin on one of the mechanical horseys. Speaking of brightly colored barnyard animals, Purple Cow Toys in Astoria has a large selection of both modern and classic fare.
FILLING UP THOSE BELLIES
While many if not most restaurants here do a good job catering to the younger set, there are two places in Astoria — nary a block apart — that rise above the fray. The Wet Dog Café (wetdogcafe.com) knows that tykes are hungry by the time they get to the table. Besides offering a standard brewpub kids’ menu, the Wet Dog also donates crayons, a coloring sheet, a small toy, and a packaged snack, replenishing much-needed blood sugar just when it’s most necessary. Right across the way, the pizzeria at Baked Alaska (bakedak.com) offers kids the chance to make their own pies at the table before they are whisked away for a fresh bake in the eatery’s brick oven. It can be hard enough just to figure out a place to eat where everyone will be happy. Nice to keep the kids’ stomachs from growling and their hands occupied just when mom and dad could really use a cold pint or a glass of pinot noir after a long beach day.
A SCOOP FOR YOU
Whether you need to beat the heat on a warm summer day or are just looking for something to do after dinner before heading back to the hotel, the Columbia Pacific has confections galore. With other locations in Seaside, Manzanita, and Rockaway Beach, the original Schwietert’s Cones & Candy (schwieterts.com) in Cannon Beach is still just that: homemade waffle-cones, Tillamook ice cream, and plenty of unique, wacky candy choices. In a town awash in midcentury salt-water taffy establishments, Seaside’s Sea Star Gelato (seastargelato.com) stands out from the circus-striped pack. Wrapped in a vibrant modern aesthetic, this shop offers dozens of flavors — plenty of kid-friendly choices like Bubbles, Beach Bonfire S’mores, and Rootbeer Float while also catering to the adult palate with creations like Blood Orange Sorbetto and Whiskey Maple gelato. Right on the water in the 14th Street Pilot Station, Astoria’s Frite & Scoop (friteandscoop.com) has been dishing out French-style custard ice cream and Belgian-style frites for well over two years, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike. With an ever-changing slate of scratch-made flavors (Chef’s Choice and Hokey Pokey are customer favorites) and new and innovative dipping sauces constantly appearing for the frites, every visit to this charming local establishment offers a new choice. And if choice is your thing, you can’t go wrong with Scoopers up in Long Beach. The shop boasts of keeping more than 40 flavors available at all times. Just figuring out what flavor to choose might kill an entire evening for the fam!