The Pacific Northwest is such a fun and unique area to visit, with a special charm you really won’t find anywhere else. And there is just SO much to do in the area. So whether you are a resident of the PNW looking for a fantastic family vacation spot you can drive to, or a visitor looking to explore more of this area, you’ll find it has a lot to offer.
We love maximizing our vacation time, which means squeezing in as MANY road trips and weekend trips as we can. We are so thankful to have lots of great options within (easy) driving distance from our home in northwest Washington.
We’ve picked a handful of our favorite Pacific Northwest family vacation destinations and hope you see something that inspires you to get out and explore this area!
At just 2 hours from Seattle OR 2 hours from Vancouver, Anacortes is a great EASY family getaway. This tiny island town is accessible by car (no ferry required), and is a great access point for the San Juans with kayaking tours, whale watching tours, and more leaving from Anacortes. Stay at the Majestic Inn for the very walkable downtown location, and beautiful rooms (some even have kitchenettes!).
The area has tons of beautiful Pacific Northwest beaches, and amazing hiking trails (we love Rosario head, and the fantastic nearby rocky beach), many with stunning ocean views. In the summer, you’ll be able to pick fresh berries, or check out one of Anacortes’s many festivals. You’ll also enjoy some of Anacortes’s great kid-friendly restaurants – don’t miss breakfast at Calico Cupboard!
San Juan Island
Getting out to the San Juan Islands requires a ferry ride which leaves from Anacortes, but for kids, the ferry ride is half the fun! During the ride, be sure to get out on the deck and take in some the views on the ride, and if you are VERY lucky, you might even spot a whale or two.
To avoid bringing your car on the ferry, stay in Friday Harbor – you’ll find tons to explore nearby. Or take your car on, and explore the whole island. On San Juan Island, you’ll find a fantastic whale museum, epic tide pools, aromatic lavender farms, and even an alpaca farm, plus tons more.
Even after visiting Seattle about a million times, we always find something new and exciting to do! We absolutely LOVE staying at the Hyatt House Seattle Center because the rooms have the much needed space families need. Plus there is SO much to do right within walking distance (read about why we love the Seattle Center here).
The Pacific Science Center is a definite favorite for my kids and I, and could easily fill an entire day. Then take the monorail downtown – you gotta check out the Pike Place Market. Then continue down to the gum wall, and the Seattle Aquarium, and the Seattle Waterfront Park. Other favorites are the Ballard Locks, the Museum of Flight (read why we love it), and the Woodland Park Zoo.
Located just south of Seattle, Tacoma is super easy to get to from Seattle, Portland, OR even Vancouver. While there, we recommend the Silver Cloud Inn, with sweeping waterfront views and a great walking pier.
Perhaps the most well-known attraction in Tacoma is the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and it DOES NOT disappoint. The aquarium portion alone is well worth the visit. And while you are there, you’ll definitely want to take a peaceful stroll around the Tacoma Chinese Park, soak in some sun at Owen Park, and play and learn at the Tacoma Nature Center.
Chelan is located basically smack dab in the middle of Washington, on the east side of the Cascades. While there, pick a great vacation rental, or stay at the Lakeside Lodge located right on fantastic sandy beach (with tons of other amenities as well)
Lake Chelan, a beautiful 55 mile long inland fjord, is famous for it’s glistening blue water, and stunning Stehekin, which is only accessible by boat or plane terrain. Take the Lady of the Lake to Stehekin, then catch the red bus to the Rainbow waterfall. Or head over to Don Morse Park, and rent a kayak or paddleboard from LakeRider Sports Chelan, or just let the littles play on the sandy beach. For a little extra thrill, rent a boat or a jetski from Shoreline Watercraft.
Spokane/Coeur d’Alene, ID
The area around Spokane and Coeur d’Alene is rich with lakes, rivers, and all kinds of water fun. The Coeur d’Alene resort has every amenity you could need for a fantastic stay on the lake, including fantastic meals, a beautiful infinity pool, water sports rentals, and more. Or, rent one of the MANY great vacation rentals in the area, and look for one that comes with a kayak or paddleboard so you can get out and explore!
We love vacationing at the lake because it’s SO simple (and budget-friendly), yet so memorable and fun. Bring sand toys and lots of buckets for endless fun for younger kids. Others will enjoy paddling out to explore, fishing, or just relaxing with their toes in the water. You’ll also want to check out Silverwood Theme Park, with thrilling rides for all ages, plus an amazing water park!
Leavenworth is only a couple of hours east of Seattle, but it FEELS like a different world. We love staying at the Icicle Village Resort Condos– so close to everything in town and they have enough space to spread out a bit. Having space to relax and eat some meals at home is SUCH a luxury when traveling with kids!
In the winter, Leavenworth transforms into a winter wonderland of Christmas dreams. But in the summer, Leavenworth may be even better. On the beautiful Wenatchee River, you’ll find opportunities for tube floats, or even white water raft rides for families with older kids- check out Osprey Rafting for both tube rentals and rafting trips. Go explore the waterfront park, right in town, or, if your kids can handle it, we LOVE hiking up Icicle Ridge for the epic overlook. You’ll also find opportunities for ziplining, playing miniature golf with goats, and just exploring the beautiful Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, plus much much more!
Port Townsend is a small town with a lot of unexpected charm. You can get there taking either the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry if you are coming from the north, or the Edmonds ferry when coming from Seattle. Stay at the Swan Hotel for its perfect location, and charming decor.
While in Port Townsend, spend some time exploring Chetzemoka Park- the park is beautiful with so much for kids to explore! The beach there is fantastic for boat watching, and looking for shells- this is my kids FAVORITE thing to do so we spend lots of time there. If your kids are interested in sea life, definitely don’t miss the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. It’s a small place, but has tons of really cool touch pools, and experts that can tell you all about the animals there or in the area. My kids would stay forever if we’d let them. Also, check out the Port Townsend Aero Museum (and grab a bite at the airplane themed Spruce Goose Cafe), explore the Fort Worden Historical State Park, and take the kids to Finnriver for a day out.
I’ll admit, Vancouver is one of my favorite cities. It’s EXTREMELY kid-friendly, and has all the great amenities of a big city without really feeling like a city. People here love the outdoors and it shows! While there, we recommend staying at the Westin Bayshore for the great location close to restaurants, and Stanley Park, and the fantastic pool.
We love spending time at Stanley Park– playing at any of the great beaches, walking or biking the Seawall trail, or just wandering around the forest. You won’t want to miss the Vancouver Aquarium, right within Stanley Park. The Capilano Suspension bridge is SO amazing (especially for Christmas), and the kids will LOVE Science World. Also check out VanDusen Gardens, Chinatown, Vancouver Public Library, Kids Market at Granville Market, and SO MUCH more.
Harrison Hot Springs
For a wonderfully relaxing getaway (even with the kids) head over to Harrison Hot Springs Resort. The resort features 5 beautiful pools (for hotel guests only), and great rooms of all types, and a wonderful marina on Harrison Lake for watersports. Families traveling with kids may find that really only one of the pools suits their needs perfectly, with the two indoor pools designated as ‘quiet’, one adult pool, and one lap pool. But the large family pool is more than enough for days of fun. The family pool is kept at 92F, making it great for winter AND summer vacation. And during the summer months, families with kids over the age of 6, you’ll love the truly AMAZING waterpark.
Travel to Whistler in the winter is, of course, fantastic with phenomenal skiing and snowboarding, fantastic kids programs (even for the tiniest skiers), snowshoeing, and much much more. But don’t forget, the resort, and Whistler village has tons to offer in the summer as well. The biggest summer draw is the epic downhill mountain biking. There are trails from easy to expert- check out this trail map, and you can easily rent any gear you need. Younger kids will love the easier mountain walks, or just exploring the open space in the village. Plus, everyone in your group (who isn’t TOO fearful of heights) will enjoy the Peak2Peak Gondola ride.
Many of the hotels have really great swimming pools- we recommend the Westin for it’s great indoor/outdoor pool, and it’s fantastic location on the Whistler Village side. The truth is, even if you aren’t mountain biking (or skiing), Whistler village is a really fun place to be!
Vancouver island has a lot to offer, and is a favorite destination for our family. You can get there by taking the (American) Anacortes to Sidney Ferry, or the (Canadian) Tsawwassen to Schwarz Bay Ferry, though you’ll need a car or transport to get to Victoria. While there, stay at the Fairmont Empress– you won’t regret it. It’s easily the most beautiful hotel in the area, perhaps even the most beautiful building, and has tons of great amenities (including a kid’s afternoon tea, an indoor pool and more).
While in Victoria, be sure to check out the famous Butchart Gardens, and we also love the Butterfly Museum. Right in town, you’ll love Minature World, the Bug Zoo, and wandering around Chinatown. Actually, much of Victoria is perfect for exploring and just taking in the sights. You can also do a great little harbor tour, or head out for whale watching Victoria.
While many head up to Tofino for the surfing, those of us with younger kids will MUCH prefer the calm and shallow waters of Parksville. Take the Tsawwassen-Duke Point (Nanaimo) ferry then just a short drive up to Parksille. While there, we recommend the Parksville Beach Club Resort– an easy choice because it’s right on the beach and has luxurious, family-sized rooms (full kitchens in the suites!
At the Parksville beaches, the water stays shallow for hundreds of feet (maybe even longer? definitely it’s WAAAY out there), so at low tide, happy toddlers explore tide pools as far out as their little feet will carry them. Or get a permit and dig for clams for a fun dinner. And at high tide, kids can paddleboard in knee or waist-deep water. Parksville Community Park is one of the best playground we’ve ever seen. And you’ll want to take a stroll around Milner Gardens as well.
Portland has a reputation of being THE spot for hipster young adults, and maybe it is. But it’s also amazing for families with kids. Portland is full of green spaces, and extremely walkable (but may be not AS much with little kids) so pick a place near one of the many walking trails. The Kimpton by the waterfront is a great choice.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is one of the best science museums out there with tons of hands-on opportunities for kids (including an earthquake simulation). We love children’s museums, and the Portland Children’s Museum is fantastic. It has both indoor AND outdoor spaces with construction, clay, waterplay, and veterinarian exhibits (plus many many more). Also, check out the Oregon Zoo, and the Portland Japanese Garden– the nearby Washington Park Playground is pretty great too! Take a day trip out to Multnomah Falls- it’s so beautiful! And don’t forget to stop by Voodoo Donuts for their ridiculously over the top (but SUPER fun and delicious) donuts.
I don’t think you can go wrong anywhere on the Oregon coast, to be honest. But we’ve had a ton of fun staying in Oceanside, and nearby Netarts Bay. Find a fantastic beachfront cabin or condo at Happy Camp Hideaway, and you definitely won’t be disappointed.
The location feels central, and though there isn’t a ton REALLY close, we LOVE the quiet beaches there- perfect for hours of kids splashing and playing, and parents relaxing in the sunshine. This area is also PRIME for clamming, so you and the kids can easily dig up your limit in no time at all, and make a fun meal of them. There are also TONS of fantastic kid-friendly (short drives) day trips from here. Check out Pelican Brewery‘s beachfront location in Pacific City, which is super kid-friendly and fun, tour the Tillamook cheese factory, drive down to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, or just head up the coast towards Astoria, checking out every beach on the way – don’t forget the famously beautiful Cannon Beach (where parts of the Goonies was filmed!).
There are literally hundreds of great spots to vacation in the Pacific Northwest. Which ones are your favorites?