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Beach Report: Narrows Park in Gig Harbor

We’re rerunning some favorite warm weather outings this week.

Summer may be wrapping up, but there’s still too much of it to waste.

Here’s a great South Sound beach my Tacoma and Gig Harbor area friends will want to find!  At one time, I would have called it a hidden treasure, but judging by the crowd there on our last visit, word is out.

It’s at Narrows Park in Gig Harbor, and it’s just a minute or two from the bridge itself, which makes it a nice destination for those of you in the West End of Tacoma and University Place, as well as my Gig Harbor friends.

The parking lot is just steps from the beach, and there is a nice, paved path with a telescope for checking out the bridge up close.

Look through the telescope to see the Narrows Bridge up close.

The beach itself is pretty standard for the Northwest, although if you look closely, you can find a bit-just a bit-of sand. Once you’ve plunked your chair down, you can try to spot seals or check out the passing boat traffic.

Beach at Narrows Park in Gig Harbor

Plenty of beach for play and exploration, water for splashing, and a view with wow factor!

The water is as cold as any you’ll find out here, and it has a decent bit of wave most every day. Your kids will still want to splash around; just watch them closely.

If the tide isn’t up, you can get more privacy by walking a bit in either direction. It was quite high when we were there, so it didn’t feel like a spot for quiet. On the other hand, it was very much a family atmosphere. No party crowd-just families and dogs (Lots of dogs). [Read more...]

Day Trip: Paddling the Arboretum in Seattle

During August, we venture out of the South Sound (just a bit) to share some of our favorite day trip ideas.

Whether you’re looking for ideas for your Puget Sound area, “Staycation,” or just working on squeezing in all the fun you can, we’re here to help!

Today’s post takes you to the waters of the Arboretum in Seattle, where you can paddle right under the busy freeway and into a world of gentle water and lily pad covered coves your explorers will love. We spotted great blue herons, a beaver, and all manner of ducks. The water is totally placid, making it an easy paddle for even a first time boater.

If you have your own canoe or kayak you can find a put in spot on this map (link opens pdf).

If you need to rent a boat, there are a couple options. The cheapest (and therefore the best, if you ask me), is to get one from the waterfront activities center at the UW. It’s in the same parking lot as Husky Stadium if you go to the bottom right, just past the rock climbing wall. You’ll need to pay a small fee to park. The parking lot does fill up, especially on weekends, and boat rental is a popular activity. Go early on a weekend or you may have to wait. [Read more...]

Day Trip Idea: Riding the Gondola at Crystal Mountain

While we’re All About the South Sound here, in August we also like to run some ideas for those of you doing staycations or looking for day trips or even short road trips.

A ride on the Crystal Mountain gondola is a great South Sound area day trip with some major, “Wow!” factor.

Riding the Gondola at Crystal Mountain with children


While Crystal is known as a place to ski and snowboard, this time of year you can take a gondola ride to the top and enjoy mountain views and blooming wildflowers.  No reservations are needed, and it operates weekdays from 10AM-5:30, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10AM-7PM through September 21st.

A few things to know before you go: [Read more...]

Blueberry Picking at Charlotte’s Blueberry Park in Tacoma

Update-Want to go on a u pick berry adventure with your kiddos? I have to confess we haven’t made it to Charlotte’s yet this summer, but my Twitter peeps tell me they are finding ripe berries! If you’ve never heard of this spot-where you can get free, chemical free blueberries, read on for all the scoop! If you go, do leave a comment and let us know how the picking was!

Tacoma U pick Blueberroes

What’s better than fresh blueberries? How about fresh and free blueberries?

Charlotte’s Blueberry Park in Tacoma is a Metro Parks Tacoma property, and thanks to the efforts of volunteers, like its namesake, the late Charlotte Valbert, it’s full of thriving blueberry bushes, and the picking is free! Plus, they grow naturally-no pesticides or other gunk.

The pictures in this post are from my family’s outing last August. The picking season typically runs July-September. I think all the berries are a little early this year because of all the hot weather we had in June.

There are thousands of berries at Blueberry Park, including some on bushes right next to a nice, paved path. The only bushes we saw that had really been picked over were a few right by the path.


The bushes are tall and dense. The hubs says to tell you to keep your kids right by you, if you don’t want to loose ‘em in the shrubbery!

We found tons of berries-ripe and still green. I’m guessing you will, too!

We picked around half a gallon in about an hour. We probably could have gotten more if we hadn’t brought the rescue lab to help.

The boys had fun, although Henry got crabby once he realized he was working hard. When I wrote about strawberrry picking last year (season is done for those), my brilliant friend Traci suggested bringing some small cars to let kids play with between the bushes. Great idea, huh? We also saw lots of kids riding bikes on the path and generally running around yelling. If you’re fine with having yours out of your sight, that’s an option. Do bring sunscreen, hats, and water,if you go on one of the upcoming sunny days. There is a nice, shaded area for a picnic, but you’ll get plenty warm picking.

Several readers have suggested going to this spot Early to beat the neighborhood competition. Honestly, we found plenty mid day by going back in the middle and looking high and low. This time of year there may be fewer ripe, so an early start is probably smart (and it will be cooler).

If this spot isn’t near you, you might want to check out Gile Blueberry Farm in Olympia, which was recommended by area mom, Gretchen of That Momma Gretchen (a super fun blog, if you’re looking for a new read).  I also found a spot called Blue Dot Farm in Enumclaw, and a place called Canter Berry in Auburn They both open for u pick today! You can look for others at PugetSoundFresh.  I do suggest calling any spot to confirm details  before you go.

I haven’t been to either of these, so report back if you go!

You can head here for directions to Charlotte’s Blueberry Park in Tacoma.

You might also like to read last year’s post on wild blackberry picking. You should be able to find those most anywhere!


A Kid Friendly Guide To Mt.Rainier

Thinking of taking kids on a day trip to Mt.Rainier? I’m here to help, with family friendly hikes and know-before-you-go tips if it’s your first time taking the family to Mt.Rainier.

First, because I get a lot of folks here at SFM who are new to the area (Weclcome!) , I’m going to help you talk like a local. Ready? If it’s a clear, sunny day, we say, “The mountain is out.” Fun, huh?

Moving on….Whether you’re entertaining out of town guests or just looking to wow your kiddos, it’s hard to beat a real life mountain (and a volcano at that), for a daycation destination.

Child Friendly Activities At Mt.Rainier

There are several possible routes to Rainier. We typically head to Sunrise, going through Enumclaw and Greenwater on 410, just as if you were headed to Crystal Mountain.

You might also consider heading to Paradise first, via Elbe. has good options and directions. also has a great round up of  ideas for family fun at Mt.Rainier.

Here are my other top tips. Let me know if I missed your favorite! [Read more...]

Ten Great South Sound Parks With Shade!

Need a fun place to cool off with the kids today?

If a little natural air conditioning is in order, I’ve got a list of great shady parks and playgrounds! I’d love for you to share any I missed in the comments.  At the bottom of the post I also have a round up of all my other posts on keep cool strategies for the South Sound, including places to swim, play, eat, and just plain beat the heat!

Pierce County area parks with good shade

Mud Mountain Dam  Children’s wading pool with spray feature, playgrounds, and shaded walking trails   Out towards Greenwater-make it a full day, day trip.

Tehaleh Trails  Bonney Lake  Many shaded walking trails at this Bonney Lake area development. No, you don’t have to be a resident, and yes, they have a trail map!

Loyalty Park Sumner  Fun playground, and huge trees that provide ample shade.

Wildwood Park Puyallup  A great choice on a hot day. It features a little crick for kids to splash in right next to the playground, and tall trees provide shade. Kids will get very dirty here. [Read more...]

South Sound Swimming Lakes

Ready to go for a swim  with the kids? If this heat has you ready to go jump in a lake (literally) here’s a list to hep!

Lake Meridian with text

This round up comes from Sounds Fun Mom Facebook readers who responded to my request for their favorite South Sound lakes for swimming. If I missed a great one you know, leave a comment!

Please do remember that even if a lake has lifeguards, it is important to be vigilant when your children are around water.  You knew that, right? :)

Lakes Where You Can Swim in the South Puget Sound

Renton-Gene Coulon Swimming beach on Lake Washington, walking trails, playground. food concessions  Lifeguards on duty 12-8 through Labor Day

Maple Valley -Lake Wilderness LIfeguards on duty from 12-7  playground, boat rentals, concession stand  Reader Brooke adds that there are clean potties. Bonus!

Kent-Lake Meridian  Lifeguards 12-7  swimming beach, fishing, picnic areas, playground    You can read more about the park in a post of mine here. [Read more...]

Help! The Playground is a Mosh Pit: Strategies for Dealing With Summer Crowds

A trip to your favorite playground can be a little startling in the summer. School is out, and all those big kids have to go somewhere.  Here are my best strategies for having fun on days your regular hang out is a seething kidapalooza. See if I have yours!

Playground Crowds

1.Go Early   Have your fun in the morning, and you’ll beat a significant portion of the crowd, including day care field trips and bored teenagers. Plus, it will be cooler, and your kids will probably be in a better mood.

2. Go Elsewhere   At the risk of stating the totally obvious, most communities have one really popular park, and a bunch of smaller parks that hardly anyone goes to. Head to your park department web site, or the one for a neighboring community and make a little list. Neighborhood parks are often good bets. If you’re a local, Metro Parks Tacoma tends to call these, “Pocket Parks,” There are also a few they call, “Tot Lots.”

3. Go to school  My son’s school has a great little playground, and in the summer there is almost never anyone there. There is something totally delicious about getting to hop on the equipment without having to wait your turn.

4. Go wild   While playgrounds tend to get packed, less developed parks are much less likely to see a whole group, and even if they’re crowded there is room to spread out. For local readers, we’ve been to Owens Beach and Dash Point on days the parking lots were nearly full and easily found room to spread out by walking a bit.

5. Just embrace it! A park full of kids means you might get to skip a day of tag duty. Just teach yours to answer loudly, “Here I am,” when you call and scope out the exits to the play structures.

What’s your favorite less crowded playground? I’d love to hear about if if you’re willing to spill!

Download a Free Adventure Journal from REI

This is one of my favorite summer freebies for kids. Want to encourage your kids to get outdoors this summer? REI again has this great free adventure journal that you can download. After they complete just one activity (or any number you want), you can award them this Official Adventure Hero certificate.

REI’s family page also has lots of tips on taking your family hiking and camping, recipe suggestions, and more. They also offer some pretty cool classes for kids and grown-ups, though a lot of them are at the Seattle store.

Have you already planned some adventures for this summer? I’d love to hear about them! If you need some inspiration, I have lots of great ideas in the menu bar under Outdoor Adventures and Summer!

U-Pick Strawberry Picking at Puyallup’s Picha Farms!

Guess what? U Pick berry picking has started at Picha Farms in Puyallup! Now, the season for this is always short, so if it’s on your to-do list this summer, don’t wait long! If you haven’t done U-pick before, read on for all the berry delicious details!

A rare appearance by my hubby…The Sounds Fun Dad….being a good sport in the berry fields.

The boys and I have done lots of roadside blackberry picking and some hillside blueberry and huckleberry picking, but this weekend was our very first try at a U-pick strawberry patch. Local strawberries really are so much yummier than those sad, California berries, and I had visions of shiny jars of jam dancing in my head.  I dragged my husband too, even though he was muttering about all the years of night school he’d done to avoid having to work that hard. Whatever…. We went to Picha Farms since it’s the closest for us (Spooner isn’t offering u-pick this year, but you can find their berries at the farmer’s market along with other local berries). At Picha you pick up your boxes from the stand or buy already picked raspberries or strawberries if you change your mind! You’ll be directed across the road to the field where a berry girl will assign you to a row. This was a little too organized for my hubby, but it does make sense. I was pleasantly surprised to find that both boys got right into the task and understood that the berries were supposed to go in the box rather than their tummies. If you’re new to the u-pick strawberry scene too, here are a few quick tips: [Read more...]