Note from SFM: Many of these day trips are great all year, but some are best reserved for the summer, so do a bit of research before you gas up the car!
Are you looking to take a day trip with your kiddos this summer? We’ve rounded up some favorite road trips within 3 hours or so of Tacoma and the greater South Sound. Many are do-able as day trips, though others would be better as overnights. Even if you splurge on a hotel room for an evening it’s cheaper than airfare, right? We’d love to hear about your favorite kid friendly day trips and road trips from the South Sound, too!
1. Mt St Helens
If your kiddos are as mesmerized by volcanos as mine are, take them to a real, live one! Summer is the ideal time to head to Mt. St. Helens as the roads are more accessible. A great place to start with kiddos in tow is the Forest Learning Center, where admission is FREE. There’s a play area, elk viewing area, virtual helicopter tour, amazing views of the mountain, trailheads and more! If you want to hike the Ape Caves be sure to read our post on that!
2. Vashon or Bainbridge by Ferry
Take a definitively northwest excursion by getting on a boat! Take a ferry to Vashon from Pt. Defiance. Explore the island and be sure to check out the lighthouse on Maury Island or find the bike that’s growing out of a tree. Or, drive to Seattle and take the ferry to Bainbridge. On the island, Battle Point Park boasts over 90 acres of outdoor playspace with jogging trails, ponds, wide open spaces, and an awesome playground. If your kiddos are into military history, Fort Ward Park offers easy to traverse walking trails that lead to World War II era bunkers and military grounds. For the preschool set, check out the KiDiMu-Kids Discovery Musuem, which is free on the first Thursday of each month from 10:00am-4:00pm.
Drive south around the Sound to Bremerton, where kids will enjoy the excitement of climbing aboard the USS Turner Joy, a real live naval destroyer. The Undersea Naval Museum and The Bug Museum are also great, and there are fun parks and a fountain to play in on the waterfront.
Visit Fox Hollow Farm with your young animal lovers. There are animals to pet, a creek to play in, plus inflatables for bouncing and much more. It’s great for little kids. Remlinger Farms in Carnation offers similar down home fun great for young children. Neither spot its a total bargain, but you can have a very full day of fun at these farms. I guarantee the kids will get plenty tired out! We have a complete review of Fox Hollow Farm here. It’s an older post but will still give you a good idea of what to expect.
5. Jetty Island
Jetty Island in Everett is a beautiful, two mile long island that has a massive, man-made sandbar great for playing and exploring. The adventure is made even more fun by a 2 minute foot ferry ride! The kids can spend hours playing, digging, building and exploring on the sandbar and shallow water. Read our full review of a trip to Jetty Island-it’s an older post but will still give you a good idea of what to expect.
6. Downtown Seattle
The kids will get a kick out of the simple pleasures such as exploring Pike Place Market, the Gum Wall, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Pack up your bikes and take a waterside ride through Myrtle Edwards Park. Top it all off with a trip to iconic Dick’s Burgers for cheap burgers and milkshakes. If you want to head to the Seattle Center, you can take the monorail which brings you straight to the amazing new playground, Artists at Play. The big kids won’t be able to resist climbing this huge structure that allows kids to safely push their limits. The salmon will be swimming and are so fun to watch as they climb up the fish ladder. And, a child of any age will love watching the boats passing through the locks.
If you’re still looking for more to do in the city , visit all kinds of museum for FREE the first Thursday of each month:
My kiddos are very fond of the MOHAI!
Our pal Angela at The Coupon Project also has a Massive list of frugal things to do in Seattle that would be perfect for your staycation!
7. Port Townsend
Take a drive to Port Townsend, where Victorian buildings and a maritime atmosphere transport you back in time. Explore all of the quirky shops in the downtown area and grab a bite to eat before heading to Fort Worden. This 433 acre state park was originally the location of a United States Army installation, and much of the history is preserved. Explore the abandoned bunkers, Officer’s Row, the Point Wilson lighthouse and the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum.
Whenever I have visitors in town, I take them to Snoqualmie Falls, along with 1.5 million other visitors every year. The observation deck is recently renovated and includes a 0.7 mile trail to the bottom of the Falls. The trail is kid and pet friendly and includes lots of interpretative plaques about native plants. If you want to make more of the drive, head to the Northwest Railway Musuem where you can visit a Victorian train depot. You can also take a ride on the train on the weekends. We’re working on a post on visiting the falls now. One thing to know: The hike to the bottom is super cool and kid friendly, IF you and the kids are in reasonably o.k. shape. It’s short but the way back is all uphill. I made it just fine, but I was a bit of a sweaty mess by the top. I’m working on getting back into shape……More detailed post coming soon.
If Canada doesn’t feel like you’ve really left the country, try the Bavarian village of Leavenworth. There is lots to do with kids including an 18 hole Bavarian themed mini golf, a nutcracker museum, and Rocky Reach Dam. You can also take a family friendly hike through Icicle Gorge. If your kids want to take a peak at a real live operating candy factory, visit Washington’s own Liberty Orchards in Cashmere on the way there to see where Aplets and Cotlets are made! And, yes, there are samples.
10. The Coast
While a tropical beach may out of reach for your family this summer, you can still visit the Pacific Ocean! Ocean Shores has lots of small town charm and views of the ocean for days. While the water is a little on the chilly side, my kids don’t seem to mind at all!
Hop on southbound I-5 and take in all the weirdness that Portland has to offer. A trip to the incredible science museum, OMSI (only $2 on the first Sunday of each month) capped off with a visit to Voodoo Doughnuts is more than worth the drive. If you are really feeling like an adventure, hop on board an Amtrak train rather than driving yourself.
12. Crystal Mountain
Catch breathtaking views of the mountain and blooming wildflowers while riding a gondola up Crystal Mountain! This unique experience is perfect for visiting friends who want an up close view of Rainier! Read our full review of the Crystal Mountain Gondola.
13. The San Juan Islands
One of the most picturesque locales in the PNW are the San Juan Islands. You’ll have to take a ferry there, but that’s half the fun! San Juan Island offers the most amenities with the historic seaport of Friday Harbor, where there are lots of little restaurants, art galleries, and quaint shops. Travel farther inland and explore former military outposts and hikes with breathtaking views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Best of all? Summer is an awesome time for whale watching as pods feed on salmon. This is best as a multi day trip during mid week if you can swing it.
14. The Olympic Peninsula
If you’re looking to explore the area’s natural beauty, you can’t go wrong with Olympic National Park. Stop in at the Visitor’s Center which has lots of to discover just for kids. Then, make a drive into the park to explore 360 degree picturesque views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are a variety of easy hikes from the Visitor’s Center at Hurricane Ridge that provide views that are worth the trek. Sequim and The Olympic Game Farm (A drive thru animal tour) could be done in a day. Port Angeles is a good place for an overnight if you want to take in Hurricane Ridge and area attractions. If you want to do the Whole Olympic Peninsula and go out to the rainforest, a three day loop is a good plan.
15. Hovender Homestead Park in Ferndale
Drive north to Ferndale for a day at the Hovander Homestead Park in Whatcom County. This picturesque park boasts all kinds of opportunities to explore the history of pioneer farming, as well as the beauty of the surroundings. With nearly 350 miles and over a mile of river frontage, you can explore trails, antique farming equipment, live farm animals, a playground with a farming theme, and much more!
Need to keep it local? You can also find much more to explore around the 253 in our South Sound summer guide!