Want to savor every precious moment of our all-too-fleeting summer? What you need is a spontaneous, last-minute August adventure. And yes, it can be done — even if smoke is in the air, even if school stress has snuck in. We’ve uncovered some great ways to explore the Puget Sound region in August without driving far, including playing tourist in your own backyard (i.e., Tacoma and Seattle); a scenic bike ride on the Olympic Peninsula; and a riverside road trip to Leavenworth. Plan one of these before September arrives, or perhaps even better, save your last hurrah of summer for September, when the crowds have beat their retreat and the glorious weather (usually) sticks around.
Discover the Viaduct-less Seattle
By mid-August, Seattle’s elevated highway should be down for good. Though the full waterfront renovation project is still years away from completion, you can now enjoy a stunning, Viaduct-free view from Pike Place Market, followed by an easy walk down to the waterfront (now connected to downtown) to play tourist. A suggested itinerary for the waterfront is to ride the Seattle Great Wheel ($9–$14, kids 2 and younger free) and then — right next door — to “fly over” Washington’s greatest treasures, from Snoqualmie Falls to the tulip fields, at the thrilling Wings Over Washington ride ($13–$17). Explore the kitschy shops — including an actual pirate lair — and ride the carousel at Miner’s Landing before spending a couple of hours with the sea otters and harbor seals at the Seattle Aquarium ($19.95–$29.95, or try to reserve passes through Seattle Public Library). On your way to the aquarium, look down: The waterfront’s new seawall includes many salmon-supporting features (e.g., underwater shelves, light-penetrating surfaces) that are helping to bring salmon back.
Along the way: Before or after your waterfront wandering, visit Pike Place Market’s new MarketFront area to marvel at the unobstructed view of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains; and refuel with an ice cream sandwich (for the kids) and caffeine-infused chocolate (for you) at Joe Chocolate Co., which opened in May. You might even be able to buy your own piece of the Viaduct at craft stands.
Overnight it: Just south of Pioneer Square, the Silver Cloud Hotel Seattle – Stadium has a heated rooftop pool and is a good location for accessing the waterfront or (of course) a Mariners game, should you want to tack that onto the itinerary. Or stay north of downtown at the Residence Inn Seattle Downtown/South Lake Union and explore Seattle’s hottest area, which is home to the Museum of History & Industry, the Spheres, REI and more.
Spin your wheels on the peninsula
If pedaling amid views of lavender farms, mountains and coastline is your family’s idea of a summer adventure, I have a two-word imperative for you: Head west. Over the past decade, the 134-mile Olympic Discovery Trail has slowly been pieced together, and when complete, will wind through some of the Olympic Peninsula’s most scenic vistas, from Port Townsend to Lake Crescent. The best news: Most of it is flat. You can plan several different family-friendly routes; a good option to try is the east-central section from Sequim to Port Angeles. At 26 miles long, all but 2 miles of the section is paved and separated from roads, and the route crosses nine bridges, including four that are restored railroad trestles. Fun stops include the town of Sequim itself (pop in at a cute café or restaurant for a bite); Railroad Bridge Park, which crosses the Dungeness River and a prairie, where you can espy eagles and hawks. If you cycle as far as Port Angeles, the last 4 miles wind along the shoreline.
Along the way: If you start your journey to Sequim by taking the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, be sure to stop for some delicious carbs at Borrowed Kitchen Bakery right in Kingston. A few miles west, stop in the historic mill town of Port Gamble to walk the old-timey streets.
Overnight it: A great access point for the Olympic Discovery Trail is Sequim Bay State Park, which has 45 campsites. Is a hotel with a pool a better option? Try the Red Lion Inn & Suites, which is also near the trail and even offers complimentary bike rentals.
Play on a ‘real-life Chutes and Ladders’ in Tacoma
Tacoma’s friendliness toward families isn’t news by now — the zoo! The car museum! Ruston Way! — but the City of Destiny has another surprise up its sleeve this summer. In early July, the 55-acre Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park opened, jutting out from the east side of the park. With scenic views, a pedestrian/bike loop path and a cool origin story (it’s the site of a former copper smelter and was named after Tacoma author Frank Herbert’s best-selling “Dune” series), it has many attractions. On the other side of the peninsula, by the east bridge, families will especially love the park’s six slides — described by Metro Parks Tacoma as a “real-life Chutes and Ladders experience” — from the park to the marina complex below. (And yes, if you want to act like a grown-up, there are steps, too.) From the park, it’s just a quick walk or bike ride to Point Ruston and its restaurants, cafés, ice creamery, spray park and pedestrian path along Commencement Bay.
Along the way: The obvious add-on is a visit to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium ($11–$19, if you buy tickets online), where you can visit with red wolves, tapirs, tigers and siamangs; see the sharks at the newish Pacific Seas Aquarium; and ride the carousel (or a camel!).
Overnight it: Just about 2 miles from Point Defiance Park, on Ruston Way, the Silver Cloud Inn Tacoma affords quiet and lovely views of Puget Sound. In town, you can try for a room at the new McMenamins’ Elks Temple Hotel, which has seven floors, an onsite brewery (of course) and cool features, such as the Secret Graffiti Hallway.
Take a riverside road trip to Leavenworth
What isn’t there to do in Leavenworth? Washington state’s famed Bavarian-themed mountain town, just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle, abounds with nature, culture and adventure, as well as delish dining. Stroll the town, stopping for a lunch of brats and brews (for the grown-ups), followed by a sweet treat at The Gingerbread Factory. Outside of town, hike a scenic trail; a great hit with families is the Icicle Gorge Trail, a 4.4-mile loop along the rushing Icicle Creek, which provides a cool breeze even on a hot day. Take in a play at the acclaimed Leavenworth Summer Theater; this year’s lineup includes — naturally — “The Sound of Music,” during which you can watch the von Trapps sing at the Ski Hill Amphitheater. As a special treat, saddle up the family for a horse ride through the hills with an outfitter, such as Eagle Creek Ranch (rides start at $27.73 each).
Along the way: If you take U.S. Highway 2, be sure to make time for a stop along the lovely Skykomish River. Big Eddy, just east of Gold Bar, is a tiny state park with a swimming hole that is great for paddling or sunbathing. Farther east, Eagle Falls is a shady and more dramatic spot along the river, with pools, rope swings and gorge drops. (As always, be cautious at the river, keeping an eye on everyone, especially young kids.)
Overnight it: Leavenworth offers many vacation home rentals, inns and hotels. If you’re up for a splurge, Sleeping Lady and Mountain Springs Lodge will keep everyone happy. Two Bavarian-themed options in town, both with heated pools, are the Alpen Rose Inn and the Bavarian Lodge.
7 more quick getaways
Anacortes: This historic ferry town isn’t just a stop on the way to the San Juan Islands. Soak in views at Washington Park; visit the W.T. Preston, a stern-wheeler snag boat that once ran on the Skagit River; and enjoy not waiting to get onto a ferry.
Camlann Medieval Village: The year is 1376. The town is Somersetshire, ancient realm of King Arthur. From May to September, during a festival weekend, a visit to this living-history project near Carnation will enthrall your kids. Listen to minstrels, watch knightly combat, learn archery, visit the forge and eat medieval delicacies.
Hurricane Ridge: If August skies are clear, head to the Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge visitor area for free stargazing with amateur astronomers. Check the Olympic Telescope website for specifics and dates. Psst: The prolific annual Perseids meteor shower will peak around August 12–13 this year.
Mima Mounds: Are your kids into geology and mystery? Take them to the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, southwest of Olympia, to come up with their own theories of how these giant mounds, some as tall as 6 feet, came to exist in this grassland prairie.
Northwest Trek: Arrive early to make the most of your ticket to this unique wildlife park in Eatonville. Take the tram tour first — keep your eyes open for moose and elk — and let the kids climb and swing at Kids’ Trek, one of the most adventurous playgrounds in the Puget Sound region.
Westport: Get a taste of Washington’s coast (without driving forever) at Westport. Climb to the top of the viewing tower or Washington state’s tallest lighthouse. Fly a kite, watch surfers chase waves, eat fish and chips, and dig up a clam or two.
Whidbey Island: This long, skinny island is home to stunning beaches and parks (Deception Pass State Park is a must), a lighthouse, military forts, charming towns and farm stands. There’s also an actual drive-in movie theater, the Blue Fox.
Want even more ideas for last-gasp summer fun? Snag your copy of “52 Seattle Adventures With Kids."