ParentMap's GOLD COMPASS AWARDS
The votes are in: The best places to eat, shop, play + go
Imagine you're driving down the highway, minivan stuffed to the gills, hour four of a family road trip adventure. The kids are bickering in the back; Goldfish crackers are flying. You can hear somebody whining - and it's coming from the front seat! Suddenly you realize: You are thoroughly, decidedly lost.
Parenting can be like that. One minute, you're humming along on cruise control; the next, you're whizzing past your exit while squinting at a map. To negotiate the wild ride that is parenting, what you need - what we all need - is a little advice from friends; dialed-in, been-there parents who know the scoop and don't mind dishing.
Enter the crazy-wise readers of ParentMap. This year's PM readers' choice awards drew the biggest response yet, and brought a few surprises.
So here they are: your Gold Compass Awards - a little help as you navigate the trip!
- - Kristen Dobson
We begin our journey with a visit to a perennial South Sound favorite, Teaching Toys and Books in Tacoma (2624 N. Proctor St., 253-759-9853), which scores high with our readers as a toy store, too. Tacoma's Kings Books makes a showing this year (218 St. Helens Ave., 253-272-8801, www.kingsbookstore.com), as does the beloved Children's Bookshop (Puyallup, 707 River Road, 253-445-4790; Kent, 225 W. Meeker, 253-852-0383, www.childrens-bookshop.com). New to the list this year is Olympia's tiny gem Fireside Books, tucked away in a corner of the Olympian Hotel (116 Legion Way S.E., 360-352-4006).
A tremendous treasure trove of toys, with an emphasis on "zany," puts Olympia's Wind Up Here on top again this year (121 Fifth Ave. S.E., 800-531-2616, www.winduphere.com). Sporting the silver medal again this year is The Learning Sprout in historic downtown Tacoma (809 Pacific Ave., 253-274-0136,www.learningsprout.com).
Navigate over to Sumner for our clear winner here: Sugar Babies (1114 Main St., 253-299-6221, www.shopsugarbabies.com). Packed with chic togs for toddlers and babies - and moms, too! - this store has it all, including toys, furniture and gifts. On Bainbridge Island, Lollipops Children's Boutique (278 Winslow Way, 206-780-9012) caters to upscale tots and their mamas.
Kids' hair cut
Plug Wild Child into your GPS and you'll wind up at a crazy-fun clip shop that kids absolutely love. Go in for a trim, come out with braids, highlights - even a mini-manicure (2310 Mildred St. W., Suite 132, University Place, 253-564-0709). Tacoma's Fun Kuts gets high marks for its patient and knowing stylists (3815 S. Steele St., #D, Tacoma, 253-474-9847). At Jack and Jill's, it's one-stop shopping: Parents can get a cut while their trimmed-up kids play. You can even book a "pampered princess" birthday party (6020 Pacific Ave. S.E., Suite O, Lacey, 360-455-9424, www.jackandjillschildrensalon.com).
Rockin' togs for mom
Responses in this category were packed with laughs, from "For what?" to "No idea - I haven't rocked since 1993," letting us know that some of you are livin' it low-maintenance. Those who do Jimmy Choo choose gorgeous little neighborhood boutiques, and voted in droves for Nordstrom (www.nordstrom.com).
Sweet local favorite Cake carries the brand-name clothes you find at department stores but in a fun, funky, atmosphere. While there, our readers shop for home decor, gifts and great accessories (3838 Bridgeport Way W., University Place, 253-564-2253, www.cakeapparelandhome.com).
Soon-to-be moms need a great place to shop, too, and locals love Annette B.'s stylish mom togs (2712 N. 21st St. #B, Tacoma, 253-761-0984, www.annetteb.com).
Gorgeous enough to give shoe mavens the shakes, Olympia's Bonaventure Shoes boasts upscale styles and the proper perspective: "Shoe are the things you purchase first, then go find your outfit!" (116 Fifth Ave. S.E., Olympia, 360-943-4899, www.bonaventureshoes.com).
Kid-friendly coffee shop
Our readers like their coffee close to home; this category brings more different answers than any other. Seems you're fiercely fond of your daily grind - if it's served up local and kid-friendly. Perennial fave Dancing Goats Espresso gets raves for its helpful staff, who'll fill up baby bottles and serve up kid-size Italian sodas. Great location, too, across from the Olympia Farmers Market (111 Market St. N.E., #102, Olympia, 360-528-8555, www.dancinggoats.com). PM readers also love Batdorf & Bronson Coffeehouse (516 Capitol Way S., Olympia, 360-786-6717, www.batdorf.com). In Tacoma, make sure to stop by the Antique Sandwich Company (5102 N. Pearl St., Tacoma, 253-752-4069); your kids can play with baskets full of toys while you swig your drink.
Readers blew right past the "locally owned only" signs to put The Old Spaghetti Factory (1735 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, 253-383-2214, www.osf.com) in the lead by a landslide. Seems South End kids love that great kids' menu, featuring loads o' yummy pasta. But there are plenty of smashing independent haunts that cater to the sandbox set. La Taqueria Mexican Restaurant (534 Capitol Way, Olympia, 360-357-5028), with locations in Olympia and Lacey, serves to-die-for fried ice cream. And, when it comes to kids, you can't beat pizza. At The Rock Wood Fired Pizza (locations in Tacoma, Lacey and Federal Way, www.therockwfp.com), kids get pieces of pizza dough to play with while you wait. Spiro's Pizza and Pasta (3201 N.W. Bucklin Hill Rd., Silverdale, 360-698-4800, www.spirospizza.com) in Silverdale is a local favorite with indoor and outdoor seating.
South Sounders love to fill up their tanks at the Black Bear Diner. The log cabin decor - with bears everywhere! - make this a popular breakfast spot for families. And those huge portions are big enough even for those coming out of hibernation. Check out their kids' "Cubs' Menu" for 12 and younger (955 Black Lake Blvd., Olympia, and 32065 Pacific Hwy S., Federal Way, www.blackbeardiner.com).
There's always a line at the Sunbreak Café, but locals say the food is worth the wait - if you can keep the kids tame until you are seated (22 A St. N.W., Auburn, 253-939-5225)!
In Olympia, plenty of people flock to Plenty for its outstanding menu, which features vegetarian, vegan and kid-friendly selections (200 W. Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360-705-3716, www.plentyrestaurant.com). And Olympians love Rosey's on Rogers for its shabby-chic décor and fresh, local ingredients (903 Rogers St. N.W., Olympia, 360-352-1103, www.roseysonrogers.com).
Indoor play area
The best route to rainy-day fun takes you straight to The Hands On Children's Museum (106 11th Ave. S.W., Olympia, 360-956-0818, www.hocm.org) in Olympia. Kids can play in the Young at Art Studio, the Working Waterfront, Backyard Wilderness, Tot Spot and more. The beloved Children's Museum of Tacoma (936 Broadway, 253-627-6031, www.childrensmuseumoftacoma.org) opens a brand-new exhibit for kids this month: "New Digs" is urban gardening at its tiniest! And when on Bainbridge Island, the indoor fun starts at the KiDiMu, or Kids Discovery Museum (305 Madison Ave. N. Suite C, 206-855-4650, www.kidimu.org), with art activity classes every weekday and a brand-new "Making Waves" exhibit.
Outdoor play area
For fun in the sun, there's no passing the Kid Zone at the Point Defiance Zoo (5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma, 253-591-5337,www.pdza.org), now with its brand-new Animal Avenue. Enjoy running through the water at the dancing lily pad fountain or meet animals in the Contact Junction. Parents love Fircrest's Tot Lot, because it's fenced and has convenient bathrooms. Kids love it for its sandbox, swings and play equipment just for the 5-and-younger set (across from Fircrest Park at 555 Contra Costa). At Tacoma's Owen Beach (5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma), families can enjoy wading, beachcombing and picnicking.
Best family day trip
Steer your car north to Seattle for our South Sound readers' favorite family day trip: The Woodland Park Zoo (5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle, 206-684-4800, www.zoo.org). Or drive onto a ferry boat; seems anywhere those gorgeous old green-and-whites goes is fine - we're happy to be along for the ride (www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/index.cfm)! And for an outdoor family adventure, you voted in droves for hiking in the Cascades, our third-place winner in the day-trip category.
Best weekend getaway
Chart your course for a family blast in Vancouver, B.C., voted best place to get away for a couple of nights. Leavenworth came in a close second, with its charming Bavarian-themed shops and great hiking or skiing nearby. And here's a surprise: Tying for second place - get this - is camping! Seems our readers love to get the little critters around a cozy campfire. Also scoring high is our beautiful laid-back sister to the south, Portland. (You'll find great ideas for family fun in Portland on our Web site.)
Best family vacation
When our readers plan a big family getaway, they book a flight for the sunny islands of Hawaii (which is heading for a high of 82 degrees as I write this in late May). Closer to home, the windswept beaches of the Oregon coast take second place, and the bronze goes to - where else? - Disneyland.