Toddler Travel Toys

We’re getting ready for our upcoming trip to Europe and I can’t wait! Honestly, one of my favorite things to pack is Julia’s toy bag. She’s at a really fun age where she’s filled with curiosity and loves new things, so I love finding things to surprise her, while making sure to pack some old favorites.

Here’s what’s in her bag for this trip (she just turned 2, but many of these toys were interesting to her in December, and we’ve had the books since last February when she wasn’t quite 1):

Indestructibles Books that live up to the name

We have several of these Indestructibles Books and have loved them since Julia was 6-9 months old. Some have text and others don’t, so we stuck with text-free options like Mama and Baby when she was little, but now we bring along ones with more wording. Since she’s almost aging out of these, I also loaded up the Kindle with some books for her (she’s only just starting to get the hang of electronic page turning), but it’s nice to have screen free books that aren’t too large.


On our last trip in December, pipe cleaners were a huge hit, but she wasn’t quite ready to string them through the little animal cards yet. I’m bringing a few along on this trip, too, just in case. I bought these, as well as the little scratch pad with multi-colored paper, at the local Dollar Tree.

Colored pencils are also really nice to have. I brought along standard-size Dollar Tree ones on the last trip, but these mini ones were too cute to pass up at Clover (local toy shop in Ballard).

My sister-in-law gave us these adorable magnetic blocks last summer (similar here) and they’re nice to have because they are slightly less likely to fall off the tray table (although watch out, they can still be thrown).

Julia also really loves the Melissa and Doug Water Wow painting sets. You’re technically supposed to empty the water out every time, but who has time for that? Not me! For extra fun entertainment, she loves to put the paintbrush back in its little pocket and take it out again (toddlers, am I right?). The water dries pretty quickly, so she can paint the same scene over and over again.


Pictured above are most of her new toys for the trip that I’m most excited about. She loves an animal sticker book that I bought her from Target last year (no longer available, but similar here), so when I saw this Sticker Dolly Dressing Book at our local Top Ten Toys (available on Amazon here), I immediately snatched it up.

On a day trip to Poulsbo earlier this year, we saw little finger puppets and bought a couple to try. Julia loves them, so I hid more in her Easter eggs this year (another brand since the originals made by Schylling weren’t available; I like them, but they’re not as high quality so I won’t be devastated if one or two get lost).

Given her love of stickers and the fact that she’ll have her own (window) seat on this flight now that she’s two, I picked up some gel cling stickers in a fun fish assortment.

I also couldn’t resist her first real Lego set. She loves Duplos, but it’s a pain to bring along more than a few given their size. The Lego City Coast Guard set seemed to have several people to play with, an animal (she loves sharks), and a little vehicle, so we’ll have some options. It was on sale at Target ($7.99), but has since increased in price. Amazon also carries it.

I pack all of these in a wet-dry bag so that they’re easy to carry, and the bag can double as an extra bag in case we have any epic sicknesses.

I also plan on bringing her new BuddyPhones (she’s still getting used to using headphones, but they’re very soft and flexible, so I love them), as recommended by The Traveling Child, one of my favorite sources for travel tips. She’s obsessed with the mini Minions backpack that I bought in Target’s dollar section last year, so that will get packed with snacks that she can carry herself, or possibly some of the toys to make sure she doesn’t play with everything all at once.

Key genres of toys that have fit well with her age:

  • Stickers, especially if there’s some kind of associated game; she’s not as interested in just peeling them off the sheet and slapping them on paper at this point.
  • Blocks, particularly if they’re interlocking or otherwise stick together so that they’re more stable for little hands that aren’t coordinated yet (or on planes that might have turbulence).
  • Small pretend objects, in the past this has included some little trains she can push around, and it will include finger puppets on this trip. Basically anything that we can create a story with.
  • Art supplies – I can’t emphasize the pipe cleaners enough as a source of pure toddler joy, but she also loves coloring. Hopefully some recent beading/”sewing” with grandma will encourage her to work on her fine motor skills with the sewing cards.

What do you bring for your little ones as plane/train/automobile entertainment?


Constellation Park Tide Pools

My family was in town recently and when my brother suggested that we might go see some tide pools, I started envisioning a caravan of cars driving 2-3 hours each way to the Peninsula and my skin crawled. Then, I looked up tide pools near Seattle and found this awesome list (not all of which are as close to Seattle).

It turns out that Constellation Park (also known as Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint) is only a 15 minute drive to West Seattle, which is much more my speed with a large crew and a toddler who hadn’t been sleeping well with all the grandparent excitement in town.

We picked up my brother from his early morning flight and stopped by Bakery Nouveau for croissants while my dad and husband biked to West Seattle. Julia loved their mushroom quiche and while I still like the bakeries in North Seattle better, this was a good spot to grab a coffee and snacks while we waited.

After a stop at Target to pick up water shoes for the travelers, we headed to the beach. I liked the spot immediately – it was in a residential area away from shops and restaurants, so parking was easy. I didn’t see bathrooms nearby, however, so you might make a pit stop beforehand and time your visit well.

We were the only people in the area for awhile and Julia loved walking over the rocks with her bucket and shovel, filling them with water and dumping it out.


Having multiple sets of adult hands around meant that we could take turns supervising Julia and hunting for sea life to show her.


My mom has a natural eye for this sort of thing, so following behind her was the best. We picked up rocks to check out the crabs underneath (making sure to set them back down very gently), and found different kinds of sea anemones and sea snails. Julia wasn’t very interested in touching, but we all showed her how to gently use one or two fingers to touch the animals, just like at the aquarium.

Sea anemones that lightly stick to your fingers

We got better at spotting new things as we walked through the water. One of my favorites, which I couldn’t get a good picture of, was the Northern Feather Duster Worm. This little creature has an unassuming tube-shaped body that looks quite benign out of the water, but it spreads feelers out that look like beautiful red and black plumes and retract very quickly if you touch them. There was a whole “shelf” of them at the sea edge of the tide pools that were just beautiful to see. We also saw two purple starfish on our visit – those definitely topped Julia’s list.


We spent a little over an hour here and I can’t wait to go back. I loved that the ground offered Julia a walking challenge with its uneven and rocky surfaces, but wasn’t as steep as some other tide pools I’ve been to. There weren’t significant waves (it was low tide, which also helped with viewing) and the area wasn’t crowded with people or cars, so it felt very safe. Julia could definitely have spent more time scooping sand and water into her bucket, which is the highest praise I can give, but this was also a great spot for adults since there were lots of things to see and beautiful views.

If you’re looking for a spot to fill up afterwards, we strongly recommend Circa for brunch. It was very family friendly, but still had high quality food with interesting touches. 3 of us had the Eggs Sardou (artichoke bottoms topped with spinach in parmesan sauce and poached eggs), and Julia ate the giant kids plate of cheesy eggs like we’d been starving her.

Things to bring on your visit:

  • Water shoes or rain boots: I was really happy in some inexpensive Target rain boots, Julia had water sandals, and my brother wore more traditional water shoes. Everyone else just had regular shoes that could withstand some water, but you’ll feel more adventurous if you have comfortable footwear that you don’t mind getting wet.
  • Sand toys: we probably could have gotten along without these, but we keep a little bucket and shovel in the back of the car and I think they kept Julia interested significantly longer than she otherwise would have been.
  • Change of clothes: You’ll definitely want a spare pair of pants for anyone who might be apt to sit on the kelp covered rocks (so, anyone under 15), as well as spare socks and shoes.
  • Warm clothes: this will depend on your preference, but Julia was pretty comfortable in a little fleece. I had a denim shirt and a scarf, but my Southern California parents were in lightweight down jackets. Safe to say it’s a good idea to keep some extra layers in the car.
  • Sand removal method: baby powder works wonders, but if you’re wearing shoes, you’ll probably just want a towel to wipe off with and/or a plastic bag to stick your dirty shoes in if you don’t want them flopping about the car.

Have you visited Constellation Park or other local tide pool spots? What are your favorites?

Travelogue – Whale Watching Birthday Trip

While we didn’t go all out and invite everyone we knew to Julia’s 1st birthday party, I found that even inviting our relatively small group of family and very close friends meant that I spent most of the time organizing and hosting rather than spending the time with Julia. A big party is right for some people, and I love hosting for other occasions, but I learned my birthday lesson and this year we took a weekend trip just as a family to celebrate her 2nd birthday.

Julia loves whales and talks about them all the time, so we decided a whale watching trip would be a great way to spend the day. Gray whales spend part of their migration period in the Puget Sound between March and April, which conveniently falls right around Julia’s birthday. I debated between Port Townsend and Langley for awhile – Port Townsend had easier to find family-friendly hotels, but the primary whale watching provider in Langley was less expensive and was offering a Groupon. Once I found a little AirBnB in Langley, it was easy to commit. This was also our first stay in an AirBnB – I love booking apartments or hotel suites on trips, but I don’t love the service fee and strict cancellation policies that AirBnB has, so a short weekend trip seemed like a good way to be pretty certain we weren’t going to need to cancel.

We took the ferry out to Langley on Saturday morning and killed some time having coffee at Useless Bay Coffee Company and throwing rocks/running at the Seawall park. It was lightly raining, so we were a little concerned the cruise would be miserable, but it cleared up just around the time it was time to go meet the boat.


We boarded our Mystic Sea Charters Gray Whale Watching cruise at a little dock area just down the hill from downtown. We had a lot of time between boarding and departure (about 45 minutes), but were able to kill time with a few toys and snacks we’d brought along (and a packet of goldfish purchased from the honor bar). There are also some laminated pictures of whales that Julia liked looking at. Seating was either chairs at tables in a covered deck area (soft sided) or booths in the cabin, but the booth to allow Julia more room to move around.


We were lucky and there was a whale nearby feeding in a shallow area, so we hadn’t been on the water more than 20 minutes when we got to spend lots of time watching her flip onto her side to scoop up the mud shrimp. There was even a very sweet naturalist on board who added interesting commentary. Julia was pretty cold, but she toughed it out in the toddler carrier for awhile before we went back inside for a bit to warm up.


She loved holding the binoculars herself

The boat moved on to another viewing spot and she lightly protested being loaded back up, but then enjoyed checking out another whale before passing out in the carrier after we put my mittens on her (she won’t usually wear her own very long). She was able to nap for a little over an hour, which allowed us to stay outside and watch the whales as long as I kept moving a bit. She woke up about 30-40 minutes before the end of the trip and got to visit the captain’s area en route back to the dock. There’s a laptop with an impressive map of the topography that they use to help navigate, but she was mostly interested in the old-fashioned looking wheel for steering.

Out like a light in the LilléBaby Toddler Carrier

The 3 hour cruise was a perfect length of time for us. All told, we saw 5 whales and loved every minute. The crew and the on-board naturalist are friendly and knowledgeable and really want everyone to enjoy the trip. If you make the trip with little ones, I would recommend packing extra warm clothes and snacks for the, and bringing a carrier since strollers aren’t allowed and you’ll want them to be extra safe and secure while on board.

After the boat ride, we went to check into the AirBnB that was ready earlier than expected. We set up Julia’s pack and play and let her play a bit on the stairs while we unpacked.


We had some time to kill before dinner, so we stopped at Rhododendron Park near Coupeville. It’s a county park that looks like it could use some funding – one of the two swings was broken, the climbing gym was broken, and there was one other playground structure that wasn’t in great shape. Julia just wanted to run in the fields and grab a stick on the tiny trail, though, so it was at least a good spot to stretch her legs.


We also had some time to pop into the delightful Honey Bear toy store to pick up a couple of new books before heading out to dinner at my all time favorite restaurant in the whole world: Coupeville’s The Oystercatcher. We have loved this place since we came for our anniversary trip when we moved to Seattle (our first PNW whale watching experience) and happened upon it while staying nearby. The food is so amazingly fresh and local, and they don’t blink an eye at Peter’s multiple food allergies. We had made a reservation right as they opened at 5 because while the island location makes the atmosphere a little more casual, it’s definitely a splurge/nicer restaurant and we hoped she would behave accordingly.

Walking up the stairs to dinner with her new books

Julia surprised us with some impeccable birthday behavior, so we were able to indulge in pimento cheese, a bottle of wine, amuse bouches that were tailored to dietary restrictions, a beet salad with pistachios, a carrot and ginger soup that Julia devoured, a green pea sorbet palate cleanser, the market fish prep (sablefish – yum!) and a phenomenal duck breast with spaetzle, chard and mushrooms (Julia ate most of my mushrooms, but they looked good). She was still on her best behavior after almost two hours (although we were grateful for the new books), so I also shared grapefruit and black pepper ice cream with her, topped off with their amazing chocolate mignardises.

Using a knife like a grown up to spread her pimento cheese


My favorite little chocolate face

The sun was just setting as we left, so we took advantage of it and ran up and down the pier a few times to celebrate bursting with happiness (and chocolate).


Our AirBnB was really comfortable for all of us (the bedroom was open to the stairs, so we could hear Julia in her pack and play downstairs without a monitor, but still have separate space from her to chat after she went to bed) and in a great location. We walked about 10 minutes at toddler speed to breakfast at Useless Bay at 7:30 the next morning and got to see a bunch of bunnies hopping about. It felt really magical to see the sun rising over the mountains with all the little furry creatures around.

Bunnies out for Palm Sunday?

Breakfast was delicious (I highly recommend their pork sausage – it was so flavorful and tasted house made), so we went off with full bellies to explore Castle Park. We’ve visited a similar playground on the peninsula and Julia loved the park so much. It’s really built like a fort with tons of space to climb and run around. It was too wet to go down the slides, but there were still lots of things to do. It was a perfect stop to run her little heart out before we headed back to the ferry home. She went to sleep just as we got to the short line for the ferry, so you know she’d had a good time.


We had an amazing weekend with our little one and she’s still talking about her “whale birthday.” I can’t wait to plan next year’s adventure!

What was your most memorable birthday celebration with your family?

Summary of Places
Mystic Sea Charters
Seawall Park (no website)
Useless Bay Coffee Company
Rhododendron Park
Honey Bear
The Oystercatcher
Castle Park