Tastes of Summer: Puget Sound Farmers Markets

Farmers markets were always a big part of our lives before the pandemic hit — we went to the Ballard Market on Sunday for naan and daal, picked up our meat from Skagit River Ranch, our veggies from Kirsop Farm, and an occasional bouquet of flowers to brighten our table.

When COVID started, the markets shut down and we got our fix by pre-ordering items for street corner pickup. They reopened and I was so happy to return that I didn’t mind (and maybe welcomed?) leaving the kids at home with Peter while I took a masked up solo trip for necessities.

Now that things are easing back towards normal, we had our first family visit to the Columbia City Farmers Market (Wednesday afternoons from 3-7 p.m.). It was a scorching hot afternoon and eating a picnic of food I didn’t cook in a park (thank you, Geni’s Ethiopian!) followed by Seattle Pops was the perfect way to kick off summer.

I wrote an article for Seattle’s Child recently with a round-up of 10 local farmers markets that have perfect picnic provisions (say that 10 times fast) and a park nearby to enjoy them.

There were too many markets (including some recommended via my Instagram), so I created a Google Map to add more. Feel free to use it to plan you own market dinners this summer!


Puget Sound Express Whale Watching

When Julia turned 2, we took her on a little weekend getaway to Whidbey Island. We stayed in an AirBnB in Langley, ate dinner at our favorite restaurant in Coupeville (The Oystercatcher) and went on a lovely whale watching trip where we saw 5 gray whales. James turned 2 this year, so I wanted to try to make whale watching a tradition by booking a family tour again.

The owners of Mystic Sea Charters — the company we used previously— chose to retire and sell their business to Puget Sound Express, so I gave them a call to check on their COVID protocols.

Satisfied that they seemed reasonable (roughly the risk profile of tented outdoor dining), we rounded up the vaccinated grandparents and headed out on what ended up being a gorgeous bluebird day.

I wrote about the experience for Seattle’s Child and it’s available here.

Have you done COVID-era tours? What protocols matter most to you?

Yuletide Express – COVID friendly holiday option

Last weekend we took a trip on the Yuletide Express, the 2020 answer to prior years’ Santa Train at the Northwest Railway Museum.

In short, my train-loving kids loved their own private car (accidental, but very much appreciated) and seeing all the antique train cars. Even though they know Santa’s not real (I promise they won’t tell your kids), they loved their short visit with Kris Kringle. I wrote more about our experience for Seattle’s Child.

Santa visits with his eerily realistic “face” mask
Every kid gets a little gift from Santa – ours were cute little wooden tops
Lots of outdoor space to explore old train cars before/after the ride

2020 Winter Bucket List

As you may recall from the fall bucket list I posted awhile back, I keep all of my favorite events in various spreadsheets and then roll them forward every year. That wasn’t possible for 2020, but I’m excited to add a few new things and to celebrate what we can still do.

Similar to my fall list, this reflects my family’s and my assessment of our local area and personal risk as guided by science and medical experts. We are focusing on lots of time outdoors where we wear our masks when anywhere near 6 feet from other people. We appreciate a change of pace by doing a local getaway or two, but we bring our own food or get take-out and use the time to take advantage of outdoor activities that might otherwise be too long of a drive for a day trip.

Without further ado, our holiday/winter bucket list:


Cama Beach State Park – We camped at Camano Island State Park over the summer and I loved that the space is easy to access (no ferry!) and has some short and kid-friendly hikes. The cabins at nearby Cama Beach are on an online reservation system now (they used to be phone-in only), so it’s much easier to reserve and I grabbed a “deluxe” cabin for a quick getaway. Deluxe just means we have a separate bedroom and our own bathroom, so we’ll still have to bring our sleeping bags and camp stove, but it should make the space feel more pandemic-friendly. I’m planning to combine the trip with the drive-through holiday lights in Stanwood.

Iron Springs Resort – My birthday is in January, so to celebrate we’re heading to the Olympic Peninsula for a couple of nights. We had to cancel our Kalaloch Lodge stay back in September during the tragic wildfires. I considered re-booking there, but really wanted a bit more in the way of kitchen facilities and separate sleeping spaces so we’re trying something new.

Holiday Lights

Enjoying the interactive sections of WildLanterns

Living in the Pacific Northwest means it gets dark pretty early in winter. Also, my kids rise with the roosters, which means they also have to have early bedtimes to get enough rest. That makes early holiday light shows a big hit with our family.

We checked out the new WildLanterns show at Woodland Park Zoo and loved it! I’m planning to go again in late December (the show goes through Jan 17, 2021) since we live so close to the zoo.

I’m also thinking about visiting the Fantasy Lights drive-through at Spanaway Park (Nov 21–Jan 3). It’s a further drive for us, but might be worth it as we look for outdoor/limited contact options.

We often go see the lights at Candy Cane Lane or the Green Lake Pathway of Lights. The latter is cancelled this year, but I’m hoping to make a miniature version in our backyard or right next to our street to spread a little holiday cheer.

Botanical Gardens/Arboretums

I’m all about hiking on rugged trails, but sometimes it’s nice to have spaces to walk that are easy wins for the day (aka flat trails and easy to get to). We’re lucky to have several arboretums and botanical gardens with beautiful fall colors and evergreen trees.

Lake Wilderness Arboretum – we visited this Maple Valley space last week and loved the story walk. This partnership with the Maple Valley branch of the King County Library offers a different picture book each month with pages mounted on stands behind plexiglass along the trail. I’d love to go back and see the December book choice once it’s announced and spend more time on the other trails.

The November 2020 story walk at Lake Wilderness Arboretum featured Thank You, Omu

Kruckeberg Botanical Garden – we still haven’t been to this Shoreline space, but they’re open from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Friday -Sunday in the winter, so I’m thinking it would make a nice little morning visit before naptime. They’re also offering private tours for a more educational experience.

Bloedel Preserve Winter in the Woods – located on Bainbridge island, this is another space we’ve still never managed to make it to. They’re adding handcrafted wooden snow people and deer to the trails for a dash of holiday cheer. Timed tickets are required and they’re a little pricey ($17/adult; $10 for kids aged 13-18; $6 for kids aged 5-12; free for 4 and under), but since we’d make this a day trip I’d love to try it.

Washington Arboretum – parking can be a little tricky at this well-loved Seattle outdoor space, but we usually head out to one of the side parking lots (like #17 by the Wilcox footbridge) and have no trouble walking around. The fall colors and spring flowers are legendary, but we haven’t been as often in the winter so I’m looking forward to going back for a weekday visit.

Traditional Experiences

Swanson’s Nursery – while Donner and Blitzen aren’t at the nursery this year, they still have their toy train and holiday decor and I’m excited to keep this holiday tradition around. Make timed reservations for your visit.

Our visit to the Swanson’s holiday train in 2019

Yuletide Express Train – we’ve never done the Snoqualmie Santa Train before, but this seemed like the year for a day trip option with limited indoor space and masks on.

Hiking/Snow Fun

Snow hiking is so different than any other time of year. While I plan to invest in micro spikes and other gear for future years with the kids, I’m focusing on shorter hikes this year. I love the WTA and ParentMap lists and would add these:

Falls Creek Falls (Winthrop) – we did this very short and high-impact hike on our return to Winthrop. The lower falls are only a quarter mile down the trail with plenty of snow to frolic in. You’ll want an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the trailhead.

Hiking to Falls Creek Falls near Winthrop

Gold Creek Pond (Snoqualmie) – we never ended up making it to this little gem in the fall, but it’s been a winter favorite of ours for years (it’s up the road from a sno-park so we combine sledding and hiking). The trail is flat and not particularly long, plus it offers lots of snow to play in. During the winter, you need a sno-park permit (more information here).

Online Arts Performances

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker – The Nutcracker has been a holiday tradition since before I had kids. We usually enjoy photo opps and activities beforehand. At intermission, my sister-in-law and I sip sparkling wine while the kids munch Mouse King cookies and watch a magic show. The ballet is really suffering from lack of revenue and offering a digital streaming experience this year. I’m planning to bake and decorate cookies with the kids and sip bubbly at home while we watch.

Julia’s first Nutcracker experience in 2018 (age 2.5)

Seattle Symphony Family Concerts & Tiny Tots – We also love the kid-friendly concerts that the Symphony offers every year. The Tiny Tots series is geared toward younger kids (0–5) and Family Concerts are designed for slightly older kids (6–12), although we took Julia to the Family Concerts at age 2.5 and she was fine. This year there are some free clips available as well as virtual concerts with a subscription (Tiny Tots Winter Wonderland is on Dec 4th at 11 a.m.; Family Concert Air is on Dec 19th at 11 a.m.). If you’d like a free month of complimentary access, use code SSOvEEI421 (case sensitive).

Figgy Pudding – My husband and I met in a choir and love singing together, so Figgy Pudding — a local caroling competition that supports the Pike Place Senior Center Food Bank and is typically hosted downtown in early December — has been a favorite tradition since we moved to Seattle 7 years ago. It’s moved online this year, like every other arts event, and I’m excited to watch it couch-side with some mulled wine. Viewing starts Dec 4th and some parts will be televised on Dec 11th.

What’s on your winter bucket list this season?

WildLanterns – New Family Tradition

As I’ve been drafting our 2020 holiday bucket list (in keeping with this year’s theme, it includes a lot of staying close to home and outdoor time), one of the new events I looked forward to was WildLanterns – the WildLights 2.0 at the Woodland Park Zoo.

We’ve gone to the zoo regularly since Julia was only a couple of months old (I needed somewhere to walk with a baby that wasn’t around Green Lake) and WildLights was part of our holiday tradition for just as long. It was a bit hard to let go of our “old favorites,” but I’m not sure how much of that is just nostalgia for non-pandemic times. Honestly, the things I missed most were the carousel and the fluffy “snowball” fights in Zoomazium.

The new lanterns are stunningly beautiful and diffuse light over rainy puddles in a way that feels magical. I loved the angler fish’s lure in and the hippos with their wide-open pink mouths. Many of the lanterns are animated, which adds to the surprises around every corner.

Visit early for a peek at the lanterns before their full glory

The kids loved all the interactive stations and I have to recommend a weekday visit if you want to just hang around and play. We went on Sunday evening and everything was comfortably spaced and didn’t feel busy, but on Wednesday we almost had the place to ourselves. The kids spent 20 minutes or more bouncing between the light-up stars and the piano in the African Savanna area.

Playing in the mirrored pentagon-shaped room near Willawong station

For more details on our visit, check out my review at Seattle’s Child.