Camping in Moran State Park

After making reservations for my camping bucket list in December, I was so excited to finally take Julia to Moran State Park on Orcas Island over Memorial Day weekend.

I typically have to work on actual Memorial Day, but it means I take a comp day on the previous Friday when I can. This meant that while I still made reservations for the campground and the ferry ASAP, the ferry rides didn’t feel too crowded. The ferry ride is about an hour and ours was delayed about 30 minutes in either direction due to a disabled propeller, but both sides have nice things to do while you wait (like explore a rocky beach area in Anacortes and sip cider at Boathouse Ciderworks on the island).

Endless rock throwing while waiting for the ferry in Anacortes

It’s a relatively short 20-30 minute drive to the park from the ferry and check-in was really easy. It was helpful that I had printed out our confirmation ahead of time since it sped things up and meant less talking while Julia was sleeping in the backseat. We were in site 79 of the North Campground and loved our space. It was near the walkway between the campground and the road, but didn’t get a lot of foot traffic, was a short walk to the restrooms, and had lots of space for Julia to climb and play safely. We set up the hammock immediately and it became her favorite thing – she was constantly asking to go “swing.”

Loving the hammock!

We hiked the 3ish mile loop around Cascade Lake (we put Julia in our Lillébaby carrier on my back) and the spent the afternoon exploring the playground and fishing dock area on the lake. For dinner, we made foil packets with salmon and veggies that were delicious, and Julia made her first s’more.


The next morning, we made oatmeal for breakfast (topped with maple syrup, mascarpone cheese and blueberries) before heading towards Mount Constitution for our hike. We didn’t feel quite up to doing the full hike with Julia (she’s wiggly when in a carrier for more than a couple of hours), so we started at Little Summit and hiked to the top. Julia hadn’t slept great (she kept rolling off the Big Agnes sleeping pad that she insisted on using), so she took an early nap and was asleep for most of the hike up.


It was still too cloudy to see very far from the observation tower, but we climbed to the top anyway, just to make sure.




We hiked back down and of course it cleared up right when we got to the car. Luckily, the road we were on leads right to the top of Mt. Constitution, so we drove back and ate lunch at the viewpoint and caught a few more glimpses of the beautiful island from its highest point.


My back was KILLING me after carrying Julia on 2 hikes while she napped (dead weight), so Peter took her to the playground for awhile while I rested. It was a perfectly sunny day, so we decided to rent a canoe from Orcas Adventures to paddle around Cascade Lake. It was about $25/hour and that was plenty of time for us to paddle across the lake, under a bridge and around the other side. The water lilies were blooming and we saw some fish jumping around, as well as a heron and a little family of goslings with their parents.


After our canoeing adventure, we stopped for ice cream from the Lopez Island Creamery location right on the lake and gave Julia a little beach time while Peter started dinner (grilled ribeye with pea risotto – yum!).


The next morning we ate breakfast and then drove a little ways up the Mt. Constitution road to some waterfall trails that were only 1/4 mile or so each way – Julia was able to do a lot of hiking on her own, even though we didn’t hike very much mileage-wise.


We drove through the little town of Eastsound and stopped for pastries at Brown Bear Baking before stopping for another short walk and a picnic at Turtleback Mountain Preserve. 


Our ferry back was delayed 30 minutes, but we just snagged a patio table at Boathouse Ciderworks and sampled their cider in the sunshine until it was time to hop on the boat home.

The long weekend was really paradise and we’re already scheming about how to convince our families to do a big group reunion camping trip.



Travelogue: Normandy With A Toddler – Mont Saint-Michel & Giverny

In addition to our time near the D-Day beaches, which was mostly requested and even planned by Peter, we also did some short trips to two of the other beautiful key sites in Normandy: Mont Saint-Michel and Giverny.

Mont Saint-Michel

We decided to detour to Mont Saint-Michel in between our stay in the treehouse and the D-Day beaches. This abbey on a rock out past the tides is visually stunning from a mile away and we were lucky enough to come on a beautiful clear day.

View from the shuttle stop

There’s an easy shuttle from the parking lot that takes you right to the base of the mountain, where the driver literally hops out, walks to the other end, and drives back. The walk up to the abbey wasn’t too difficult, but it was really crowded even in April and we saw a few people struggling to push strollers up the streets (why though?!). I don’t think strollers are allowed inside, so we were grateful for a baby carrier, even if Julia was less excited about it. She was in a toddler mood that afternoon and really didn’t want to spend much time inside, but luckily it’s not absurdly expensive to go in the abbey and there are are outdoor spaces to run around towards the end of the visit, as well as viewpoints along the way where she could use her outdoor voice. It was also busy enough that her noise wasn’t atrocious.

No one seemed to mind that she climbed over all the pews in the chapel
Stairs: always a big hit with the toddler set
Outside the abbey on the grass: this little French boy decided he loved Julia (must be the stripes) and kept trying to hug and kiss her. Oh, l’amour!

On the way down, we stopped for ice cream and an apple tart at one of several shops. The ice cream was really and truly terrible (strawberry soft serve that tasted like a bad 7-11 icee), but Peter liked the apple tart. We visited the Skelligs in Ireland for our 1st anniversary years ago, and I kept expecting a similar other worldly experience since this is also an extremely challenging feat of religiously-oriented engineering, but it just didn’t hit me the same way. If I had to do it all over again, I might have spent more time at the beach and less time with the hordes of other tourists. That said, they really do make it easy for you to visit, so if you’re in the area, I would at least recommend driving by (the parking lot has a much lower rate for less than 2 hours, which would be impossible to do for a real visit, but would be useful for a quick one).


Giverny was a really picturesque village and I wish we had more time there just to relax around the beautiful springtime blooms. We stayed at a lovely little B&B called the Forest Farm, which I found on It’s technically in Bois Jérôme Saint-Ouen, but it’s a 10-15 minute drive to Giverny, so it’s much easier than crossing over into Vernon (which is where your train would arrive if that was your travel mode). There was a little playhouse out on a lawn, and our large triple room with a private bathroom was the only place we stayed with a bathtub, which Julia appreciated since she’d been forced to shower with me in a tiny European shower everywhere else.

We arrived on a Sunday evening and our B&B owner recommended the restaurant at the Hotel Baudy for dinner since most places are closed on Sunday. It had a lovely and bustling terrace and Julia even got to play in the gravel with another little boy her age and order fish off the kids’ menu. My Normandy salad and lamb skewers were delicious, and Peter like the goat cheese terrine and duck confit.

Enjoying her ice cream on the terrace

The next morning, we ate breakfast on the early side and tried to get to Monet’s House as soon as possible. We over-achieved and arrived before they opened, so I asked if there was a bakery nearby to pick up sandwiches for a picnic later. It was a lovely example of how sweet French people are when asked for help – the bakery didn’t technically have sandwiches until much later, but they saw Julia and offered to make a coupe of the more simple ones for us. Unfortunately, the bakery was further from Monet’s House than expected so we got back a bit late and were stuck at the pre-booked ticket entrance behind several tour groups (might have been faster at the main entrance, but you just never know). However, the sweet employee remembered our little family and waved us to a spot in between groups so we could get in (do people who don’t want to travel with kids know how many awesome perks they’re missing out on?). The gardens don’t open until 9, so you can forget your dreams of seeing them in the early morning light, and we probably would have had fewer tour groups in the late afternoon, but we had to return the car in Paris by 1, so we leveraged Julia’s cuteness to squeeze by the groups. She is obsessed with bridges right now and there were plenty of them (including the iconic bridge from Linnea in Monet’s Garden) to race across.

Each bridge had to be crossed at least 4 times, preferably with some water watching
Dodging a tour group by hogging a bridge
“The” bridge in a rare moment of calm

I felt like the spring timing of our visit to the gardens was perfect. Roses won’t come along for awhile yet, but who cares when you have yards of tulips, my favorite flower? The house was beautiful and full of art, but also difficult to pause and enjoy because of all the people. Luckily, there was no one in the large kitchen, so we got to stop and admire it for a bit before a few last glimpses at the gardens and the gift shop.


We had a little over an hour in the gardens before we left to eat our sandwiches in the courtyard at the Impressionist Museum and drive to Paris to return our rental car.


These were both totally unique day trips that made our tour through Normandy more diverse and definitely kept my interest up (you just can only see so many WWII museums with a toddler…).

I’m glad we visited Mont Saint-Michel since it’s been on my bucket list for a long time, but it was really most beautiful from the bottom looking up, so we could have enjoyed a trip to the beach with the same views (and better ice cream).

I could have spent another day or two in the Giverny area, however. The whole village was full of beautiful gardens (are the homeowners part of some crazy Southern California-type HOA?) and there are a couple of other art museums and galleries that I would have loved to explore, and it would have been fun to come back to Monet’s House in the late afternoon after the buses of tour groups left. I also would have loved to rent bikes to get around since the town has really terrible car access and winding streets that would be lovely on a bike. We’ll just have to go back!

Do you plan day trips from your central location on vacation? What has been your favorite day trip so far?

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