No Age Limit on Fun
An Orcas Island local shares tips for keeping the kids, grandparents and parents busy and happy on a family getaway
“There’s so much for families to do together in the islands,” says Orcas Island resident Gretchen Krampf, who knows how to keep her kids and grandkids busy when they visit.
Gretchen and her husband Paul have had a house here for 29 years, moving to Orcas full time several years ago. The “Host of Heartwood House,” has welcomed her kids and their kids, and her own aging parents for summer getaways, holidays or family reunions.
How to keep everybody happy on a multi-generational vacation? Gretchen's son Michael and his wife Leigh, and their two girls Avery, 5, and Logan, 3, and her daughter Annie with her kids Sam, 10, and Hadley, and her parents, Bud and Martha, made for a full house over the years.
1. Feed the Face-painted Herd
First on the family vacation list is always to get everyone fed. One of the best ways to eat well and have some family fun is to visit the Orcas Island Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. “We have some excellent food vendors at the market,” she says. “There’s also face-painting for the kids, and musicians playing on the Village Green stage. It is a lot of fun.” They also pick up meat, cheese, produce, coffee and sweet treats for family picnics and barbecues. You can also visit the San Juan Island and Lopez Island Farmers' Markets, too.
If you want to forego the cooking and have a meal out, there are also some great restaurants in the islands that open early,” she says. “We like to eat at 4:00 before the crowds arrive. We love Mijita’s and Madrona Bar & Grill for that. It’s very casual.” Here is a list of other casual dining options in the San Juans.
2. Find Community at OrcaSong Farm
Kids and grandparents will all love seeing a bit of island farm life at OrcaSong Farm on Orcas Island. Bustling with events and activities, the farm includes a store full of delicious treats and local products, a scenic, meandering garden, gardening demonstrations, a food cart, and natural playscapes for kids. OrcaSong Farm also has fields of beautiful lavender to pick or just to wander through. Collaborating with Pelidaba Lavender Farm on San Juan Island, the rolling acres bloom purple in the summer months. Visit Pelindaba on San Juan, or their shops in Friday Harbor and Eastsound on Orcas.
3. A Day-Camp Tradition of Fun
Archery, swimming, art, beachcombing. “YMCA Camp Orkila Day Camp is a great way for parents to have their day off,” she says. Grownups can drop kids off in the morning and know they will have fun and be well taken care of while they have a much-earned day of relaxation, or take the opportunity to do more grownup activities like kayaking, fishing or hiking that are harder to do with little ones.
“Kids get a chance to meet local kids, and do fun activities like swimming in the pool, make art, practice archery, and learn about local sea creatures at the marine life center.” Day camp is affordable, the counselors are great, and it gives the younger ones a chance to get ready for a sleep-away camp, or get geared up for spending days away from mom and dad at school.
4. Capture the Moment
“Getting your family pictures taken is really fun in the islands,” says Gretchen. “The islands have some amazing, creative photographers that have weddings to shoot on the weekends, but during the week they tend to be free.” Each family unit can have their family pictures taken for their Christmas cards, and the whole intergenerational group can have some beautiful and memorable images taken in a truly special location – on the beach, or in Moran State Park near old growth cedar trees or a waterfall. “It is a great thing to do during the week,” she says. “The kids love to climb up the tower on Mt. Constitution, too.”
5. Spooky Story Time at Crow Valley School
The Orcas Island Historical Museum hosts a series of story times that are fun for kids and grown-up history-buffs. The Spooky Tales nights happen every week throughout the summer at the restored historic Crown Valley School, where kids can see how children attended school a hundred years ago, and hear one of Orcas Islands best storytellers, Antoinette Botsford tell tales about real Orcas Island history and ghost stories that have floated around the island for years. Visit the San Juan Historical Museum, the Lopez Island Historical Museum, or the San Juan Islands National Historical Park.
6. Peace of Mind
Another tip from Gretchen is to purchase a family AirCare air ambulance insurance policy for your peace of mind. “If you have active teens and kids and older family members, it is nice to have a little peace of mind. You can get an flight insurance membership for $79 for a family, so in case there is an emergency, and a member of your family has to be airlifted off the island, you won’t have a huge flight bill. Of course, you always hope nothing happens, but having a little insurance is something a lot of locals do to make sure they're covered.
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