Rain or Shine: Make the Most of a Gig Harbor Daycation

If these unexpectedly sunshiny days have you dreaming of summer vacation, it’s time to sneak away with your crew for an impromptu daycation. And we’ve got just the spot for when Seattle’s doing its indecisive rain again, sun again dance, so you can go whenever the mood stirkes. No matter what Mother Nature has planned, Gig Harbor’s got you covered.

Gig harbor mt rainier

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photo: Allison Sutcliffe

When the Sun is Out

Explore the Harbor
Gig Harbor’s historic downtown waterfront should be the first stop on your day trip. When the weather’s nice it sets just the right vacay vibe for your family outing. The main drag stretches for about a mile, and it’s packed with noteworthy nosh spots, shops worth a peek, grassy parks and public docks where you and your mini can check out all the seaworthy vessels tied up for the day. We love that kid-sized lifejackets are available in kiosks on the public docks. It makes for super safe boat viewing with your Little. Parking at the waterfront is free and usually pretty easy to find, even on weekends, before the floodgates open after Memorial Day. But even then, the trolley is a great way to head downtown without inducing a parking headache. It’s just a buck per person to ride the whole day!

Boys checking out pier Gig Harbor

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

To really dig into Gig Harbor’s history, check out Harbor WildWatch’s free Waterfront Walking Tour. Starting June 11, and running through September, the tour group meets up at the Maritime Pier each Saturday a little before 10 a.m. Along the way you and your crew will learn about the founding families, Gig Harbor’s pioneering industries, and the different wildlife and natural resources of the area from two expert guides. Psst… we hear there might be a ghost story to two throw in, too! Expect the tour to last about two hours, and definitely bring a stroller or carrier for your wee one. The walk is a super easy one mile, give or take, along the sidewalk. So be sure to slip on your walking shoes and slap on the sunscreen before you go!

walking tour

photo: Harbor WildWatch

The waterfront farmer’s market opens just after Memorial Day weekend. If your daycay falls on a weekday, this is a good one to check out, too. It runs from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on Thursdays in Skansie Brothers Park and its focus is local, sustainable produce and products. While mom and dad are busy scoping the scene and picking some choice eats for an impromptu picnic (we suggest taking one to Donkey Creek Park), curious cuties can step up to Harbor WildWatch’s touch tanks, which are always out at the farmers market. It’s a neat twist to the everyday farmer’s market experience.

Donkey Creek park in Gig Harbor
 photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Beachcomb Along the Shore
The thing to know about Gig Harbor beaches is that they are nothing without the tides. At low tide, walkable shorelines stretch as far as the eye can see and as far as your mini me can walk. But at high tide, the beaches are closer to rocky patches with glorious views than they are to useable shoreline. So be sure to check the tide charts before you hit one of these local faves.

Kopachuck State Park
This state park has lots to offer on a sunny day. There are a few trails that meander through the forest, all easy walks more than big hikes. And most dump out onto the beach that looks out to Cutts Island, the Olympics and the Key Peninsula. Along the public stretch, the tot lot will find sand dollars heaped in piles, crabs cruising around clam shell graveyards and even natural deposits of clay when the tide is out. It’s a place where locals bring inner tubes and floating rafts to wade in the water close to shore. The beach itself is pretty rocky, but there are plenty of sea worn logs to sit on and picnic benches set back in the trees where you can easily lay out a snack buffet for hungry kiddos. Don’t forget your Discover Pass if you want to check out this beach!

Sanddollars at Kopachuck state park

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

If you plan it right, you can catch up with a Harbor WildWatch low-tide Beach Walk at Kopachuck. These hour-long programs at area beaches are a great way for families to learn about Puget Sound habitats, the animals that live in them and even beach etiquette around our home waters. It’s a chance to literally and figuratively get your feet wet with staff members and volunteers who really know their stuff when it comes to the critters that call the PNW home. Pack or wear boots for this one and bring sunscreen and a water bottle to stay hydrated on sunny days! And even if the sun’s not shinning, give this one a chance. Fewer people on grey or rainy days means more time to ask questions and interact with the knowledgeable guides. So come armed with questions and curiosity!

Harbor Wild Watch beach walk

photo: Harbor WildWatch

Narrows Beach
After crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, it’s cool to take curious cuties to see it up close. And Narrows Beach has the best vantage to check out these massive structures. There are a few permanent binocular stations down by the beach, but wandering down the shoreline to check them out is equally as impressive. Narrows Beach is also a sandy spot that makes for great sandcastle building and waterway digging on a sunny day during low tide. So pack plenty of sand toys, the beach blanket and snacks to set up camp on a warm spring day. And keep your eyes peeled for orcas or grey whales making their way down south. It’s easy to spot them, if they’re there, in this narrow passage

Narrows Beach family walking

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Fox Island Fishing Pier
If you and your sidekick are feeling adventurous, make your way over the Fox Island Bridge to the fishing pier to reel in the big one. If the fish are biting, this is where you’ll find them, so come prepared to catch something. If they aren’t, you can still enjoy the view and the shoreline that’s accessible near the top of the parking lot. There are picnic benches here too, so you can pack a lunch and watch the trains roll by along the Tacoma shoreline, opposite the pier. This is an out of the way park, so it’s often quiet and not too busy, a nice alternative when you’re looking to really get away.

fox island fishing pier girl running gig harbor

 photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Make Waves on the Playground
If the kiddos need to climb, slide and swing, Gig Harbor has two playgrounds that should do the trick. Downtown, kidlets can burn some extra energy in the Maritime PlayZone at Crescent Creek Park that sits above the creek restoration project. This cute playspace has tot lot written all over it, with a large climbable boat, complete with maritime seek and find; itty bitty swings; and a sandpit perfect for digging in. It’s also got a sunny grassy patch for picnicking or kicking around a soccer ball. And the covered shelter makes interesting snooping for the tot lot who are sure to be wowed by the old stoves and fireplaces there.

Little park in gig harbor

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

On the north end of town, Sehmel Homestead Park is where the action’s at. The playground itself is ready to take on whatever your kidlet can dish out. It’s got plenty of bridges to cross, slides to race down, and an intriguing motion platform you won’t find anywhere else. There are also sports courts for ball play and a few easy trails that weave around the 98-acre park. If your little one has a green thumb, check out the master garden on the property. You can wander through to see what’s growing any time of the year on Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. or on second Saturdays at 10 a.m. starting in April.

Sehemel park gig harbor
photo: Allison Sutcliffe 

When the Rain Returns

Harbor History Museum
Even if you and your Littles aren’t taking refuge from the rain, the Harbor History Museum downtown is worth a visit. It’s surprisingly engaging for such a small museum. And what you think will keep your kiddos interested for about an hour, is really closer to two. Start out back at the Shenandoah, a huge ship that’ll dwarf your minis that’s currently being restored. The area to wander through isn’t that large, but it has intriguing nooks and crannies your kidlets will want to explore. Out here there’s also a little dinghy with a sail to hoist. As simple as it seems, this is one kiddos love to do over and over and over again. After they’ve had their fill of the shipyard, check out the Midway School House, also out back. It’s a restored one-room school house complete with desks, books, chalkboards and more. Your little learners will love checking out this old school classroom.

Kids by boat at Harbor History Museum

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Indoors there’s a permanent exhibit that chronicles the history and growth of this small town. Here, your kidlet will find tons of hands-on activities to do while you check out the displays. There’s an old concertina that makes music, a boat to row, stereoscopic photos to flip through and a few crayon rubbing stations to keep your sidekick totally engaged. Just reading about the many items on display will give any visitor a great overview of the area. But if you’re looking for something more in-depth, check out a set of headphones at the Welcome Desk. The audio program really dives in and takes close to two hours to complete. Here’s where you’ll also find a Gallery Games backpack to check out for your mini me. It’s got bingo, knot tying and a seek-and-find game to keep them guessing as they wander through the museum.

Little girl rowing harbor history museum

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The current traveling exhibit, 50 Years of Fitting In, about women’s changing fashion trends, just opened in April and will at the museum until July 17, 2016. For fashionistas of all ages it’s a fun romp. There’s a great little school room section where kiddos can play dress up of the old school variety. And then sit in desks to color or complete some connect the dot activities set out to keep them busy while parents peruse the dresses, bathing suits and outfits being highlighted. This is one place you need to watch little hands, as nothing is behind glass, and all the displays are oh-so-inviting to touch.

Java and Clay Café
Duck into the Java and Clay Café for a hot drink and a light lunch while your petit Picasso paints pottery in the back gallery. This waterfront eatery and art studio is an easy place to plop down for a while and get in some creative time on your daycay. Expect to spend at least $20 on pottery, but there’s no studio fee, and they can ship your mini me’s creations to you once they’re fired. If you make the trek on a Friday, the Paint Me a Story Time is a fun first stop. For $19, tiny tots ages 3 and older can listen to a story and then paint some pottery that fits the theme and nosh on snackables too. The program starts at 9:30 a.m. and lasts about an hour.

Girls painting pottery in Gig Harbor

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Galaxy Movie Theater
While catching a flick with your sidekick may not be the first thing you think to add to your daycation list, on a rainy day, it doesn’t get better than buttery popcorn and the luxed out recliners at the Galaxy Theater. Each seat is like an individual Lay-Z-Boy, with its own table that swivels into place so your snacks are at the ready. And in addition to big blockbuster hits, the theater also screens retro faves on the weekends (like the original Willy Wonka or Ferris Bueller), so families can make the most of the big screen. Our suggestion? Don’t get too comfy or all those midnight wakings with your munchkin might catch up to you and leave you napping through the movie.

Any Day Eats

You don’t need to venture too far to find good eats in the Harbor. There are plenty of places with water views, if you can’t get enough of Mt. Rainier looming over the marina, and a few other spots that just serve up good food, plain and simple. Breakfasts at Netshed No. 9 are pretty hard to beat and not just because of the outdoor dining space. They serve up big plates of breakfast faves with interesting twists, Thursdays through Mondays. Start with an order of the cast iron skillet cinnamon rolls (they come in maple glazed bacon too!) and then watch them hand roll these bad boys before they hit the oven. On the weekends, expect a wait, and although Netshed is definitely kid friendly, it’s a bring your own entertainment for the kiddos kind of place, so pack some crayons and paper for this one.

Net Shed No 9 food Gig Harbor

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The Harbor isn’t wanting for lunch spots either. The Devoted Kiss Café plates breakfast and lunchtime faves both indoors and out. If you can score a seat on the deck, it’s one of the best backdrops we’ve seen in a long time. And the much-anticipated JW Boatyard food trolley recently opened downtown. Not only do they serve up delish fish and chip combos, but they do it from the window of a restored train trolley car, which makes it all the more fun for the wee ones. Top it all off with a heaping scoop of gelato from the undeniably charming Harbor General Store and Café. It’s a doubly-sweet spot that has toys, crafts and a tiny tables for their littlest customers to enjoy.

Dad and daughter at General Store gig harbor

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

A casual dinner at The Gourmet Burger Shop is a one great way to end the day. Just across from Donkey Creek Park, five-napkin-burgers with creative, gooey toppings are the name of the game here. The restaurant itself is pretty small, but tables turn quickly. But if you can’t find a seat, take your dinner outside to the picnic benches or grassy parks right across the street. Anthony’s is another always-reliable, comfortingly familiar dinner spot in the Harbor. You can count on fresh seafood and an unbeatable view that everyone will enjoy here. Bon appetit!

Do you plan to take a Gig Harbor daycation this spring or summer? Tell us your favorite spot to visit in the Comments below. 

— Allison Sutcliffe


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