Newport, OR – The Oregon Aquarium is one of the best sightseeing values to be had on the Oregon Coast, and a half-day visit should top the list of any family’s priorities for activities while vacationing on—or road-tripping through—the Central Oregon coast.
The aquarium may keep you entertained and exploring for hours, which makes it an especially great site to visit with energetic children. Start out in the Oddwater exhibit, and get a load of all manner of strange looking sea life, including lion fish, enormous crabs, gorgeous jellyfish, and friends. But when your tots eventually tire of staring at fish and tanks—even from the inside out, move on to the thrilling stingray touch pool (no worries, the barbs are trimmed). After that, let your kids get physical with starfish and sea anemone at the next touch pool.
Then it’s time for fresh air and freedom outside, where a network of faux sea caves and arches lead you to and through views of Oregon’s harbor seals, sea lions, and sea otters (the only sea otters you’ll find in Oregon nowadays)—from both above and under the water. If you’re lucky, the sea lions will put on their underwater parade while you watch, taking turns charging you (all in fun), at one of the viewing windows. We also laughed ourselves silly while visiting with a sleepy sea otter docked against the glass who suddenly decided to show off his summersaults, then went right back to his nap. With a 90,000 gallon main pool for the sea lions and additional outdoor pools, there are many viewing windows and chances to see these sea creatures from every angle.
Next, you’ll bring your brood through the outdoor aviary, where Oregon’s sea birds abound, including the popular puffin. You can play “I spy” to see where all of the sea birds are perched throughout a 30-foot rocky cliff, or watch through more underwater viewing windows as they dive beneath the water for fish.
Perhaps everybody’s favorite attraction though, and the one you’ll want to save for last, is the Passages of the Deep exhibit. Here you’ll walk through the tunnel tanks, including the fabulous, crowd-pleasing shark tank. Inside these aquariums, you’ll enjoy a 180-degree view and feel like you’re swimming with the big fish. And don’t forget to look down through the floor windows where you’ll see more swimmers and part of an old shipwreck.
Good to know:
The aquarium is a great place to let kids stretch their legs and burn off their energy, but with adventurous toddlers, you may be glad to have a safety harness to make sure they stick close to you through the darker, more crowded Oddwater area. If your child tires mid-way, you can always return to your car to get your stroller, or rent one from the aquarium for $5 single or $7 for a double. The aquarium’s strollers have terrific pneumatic wheels and steering handles that make them ideal for wheeling through the light gravel in the outdoor exhibits. As you might expect, restrooms are equipped with diaper changing tables. There is a museum restaurant and gift shop to meet your nutritional and “souvenirial” needs. There is also an outdoor children’s play area with climb-on sculptures of sea animals and benches for supervising parents where you can burn off any extra energy (or at least your child’s) before getting back into your car.
When you go:
Newport is located along Highway 101 approximately half-way between the Washington and California borders (see map). The least-curvy, and most direct route from I-5 to Newport is Highway 20, which heads west from the exit for Hwy 34 / Corvallis (just south of the Albany exits). From Cannon Beach, it’s a 2.5-hour drive meandering along the coast with plenty of interesting places to stop, build sand castles, picnic, or shop (sans sales tax) along the way. The aquarium is located at 2820 SE Ferry Slip Road. See this map for an overview of Newport and its points of interest. Aquarium admission is free for children through 2 years, and $8.75 for children 3 through 12 years. Adults pay $14.25.
Explore some more:
Newport’s Historic Bayfront is just a 5 minute drive from the aquarium, and is a terrific stop to get your Newport tourist fix of trinket shops, galleries, and restaurants while at the same time getting a feel for the city’s fishing and crabbing history that continues to live on as one of its main industries today. In fact, you can eat an ice cream cone while you watch the fishing boats come and go and gawk at the impressive catches and clattering crab rings. Don’t worry, adjacent to the cannery, you can buy your own steamer clams or crab to take with you.
If you’re not in the mood to do your own cooking, I recommend The Whale’s Tale here on the Bayfront for breakfast and Mo’s Annex with its Yaquina Bay view tables (across the street from the original Mo’s) for a filling budget lunch of clam chowder and garlic cheese bread (they’ve got hotdogs and other kid-pleasers, too). However, my mother, who has been eating Oregon coast clam chowder since childhood, will tell you the best “restaurant chowder” to be had is at The Chowder Bowl down at Nye Beach. (For the best clam chowder, however, you’d have to follow my great grandma’s recipe.)
Nye Beach has been called the first “tourist playground” on the Oregon Coast, having drawn visitors since the late 19th century and before it could even be accessed by roads. My mother and aunt still have fond memories of teenage visits to the old Natatorium, but like so many bustling pleasure palaces, it eventually fell into disrepair and was leveled in 1967, as Nye Beach entered a somewhat seedy era. You’d never know it now. This is the decidedly hip district now, with cool little restaurants and cafes, and interesting lodgings like the Sylvia Beach Hotel with author-themed rooms, posh decor, and ready reading–young children understandably not welcome. Young children, however, are more than welcome on sandy Nye Beach itself, and you’ll find ample public parking at the sand’s edge where the Natatorium once stood. You can read more about the history of Nye Beach here.
Stay and play:
You’ll find family-friendly accommodations for every budget throughout Newport. The Chamber of Commerce has a helpful list of campgrounds, hotels, and vacation rentals you can see here. Not all of the small inns or B&Bs allow children, or those under a certain age, so be sure to check their policies for any minimum ages. Numerous vacation rentals and cottages can be found throughout the area, but families on a budget may appreciate the value of the 2-BR Sky Cottage vacation rental just 2 blocks from Nye Beach. Near the aquarium, the La Quinta Inn has comfortable rooms, including suites, and a complimentary hot breakfast buffet kids are sure to love thanks to the Belgian waffle bar (sure, maybe they’ll eat the other stuff, too). To find your best hotel deal in Newport, I recommend searching your dates at Kayak.com
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children
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