Family Vacation: Aquariums, Sand, & Sushi

We're back from the coast, mes amis, but in a week we'll head to Central Oregon for another getaway. Lest you think I'm vaunting our vacation time (the benefit of a teacher's schedule), I admit I'd be content to stay home the rest of the summer. Home provides rhythm and reading and the resources I'd like to use for planning my daughter's homeschool curriculum. But carpe diem--time away from home is beneficial in unexpected ways.

We visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium this past weekend, partly so my son could use his free ticket from our library's summer reading program. Admission seemed expensive despite our children's free entry (free under age three), but the aquarium is a non-profit organization and their sea otters alone eat $17,000 worth of restaurant-quality seafood per year, so I'm sure admission is going towards a great cause!

  My husband and children seizing a photo op at the aquarium entry

My husband and children seizing a photo op at the aquarium entry

The aquarium features creatures of the Oregon Coast, of course, but the gravel paths and faux rock formations around the outdoor exhibits briefly reminded me of Petra, Jordan--an utterly different place. Indoors, my children loved scooping empty bottles out of a basin with fishing nets while I marveled at the juvenile Japanese spider crabs. (As the world's largest crabs, they can grow to 12 feet across!). I also loved seeing puffins up close for the first time.

  Japanese Giant Spider Crab by  Choo Yut Shing  (photo from  Underwater World  in Singapore)

Japanese Giant Spider Crab by Choo Yut Shing (photo from Underwater World in Singapore)

  Tufted Puffin at the Oregon Coast Aquarium's seabird aviary exhibit

Tufted Puffin at the Oregon Coast Aquarium's seabird aviary exhibit

The biggest draw at the aquarium, however, is the tunnel. "Passages of the Deep" is a 50-foot walkway through three pools containing colorful rockfish, halibut, sturgeon, skates and sharks who don't hesitate to skim the clear tunnel walls. Apparently the aquarium offers events where school or family groups can sleep overnight in the tunnel. I'm not sure how well I'd sleep with swimming sharks faintly illuminated overhead, but the experience would be unforgettable! (I'll look into the homeschool sleepover in a few years.)

  Passages of the Deep photo by  Sam Churchill

Passages of the Deep photo by Sam Churchill

  Maisie and the Tiger Shark by  Desirae

Maisie and the Tiger Shark by Desirae

  My children touching sea anemones at Hatfield Marine Science Visitor's Center tidepool exhibit

My children touching sea anemones at Hatfield Marine Science Visitor's Center tidepool exhibit

Since my children are 2 and 5 years old, they sped through the aquarium in an hour. We would have revisited the exhibits, but my husband and I wanted to visit the Hatfield Marine Science Center just down the street. Their admission is entirely donation-based, and they have lots of hands-on displays on waves, electricity, and sound in addition to the aquariums. It's geared towards literate visitors, but our children loved it anyhow and we look forward to revisiting when they are older.

We broke up the three hour trip home by stopping for dinner at Crazy Sushi in Sherwood and found their miso soup and savory sushi rolls were absolutely worth the half-hour wait. (I'm sure there's some irony in eating spider rolls packed with crab after our aquarium visit!) Now that we've been home for a few days, our dryer trap and bedsheets still seem to be collecting minute amounts of sand, but we're happy and grateful for this summer's coastal experiences.

Does your family have a favorite beach or aquarium to visit? What do you love best about your experiences there?