Four Days of Activities Near Seaside, Oregon, for $100 or Less

We had some very expensive unexpected car repairs this year, and we weren't able to put any money away for our annual beach vacation like we usually do. I think we still managed to make it a pretty fun trip on the cheap!

As we planned out our vacation ahead of time, I did my best to find activities that we could do without breaking the bank. My girls love playing in the sand, but they only last about an hour before they start to get cranky, so we needed some other stuff to do to keep everyone entertained. Aside from meals, lodging, and transportation costs, we easily could have done everything on this list for under $100 total with our family of four, including an almost-five-year-old and a two-year-old.

Our accommodations were generously provided by my aunt and uncle, who own a beach house on the coast, and we ate breakfast and lunch either at the house or as a picnic on our excursions to help keep costs low. We did splurge a little bit on our day in Seaside because it was our fourteenth wedding anniversary, and we think that's pretty splurge-worthy.

(All prices are current as of August 2018 and are subject to change.)

Day 1: Seaside

Seaside is a lovely tourist destination, and there are a few activities you can do that don't cost too much money, but most of it is geared towards folks with cash to lay down. Nonetheless, we did spend a day roaming past the shops on Broadway and looking out over the ocean. Here's a few of our favorite activities that we managed to accomplish for $40 total. (Remember that Sweetheart is only two years old still. I have a feeling next year will be a fair bit more expensive as she'll be a much more active participant!)

Playing in the Sand

We spent the morning playing in the sand along Neawanna Creek. The water where we like to hang out is only a few inches deep, and the ocean is visible but far enough away that this makes it the perfect spot to hang out with young children as they run around and make sand castles and get their toes wet.

(Sunshine also absolutely loves to go play in the waves, but since my parents were unable to join us this year, and Chris can't go in the ocean due to medical reasons, our strict policy of at least one adult per child in the ocean precluded any actual wave play this year.)

The best part about playing on the beach is that it's completely free. We did borrow a few buckets and shovels to bring along, but any random stick or shell makes a great tool in the hands of a child if you can't get your hands on an inexpensive set of sand toys.

The Carousel

We love the Carousel at Seaside. It is well maintained and something my girls look forward to every year, and at S2.50 each, it's a splurge we can afford, especially since they allow a parent to ride along with very young children for free. (Why don't all carousels do this?) I definitely recommend a ride on one of the carousel circus animals if you have young children (and maybe even if you don't!).

The Bumper Cars at Seaside

Our older daughter has always been quite the little daredevil, and she loves the bumper cars at Seaside. Tickets are pretty affordable as far as amusement rides go, and I think we only paid $5 for Chris and Sunshine to take a turn. There is also a Tilt-a-Whirl and a mini golf course that we might try in the future when our girls are a little older. (There are also bumper cars inside the Funland Arcade, but we always forget about them until later!)

Funland Arcade

Having a gamer in the family means that we usually make it a point to stop in at the Funland Arcade for a little bit of family fun. Our girls are still young enough that $20 on the play card goes a long way, and we all had a great time.

The Candyman

We almost always stop for ice cream at this little candy store and ice cream parlor because you can get a sweet fix on the cheap with cones starting at only $2 as of this writing. The Candyman has long been a favorite of ours, and every visitor to the store gets to spin a wheel for the chance to win a prize. We've never won, but we've always enjoyed our consolation prize: a free piece of saltwater taffy.

Day 2: Fort Stevens

Fort Stevens is a fun place to spend time on the cheap, and I wish we would have had more time there this year. There are a number of attractions and trails to check out, and some of them are even free. For day use areas, you will need to buy a day pass ($5 per car), which is good for all Oregon State Parks you may visit in that one day. Alternatively, you can buy an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport for $10 and visit a number of state and national parks along the Oregon Coast during a five-day period. (An annual pass is also available.)

Battery Russell

This year we hiked up to Battery Russell and checked out the old bunker that protected the mouth of the Columbia River dating back the early 20th century. (It was decommissioned near the end of WWII.) The trees have grown in the intervening decades, and while you can no longer see the ocean, you can still hear it.

If you take your kids to see Battery Russell, keep them close and watch them carefully. There are many ledges to fall from and holes to fall into if you are not careful. If you have a rugged stroller and don't mind a rough push up a steep hill, then you should be able to bring the stroller along for the little ones. We kept Sweetheart strapped down most of the time just to ensure her safety. Most of the battery is accessible through various ramps to different levels in addition to stairs.

The Observation Tower

At the tip of the peninsula lies the south jetty protecting the entrance to the Columbia River. There is a small wooden observation tower at the point where you can climb up stairs and look out over the jetty and beyond. You can also climb up on the large rocks at the base of the tower that form part of the jetty. As always, caution is urged.

Visit an Old Shipwreck

"Peter Iredale Sunset" by Robert Bradshaw / CC BY 2.5
If you have spent much time on the Oregon coast, you have probably heard of the Peter Iredale, a British bark that ran aground near Ft. Stevens in 1906. The ship was left abandoned in the sand and has been a popular tourist spot ever since. (Visit The Oregon History Project for more information.) The waves and weather have been hard on what's left of her hull, but it still may be worth a visit if you are in the area. We weren't able to fit it in this year, but we have visited it in the past and would love to go again.

Fort Stevens Historical Area

For an even more extensive fort experience, head on over to the Ft. Stevens Historical Area, where you can explore the Military Museum and see even more concrete batteries and other historical military buildings and ruins dating back to the Civil War. This area requires a day pass. We've visited this part of the park several times in the past, and there are activities throughout the year. We experienced a Civil War reenactment many years ago, and that was a lot of fun. (Some of the special events require an additional fee to attend.) We didn't have time to stop there this year, but it's definitely on our list for the future.

Day 3: Astoria

Astoria, Oregon, is a beautiful coastal town with a lot of history. My brother-in-law and his wife were married there two years ago, and their wedding photos are breathtaking. I could devote a whole post to exploring Astoria, but for our trip and this article, I will stick to a few of our favorites.

Tapiola Park

One of our favorite places to visit when we are near Astoria is Tapiola Park. The playground at this park is designed to resemble the nearby Ft. Clatsop. It is a great place for the kids to get their energy out, and my girls could play there for hours. And it's all completely free.

Astoria Column

I am waiting for the day when my kids are old enough to climb those many stairs themselves! The Astoria Column may not be so great if you have very little ones in tow, but we have visited and climbed the tower to the top many times in the past before they were born. Even if you just want to stop by to see the beautiful tower itself and enjoy the view above Astoria without climbing to the top, it is a fun visit. The annual parking fee is $5 and is good for multiple uses.

Fort Clatsop

We didn't make it to Fort Clatsop this time, but this recreated site of the original winter headquarters for the Lewis & Clark expedition is a fun trip. When we went last year, Sunshine was able to get her junior ranger badge, and we explored the replica fort and hiked the trails nearby. As of this writing, visitors 16 and over are $7 while younger guests are free. Alternatively, purchase an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport at $10 for a 5-day vehicle pass. (An annual pass is also available.)

Day 4: Washington

Both Chris and I spent a lot of time on the Long Beach Peninsula as children, and it's one of our favorite stops if we're on the coast. It's a short drive from Seaside, so we usually make a day of it. There are many things to do on the Washington side of the Columbia, including a number of state parks, but we didn't want to buy a Discover Pass this time, so we stuck to a few "free" activities this year.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

This was our very first time visiting the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, and it was a lovely spot to stop and have lunch. There is a beautiful stone picnic table under a tree near the parking lot to enjoy a meal. After we ate, we meandered down the boardwalk and tried to keep our eyes open for any wildlife we might see. I think all we spotted were a couple of dragonflies and some birds, but it was a beautiful walk nonetheless. There is also a 2/3 mile trail you can hike, but we decided to save that one for when Sweetheart is a little older as it is not stroller accessible and the path was quite steep, and we left our baby carrier at home this year.

Marsh's Free Museum

"Marsh's Free Museum in Long Beach" by MB298 / CC BY-SA 4.0
After we visited Willapa Bay, we decided to spend the next few hours in Long Beach since we were already so close. I've been looking forward to the day when we could take our girls to Marsh's Free Museum, and we decided to give it a try this year. (For the record, two and a half is still a little too young. Ask me how I know!)

For those of you who haven't heard of this "museum," it is really a souvenir and curio store with a few strange exhibits and some antique coin-operated gaming machines. Their biggest claim to fame is their "Jake the Alligator Man" exhibit, a tabloid hero with a cult following.

We ended up spending a little more money in there than we had planned. (I'm sure that's the point of the "free" museum.) We let the girls pick out some shells and a couple of other souvenirs to take home with us. Sunshine seemed to enjoy the store, but Sweetheart was definitely done about halfway through. We'll have to try it again when she's a little bit older so we can take more time to look at the exhibits.


We rarely visit Long Beach without going for a walk along the iconic boardwalk. It's a peaceful walk surrounded by dune grass where you can see and hear the waves and watch the kites flying high above the sand. Long Beach, Washington, is known for their annual kite festival, which we have visited many times in the past. The festival began shortly after we left this year, so we missed it, but there were a number of people on the beach practicing for the event while we were there.

The boardwalk is almost a half mile long, and near the south end of it there's a gray whale skeleton on display. Just like with the Peter Iredale, time and weather have done a number on the bones of this giant sea creature, but Sunshine, who is fascinated by all things related to biology, was excited to see it. There is a much more complete gray whale skeleton on display at the Aquarium in Seaside that you can see from the sidewalk outside the building, but being able to reach out and touch the actual bones was a special experience for my little biologist-in-training.

State Parks

There are a number of state parks on the Long Beach Peninsula, many of them with beautiful scenery and hiking trails and old military batteries to experience. For $10, you can purchase a day pass to use as you wander around the peninsula and visit Cape Disappointment, Fort Columbia, and Leadbetter Point State Park. Alternatively, an annual Discover Pass is available for $30.

This is only a sampling of the activities you can do near Seaside on the cheap. There are so many exciting and fun places to visit along the Oregon and Washington coasts, and we hope to visit even more of them in the future. Please comment below if you have any inexpensive activities or destinations near the Seaside area to suggest so I can check them out for our own visit next year.

If you visit any of these places, I would love to hear about it!