When I think of Portland, I think of four things: beards, brews, bridges, and bicycles. For me, the city has always been a favorite weekend escape without kids. I had often heard, however, that Portland also had a ton to offer for families. With that in mind, we recently packed up the gang for a whirlwind weekend trip to discover all things wonderful for toddlers and kids. See a little video or just read on.
10 fun places for kids in portland
1. OMSI – Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (1945 SE water ave – map)
Kids will love OMSI’s five unique halls including a hands-on Science Playground and the Earth Hall featuring Science on a Sphere. There are over 200 interactive exhibits and labs for children to experience in renewable energy, global climate, health and wellness, chemistry, engineering, and technology. A family could easily spend a whole day at OMSI if they included a visit to the on-site Planetarium, retired submarine on the river, and the movie theater.
Important note: If you have a science center membership in your hometown, and they are an ASTC member, you will gain free entry here (see ASTC member list).
For more information: see the OMSI website.
2. The Portland Children’s Museum (4015 SW Canyon Road, Washington Park – map)
Perfect for toddlers and young children, it is best described as ‘the museum that doesn’t act like a museum’. Kids are strongly encouraged to touch and explore their way through the many exhibits including a Zany Maze, Pet Hospital, Clay Studio and a Treehouse Adventure.
For more information and exhibits: see the Portland Children’s Museum website.
3. Mills End Park – The World’s Smallest Park (SW Taylor at Naito Pkwy – map)
Although I was a little surprised by the request, my children decided that Mills End Park was a ‘must see’ for them. This is indeed a unique tiny park (planter) that locals often like to adorn with wee features such as mini ferris wheels and seasonal decorations. This feature could easily be tied in with a visit to the Portland Saturday Market. Beware the traffic though as this “park” is in the middle of a busy street.
For more information: see this interesting post on the history of Mills End Park.
4. The Portland Saturday Market (2 SW Naito Parkway, Waterfront Park – map)
Although perusing the market may seem far too much like shopping for the little ones, the location on Waterfront Park allows plenty of room for them to run around, check out the bridges and boats on the water, dance to some live music and enjoy a yummy snack.
Important to note: The market runs from Mar. – Dec. on both Saturdays and ironically, Sundays.
For more information: see the Portland Saturday Market website.
5. Portland’s Best Doughnuts and Ice Cream
With food options galore, it does not take much to find a great sweet treat Portland. That said, here are some of our favorite spots for doughnuts and ice cream.
While many people swear by Voodoo Doughnut (multiple locations), personally, we have come to prefer Blue Star Donuts, for their commitment to ‘quality over quantity’ (multiple locations) and the incredible mini doughnuts at Pip’s Original Doughnuts – Nutella and sea salt !! (4759 NE Fremont – see website).
For incredible scoops of natural house made, small batch ice cream, we would happily wait in line at Salt & Straw (multiple locations,). Other favorites include Scoop Handmade Ice Cream (various market and cart locations) and Cloud City (4525 SE Woodstock Blvd – see website).
6. The Oregon Zoo (4001 SW Canyon Road, Washington Park – map)
Hosting 232 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates, the Oregon Zoo is sure to delight the whole family. Like many zoos transitioning to the modern era, it is currently undergoing many changes, including the expansion of their animal habitats (new Asian elephant enclosure opening fall 2015) , and the addition of an educational facility (2017).
Note: On such a large property (64 acres), kids can tire quickly. Single and double strollers are available for rent ($7 and $9, plus a $20 deposit).
For more information and events: see the Oregon Zoo website.
7. The Portland Aerial Tram (3303 SW Bond Ave – map)
I have always found that my kids enjoy the day more if we stay on the move (this goes double for my friends that have all boys). While the Aerial Tram’s primary use is for commuters, kids will still love the 500 foot ride providing for great views of Portland. At $4.35 per round trip, it is also quite reasonably priced when you compare it to many other children’s attractions.
For more information: see the Portland Aerial Tram website.
8. McMenamins Kennedy School (5736 NE 33rd Ave – map)
This amazing heritage schoolhouse turned hotel is a fascinating place to visit with kids (even if you are not staying the night). Wander the halls taking in all the eclectic art pieces, watch a second run movie in the old auditorium (afternoon and early evening movies are kid-friendly) or grab a bite and a pint at one of several classroom restaurants.
For more information: see the Kennedy School website.
9. Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside St.btwn 10th and 11th Ave – map)
Take your little book lover to the largest independent book store in the world (it takes up a whole city block). After perusing the thousands of new and used book titles, stick around for the kids storytime (11am on Saturdays). If you are lucky, you may also be able to enjoy one of the special author events (like astronaut Chris Hadfield on Nov. 7, 2014).
For more information and events: see the Powell’s Books website.
10. Slappy Cakes Pancakes (4246 SE Belmont St – map)
I was a little skeptical about this ‘make your own pancakes’ restaurant until I read the reviews (86% ‘Like it’ on Urban Spoon). The concierge at our hotel also replied with an enthusiastic ‘Awesome!’, when we told him where we were going for breakfast. Choose from 6 types of batter (including whole grain and vegan/gluten free), an assortment of delicious topping (chocolate hazelnut spread, local goat cheese, real maple syrup), and even a la carte egg dishes.
For more information: see the Slappy Cakes website.
Further reading on Portland with Kids:
I found the official Travel Portland website to be excellent for trip planning, especially their section on Portland with Kids (see link).