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What to Do in Portland With Kids

Our neighbor to the south hasn’t lost its family-friendly charm

Emily E. Smith

Published on: April 27, 2018

bike rentals in portland

The “Portlandia” film crews may have packed up and moved on, but Seattle’s favorite rival city is still full of good grub, culture and enough quirk to make for excellent people-watching. Enjoying Portland in the summertime, with its abundance of outdoor offerings, music festivals and delicious treats, could easily take all summer. If you have an afternoon or a weekend to spare, you’ll find more than enough to make your trip worthwhile.

How to get there

When the rain clouds part, motor down to Bridgetown. By car, it’s a straight shot south on Interstate 5. Amtrak will get you there by train, or take BoltBus to really stretch your dollar.  

Once you exit Vancouver and cross the Columbia River into Portland’s northern edge, you’ll be downtown within minutes. From there, the TriMet’s MAX light rail train, Portland Streetcar and bus are great options for navigating the city.

If you’re sans car but you need wheels for the day, consider using a car-sharing service like car2go, with its smart cars, or hopping onto some of Portland’s orange Biketown bicycles, which you can rent and leave at stations around town.

saturday market in portland

What to do

Walk to the water: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Naito Parkway between Southwest Harrison and Northwest Glisan streets.  

Hit the banks of the Willamette River at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a perfect place to take in the city sights and watch ships pass. Walk, bike or in-line skate — or rent a four-wheel surrey bike to make pedaling a team effort. Stop for a visit at the Oregon Maritime Museum. If you wander a few blocks north, every weekend day you’ll find food carts and craft vendors at Portland’s Saturday Market. The waterfront is also the venue for many festivals and performers throughout the year.

voodoo doughnutsStop and smell the roses: International Rose Test Garden, 400 S.W. Kingston Ave.  

Learn why Portland is known as the Rose City when you explore the International Rose Test Garden, and don’t forget to bring a camera. This century-old spot is a tourist favorite, for good reason. On clear days, you’ll catch glimpses of Mount Hood and the city skyline, in addition to every color and type of rose you can imagine. A free public tour is offered daily at 1 p.m., Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Visit Voodoo: Voodoo Doughnut, 22 S.W. Third Ave.

Locals and tourists alike delight in the fact that doughnuts are a Portland mainstay. Keep things traditional by having breakfast or snack time at Voodoo Doughnut. Rain or shine, this place attracts a line of hungry visitors on weekend mornings that snakes a block or more through Old Town. Known for funky (sometimes anatomical) shapes and toppings (such as bacon or cereal), these doughnuts showcase the sweet side of the city’s renowned culinary scene.

kid at powells

Buy a book: Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St.  

No trip to Portland is complete without a visit to Powell’s. The world’s largest independent bookstore takes up an entire city block and offers an expansive children’s section. This is a literary experience as well as a vibrant gathering place that’s central to the city’s character. Browse for the next title in a series your kid loves or find something new. The store routinely brings best-selling authors to town and hosts a children’s story time every Saturday morning.

castleGet wild at the zoo: Oregon Zoo, 4001 S.W. Canyon Rd.  

Take MAX or drive west on U.S. 26 to visit the Oregon Zoo, 3 miles west of downtown. The zoo is home to some of Earth’s most fascinating creatures, sure to entertain kids of all ages. Elephants, giraffes, penguins — animals from all over the world live in spacious habitats modeled after their homes in the wild. Give your feet a break and take a ride on the Washington Park & Zoo Railway, which gives riders a lush, scenic view through zoo grounds.

Seek out a castle: Escape busy streets with a visit to Forest Park, a 5,200-acre pocket of nature that exists, amazingly, within the urban setting. It also has 80 miles of trails, fire lanes and forest roads. For an easy hike with big payoff, start at Northwest 29th Avenue and Upshur Street and follow Lower Macleay Trail for about a mile. Take in the verdant, leafy scenery and end at the moss-covered Stone House, sometimes called “Witch’s Castle,” a 1930s structure built by the Works Progress Administration. It looks just a little bit spooky, definitely enchanted and straight from a classic storybook.

portland eatsMake it free: Enjoy a movie or concert in one of Portland’s parks. These free events are well attended, kid-friendly and offered all summer. Pack a picnic and prepare to lounge outside with some quality entertainment. For a relaxed theater experience, try an outdoor performance of Shakespeare, staged by the Portland Actors Ensemble. Check the acting group’s website for details on this year’s performances.  

Take a sip: Portland is heaven for the craft beer enthusiast, and lots of breweries in town welcome kids — at least before nightfall. McMenamins pubs, many of which are located in funky, historic buildings, have lots of menu options. Be sure to spring for an order of Cajun potato tots. In the Pearl District of Portland, 10 Barrel Brewing Co. offers a rooftop patio (and is open to minors at all hours). Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House is another kid-friendly favorite.  

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