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Portland With Kids: 12 Adventures

Lauren Braden

Published on: April 23, 2014

Street dance performance in Portland Oregon by Torsten Kjellstrand
Street Dancers in Portland | Photo by Torsten Kjellstrand |

That crunchy, counterculture vibe you’ve heard so much about? It’s true. Portland, Oregon marches to the beat of its own drummer — a book-loving, eco-conscious, rain boot–wearing, coffee-drinking drummer. In some neighborhoods, bicycles outnumber cars and the most popular restaurants are housed in Airstream trailers. Portlandia wears quirkiness on its sleeve. But pride is not snobbery, and you’ll find Bridgetowners love to share their eclectic city with out-of-town visitors, particularly families. Whether you’re wowed by the city’s plethora of parks or curious about all those food carts, you’ll find plenty to do that engages all ages, from toddlers to grandparents.

MORE: What to eat in PortlandWhere to sleep in Portland

What to do: 12 family adventures around Portland

1. The Oregon Zoo
4001 S.W. Canyon Road • $4.95–$9.95; ages 2 and younger, free • 503-226-1561

At the Oregon Zoo, kids can spot their favorite animals — from giraffes of the African savannah to polar bears— ambling around in spacious, lifelike habitats. Don’t miss the Asian elephants; the zoo is a leader in Asian elephant care, with a world-class breeding and husbandry program. The zoo is located at the south end of 400-acre Washington Park three miles west of downtown, and it’s easily accessed via public transit on the Max train.

Pair with: The World Forestry Center (4033 S.W. Canyon Road), a fun museum with interactive exhibits for kids to experience the unique history of our Northwest forests.

2. Portland Children’s Museum
4015 S.W. Canyon Road • $10.75; ages 11 months and younger, free • 503-223-6500

Portland Children’s Museum, also in Washington Park, is more than 50,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits where children can hike in a forest, build things in the garage, push a cart around the grocery store, play veterinarian at the pet hospital or create a puppet show. A new outdoor exhibit, Outdoor Adventure, transformed previously inaccessible land around the Museum into an amazing outdoor play space.

Pair with: A stroll through Portland Japanese Garden (611 S.W. Kingston Ave.), five tranquil acres of koi ponds and pagodas intersected by an elevated series of paths $10.45$14.95; ages 5 and under, free • 503-223-1321

3. Biking the Eastbank Esplanade
S.E. Water Ave. and Hawthorne Blvd. • Free  • 503-823-7529

Bring your bicycles (or rent cruisers at Waterfront Bicycles) and discover just why the Rose City is hailed as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Pedal the 1.5-mile Eastbank Esplanade, a floating path along the Willamette River, where you’ll see fountains, public art and wildlife such as great blue herons. The path is perfect for stroller walking, too.

Pair with: A pick-me-up cup of micro-roasted craft coffee at Water Avenue Coffee (1028 S.E. Water Ave.).

4. Jamison Square

Jamison Square kids playing in fountain Portland Oregon
Jamison Square Fountain | Photo: Quinn Norton on Flickr CC

1945 810 N.W. 11th Ave. • Free  • 503-823-7529

On hot days, families with tots come to this city park in Portland’s hip Pearl District to cool off under the stair-step water fountain that flows into a shallow wading pool, only to drain and start all over again. The Pearl District consists of former warehouses that have been rehabbed into loft apartments, breweries and upscale retail shops.

Pair with: A double cone of handmade vanilla bean at Cool Moon Ice Cream (1105 N.W. Johnson St.) across the street from Jamison Square.

5. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

OMSI Portland with kids
OMSI | Photo: Joshin Yamada on Flickr CC

1945 S.E. Water Ave. • $9.75–$14.50; ages 2 and younger, free • 503-797-4000

Got amateur scientists on your hands? Bring them to OMSI and watch their imaginations bloom in the planetarium and their sense of adventure take off in a retired navy submarine. Dozens of hands-on exhibits are tailored to different age groups, and there’s even a science playground and splash area for the 6-and-under set.

Pair with: A ride to OMSI via the Portland Streetcar Central Loop Line, which departs from the downtown riverfront.

6. Finnegan’s Toys
820 S.W. Washington St. • Free to browse  • 503-221-0306

One of the Northwest’s best toy stores, Finnegan’s stocks well-made, unique toys alongside common favorites and cheap gag gifts. They have a huge selection of stuffed animals, learning games, train sets, books, puzzles and more.

Pair with: A mobile lunch. Finnegan’s is right across the street from one of downtown Portland’s famous food cart pods, cooking up ethnic cuisine such as Thai, Indian, German and Japanese food.

7. Powell’s City of Books
1005 W. Burnside St. • Free to browse • 503-228-4651

family reading at powell's books in portland oregon by torsten kjellstrand
Powell's Books | Photo by Torsten Kjellstrand |

Taking up an entire city block and rising three floors tall is Powell’s, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Pick up a map at the front desk and browse your way through the color-coded rooms (organized by genre) that shelve more than a million titles. Children’s titles are in the rose room, and small tables and chairs are provided so you can camp out and read to your heart’s content.

Pair with: A wear-’em-out stop at PlayDate PDX (1434 N.W. 17th Ave.), a big, castle-themed indoor play area about 10 blocks from Powell’s that also has a café with healthy nibbles, wine and microbrews.

8. Audubon Society of Portland
Audobon trail in portland oregon5151 N.W. Cornell Road • Free • 503-292-6855

One of the most active Audubon chapters in the nation, Portland Audubon sits on a 150-acre nature sanctuary with four miles of hiking trails nestled against Forest Park — and it’s only about five minutes from downtown. Inside is the Wildlife Care Center, where you can meet real birds of prey (falcons, ravens, owls and more) and browse educational bird exhibits that are geared toward kids.

Pair with: A stop at the Nature Shop to try out binoculars and browse nature field guides. 

9. Mount Tabor
S.E. 60th Ave. and Salmon St. • Free • 503-823-7529

Hike to the top of an extinct volcano right in the middle of the city. Set in Southeast Portland, a family-friendly neighborhood, Mount Tabor Park has hiking trails through big trees and active recreation areas, such as a dog run and children’s playgrounds.

Pair with: A visit to Corbett Fish House (4343 SE Hawthorne Blvd), a 100% gluten free restaurant filled with funky decor sure to fascinate the kiddos. It  features a full kids menu complete with mocktail options!

10. Oaks Amusement Park
7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way • Free admission, 2018 pricing not yet available for games • 503-233-5777

Oaks Park is why Portland kids live for summer — roller coaster rides, carnival games, cotton candy and crazy summer fun on 44 acres of riverfront land. There’s also an indoor roller skating rink and miniature golf.

Pair with: Grand Central Bakery & Cafe (7987 S.E. 13th Ave.), the Sellwood neighborhood’s favorite family lunch hangout.

11. Portland Aerial Tram (aka gondola)
3303 S.W. Bond Ave. • 503-494-8283 • $4.70; ages 6 and younger, free

Want to snag the city’s best view of Mount Hood? Though employees of the Oregon Health Sciences University use the Portland Aerial Tram for commuting, the general public can also enjoy the three-minute jaunt as it climbs 500 feet in the air for quick views and cheap fun.

Pair with: A ride on the Portland Streetcar; it drops you off right at the tram station.

12. Portland Saturday Market
2 S.W. Naito Parkway ∙ Free to browse ∙ 503-222-6072

Tucked under the west end of the Burnside Bridge is Portland’s craftiest tradition, the Portland Saturday Market (held on Sundays as well, March–December). More than 250 booths sell handmade wares. Get a henna tattoo, try your hand at bongos and sample handmade chocolates. A special kids’ corner features live music, a puppet theater, face painting and more.

Pair with: A sweet stop at Portland’s wackiest, sugar-sprinkled morning tradition, Voodoo Doughnut (22 S.W. Third Ave.), just three blocks west.

5 Insider Tips for Portland

1. Getting there: If you’re traveling from Seattle, consider leaving the car behind and riding the rails on Amtrak; head to the observation car for incredible views. Another good option is the cheap Bolt Bus. 

Starlight Fun Run by Jamie Francis
Rose Festival Starlight Fun Run | Photo by Jamie Francis |

2. Getting around: You can visit nearly all of the close-in family attractions in the Rose City via Portland’s TriMet, a reliable alternative transportation system (light-rail Max train, streetcar and buses). Kids 6 and under ride free. Note: There is no longer a “free-ride zone” downtown.

3. Buy up — no sales tax: Pick up your back-to-school necessities tax free. Pioneer Place downtown (700 S.W. 5th Ave.) has all the expected mall and department stores, while the Nob Hill, Alberta, Irvington and Clinton neighborhoods are home to several independent children’s boutiques and toy stores.

4. Plan for summer festivals: Portland hosts several large festivals in the summer months, and travel to the Rose City during these weekends requires advance reservations for lodging. The Rose Festival is in May, Oregon Brewers Festival and Waterfront Blues Festival are in July, and the Bite of Oregon is in August.

5. Portland resources: provides itinerary ideas and lodging deals.

>>NEXT: What to eat in Portland with kids

What to Eat: 3 Portland Food Adventures

MORE: What to do in PortlandWhere to sleep in Portland

1. Food on wheels

girl enjoying food carts in portland oregon
Food carts on SE Belmont |

Why: Portland, Oregon has been a clear leader in the mobile food craze for years now, and no visit to the city is complete without a meal or two from one of the 500 carts operating in the city streets. Portland’s food carts are organized into “pods,” with several carts right next to each other on a city block.

Find it: At Portland’s largest pod, the city block between Alder and Washington streets from Ninth to 10th avenues, you’ll find around 60 food carts serving lunch — the largest concentration of street food in America. Tito’s Burritos (S.W. Third and Washington) serves cheap tacos, just $1.50 each. Eurodish (S.W. 10th and Alder) is a fun cart for hot pierogi (a Polish home-style dumpling), authentic schnitzel and cheese blintzes. Savor Soup House (S.W. 10th and Alder) whips up artisan soups and sandwiches made on fresh-baked bread. Kids will love the grilled cheese bar.

2. Sweet stops

Why: In a city known for its fresh take on comfort food, it’s little surprise that kid favorites like doughnuts and cupcakes get a Portlandia makeover, too.

Where: Voodoo Doughnut (22 S.W. Third Ave.) creates offbeat doughnuts that have achieved cult status. (Maple-glazed long johns topped with bacon, anyone?) Bring cash only and expect to wait in line. Cupcake Jones (307 N.W. 10th Ave.) bakes beautiful seasonal cupcakes made from scratch. At one of St. Honoré Boulangerie’s two locations (2335 N.W. Thurman St., 3333 S.E. Division St.), it’s worth crowding in for a taste of delectable French baguettes, pastries, croque monsieur, and sublime soups and salads.

3. Tot-friendly brewpubs

Why: Craft beer is big in Portland, and many of the city’s brewpubs don’t simply tolerate families, they welcome them.

Where: At Hopworks Urban Brewery (2944 S.E. Powell Blvd.), you can savor your hand-crafted organic beer and specialty pizza while the kiddos mingle over the train table. Laurelwood Public House (5115 N.E. Sandy Blvd. and other locations) offers an extensive kids’ menu and a pine-scented IPA that’s a work of hop-infused art. Kids can order their own pints of house-made root beer.

>>NEXT: Where to sleep in Portland with kids

Where to sleep: best Portland family stays

MORE: What to do in PortlandWhat to eat in Portland

Ace Hotel

1022 S.W. Stark St. • $150 and up  • 503-228-2277

Near Powell’s, the ultrahip and modern Ace Hotel is one of the more affordable options in downtown Portland, Oregon and has several room configurations for families. Large wall art and an in-room record player with a curated selection of 1980s vinyl complete the cool factor.


Kennedy School in Portland Oregon
McMenamins Kennedy School in Portland, Oregon

McMenamins Kennedy School

5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. • $150 and up  • 503-249-3983

Housed in a restored Northeast Portland elementary school that’s nearly a century old, the Kennedy School is also home to five restaurants and bars (not all are family-friendly but a few are), a movie theater that shows family flicks, an indoor swimming pool and an art gallery. Book early.

Riverplace Hotel

1510 S.W. Harbor Way • $270 and up • 503-228-3233

A newer Kimpton hotel on the south end of downtown’s Willamette riverfront, Riverplace is your best bet for a spacious suite with full kitchen in a downtown location. Family perks include kid backpacks with toys upon check-in and even a pet goldfish to keep during your stay.

>>BACK: What to do in Portland, OR

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