A fun fall trip for the family is just a few hours south, in Portland. Load up the car for the three-hour drive, or take a more leisurely approach and hop a train for a four-hour journey on the rails. Time flies when you’re dining — and even taking in a movie — while chugging away down the coast. With tickets starting at $28 each way (half off for children) it is considerably cheaper than flying. A 5:30 p.m. departure allows you to head down after school on Friday. Portland has great public transportation from downtown to family-friendly attractions, so you won’t miss your car.
You’ve got plenty of choices among major hotel chains in downtown Portland, but one of my favorite places is the boutique Heathman Hotel (1001 South Broadway; www.heathmanhotel.com). Just a short walk to Pioneer Courthouse Square and Pioneer Place mall for shopping and restaurants, it is ideally situated for visitors. For a more unusual lodging experience, consider McMenamins Kennedy School, a once-abandoned, now-renovated school in northeast Portland. Sleep in one of the 35 old classrooms after enjoying a movie in the auditorium (www.mcmenamins.com).
Block out Saturday to explore Washington Park, a 15-minute drive from downtown, where the Oregon Zoo, Children’s Museum, and World Forestry Center are all located. All offer hands-on, interactive exhibits to keep children engaged in learning. In addition, there are hiking trails, a children’s playground, the Japanese Garden and International Rose Garden. Portland’s MAX light rail and buses also run directly there.
Spend the morning at the zoo (www.oregonzoo.org). Generally, animals are more alert and fun to watch in the early hours. Open at 9 a.m., the zoo offers close-up views of more than 1,000 species in environments similar to their native habitats. From Asian elephants to polar bears to lorikeets in the aviary, there is something to entice every child. Check the zoo’s Web site to see availability and cost of VIP Encounters — 90 minutes behind the scenes with a zookeeper — a major family favorite! In late November and December during “Zoo Lights,” don’t miss the Zoo Railway. For a small fee ($2.50 for adults, $2 for children), you can take a one-mile loop through the zoo pulled by an old-fashioned steam engine. Eat lunch at the Cascade Grill, then head for the Children’s Museum and World Forestry Center.
The World Forestry Center Discovery Museum (www.worldforestrycenter.org), recently renovated, offers a dozen interactive exhibits on the importance of forests to animals and people as well as the different types of forests throughout the world. Explore the forest exhibits from underneath, climbing through roots to see what animals live underground. Then strap yourself into a harness to experience smoke-jumping into a forest. Video journeys in a jeep, boat, or train to forests throughout the world give children a view of different climatic effects from Siberia to the Amazon. Two newer activities children are sure to love are “Take Me to the Top,” a cable ride 45 feet up in the air that gives a bird’s-eye view of a forest canopy ($4 extra cost) and the wet-free “River Rafting” ride.
The Portland Children’s Museum (www.portlandcm.org) is a hands-on experience for all ages and interests. If your child is artistic, consider the clay studio where she can make something and take it home. A theater allows children to role-play on stage and off, and features lights, sound boards and costumes. The construction area is a two-story house with plumbing.
On Sunday, head out to one of the best science museums around: the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, OMSI (www.omsi.edu). South of downtown, its four exhibit halls have many of the expected exhibits focusing on earth and life sciences, as well as a planetarium and OMNIMAX. before you leave, check out one of its unusual exhibits, the USS Blueback submarine. Take a tour of a real, full-size non-nuclear submarine that once held a Navy crew of 85 (additional cost of $6.50). Forty-five-minute tours are held throughout the day. Offered the first Sunday of the month at 10 a.m. is a two-hour “tech tour” that goes deeper into the workings of a submarine (extra $15). OMSI is a “must” for family visits to Portland!
Janice Lovelace, mother of two, writes about family and outdoor travel. She has traveled with her family throughout most of North America, Asia and Europe.
If You Go
Oregon Zoo: 4001 S.W. Canyon Road; 503-226-1561; winter hours 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (summer hours 8 a.m.-6 p.m.); $9.75 adults, $6.75 children to 17; www.oregonzoo.org
World Forestry Center: 4033 S.W. Canyon Road; 503-228-1367; daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; $7 adults, $5 children 3-18 years; www.worldforestrycenter.org
Portland Children’s Museum: 4015 S.W. Canyon Road; 503-223-6500; winter hours Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; $7 admission, with $1 parking; www.portlandcm.org
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry: 1945 S.E. Water; 503-797-4486; 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; $9 adults, $7 children or combo ticket for admission, OMNIMAX movie and submarine tour $19 adults, $15 children; www.omsi.edu
For more lodging info, check Portland Oregon Visitors Association for occasional special family packages; www.travelportland.com
If you have time:
Powell’s City of Books: A huge independent bookstore, it takes up an entire block in Portland; new and used books (1005 W. Burnside; www.powells.com).
Pearl District: Adjacent to Powell’s, this district has restaurants, shopping and the Willamette River.
Lloyd Center: This mall offers shopping and ice skating.
International Rose Test Gardens (in Washington Park): Portland is known as the Rose City; come here in the late spring and summer to see why.
Boat ride on the Willamette: Try the dinner cruise on the Portland Spirit www.portlandspirit.com).