One of the best parts about living in the Pacific Northwest is being able to explore some quirky and fun cities. Besides Seattle, our favorite city in the region is Portland, Oregon. There are so many things to do in Portland with kids, and I just love sharing this city with others.
Despite living so close to Portland (it’s only three hours away), we’ve never actually spent much time in the city. For us, Portland was always a stopping place for the night or for a meal, on our way down to California. Somehow, it never made it on the top of our list for places to visit. Until now.
This post was updated on April 12, 2020.
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Basic facts about Portland, Oregon
The city of Portland, Oregon has a population of around 635,000. The city is located on the Willamette River, approximately 70 miles inland from the Oregon Coast. Previously an industrial town, Portland is now becoming known for its tech industry.
The city is accessible by plane, with its airport, Portland International Airport, servicing mainly domestic and some international flights. You can also get to Portland by train and by bus. Additionally, I-5 and I-84 pass right through Portland, making it accessible by car from its neighboring states of Washington, Idaho, and California.
For getting around Portland, the city has buses, light rail, and commuter rail that are all part of the city’s TriMet transportation system. Uber and Lyft are the ride-sharing options available in Portland. And of course, if you need it, you can also get around the city by taxi. For families, however, the easiest way to get around Portland is by car.
Discovering things to do in Portland with kids
This year, as part of our year of travel, we decided to give Portland a try. It’s been gaining more prominence over the years, in part due to shows like Portlandia and Grimm. Plus, it’s a hot bed for many of the latest food trends. This makes the food lover in me intrigued.
For families with children, Portland surprisingly has a lot to offer by way of attractions and activities. If you’re into walking tours, you can get some fun ideas from the book, Walking Portland. As for us, here’s a recap of six things to do in Portland with kids that we discovered on our recent trip:
Play with your food and make your own pancakes
As I mentioned, Portland’s fast becoming a leader in the latest food trends. I learned during my trip that Portland holds the record for most breweries of any city in the world. It also has a good number of restaurants that appeal to kids without being specifically “kiddie.”
On this recent trip, we had breakfast at Slappy Cakes, a make-your-own pancakes type of place. Think of it as a mix between Korean barbecue and a pancake house. Each table has a griddle in the center, and you can order bottles of pancake batter, plus additional fixings, to make your own pancakes. Our kids loved it! We ordered a bottle of their seasonal red velvet batter, as well as their gluten-free/vegan batter, and had a blast making pancakes of all shapes and sizes. Who says you can’t play with your food?
On other trips to Portland, we’ve had great experiences at Hopworks Urban Brewery, a brewery with a cool play area for kids, and Pine State Biscuits, which is another popular breakfast spot in Portland. And on this trip, we had dinner at Frank’s Noodle House, which hand pulls its noodle in-house. I love the craftsmanship that goes into the food at all of these places.
Engage your brain while playing with your kids
We like taking our kids to museums wherever we go, especially ones that are interactive and educational for the kids. One of my coworkers who grew up in Portland recommended that we visit the Portland Children’s Museum, so we spent one of our afternoons in the city hanging out there and checking out the exhibits. It did not disappoint. There were at least 13 featured and permanent exhibits, and my kids had a blast learning and playing.
Some of our favorite exhibits were the building/construction exhibit, the pet hospital, and the mini-grocery store. We also liked their feature exhibit, “Run! Jump! Fly! Adventures in Action,” which gave the kids a chance to try out different types of physical activities like surfing/snowboarding, biking, and climbing, in unique and fun ways.
After an afternoon at the Children’s Museum, my kids were tuckered out, and they took a long nap in the car while my husband and I drove around Portland checking out the sights like St. John’s Bridge.
Explore things to do in Portland with kids at an old school
For dinner during our second night in Portland, we decided to go to someplace interesting and quirky. It happened to be Valentine’s Day, but since we were all together, we decided on a family night out rather than a date night. Our choice for dinner was McMenamins Kennedy School, a former elementary school building now converted into a restaurant and hotel.
It was so fun to walk around the space and explore the different parts of the building. Many of the features of the school building were still there, like the chalkboards in the classrooms, but we loved how it was re-purposed into something that could be enjoyed by people of all ages.
We were unfortunately not able to stay in any of the rooms (they were quite pricey and were all booked for the weekend!), but we did enjoy a nice early dinner in their Courtyard Restaurant. Definitely a cool place to explore, and a great example of how family friendly Portland can be.
Get lost in the wonderful world of books
Speaking of exploring, one of my favorite past times in any city is visiting a bookstore. Powell’s Books in Portland has one of the largest collections of used books in the country. It literally has room after room after room of books. On our last day in Portland, we decided to stop by Powell’s for some coffee and pastries at their cafe, World Cup Coffee.
After coffee, we spent about an hour, walking up and down the aisles of the bookstore. We had a great time browsing the book selections and finally settling in the children’s section. Had we had more time, we probably would have spent the whole day at the bookstore!
Find outdoor things to do in Portland with kids
Part of the appeal of family friendly Portland, and the Pacific Northwest in general, is its close proximity to lush, evergreen forests and parks. The city of Portland has over 100 city parks, adding up to over 10,000 acres of outdoor space. The largest city park, Forest Park, is essentially an old growth forest, right in the middle of the city. It’s a popular spot for things to do in Portland with kids. We thought it was a great place to spend the morning.
When we got to Forest Park, however, the trails were pretty muddy, and I didn’t have the right shoes to hike downhill along a muddy trail, so we decided to head over to the Audubon Society Wildlife Care Center nearby. This turned out to be a much better (and more age-appropriate) option for us. The care center is used to rehabilitate wild birds and animals who have been injured.
When we visited, there were several different birds that we could see and observe, including an owl, a raven and a turkey vulture. Behind the care center are some trails, which we ended up hiking along since they were much easier and less muddy. It was nice to be in the woods, listening to the sounds of the forest.
Take a culinary world tour without hopping on a plane
After our hike, we were all pretty famished. Our final destination was the Portland pods, the food carts that are dotted all over the city. The first time we drove through Portland, on our way to Seattle from Washington, DC, we stumbled upon these food carts and had a fantastic lunch of Cuban and Korean food. On this trip, we knew we had to eat at these carts again before we left the city.
We headed back to Powell’s Books, and hit up the food carts between Alder St. and Washington St. This time around, we chose mac and cheese for my kids, Lebanese food for my husband, Ethiopian for me, and Thai for our drinks. The food carts in this area were set up around two blocks. It was fun to walk around and see the different types of cuisine that were represented. After making our lunch purchases, we headed to nearby O’Bryant Square for an impromptu picnic before heading back to our car to return to Seattle.
Experiencing Portland as a family
All in all, our kid friendly Portland trip was a success. We had a great time exploring the city and pretending like we were locals. The city surprised us in many ways, and certainly made an impression with its quirky restaurants, and beautiful natural backdrops. Now the next time we pass through, we have some favorite spots to see again, as well as ideas for things to do in Portland with kids.
Have you visited Portland? What are some of your favorite things to do in Portland with kids?
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