Ultimate Guide For Top Things To Do In Portland with Kids

September 22, 2016

We're big fans of the cities in the Pacific Northwest. Living in this part of the United States, we're blessed to have access to oceans, lakes, forests, mountains, and of course, some pretty cool cities (Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland). I have to admit, I'm pretty partial to Seattle, considering I live here, but lately, I've also found some of the top things to do in Portland with kids.

We've been to Portland before, and enjoyed exploring many of the things to do in Portland with kids. It truly is a great city for families. During this recent trip to Portland, we partnered with Travel Portland, and had a chance to explore even more Portland activities with our kids.

This post was updated on April 12, 2020.

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Kids enjoying top things to do in Portland
Our kids playing on a public piano in Portland (September 2016)

Our pick for top things to do in Portland

Prior to visiting Portland, I reached out to Travel Portland, letting them know that we were planning to visit the city. They were kind enough to provide us with free passes to many of the city attractions.

Ideally, we would be spending at least a month in the city. The book, Walking Portland, has several great ideas for places to visit in Portland. However, like most families, we only ever get a couple weeks per year for vacation. And for this trip, we only had a weekend to find all the best things in Portland. Fortunately, we were able to fill up our weekend with plenty of activities.

We were grateful for this opportunity to explore the top things to do in Portland. And we're excited to share all of the fun and interesting things we did during our trip, so that you can get inspired for your own trip to Portland.  If you have a few days to spend in Portland, here is my ultimate guide what to do in Portland with kids.

Playing together during our visit to Portland (September 2016)

Commune with nature at Leach Botanical Garden

Our trip to Portland coincided with a conference that my husband was attending (the XOXO Festival, which took place in Portland in early September). As a result, most of the exploration was done by my kids and me. However, we did get to do some things together as a family.

One of our first ideas for what to do in Portland was to visit the Leach Botanical Garden. The garden used to belong to John and Lilla Leach, but was opened to the public in 1983. It contains over 2,000 species of plants, and has over seventeen acres of land.

We loved walking along the paths and talking about the different plants we saw. A visit to the garden is free, which puts it on my list for one of the top things to do in Portland. However, contributions are always welcome.

A fire pit at Leach Botanical Garden (September 2016)

Eat like a Viking at Viking Soul Food

After a morning hike at the botanical garden, our tummies were hungry for some food, so we headed out for one of the best things to do in Portland: eating at the city's many food carts.

In honor of my dad's Norwegian heritage, I thought we would check out Viking Soul Food. It's a food cart located on Belmont Street. The menu highlights traditional Norwegian ingredients, served and wrapped in lefse, a flat tortilla-like bread made with potato and flour. I loved the flavors, and can't wait to go back the next time I'm in Portland. Main dishes range from $8 to $10.

Food cart in Portland, Oregon, one of the top things to do in Portland
Viking Soul Food's cart (September 2016)

Find your zen at the Portland Japanese Garden

After lunch, and a restful nap for the kids in the car, we headed to the Portland Japanese Garden, one of our top things to do in Portland with kids. The Japanese Garden is a carefully designed garden located in the expansive Washington Park. It follows traditional methods of Japanese gardening, and influenced by Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophies.

The garden is actually divided into five distinct gardens. It spans about 5.5 acres of land. Walking into the garden, you are immediately transported into a serene oasis of calm. Even my kids were mellow for the most part, as we walked around the garden. If you visit with the kids, ask for one of their treasure hunt sheets. It has pictures of items around the garden that they're supposed to find. This is a great way to keep your kids engaged and exploring the garden. Admission to the Japanese Garden is $19.95 for adults, and $13.95 for kids aged 6-17.

Japanese Garden, one of the top things to do in Portland, OR
The treasure hunt at the Japanese Gardens (September 2016)

Slurp up noodles at Boke Bowl

We had picked up some chopstick trainers for the kids at the Japanese Garden gift shop, and decided to put it to good use for dinner. So we headed over to Boke Bowl for a big bowl of ramen noodles. If you're a fan of ramen, then Boke Bowl is a must for you and your family. They have kid-friendly noodle and rice bowls, and also kid-friendly chopsticks, so the kids can enjoy their ramen just like you!

Entrees are between $12-$16, so although it's not necessarily on the cheap side, you do get good value for your money. Plus, slurping down a hot bowl of ramen is one of the best things to do in Portland with kid!

My son enjoying his ramen at Boke Bowl (September 2016)

Check out the science-themed top things to do in Portland at OMSI

The next morning, we decided to head out to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry another one of my picks for top things to do in Portland. The kids and I loved this place. Honestly, if you're planning a visit, you should definitely plan to spend the whole day at OMSI.

There are so many exhibits to see. If you also purchase tickets to the submarine tour and planetarium or theater show, then you'll have more than enough activities to fill your day. The exhibits are all geared towards kids, and are quite interactive and educational. Tickets for just the museum will cost $15 for adults, and $10.50 for youths. The submarine and planetarium/theater are extra, ranging from $6.75-$7.50.

Going in a space shuttle at OMSI (September 2016)

Discover China at the Lan Su Chinese Garden

Our kids were exhausted after a trip to OMSI. After a quick lunch at one of the food carts and a nap in the car, we headed over to the Lan Su Chinese Garden to spend a quiet afternoon. The Chinese Garden is not as big as the Japanese Garden - it only takes up one city block. However, if you're looking for what to do in Portland on a nice afternoon, this was definitely the place.

Like the Japanese Garden, the kids were given a Family Discovery Guide, with pictures of items for them to spot. This helped keep the kids occupied while at the garden. It also gave us a chance to talk about the different things that were pictured. Admission to the Chinese Garden is $12.95 for adults, and $9.95 for students aged 6-18. Kids under 6 are free.

The beautiful red lanterns at the Chinese Garden (September 2016)

Make animal encounters at the Oregon Zoo one of your top things to do in Portland

My kids love animals, so no trip to a big city would be complete without a visit to their zoo. The next morning, we decided to check out the Oregon Zoo, and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of animals that were there. It certainly was one of the best things to do in Portland with young kids. We saw giraffes, gazelles, gorillas, leopards, orangutans and of course, elephants. The Oregon Zoo has one of the best elephant exhibits I've seen, second, perhaps, to the San Diego Zoo. We loved watching these gentle giants, and learning all about them.

To really get the most out of your zoo experience, plan to spend a big chunk of your day there. The zoo has plenty of places to eat, and although the prices are relatively high, it beats having to rush through the exhibits just so you can leave to go somewhere for lunch. Admission to the zoo costs $17.95 for adults aged 12-64, and $12.95 for youth aged 3-11. Kids 2 and younger are free.

A boy and girl looking at an elephant exhibit at the Oregon Zoo, one of the top things to do in Portland
Checking out elephants at the Oregon Zoo (September 2016)

Learn about the forest at the World Forestry Center

The Oregon Zoo is located in Washington Park. The park has other attractions such as the Children's Museum, the Japanese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden. Just across the parking lot from the zoo lies another one of my picks for top things to do in Portland, the World Forestry Center.

The kids and I spent our afternoon there, after a morning of checking out animals. It's a fun little place to learn about nature. It has plenty of interactive exhibits. My kids especially loved the exhibit where they got to "visit" forests around the world on trains, boats, and safari vehicles. Tickets into the World Forestry Center are $8 for adults, and $5 for youth ages 3-18.

Pretending to go on a safari (September 2016)

Take a glimpse into Portland's history at the Pittock Mansion

Whenever I visit a city, I like learning a little bit about their history. So on our final day in Portland, I decided to take the kids to visit the Pittock Mansion. It's a historic house, built in 1914, and furnished with items owned by the Pittock family who lived there, as well as antiques representing the style and tastes of that time period.

In my opinion, it's one of the best things to do in Portland if you want to get a glimpse into the city's history. Walking through the space, my daughter remarked on how beautiful the house was. We all took a fancy to the funny looking showers that were in the bathrooms. Outside of the mansion is a gorgeous overlook to the city of Portland. There is also hiking trail called the Wildwood Trail, that takes you into the adjacent Forest Park. Admission into the mansion is $12 for adults and $8 for youth aged 6-18. Kids under 6 are free.

Playing on the lawn at the Pittock Mansion (September 2016)

Play like a kid at Rose Garden Children's Park

After several days of learning and exploring in Portland, we thought it would be nice to spend the rest of our time playing at a park. So we headed back to Washington Park again, and hung out at the Rose Garden Children's Park.

This playground is another one of our top things to do in Portland, as it's essentially one giant play structure with so many cool things for the kids to play with and climb on. My daughter took a liking to the swirly slide, and my son loved running around and walking along the balance beams. As for me, I took that time to hang out at a park bench and have a well-deserved rest!

Playing at Rose Garden Children's Park (September 2016)

Gaining a new appreciation for Portland!

We absolutely loved our trip, exploring all the top things to do in Portland. We can't wait to come back to the city again and do even more exploring. Portland really took us by surprise, and we just enjoyed the relaxed and laid back vibe of the city. If you're looking for a fun place to kick back and relax, while still enjoying the perks of being in a city, then Portland's the place for you.

Have you had a chance to visit Portland with your kids? What did you think? Share your top things to do in Portland in the comments below!

Disclosure: Travel Portland provided my family and me with passes for the Japanese Garden, OMSI, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Oregon Zoo, World Forestry Center, and Pittock Mansion. However, the opinions expressed in this blog post are completely my own.

Ultimate Guide For Top Things To Do In Portland With Kids | The Wandering Daughter

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