Portland in Oregon is a city we came to be interested in from the TV series, Grimm. Situated on the north west coast of America, Portland often comes across as a hip and trendy city and this might out some families off. However, it didn’t deter us, and when we were planning our northwest America road-trip we knew we had to visit the city. In this blog post I’m going to share my tips for visiting Portland with kids while sharing our experience of the city.
We visited Portland for four days after road tripping to and from Yellowstone National Park. We had always wanted to visit both places and when we discovered they were within driving distance of each other, albeit 860 miles of a drive. We flew into Portland and made our way to Yellowstone making our way back to finish our road trip in the largest city in Oregon.
Before we flew to the USA we did some research, asking fellow family travellers on Facebook what we should see and do while in Portland, and with their help, we put together a little Portland Bucket List. Top of that list for me wasvisiting Multnomah Falls, one of the most beautiful falls I’ve seen in pictures. However, it was not to be. Two nights before we arrived back in Portland the Columbia River Gorge went up in flames and the whole area was on fire, under smoke and a no-go area. I was gutted but at least we still had other things to look forward to.
Things to do in Portland with a Toddler
Portland is a city with a lot to offer families with children of all ages. There are parks, including the huge Washington Park which houses quite a few family-friendly attractions such as the International Rose Test Garden, the Japanese Gardens and the Hoyt Arboretum as well as the Oregon Zoo and the Portland Chidlren’s Museum. There are plenty of other parks around the city to let little people run wild and enjoy themselves. These include Forest Park and Mount Tabor Park. Forest Park is located in the west of Portland, while Mount Tabor Park, a dormant volcanic vent, is located in Southeast Portland. Both were suggested to us but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit them.
Toddler-friendly Attractions in Portland
The Oregon Zoo, located in Washington Park, is one of the best zoos we’ve ever visited in the world. And we’ve visited a few. The area dedicated to northwestern America is simply stunning, weaving its way through tall trees of the Washington Park now part of the zoo grounds. We saw animals native to North America that we’ve never seen before like Black Bears and the bald Eagles. There was a little train that went through the forest and beside the elephant enclosure. There was a carousel which our son insisted on going on. And the food was reasonably priced for lunch. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Oregon Zoo.
Right beside the zoo is the Portland Children’s Museum. I’ll be honest and say I’d never heard of Children’s Museums until it was suggested during my research on things to do in Portland with kids. But I was so glad it made the bucket list. Being right beside the zoo means you can combine a trip to both family-friendly attractions. Parking for both is located outside them so there’s no need to move your car.
The Portland Children’s Museum was a great venue for letting our son be a child. With educational exhibits and areas for free play it was easily the most fun our son had had since we left Yellowstone. The Water Works area was by far his favourite area. What kids doesn’t love splashing and playing with water. His next favourite area was the Groundworks area where he got the chance to pretend to be a construction worker, digging ‘dirt’ into buckets and moving it around the room.
There was a pet hospital which seemed very popular with girls, an indoor Treehouse, craft room called the Maker Studio with the biggest collection of craft supplies I’ve ever seen. In this room there was also some wood and nails and, under supervision, our son had a whale of a time hammering some into the wood. At least he thought he was, he wasn’t really, but don’t tell him.
There was a room dedicated to cars and trains and also a room for physical activities such as a climbing wall, slides and more. It was a brilliant introduction to Children’s Museums and we plan to seek them out in other cities we visit.
Museums in Portland
We only managed to visit one museum during our time in Portland, but it was such a good one. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry also made our bucket list and really appealed to me, the former scientist. We weren’t sure if it was going to be a suitable place for our son and we worried he would get bored. Well, we need not have as there are two areas that can be thoroughly enjoyed by kids.
The first area we visited was the exhibition halls where we saw a dire-wolf skeleton, which us Game of Thrones fans in the family enjoyed seeing. There were educational displays about food, fluorescent materials, recycling and even an area with live animals with scientists on hand to answer any questions.
The next area was the fun area, the Science Playground. With a huge sand pit, water table, reading areas, physical activities area and a dedicated infant area, it was by far the most popular area of the museum where kids were concerned. Our son thoroughly enjoyed himself, running from one area to the next, playing with other kids. It was great to see him enjoying himself after 60+ hours in the car and 3000 miles.
We had to tear him away, so we could see the visiting Pompeii Exhibition, a must for my Roman-history fan of a husband. It was such an interesting exhibition and although our son didn’t understand a lot of it, he didn’t get bored. There was one area, about halfway through, that wasn’t suitable for younger children, so the staff kindly let us skip past it.
We also visited the Planetarium in the museum to watch an astronomy show. My husband spent most of the time explaining to our son that we lived under the very stars we were being shown. This was the only part of the museum we visited that our son started to get bored with.
What we didn’t realise, and a fact I later found out and was gutted about, was there is a submarine exhibit in the form of USS Blueback, the submarine which took part in the filming of The Hunt for Red October film. I was truly gutted we’d missed it. There were other exhibition halls we didn’t get to visit, and I would love to return to OMSI in the future to explore more of this great museum.
Other things you must do with kids in Portland
There are two other things you should try and do with kids while in Portland, both of which were recommended to us during my research. The first is one of the best books stores I’ve ever visited, Powell’s City of Books. This huge book shop has the most amazing children’s book area with shelves upon shelves filled with every book imaginable. There are areas and cushions for customer to sit and read books and I witnessed a mum sitting on cushions reading to her children. No-one bats an eyelid if you pick a book off the shelf to read it to your children. I could have lost several hours in those shelves.
The other enjoyable place to visit with kids in Portland is Finnegans Toy Shop. Just be prepared to make a purchase. This traditional toy shop is wonderful as there isn’t an electronic device of any sort to be found on the shelves. The shelves, instead, are filled with games, dolls, train sets and more traditional toys and there are even some laid out for kids to enjoy. We had to come away with a small Brio motorbike for our motorbike-mad boy. But it was such as refreshing place to visit compared to the likes of Toys’R’Us or Smyths.
Where to eat with kids in Portland
We were given a few recommendations for eateries to visit while in the city, but we only managed to visit two. We had breakfast during our last day at a fab little place called Mother’s Bistro and Bar. Located in Downtown Portland, we had the most amazing egg-based breakfasts. Even the boy enjoyed his breakfast. It was quite busy on this particular Friday morning as there was a visiting ice hockey or American football team in town and they all seemed to be eating at Mother’s Bistro. But we didn’t have long to wait,and the food was tasty. Just be warned, it’s not the cheapest breakfast you’ll have.
We never made it to either Voodoo Doughnuts or Blue Star Donuts, but we did make it to Salt & Straw. This ice cream parlour in the Alphabet District is a tiny little place with very few seats but makes the most amazing ice cream. We couldn’t decide what to have from the extensive menu so went with a tasting tray of four ice creams. And boy, was the salted caramel ice cream simply divine. It was a fight to see who got the last spoonful of that one.
For most of our dinners we ate near our hotel, at a place called Red Robin. We stumbled upon it on our first night when we were looking for somewhere to eat and we were so impressed we went back a further two nights. The food choice was good, and it tasted delicious, it was reasonably priced, and the service was good too. Plus, it was a very short drive from our hotel. In fact, we could have walked.
Where to stay in Portland with kids
We originally booked a quaint looking house via AirBnB in the Powellhurst-Gilbert area of the city next to a large park. However, we did not like the look of the surrounding area. No disrespect to anyone who lives there but it looked run-down and we did not feel safe, especially with our son with us.
So, we quickly changed our minds and booked into the Residence Inn by Marriott in Tanasbourne in the Hillsboro area of Portland. And it was just perfect. A two-bedroom suite with two bathrooms, a kitchen and a large living room for around $200 a night. It was just a 30-minute drive into Downtown Portland and was the perfect base for our exploring. We were hugely impressed by the hotel. Plus, there was a retail area beside it for some last-minute shopping before we returned to the UK and plenty of restaurants to choose from, including Red Robin.
You can compare prices online HERE !
If we were going to visit Portland again I would book this hotel or look for one near the Alphabet District as this area was more in keeping with what we thought Portland was like. The Alphabet District felt safer to walk around in with a young child in tow and had lots of little boutique shops, cafes and restaurants.
We were gutted to not be able to visit Multnomah Falls and spend time along the Columbia River Gorge but nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed out time in Portland. We even managed to squeeze in some shopping in Downtown Portland and at a shopping mall called Clackamas Town Centre, where we found a Disney store for a treat for our son. Portland has plenty to offer families with children of all ages and we only explored the tip of the iceberg where family-friendly things are concerned. Portland, once we changed accommodation, was the city we’d envisaged it to be and is a city we would love to return to. We all had a brilliant time, even our son and we’re so glad we got to enjoy it along with Yellowstone National Park.
Thanks to Cath for guest posting with us!
About Passports and Adventures!
Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her husband and son. A former scientist, she gave up working when they emigrated south from the UK. She is a family travel blogger and hopes that, through her blog, they will inspire more families to travel, especially with the toddlers in tow. As a family they love travelling and have started working their way through their family travel bucket list. Cath writes about their family travels and experiences on her blog Passports and Adventures. She can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.