Not Just for Hipsters: Portland, Oregon, With Kids
Famous for its eco-loving hipsters, artisans and third-wave coffee obsessives, Portland, Oregon, has been a tad pigeon-holed as a destination for hip young people. And while it is a rather cool place, that doesn’t mean kids and families aren’t welcome. In fact, the Pacific Northwest city makes for an excellent family vacation.
The outdoors-focused hub is full of kid-friendly activities and attractions — from the beautifully landscaped Portland Japanese Garden to the tree-focused World Forestry Center Discovery Museum — while the city’s reputation for makers of all stripes means funky toy stores and one-of-a-kind souvenirs. And Portland’s overall casual vibe means it’s easy to bring kids to many of the city’s renowned restaurants and even breweries. Here are some of our favorite ways to do Portland with kids.
Take the MAX Light Rail from the Airport
Your visit to Portland can begin with a cool train ride. In fact, the easiest, cheapest and most fun way to get from the airport to downtown is via the MAX Light Rail. Kids will love the sleek train that glides through the streets, giving everyone a great tour of the Portland metro area along the way. Trains run about every 15 minutes. Buy tickets before you board at one of the machines at the airport station. You'll be on the MAX's Red Line but you can ride and transfer to any of the other lines as well. Tickets valid for 2.5 hours of transit are $2.50 for adults 18+ and $1.25 for kids 7–17. Day passes are $5 for adults and $2.50 for children.
Explore Washington Park and Everything In It
Portland is bursting with outdoorsy activities, and the epicenter of the family friendly ones is the massive Washington Park, home to the impressive Portland Japanese Garden, where kids and grown-ups alike can explore the winding paths, water features and zen gardens. There is also the animal-packed Oregon Zoo; the 20,000 square-foot World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, which features a range of interactive, forest-focused exhibits; the Portland Children’s Museum, which is one of the oldest in the world; and the International Rose Test Gardens, which have hundreds of rose species on colorful display. (A terrific spot for a family photo.) The park also has ballfields, tennis courts, picnic areas and a large playground.
Take a Hike
Hiking is especially accessible in Portland, and there are plenty of trails that children can handle — we like Tryon Creek and Forest Park for older kids, while Laurelhurst Park has a cute duck pond that is perfect for younger tykes to walk around.
Hidden in Southeast Portland is Oaks Amusement Park, one of the country’s oldest continuously operating amusement parks that dates back to the early 1900s. And, if you're in Portland over a weekend, stop by the Portland Saturday Market (open Saturdays and Sundays), featuring about 300 local artisans, for the ultimate handmade Portland souvenir.
What To Do When It Rains (and It Probably Will)
Given the Pacific Northwest's typical weather patterns, a rainy day in Portland is likely. When that happens, head to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and be sure to check out the USS Blueback, a retired US Navy submarine that you can even spend the night on (with prior reservations).
Any readers in the family will appreciate a visit to the famous Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest new and used bookstore that takes up an entire city block. SpielWork Toys is a great place to discover well-crafted toys that promote imaginative play.
Eat It All — and Even Grab a Drink
Portland is known for its stellar food scene, and just because you’ve got kids in tow doesn’t mean you can’t chow down on some of the country’s most innovative cuisine. Thanks to the city’s generally relaxed vibe, stuffy dining rooms are rare and kids are easily catered to in most places — even at some of the city’s hottest spots like Tusk, Nostrana and Hat Yai (if they can handle a little spice). Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty makes some of city’s best pizza and homemade ice cream, while stops at inventive doughnut shops like Blue Star, Pip’s and the famous Voodoo's are fun for the whole family. Plus, the food cart culture is especially strong here, making it easy (and affordable!) to grab a tasty, international food-focused lunch on the go.
Because Portland is known for its craft beer scene, it would be a shame to miss out on trying some brews because of your littles. Luckily, there are breweries like the family-owned Hopworks, which happily welcomes kids and even has dedicated play areas sponsored by local toy stores.
Sleep It Off
Portland is full of funky hotels, which means not all of them are great for families (accommodations with shared bathrooms and hotels that also house music clubs are a thing here). Thankfully, there are plenty of Airbnbs and hotels that welcome kids with open arms, like the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel (bookable with IHG Rewards points), which has a bedtime butler that delivers treats — for adults and kids — and children’s books several times a week, and the Inn at Northrup Station, which features brightly decorated family-friendly suites complete with pull-out beds and mini-kitchens. There are plenty of points hotel options in the downtown area, including the Hilton Portland Downtown, Hyatt House Portland / Downtown and Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront.
The stylish boutique Hotel Modera recently added its Colosseum — a multipurpose space with a pool table, darts, shuffle board, a giant Connect 4 and classic board games.
While you're flying into or out of Portland International Airport (PDX), be sure and use your Priority Pass card to enjoy free food and drinks in the airport or even catch a free movie. Probably not coincidentally, PDX is ranked as the #3 airport in the United States by TPG.
Have you been to Portland with your kids? What attractions did they like best?