Set against the dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped Mount Hood, the city of Portland is brimming with great things to see and do with little ones.
For families visiting Portland, there’s a wealth of great opportunities, many of which revolve around the city’s famous predilection for open-air fun and adventure. From museums and festivals to boat tours and eateries, there’ll be something here to satisfy the entire family – both young and old. To help you plan your trip, we’ve picked out 12 of the best kid-friendly activities and attractions that Portland has to offer.
Embark on a family sightseeing adventure
Sightseeing isn’t every child’s idea of fun, but this family walking tour of Portland is specially designed with little ones in mind. In the company of an expert guide, over two hours – just about the limit for kids when it comes to traipsing – you’ll see some of the city’s most famous landmarks and buildings while learning about their rich history. Highlights include the visually striking Burnside Bridge; Skidmore Fountain, a symbol of Portland’s commitment to public art; and the Battleship Oregon Memorial, a tribute to the USS Oregon and the state’s maritime history. The tour ends at the Waterfront Park Trail where you can take in the beauty of the Willamette River.
Let imaginations run free at a museum
Oregon’s temperate climate does feature its fair share of rainy days, and such occasions what better for families than an engaging, fun-packed museum that will let your little ones’ imaginations run wild? Designed to encourage an interactive, hands-on approach to learning, exhibits at Portland Children’s Museum span a variety of topics ranging from gravity and medicine to grocery stores and ceramics. The museum also hosts weekly classes including Paint & Play, Science Tots and Creative Ceramics.
4015 SW Canyon Road / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Perched on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland’s Central Eastside district, the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry is a perennial hit with families visiting the city. Designed to inspire kids to take a broader interest in science and the world around them, the museum features an array of immersive and interactive exhibits and displays. Among them are a planetarium, a large-screen theatre, a retired navy submarine, and an earthquake zone where you can feel what it’s like to experience the ground shaking beneath you.
1945 SE Water Avenue / Tues-Sun 9.30am-5.30pm Closed Mon
Located in Washington Park, the World Forestry Center’s Discovery Museum is housed within a vast wooden building and is one of Portland’s most distinctive landmarks. Spread over two storeys, visitors get to explore society’s connection to woods and forests and how they impact our lives, as well as the challenges presented by losses of these vital natural resources. The first floor is centred around the role of forests as a habitat and a place for recreation, while the second takes a more global perspective.
4033 SW Canyon Road / Weds-Sun 11am-4pm Closed Mon-Tues
Get a sugar kick on a donut tour
There are few kids whose mouths don’t salivate at the thought of a sugar-coated donut. So what better reward for putting up with your sightseeing than a chance to sample some of Portland’s best circular doughy treats on a two-hour underground donut tour? Accompanied by a passionate guide, you and your group will be taken to four shops where you’ll enjoy a curated choice of donuts. Among the lick-tastic line-up will be classics like glazed and chocolate donuts, as well as more adventurous flavours such as lavender. Between stops, you’ll also visit renowned local sights including Pioneer Square, Chinatown, and the PSU Campus, as your guide regales you with facts and tales about the city.
Marvel at an array of exotic creatures
Featuring over 1,000 different animals, Oregon Zoo invites kids and adults alike to get up close and personal with some of the curiosities of the natural world. Thanks to specially designed living quarters, visitors can rest assured that the creatures residing here are in an environment where they can flourish. Highlights include black bears bobcats, bald eagles, river otters, polar bears and sea lions. Other attractions include regular live bird shows and a miniature railway that transports passengers around the perimeters of the zoo grounds.
4001 SW Canyon Road / Mon-Sun 9.30am-4pm
Take in some children’s theatre
Among Portland’s numerous family-friendly attractions that are indoors is the Northwest Children’s Theater and School. Founded in 1993, at their downtown venue they host a busy programme of theatre aimed at children and their families, often based on much-loved classic books and brought to life through actors, puppets and acrobatics. The school also put on regular workshops and lessons to inspire young people who may be considering a career in the performing arts.
1000 SW Broadway T-100 / Tues-Fri 10am-6pm Sat-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon
Attend a family-friendly music festival
Nestled in the quaint town of Happy Valley, located a few miles outside of Portland, Pendarvis Farm is best known for its staging of the annual Pickathon Indie Roots Music Festival, which each year features a stellar line-up of talented bluegrass, roots and indie performers hailing from Maine and beyond. Spread across some 80 acres, the rambling farm is the perfect setting for such a large family-friendly music festival, with designated areas for camping, parking, stages, and more.
16581 SE Hagen Road, Happy Valley / July-August each year
Visit one of America’s best comic stores
Situated in downtown Portland, Floating World Comics is widely considered by those in the know as one of the best comic book stores anywhere in America. Featuring a hand-picked assortment of eclectic material, ranging from Marvel and DC classics to rare and indie graphic novels, the store has been open for over 15 years – an impressive achievement for any independent book shop in the age of Amazon. But such is the loyalty of comic fans that they continue to flood here for their animated reading fix. The store also publishes its own books as well as putting on regular in-store art shows.
1223 Lloyd Center / Mon-Sat 11am-7pm Sun 11am-6pm
Let the kids loose at a fun-filled park
The go-to option for parents struggling for inspiration the world over, playgrounds never fail to keep children entertained for hours. One of Portland’s biggest and best public play areas can be found in Washington Park, complete with slides, climbing frames and other time-honoured favourites. When the little ones are worn out, the vast park has plenty of other attractions too, including Oregon Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, the Japanese Garden, the World Forestry Center, the Children’s Museum, and picnic areas.
4033 SW Canyon Road / Mon-Sun 5am-10pm
Discover magical waterfalls on a guided tour
Rare animal species, dramatic basalt lava flows nearly a mile deep, and some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls are just a few of the sights that await you on this epic half-day adventure. Suitable for all ages, the Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls Tour will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. During the trip, you and your group of up to 12 guests will be driven along the oldest scenic highway in the US, stopping at sweeping viewpoints, flowing falls, a historic lodge, and the famed Bonneville Dam Sturgeon viewing centre. The tour price includes your guide and transportation to and from downtown Portland.
Get your thrills at an amusement park
Dating all the way back to the early 1900s, Oaks Amusement Park, situated within easy reach of downtown Portland, is a perennial favourite day out for families with kids who get a kick out of exhilarating fairground rides. As well as its heart-thumping rides, the venue also has plenty of other entertainment to offer including an indoor roller rink and large grassy picnic areas overlooking the picturesque river. Each summer the park also hosts the Multnomah County Fair.
7805 SE Oaks Park Way / Mon-Fri 10am-10pm Sat-Sun 10.30am-9.30pm
See Portland from up high
Opened in 2007, Portland’s aerial tram offers passengers a unique vantage point from which to admire the city. This 2-3 hour guided tour includes a ride up and down the famous tram together with a jaunt to the city’s Old Town to check out views from the rooftops of two more buildings. Included in the tour price is the return tram ride, plus admission to landmark buildings such as the Oregon Health & Science University, the Ecotrust Building, and the Society Hotel, where you’ll ascend to each building’s rooftops for the best vistas in town.
Hit the ice
If you’re caught out by the arrival of a rainy day in Portland and are stumped for something to do with the kids, then a great fall-back option to consider is a trip to an urban ice rink. Boasting a unique setting in the middle of a mall within an eye-catching atrium, Lloyd Center Ice Rink is open for daily public skating sessions, including a Rock ‘N Skate session on Friday and Saturday evenings where skaters can glide across the ice against the backdrop of live DJ music.