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The city of Portland, Oregon’s largest, acquired its nickname “The City of Roses” from the roses that lined streets at the turn of the last century. In 1905, Portland held the Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland’s only world fair, to attract people to the city and boost the regional economy. To lure visitors to the exposition, the city planted around 10,000 rose bushes along Portland’s streets. At the end of the exposition, Mayor Harry Lane announced that he would build on the success of the fair and establish an annual ‘Rose Festival’. The first actual Rose Festival was held a few years later and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015.
Portland is a great place to visit any time of the year, but your options on what to do in Portland with kids depend on the ever-changing Pacific Northwest weather. From amazing skiing in the winters to beautiful outdoor parks in the summers, Portland has something for everyone to enjoy!
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What to do in Portland in the Fall & Winter
Here in the PNW, we have a variety of family activities to do as the seasons change – days get shorter, it gets cooler, autumn colors burst on our trees, and eventually fall to the ground. Here are the top 5 things to do as the weather changes to include more rainy days.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
For the love of learning, check out what’s happening at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Older kids will usually enjoy the rotating Featured Exhibit – which has included in the past things like CSI (2013), Jurassic World (2015), to the newest one Mandela: The Official Exhibition (2021), which features his personal belongings and objects never previously seen. While the Natural Sciences Hall is an interactive museum and is good for the younger children! It has an earth lab, paleontology lab, science on a sphere, and a human development lab also where you learn about how we humans grow and evolve through our lives.
The Empirical Theater and Kendall Planetarium has movies for both children and adults. They show documentaries as well as Hollywood hits and there’s a motion simulator that is a wild and crazy ride!
The USS Blueback Submarine offers up two different tours – one for all ages and one for kids that are older than 12. The all-ages tour is interactive and gives kids a chance to see how a crew of 85 lived on the Blueback for months, peer through a periscope, touch a torpedo, climb into a real bunk. The other tour follows an actual submarine veteran to learn about the technical workings of the Blueback. The Turbine Hall has more interactive exhibits. There is an earthquake preparedness area, both chemistry and physics labs, and Science Playground for the younger children (1-6-year-olds) with hands-on activities, including sensory materials such as flubber and playdough.
Portland Art Museum
For the art-lover, the Portland Art Museum offers free admission for children 17 and under. There are several different exhibits rotating through the museum, such as Queen Nefertari’s Egypt, Portraiture from the Collection of Northwest Art, and Isaka Shamsud-Din: Rock of Ages. They will change these in Spring/2022, but don’t worry – there’s always something amazing around the corner! Take your time and talk with your family about the art and its history. If you don’t feel like exploring on your own, the Portland Art Museum offers weekly tours such as Family Tours on Sundays, 12:30 p.m. There is also the Miller Family Free Day which is so much fun for everyone and allows visitors to explore exhibitions through art-making, music, interactive activities, demonstrations, and performances the whole family can enjoy.
Sauvie Island Farms
A fall must-do is Sauvie Island Farms! Kids big and small (yup that includes the kid in all us adults too) will fall in love with the farm and the owners. Located on Sauvie Island, (a short drive just outside the Portland area) it’s the largest North American river island in the U.S. They offer pick-your-own fruits and veggies, but they also offer up an A-MAZE-ING corn maze (ha!). Eight acres of twists and turns to get lost in! But it’s not all about getting misdirected, there are two large observation areas that provide great views of the island as well as Mt. Hood and the maze itself! Every year, the cornfield has a different pattern, and the design is always sure to daze maze-goers while dazzling those who can see the overview from the observation decks! Starting around the end of August, the maze is open daily from 10 AM till 6 PM. The maze stays open until 10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays in October all the way through Halloween.
Portland Zoo Lights
During the winter months, the Portland Zoo’s “Zoo Lights” are a holiday display tradition unique to Portland! Every year the Zoo has a walk and drive-through tour filled with millions of lights All guests must reserve Zoo Lights tickets online in advance as there will not be tickets for sale onsite. You will reserve a time for your visit during checkout. Take note of the specific arrival times. During walk-through nights, you must arrive within 10 minutes of your scheduled entry. Parking can take some time so plan to arrive early for your visit! For drive-through nights, you’re asked to arrive 25 minutes before your scheduled entry. When you arrive at the zoo, you’ll join a queue to check-in curbside, then proceed to the drive-through entrance. The average wait time to enter Zoo Lights is around 25-30 minutes.
Wintertime makes Mt. Hood a worthy mention on this list. As the second oldest ski resort in the world, (on a sleeping volcano no less) with the longest ski season in the area (and even summer skiing classes on the Glacier of Palmer) – the base of Mt. Hood is open typically from late November/December through Labor Day weekend. The small road trip will benefit skiers, snowboarders, cross-country skiers, and other winter sports enthusiasts. With the variety of difficulty in the terrain and runs on this epic mountain, there are fun activities for everyone in the family.
DON’T MISS! Most Fun Things to Do In Mt. Hood With Kids
What to do in Portland in Spring & Summer
Here in the PNW, we have a variety of family activities to do as the seasons change – days get longer, it gets warmer, spring flowers with their beautiful colors burst on our trees, and eventually spring gives way to summer. Here are the top 5 things to do as the weather changes over to hot days here in the Pacific Northwest.
Portland Aerial Tram
The Portland aerial tram is simply breathtaking – it’s probably one of the best places to get really good views of the city! The Tram cabins travel 3,300 linear feet from South Waterfront to Marquam Hill at 22 miles per hour and rise 500 feet during the four-minute trip. Each of the two cabins has a capacity of 79 people (including the operator). It’s the most fun public transportation I’ve ever ridden! When you arrive and get off the tram onto the upper deck it has views of downtown Portland as well as the largest enclosed sky bridge in North America! As you exit the upper terminal, take a right to enter an outdoor patio area with seating, views of the surrounding region, and, on a clear day, you can see Mount Hood and Mount St Helens! It is STUNNING!
Oaks Amusement Park
The Oaks Amusement Park is not Disneyland by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is truly a classic. Built-in 1905, Oaks Amusement Park still features some historic rides such as the original carousel and park train! The park also has – Roller Skating – Oaks Park is the proud home of America’s oldest and most famous Roller Rink with rentals, lessons, a skate shop, and concessions. Amusement Rides – 24 rides line the classic midway with screams of both terror (The AtmosFEAR) and delight (classic bumper cars) heard by visitors of all ages. Midway Games – Step right up to these old-fashion games of skill like Ring Toss, Bust a Balloon, or Roller Bowl and take a chance at winning a prize. Roller Rink Arcade – A step back in time to the 80s and even the 90s with retro favorites like pinball machines alongside current racing games, claw machines, and more, you’ll feel like a kid again, no matter what your age. Miniature Golf – With spectacular river views, the Chipper’s Woods is the area’s premier putt-putt experience, a great one for even the youngest golfer!
Portland Saturday Market
The Portland’s Saturday Market (PSM) is open every Saturday from March through Christmas Eve in their Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood location. On those Saturdays, the streets transform into a thriving arts and crafts open-air marketplace. You can find anything and everything that’s hand-crafted here! From leather goods to candles, every type of art, tie-dye, and unique jewelry. Opened in 1973, business owner Bill Naito offered them a location next to his family business in the “Butterfly” parking lot. The large blue butterfly mural fluttered over Portland Saturday Market for many years. The market then moved to Burnside Bridge in 1976 for 34 years before a permanent home for PSM was constructed in Waterfront Park. The Market officially moved into its current site in May 2009. Also, check out the local Farmers Market. Fresh, locally sourced, fruits and veggies are right around the corner at the local Farmers Market(s)! The most popular one is the one located at Portland State University Their location is in Downtown Portland in the South Park blocks between SW College & Montgomery Streets
Portland Washington Park
Portland’s Washington Park finishes out the list with 5 huge attractions to visit and over 410-acres of park to explore! With so much to see and do, I would make this a day (or two!) visit for the family to enjoy.
Visit the Oregon Zoo by walking through the zoo’s 64 acres arranged into five areas that represent the different continents and ecosystems: the Great Northwest, Elephant Lands, Africa, Primate Forest, and Discovery Zone. Within each zone, you’ll find animals and habitats such as Africa Savanna or Polar Passage that recreate the animals’ natural habitats. The Oregon Zoo is open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday through Monday. Advance online ticket reservations are required for all guests. All visitors must be included in the timed reservation, including infants. Tickets are available 10 days in advance. Guests and members should arrive at the zoo within 10 minutes of their scheduled time. Zoo capacity is timed and limited. Train and Carousel operations are weather-dependent October – February. If operating, tickets are available on-site until half an hour before the zoo closes. A beautiful carousel of 18 handcrafted animals runs from 10 AM to 15 minutes before the zoo closes. The historic zoo railway runs daily from 10:30 AM. to a half hour before the zoo closes. Train rides last six minutes and board every 15 to 20 minutes.
DON’T MISS! Top Zoos For Family Visits
World Forestry Center
The World Forestry Center is a fun and interactive museum filled with natural wonders. Come and see the Pacific Northwest Exhibits where you can explore the exciting forests of the Pacific Northwest and learn about the role they play in providing habitat, water, recreation, wood, and a multitude of other benefits to our planet and society! Climb aboard a real-life Timberjack Harvester (a huge industrial piece of logging equipment) just like a professional forester. Then try operating one in a custom simulator! Sustainable forestry requires careful harvesting and some seriously advanced technology, and here you can learn all about it while getting some ‘hands-on’ experience,
The beautiful Hoyt Arboretum is a natural, living museum. Simply hiking the arboretum trails is an educational and visual experience, but they offer a variety of programs to help visitors deepen their knowledge of trees and plants too. Guided tours on the weekends are a great way to learn about trees in small portions. In April, the collection of more than 60 magnolia species and cultivars kicks off an explosion of spring blossoms, followed by the white, pink, and red blossoms of cherry, dogwood, redbud, and maple. Colorful maple samaras rain down in late spring through the summer, as the golden chain tree shows its stunning racemes of yellow and red. Hardy citrus trees set fleshy fruits in July, while the locust tree beans twist in the August heat.
International Rose Test Garden
For a bit of relaxation, stop in at the International Rose Test Garden. More than 10,000 individual rose bushes bloom in the International Rose Test Garden (IRTG) from late May through October, representing over 610 different rose varieties. The primary purpose of the Garden is to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties. In the beginning, while World War I was raging, hybridists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s Garden for testing. Now, it’s a beautiful sight to behold and a perfect spot for a picnic or to relax with the family after time at the zoo!
Portland Japanese Garden
And my favorite park, the Portland Japanese Garden is a living “classroom” that offers visitors several types of learning opportunities. Once inside, you’ll reach the top of the hill and enter the Cultural Village designed by architect Kengo Kuma. The Cultural Village provides a place where visitors can immerse themselves in traditional Japanese arts through seasonal activities, performances, and demonstrations in the large courtyard. While you’re in the Cultural Village, visit the Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center where you may encounter a variety of ever-changing cultural demonstrations in the Cathy Rudd Cultural Corner. Tours are a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the rich history and design of the Garden. Public tours with the Garden’s well-trained and knowledgeable volunteer guides are complimentary with admission. Stroll around, slow down, and let your senses guide you into another world.
Portland, Oregon is a great place to visit any time of the year with kids. Here are the best things to do for every season on a family trip.
Where to Eat in Portand
If it’s your first visit to Portland or even if it’s your hundredth, you have to check out the epic food truck (cart) extravaganza in Portland. With hundreds throughout the city, Portland’s food-cart scene is absolutely legendary (no, seriously – it’s made headlines on CNN and Food Network it’s THAT GOOD!). There are several areas of carts worthy of mentioning and I say this because it’s our favorite place to eat when we go! Everyone can get something different, no one complains, (yeah!) and everyone’s is happy! Here’s a small portion of the list by area:
Pioneer Courthouse Square in the heart of downtown Portland has Olympic Provisions Salumeria Food Cart with American, Italian, Salads and Sandwiches, Fried Egg I’m in Love is another quirky Portland thing but oh so good option for breakfast and brunch, as well as Amelia’s Mexican Food, serves excellent Mexican specialties.
Downtown Food Cart around Fifth Avenue with offerings like Korean tacos or Asian-fusion rice bowls and tons of other cuisines, including Mexican, Thai, and Egyptian.
Third Avenue Food Cart Pods include the famous Stretch Noodle, and burgers/sandwiches from Philly Cheese House, as well as traditional dishes from Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Cart Blocks new in 2021, this area is home to almost any and everything you could want to eat! Comprise a group of food carts that were previously located at the (now-closed) Alder Street, they have: #1 Bento, A1 Food Cart, Anna Thai Basil, K-Bap, Baghdad Iraqi Grill, Drunken Noodle, Shanghai’s Best, Fernando’s Alegria, Villa Angel, Beijing House, Emame’s Ethiopian, Kafta House, Tito’s Burritos, and more!
Cartlandia is home to The Blue Room, a full-service bar with 18 beers and ciders on tap, a family- and dog-friendly outdoor beer garden, and more than 30 carts representing 15 different countries.”
Cartopia late-night favorite of the area has Potato Champions, a delicious crispy, twice-fried Belgian-style fries and gravy-doused poutine, and you HAVE to try the wood-fired Latin chicken, served with crispy, sea-salted potatoes and an addictive Peruvian sauce made of cilantro, jalapeños, and sour cream at Chicken and Guns! Yum Yum!!
Hawthorne Asylum is a fairly large cart not far from Cartopia with ample covered seating, a fire pit, and several food carts. Black Dagger serves up beer and ciders, with Mack Daddys BBQ serving seriously finger-licking-good ribs, and don’t miss Dr.Philly’s Cheese Steaks, made with steak, chicken, or lamb! Kids not into cheesesteak? That’s cool – they have hotdogs, burgers, and fries too! Or try the Serene Eatery, for a grilled cheese that’s out of this world good! There’s so much more but these are the best of the bunch (in my opinion).
The Lot at John’s Marketplace has everything! What’s better than a food cart pod with a mouthwatering slow-cooked barbecue at Holy Trinity and Insta-worthy fried chicken sandwiches at JoJo…with covered patio seating, it’s a great place to eat any time of year on Southeast Powell Boulevard.
Cartside Food Carts located just steps from the Moda Center, you’ll find authentic Korean food at Ko Sisters, Lebanese at Yaba Yabaa is amazing, PP Thai Food, as well as Mid City Burger Express, there’s something for everyone.
Killingsworth Station has international delights, Tehuana Oaxacan has some of the best street tacos anywhere, and I truly can’t get enough of Taste of Soul’s southern home-style goodness every time I go to Portland!
Park the Carts is an indoor/outdoor area with TONS of options! Located at the crossroads of North and Northeast Portland, I highly recommend the Hawaiian Cart Grind Wit Tryz, or if you’re craving an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned burger try Union Burger, you won’t be disappointed!
St. Johns Food & Beers Porch has over a dozen food carts and a variety of local brews, ciders, and more on tap. With a fun and funky covered seating area and regularly scheduled events, this food cart will keep you not only fed but entertained! Try Calypso’s fusion of Caribbean and Southwestern cooking, or perhaps a PoBoy sandwich from NoPoBoys. If you’re into Japanese food, my son highly recommends DeHomis, he loves the Karage and Gyoza, with lots of sauce!
When You Go
If You Fly
Fly Delta, Alaskan Air, or American Air for non-stop flights between LAX (Los Angeles, CA) to PDX (Portland, OR) – the flight is around 2.25 hours and is easier than driving.
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From PDX you will need to either rent a car at the airport or take a taxi. Most Hotels in this article would require you to use some sort of transportation to get to all of the things to do. Only Mt. Hood and Sauvie Island would require a car for the day. Portland has an insanely easy-to-manage public transportation system, but it’s up to you.
If you do want to rent a car, we love going through the good deals at Rental Cars.
If You Drive
If you choose to drive from the LA area, it’s around a 960-mile trip depending on where in LA you’re starting. It’s around 15 to 16 hours of driving and the time of year matters! I suggest breaking the road trip up into a couple of days and enjoying the sights and towns along the way. I will share our two favorite routes and you can take both!
On the way there, take the coastal route to Portland, and on the way back, you can take the faster, yet still pretty, inland route. If you simply don’t have the time for all that, take the I-5, as the Sacramento-Portland stretch of this trip is beautiful and there are still amazing places to stop along the way!
(Via I-5) * Best in Winter Months!
|960 miles||15 hours|
|Pacific Coast Highway||1,260 miles||28 hours|
The I-5 Route
Take the I-5 north out of Los Angeles, cutting through Santa Clarita. Continue along the I-5N past Bakersfield, and just keep following the interstate all the way to Sacramento – there will be plenty to do in this quirky & fun city to offset the somewhat dull drive up to this point. (You can stop here for the night if you want to).
Continuing north on the I-5, the route starts to get more interesting – right out of Sacramento, you’ll see a long line of forests on either side. You’ll drive right through Shasta-Trinity National Forest (a great place to stop, stretch and eat/play/or just move around a bit!), and past many others like Klamath, Umpqua, and Willamette National Forests.
The Pacific Coast Route
Leave Los Angeles through Santa Monica and follow Highways 1 and 101 through Ventura to Santa Barbara. From Santa Barbara, take the CA-154 shortcut past Cachuma Lake, then continue north along Highway 101 through Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo.
From there, ignore your navigator and continue along Highway 1 Northwest along the coast. Pass through Morro Bay and enjoy the twists and turns through Big Sur and past Carmel-by-the-Sea.
After passing through Santa Cruz and reaching San Francisco, the route goes over the Golden Gate Bridge and then take the turn back onto Highway 1 to drive through the Point Reyes National Seashore and along Tomales Bay.
After crossing the Russian River, continue through Salt Point State Park and the scenic town of Mendocino. Separate briefly from the shore along Humboldt Redwoods State Park and then rejoin Highway 101 headed North.
The remaining stretch of the journey will have the rugged Pacific coastline to your left and stunning forests to your right. You’ll pass through the Rogue River, and the Siskiyou and Siuslaw National Forests. Make sure you don’t follow the signs for Portland until you reach Cannon Beach. From here, make a right onto Highway 26 and follow into Portland.
Best Portland Hotels
Inn at Northrup Station – (Luxury) Northwest Portland’s only all-suite boutique hotel! Located along Portland’s celebrated streetcar line, the Inn at Northrup Station features 70, fully-appointed suites each complete with a marble and granite kitchen or kitchenette, king or queen beds with sofa beds for the kids, a sitting area, and a desk. They do also offer family-style or connecting rooms (if you have older children) The hotel features a stunning lobby with an amazing display of local artwork. A rooftop deck provides a unique setting for outdoor events during warm weather months. The Inn is located immediately adjacent to some of Portland’s finest five-star restaurants, and only a short drive from major attractions.
The Benson Portland – (Midrange) In the heart of downtown Portland, this hotel is a short walk to the Pearl District, waterfront park, and countless shops, bars, and restaurants. Pioneer Courthouse Square and Powell’s Books are a five-minute walk from the front doors. The hotel is pet-friendly as well.
Hampton Inn & Suites Portland-Pearl District – (Midrange-Budget) A modern downtown hotel offering both suites and family rooms just 12 miles from Portland International Airport (PDX) with easy access to galleries, dining, and attractions. The hotel is adjacent to a riverfront walking path and offers a rooftop patio, perfect in the summer months! The on-site restaurant, Tanner Creek Tavern offers dinner. Enjoy the free hot breakfast buffet daily, a snack center that’s open 24 hours, and they also provide a fitness center and a heated indoor saline pool.
Homewood Suites by Hilton – (Budget) Tucked away in a peaceful area just 2 miles from the airport, this quiet hotel is only a quick jump to access I-205 (the main Interstate in Portland), Cascade Station shops and dining, or Downtown Portland. All of the suites have a living area, full kitchen, desk, and a bathroom with a separate vanity area. You have a choice of studio, one- and two-bedroom suites. Start your family’s mornings right with a free hot full breakfast at the hotel before exploring the city! Then enjoy some relaxation Monday-Thursday for a complimentary evening social while the kids play. The indoor pool, fitness center, and outdoor lounge area are all fabulous ways to recharge after a busy day, and the Suite Shop is open 24 hours for your convenience.
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