Portland, Oregon’s largest city, is all about parks, cycling, breweries and museums. There are tons of fun things to do in Portland with kids. We travelled down from nearby Seattle and there are distinct differences between the two cities.
We found Portland to be cleaner with many eco-friendly initiatives going on. I almost felt like I was in Amsterdam, everyone cycles! We didn’t know much about what to do in Portland, Oregon before we visited, but we loved how family oriented all of the tourist attractions were.
We also loved how many fun and weird things there are to do in Portland. You even see what seems to be their town slogan throughout the city on bumper stickers and walls “Keep Portland Weird!”.
Due to its position, Portland is also an ideal base to explore nature attractions on the outskirts of the city. Oregon is so beautiful and renowned for its landscape of waterfalls, forests, mountains and dramatic coastline and there are tons of things to do in Oregon with kids.
If you are visiting, allow two to three days for exploring all the family activities in Portland and a couple of more days for nearby nature trails. In the usual format, here is my play, sleep and eat guide to the best things to do in Portland with kids.
Kids Activities Portland – What to Do in Portland with Kids
Rent a Surrey
I never knew what a Surrey was until we visited Portland. Its kind of like a ‘tuk tuk’, except you cycle it around yourself.
We rented ours from Kerry Bikes at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s such a fun way to check out the river edge and see the city skyline. Our toddler really enjoyed it and us parents got a leg workout!
Kerry Bikes were kind enough to store our buggy whilst we took the Surrey for a ride. I love this company because they are also a non-profit organisation, so the money is invested into local services for children with disabilities.
Its always a bonus for us when an activity gives back to the community.Tom McCall Waterfront Park is also a great place to take a stroll if you prefer not to rent a Surrey.
Visit the Portland Children’s Museum
Wow, what a well thought out, fun and interactive morning we spent at Portland’s Children’s Museum. It’s set up so kids can immerse themselves in different every day roles.
They can be a vet, doing everything from an X-ray to examining the animals, it’s made quite realistic. Then there is the water splash area that teaches kids about water movement and a theatre where they can dress up in fancy clothes.
We spent the latter part of the morning getting crafty. They have an entire area dedicated to clay moulding. Its perfect for developing little hands.
Afterwards we went next door to the art and craft section. I have never seen such an extensive amount of materials that could be used for arts and crafts. It was epic. My husband loved it just as much as our toddler.
Best of all there, were no hidden costs for getting involved in the activities. Quite often, museums have extras for those kind of class activities. I really hope we come across something like this elsewhere on our trips. It is definitely one of the most amazing things to do with toddlers in Portland.
The Japanese Gardens – Outdoor Activities Portland
The Japanese Gardens is a popular Portland attraction in Washington Park. Based on a hill, with views of Mt Hood, it’s a tranquil escape from the busy city. A peaceful temple, a mini waterfall and beautiful vegetation are some of the highlights.
Hiking in Forest Park, Portland, Oregon with Kids
As one of the largest urban parks in the United States, Forest Park offers more than 30 miles of trails with amazing forest scenery. Taking a walk through Forest Park will give you the feeling of walking in the Amazon, making it the perfect urban escape if you are looking to get away from the bustle of Portland.
Access to the park is free of charge, and you will find plenty of trail options without having to walk the same trails twice. One of them is the wild wood trail which leads to an old stone house, also called the witch’s castle and sure a fun place to explore with kids. Other than that, there are endless types of trees and grass as well as wildlife to discover and you might even spot an owl if you look carefully.
Since you could spend hours in Portland’s Urban Forest Park make sure to bring enough water and snacks with you. In general, although hilly, the trails are almost perfectly maintained. Though a pair of trail running or hiking shoes with a good grip will help you get through some muddy and rocky sections.
For your orientation you will find maps at most trail heads and at intersections of trails. It’s up to you where you want to head to, but there are lots of options with easy, family friendly trails, as well as more challenging trails for those who are looking to get a good workout in. If you need a good carrier for hikes, you can check out the top baby carriers here.
The Wishing Tree – Unique Things to Do In Portland
Located on NE 7th Avenue just a couple blocks south of Irving Park you’ll find the Wishing Tree, one of Portland’s more unusual sights. This stately Horse Chestnut tree is on an otherwise nondescript residential street, but the tree itself is impossible to miss because it’s absolutely covered in people’s wishes!
The wishes cover all manner of topics – world peace, love, food for the homeless, ponies, and more time to play video games. No wish is too big or too small.
The Wishing Tree sits directly in front of the house at 2954 NE 7th Ave. and the concept was started by the home’s owner, Nicole Helprin. In 2013, before leaving on a weekend trip, Nicole hung a few of her own wishes on the tree along with a set of instructions for anyone passing by. When she returned home a couple of days later the tree had already collected dozens of wishes and had become one of the unique things to do in Portland.
You’ll typically find a plastic bag full of blank manila shipping tags along with a clipboard and a sharpie so you and your kids can all write down your wishes and tie them onto the branches of the Wishing Tree.
As you walk through the neighborhood you might even see a few past wishes that have fallen from the tree and been scattered by the wind – perhaps it means those wishes have already come true.
OMSI Portland Kids Museum – Kids Activities, Portland, Oregon
If you find yourself with a day of infamous Portland rain, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a perfect outing for kids of all ages. The museum has exhibits for kids as young as a few months to begin interacting with science, technology, and art in a playful and interactive environment.
Older children will love learning about the theoretical concepts supporting the activities, while younger ones will just delight in having free reign to explore and discover.
The Turbine Hall allows kids – and adults! – to explore concepts of chemistry, physics, and music. There are a plethora of buttons and gadgets to help young ones test out theories and ideas, and see them in action.
The Science Playground allows full-body experimentation and building. The Natural Science and Space halls further our understanding of the natural world.
Finally, the water station is a favorite with the littlest explorers by providing some wet, hands-on fun. Smocks are provided, but it’s wise to wear water-resistant shoes or bring a change of clothing just in case.
If you need some downtime, OMSI also has an on-site theater featuring science-based documentaries. And don’t forget to look into a planetarium show or submarine tour – both fascinating for kids and adults alike! Make sure to spend some time here, there is a reason this museum ends up on all the Portland things to do with kids lists.
Ride the Aerial Tram
The Portland Aerial Tram is an exciting way to travel from the waterfront to the elevated Marqhuam Hill neighbourhood. It spans some 3800 feet, providing great views back to the waterfront.
The best time to take a ride is at sunset, the view faces west, allowing for some great shots. A ride costs just a little under $5 so its worth it for the view.
Portland Street Art with Kids – Things to do in Downtown Portland
One of the most fun things to do in Portland Oregon with kids and a great way to get them interested in art is by checking out all the wall murals and street art. Portland’s street art is an essential piece of the culture and a fun and easy way to teach children about the quirky city.
Wall murals can be found all over the city, but two great areas to see a lot of murals all at once are the Alberta Street Arts District and Downtown Portland. If you are limited on time, these two areas will allow you to get the most out of your visit.
You can observe tons of colorful vibrant murals in a one-mile section of Alberta Street. And while you are there, grab breakfast at Pine State Biscuits. You won’t regret it!
If you happen to be staying downtown, there are murals all over. Kids can turn mural hunting into a game while your family explores the area. Make sure to check out Powell’s Books, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and grab world famous Voodoo Donuts too. Portland Oregon is an absolute gold mine when it comes to street art and should absolutely be included in your family travel itinerary!
Things to do Near Portland, Oregon
Hike to a Waterall
There are several beautiful waterfalls not too far from the city. Some trails are harder than others with kids. Latourell Falls and Sheperds Dell are some of the easier ones to see.
You can head out to explore these waterfalls on your own but if you prefer a guided tour, this one looks great and will hit some stunning places.
Ideally we would have liked to hike to the Silver Falls, however due to fires in the area, some of the trail had been destroyed.
There are loads more amazing waterfalls around Portland. If you want to learn more check out this post about the best hikes to waterfalls near Portland.
Mount Saint Helen
If your family loves the outdoors or history, then a great day trip from Portland is a visit to Mount Saint Helen’s National Volcanic Monument. Mount Saint Helen is an active volcano that is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and credited for the most devastating eruption in U.S. history.
It is located roughly 90 minutes from Portland so you can make it to the national monument fairly quickly, however, once you reach Spirit Lake Highway it is another 90 minutes to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, the terminal viewing point of the peaks and crater.
If you need a rental car to get there, you can find competitive prices here.
There are two additional visitor centers along the way, Mount Saint Helen’s Visitor Center, $3.00/person and the Forest Learning Center, free. The Forest Learning center has a playground, interactive exhibits, and a full-immersion eruption theater; so you will probably want to spend some time here with your kids.
Once you make it to the summit the Observatory is $8.00/ person. In addition to driving up Spirit Lake Highway to see the crater and peak of Mount Saint Helen, you can also hike several trails around Mount Saint Helen.
If you are planning to make a day out of it you may want to pack lunches and snacks because once you get to the entrance of the National Volcanic Monument, Spirit Lake Highway there are no stops for food outside of snack machines at the visitor center.
If you prefer, you can purchase a guided full day tour which is filled with additional adventures and a great way to explore the mountain. Click here to check it out.
Kid Friendly Hotels in Portland Oregon
Rivers Edge Hotel and Spa
We stayed at the lovely Rivers Edge Hotel and Spa. I was really happy to be on the edge of the city rather than right in the centre. It made it so much easier for getting to the attractions in Washington Park.
We had a family sized room with a little balcony. The bathroom was huge with a deep bath which is always great. There was a living space where the sofa turned into a double bed. It was nice to have double use for the space so we could hang out during the day, especially if the kids were having a nap.
As the hotel has a spa, the products provided in the room were super luxurious! I don’t always use hotel products but the ones at River Edge were lovely. The onsite 13,000 square foot, fully serviced spa have a range of treatments. I made the foolish mistake of not making an appointment in advance so I missed out.
Across from the main building, is the hotel restaurant Aquariva. I guess the name gives it away, it has lovely views over the river. We had made to order breakfast both mornings. The pancakes were awesome, so I highly recommend trying them.
The food is presented impeccably and is all fresh produce sourced from local farmers, purveyors and ranchers. I presume the menu is seasonal for that reason. They have kids menus and always provide crayons at breakfast. Besides, from that, I can’t say there was anything specific for kids at this hotel. However as I say, a huge bonus was the location for getting to everything and it was an otherwise had a nice stay there.
McMenamins Kennedy School – (Worth a Visit Even if You Don’t Stay the Night)
McMenamins Kennedy School is one of the best things to do in Portland, Oregon in 3 days especially with kids. Located inside the old, renovated Kennedy Elementary School, this hotel offers tons of activities to keep your children entertained, rain or shine.
Inside the old auditorium, you’ll find the Kennedy School Theater, where the latest box office movies are shown. The prices are budget-friendly and you can even order food to enjoy in-theater at the bar just outside of the theater.
They also have events such as the “Crybaby Matinee” during which you’re encouraged to bring your baby! This event usually runs every Tuesday through Thursday during the 1st matinee of the day.
Be sure to also visit the soaking pool! This heated, chlorinated, saltwater pool is hidden within a private courtyard and surrounded by a lush garden. If you’re staying at the hotel, access to the pool is free, however if you’re just visiting for the day, they do offer a day pass.
Of course because McMenamins houses its own brewery, the Concordia Brewery, there will also be bars for mom or dad to hang out. Aside from the Theater Bar, you can also hang out and grab a quick brew in Detention Bar, Honors Bar, Boiler Room, or their restaurants, the Boiler Room and the Courtyard Restaurant.
The fun theme of the McMenamins Kennedy School hotel is an unique and amazing place to spend time in Portland with your kids.
Find prices and availability for a stay at the Kennedy School here!
Kid Friendly Restaurants Portland – Where to Eat
There are tons of cafes in Portland that are ideal for families. Slappy Cakes, Poa Cafe and Roseway Play Cafe to name a few. The coffee in Portland was generally a lot better than other areas in the US we visited. As parents, good coffee is a necessity!
Doughnuts in Portland
Portland is a foodie heaven and one of the things it’s best known for is its doughnuts. The most famous of all are Voodoo Doughnuts, which you can find in the Old Town and Davis areas of Portland.
The shops are colourful, cartoon-clad spaces filled with even more colourful and inventive doughnuts. Favourites include the Portland Cream (filled with cream and topped with chocolate) and the Bacon Maple Bar (a long doughnut with maple frosting and bacon on top).
Kids will likely love The Loop, a ring topped with fruit loops and vanilla frosting or the Marshall Mathers, a cake with frosting and mini M&M’s. Just be sure to avert their eyes from the more risqué ‘Cock-N-Balls’ doughnut, which is shaped like its namesake!
Other excellent doughnut shops in town include Blue Star, which focuses on gourmet flavours, such as Blueberry Bourbon Basil and Cointreau Crème Brûlée. And Pip’s Original Doughnuts is the place to go for made-to-order mini doughnuts topped with chocolate or caramel.
With so many to choose from, make sure getting doughnuts is on your list of what to do in Portland. You can also take an underground doughnut tour, for some added excitement and fun, check it out here!
Hopwork Urban Brewery
Portland is famous for some of its family friendly breweries and its great coffee. Hopwork Urban Brewery is particularly well known for its family friendliness and distinct decor. The place is decked out with old bicycle parts making it all the more interesting.
They have some great food on the menu and kids meals are delicious with plenty of healthy options.
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Disclaimer: Rivers Edge Hotel hosted our stay in return for a review. We funded all activities and meal ourselves. As always, all views expressed our entirely our own. This post contains affiliate links.