Visiting Portland, Oregon with kids is a lot of fun. It has so much to offer, from urban hikes to parks to amazing food and history. I’ve been to Portland many times, but last summer was the first visit we did with our kids and it was definitely a fun, but different experience. Instead of Willamette Valley Wine tasting and checking out Portland’s most romantic restaurants we focused on lots of outdoor (budget) activities, family-friendly restaurants, and ate lots of ice cream 🙂
Keeping within a budget really isn’t hard in Portland. The best activities (at least in my opinion) are found in the amazing parks, trails, rivers and mountains within an hour from the city. All of these things are free (or a small visitors parking fee).
What I really love about Portland is that each neighborhood really has its own street with shops, restaurants etc. So there is a great chance that depending on where you stay you can walk to quite a few places. Though most hotels are located downtown, I would actually look outside of downtown and stay in one of the historic neighborhoods for a more local, unique and frankly safer, experience.
Unfortunately, Portland, like many cities, has a very large homeless population. We experienced some scary situations with a few folks getting into a fight in front of us. The city also warns you to not keep anything in your car of value. I definitely concur. We experienced a car break-in a few years ago where someone smashed our window and broke in our car and just stole a phone charger!
Weather – A bit about the weather. Portland is pretty famous for its dreary, rainy winters. I’ve been to Portland a few times in January and actually really enjoyed winter hiking. There were few crowds and you could definitely get reservations easily. Summer however is glorious (though can be hot!).
But on to the fun stuff!
Restaurants & Ice Cream: Portland is famous for its food, and for good reason. From the donuts to the ramen, there is something wonderful for everyone. Here are a few of our favorites.
Mother’s (Pearl District) (recommend breakfast) – Mother’s is so homey and delicious. Enormous plates of food are perfect for sharing, or not. The Migas are perfection and if you happen to catch when they make a special dish of corned beef and egg hash with Dijon, I envy you! I don’t think its normally on the menu but I’ve tried to replicate it without success.
Pok Pok – (Thai) This is one of my favorite restaurants. Forget what you know about Thai food, and check out Pok Pok’s sticky fish sauce chicken wings, and unique Thai street food influenced by flavors throughout the southeast Asia region. The original restaurant layout is a mishmash of add-ons and for some reason it adds to the charm. Kid-friendly? Maybe not so much -just depends on how adventurous your little eater’s are.
Salt & Straw – (Ice Cream) – Everyone recommended Salt & Straw and it didn’t disappoint. With a line out the door we were pretty sure we came to the right place. This spot is definitely not your traditional ice cream shop. Flavors will definitely be unique (Strawberry with balsamic and black pepper!) but ultimately delicious. Not a cheap cone by any means, but a great experience.
McMenamin’s — (Several locations) – McMenamin’s locations are really unique and worth checking out. The group behind McMenamin’s purchased building like old schoolhouses, and turned them into pubs, movie theaters, and hotels. They have all kinds of events, music, food, and more, and they are committed to historical preservation so their locations are rich with history.
Ramen – Portland is famous for its ramen restaurants that you can find throughout the city. Get your chopsticks out and your slurp on!
Food Trucks — You must try some bites of Portland’s famous food trucks. You won’t believe the variety and quality. Everything from Italian, Korean, Swedish lefsa, and more is available on wheels. This article from Eater has some great recommendations.
Since this is primarily focused on family travel I won’t list all the superb restaurants of Portland – these aren’t really kid, or budget friendly. But if you can get away for an adult-only trip, you will be in culinary heaven!
Great Notion – Hands down favorite brewery of all time. I LOVE the beer here. They have perfected the “Hazy, Juicy” style of IPA, as well as incredible stouts with flavors like “Blueberry Pancakes” – sounds weird but its amazing. They have good food and a great atmosphere. We ended up going to GN twice while in Portland. I am hoping at some point they start distributing so that we can get their beer here in San Diego.
Hair of the Dog – This is a Portland staple. My hubby loves this spot – most of the beers are named after dudes, like, “Adam, Fred,” etc. and they flavor them differently – for example “Adam from the Stone” is brewed in cement. (I think that’s what it was ha). Not great for kids, but there is a fun party decor shop across the street that my kids loved if one person wants to do some tasting and the kids need entertaining.
Hikes & Activities Within City Limits:
Powell’s Bookstore – (Downtown) I NEVER leave Portland without a visit to Powell’s. Bookstores, and libraries for that matter, have always filled me up with joy. I am a HUGE lover of reading. This bookstore is truly like no other. Not only does it cover a whole city block, but you literally can get lost in the many sections of the store. The layout is a bit of a maze, but that’s what makes it so fun. It has one of the most complete children’s and youth book sections that I have ever seen. I typically purchase a few of their “used” books, but also take lots of inspiration photos of books that I have never seen that we can look for at the library when we’re home.
Mt. Tabor – This was such a great urban park surprise for us. We were looking for a short hike that we could do that was within the city limits. Mr. Tabor is actually a volcano (Volcanic Cinder Cone)! The relatively small park offers some great marked hikes (three routes) that lead up to the top of the mountain – the views of Portland are stunning. Our kids really enjoyed this hike and it was perfect for getting some exercise and also not having to travel outside of town for some outdoor fun.
International Test Rose Garden – If you love roses, you will find your mecca here. The International Test Rose Garden is located in Washington Park inside the city limits. I
dragged brought my family here on a VERY hot Portland summer day. I enjoyed it, but my kids were kind of over it after about 20 minutes. Its really beautiful though, but going mid-day in the summer is probably not the best time to go. There are other things to do within the park, so if you do go, plan to pack a picnic and check out some of the other areas of the park.
Pittock Mansion – The hike up to Pittock Mansion is my favorite urban hike in Portland. We started this 5.7 mile roundtrip hike at McCleay Park (directions here) – the trail runs along a stream and up through redwood forest. Its so beautiful. When you get to the Mansion you can do a tour, or just enjoy a picnic lunch with a gorgeous view of Portland.
City Water Fountain Play Areas — Sprinkled throughout downtown Portland are water features that kids can play in. When we were in Portland last summer they were experiencing a heat wave. We took the kids downtown to cool off and they loved splashing around in the water. (see photo at the top of the blog post)
Hikes and Activities within An Hour of Portland:
Banks Vernonia State Trail – This ride is on an old train track that has been paved over. You guys this is SUCH a great bike trail for families. No cars, steady incline but no massive hills and lined with miles of blackberry bushes for picking and throwing at one another. One of my favorite days on our trip was this ride. We did a version that was 20 miles and my 8 year old rocked it! We have a trailer bike hooked to my husband’s bike for our six year old. The terrain is through forest, through fields and there are several picnic tables throughout that you can stop at for lunch. This trail is about 30-45 minutes from Portland but worth the drive. We saved berries we picked along the way and took them home and made a cobbler – yum!
Bike through 100 Year Old Tunnels Above the Columbia River – Another STUNNING bike ride great for families. This ride is an hour outside of Portland just a few miles from Hood River. This route is historic – The Columbia River Highway was the original road along the Gorge. Many years ago they had to make a new road to accommodate larger vehicles and more lanes and the old highway went into disuse. They paved it, and now its an incredible paved trail that goes for about 8 miles and runs through the original tunnels where a model T used to pass through. My kids really enjoyed the tunnels and the views are unbeatable. The hills can be a bit more intense than the Banks-Veronia, but worth it!
Visit the “Fruit Loop” in Hood River – In the summer time, the Hood River area is brimming with fruit trees ready to be picked, berry bushed thick with fruit, and wineries packed with people sitting outside. You can drive the whole area and stop and taste jams, wine, and pick fruit. You can also have a meal or stop at a brewery in Hood River which is really quaint town with lots of options for dining and shopping. The famous Full Sail Brewing company is based there and has a large tasting room right along the river. The tasting rooms get packed when the weather is nice. We biked along the Columbia River Gorge and then did some amazing wine tasting and stopped and tasted local jams. It was such a wonderful day!
Pacific Crest Trail — The famous PCT is just 30 minutes outside of Portland. If you read Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild or watched the movie, she ended her journey at the Bridge of the God’s which is right where you can start your trek. There are some burn areas, but the foliage is coming back. We talked to a “Thru hiker” who was going from Canada all the way to Mexico. It was fun to hear his stories.
Silver Falls State Park – If you are a fan of waterfalls this Oregon state park is most definitely the place for you. The park is about an hour and a half from Portland. The “Trail of 10 Falls” is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. Around nearly every bend there is another mind-blowing waterfall. Several of the falls you can actually walk behind including one that is 177 feet tall. Our kids thought it was so cool!
Willamette Valley Wine Tasting – We did not go wine tasting in Willamette Valley last summer with the kids in tow but I’ve done it with my husband in the past. I have to put it on this list because its such a beautiful area and definitely worth doing if you are a fan of wine. Willamette Valley with its cold and rainy winters and warm and sunny summers, produces some of the world’s best Pinot Noir’s and Pinot Gris’. Here’s a map to the region.
Multnomah Falls – The Crown Jewel of Oregon waterfalls (though I happen to think that Tupolo in Bend is quite fantastic!), Multnomah Falls is a huge draw for visitors. You can see it right from the highway so its an easy stop. Unfortunately, a few years ago the area experienced a horrific fire. When we visited last summer the trail up to the top of the waterfall was still closed. Hopefully it will be open soon. Its a good hike for kids because though its steep its not long.
McMenamins Edgefield – I pointed out the many McMenamin’s within Portland’s city limits earlier in this post, but I think Edgefield which is about 30 minutes from Portland, is the best. Located outside of Portland (not too far from Multnomah Falls), Edgefield is a hotel, brewery, winery, mini golf course and farm. The gardens are so fun to walk through and having lunch on the patio and enjoying a fresh brew is perfect for a hot summer day.