Traveling to Portland, Oregon with kids? Here’s what to see in Portland in only 2 days.
It was Fall and the autumn leaves of Portland were calling my name. I piled the kids in the car and drove the six and a half hours from Boise to Portland. Portland is the perfect getaway in the Pacific Northwest, fairly close, full of things to do and free lodging with relatives. 😉 Portland has rain, a coffee shop culture and food trucks that make the whole country envious. Gently mocked by Portlandia, Portland takes pride in their uniqueness. So what’s not to love?!
The upside of a road trip is having your own car with you (unless of course you’re in San Francisco, where having a car kind of sucks because parking is scarce and expensive). Portland also has an easy to navigate MAX Light Rail, also with a station in Washington Park. The Washington Park neighborhood is only about a five minute drive from Downtown but has the endless views of Portland’s green mossiness.
On Day 1, have a big breakfast and head out the door.
Visit the Pittock Mansion for the View
On our first day, we visited the Pittock Mansion. You can park in the parking lot and tour the grounds which has an incredible view of the city (but according to them, it’s an Amazing View! ). Entering the mansion requires a fee. Enjoy the grounds and gardens and then head to the Nob Hill neighborhood which is just a few minutes away.
Visit Nob Hill for the Food and Eclectic Shopping
We visited in the middle of October while Portland was showing off her autumn leaf show. Gorgeous displays of red and yellow leaves filled the city at every turn, particularly in the Nob Hill neighborhood. Nob Hill has great shopping and great food. Hit up Blue Star Donuts (“Donuts for Grown Ups“). They have several locations in Portland as well as LA and Tokyo. Flavors include a Cointreau Creme Brûlée (Oh. Holy. Deliciousness.).
Blue Star Donuts is a stark contrast to Voodoo Donuts, which takes childhood flavors to epic heights.
Perhaps I should have titled this blog post, “How to Visit Portland in 48,000 Calories or Less…”
If donuts aren’t your thing or if you still have room for more fat and sugar, head to Salt and Straw for the richest and most flavorful ice cream of your life. True to Portland’s foodie tradition, the flavors are a little outrageous. And totally awesome.
Visit Powell’s City of Books for Browsing and Buying
After you’ve had your fill of Nob Hill, head to Powell’s City of Books to browse. Powell’s is the largest physical bookstore in the world and is undeniably bibliophile heaven. I told each of the kids they could pick something out and they returned with armfuls.
On Day 2, fuel up for breakfast and then hit Washington Park.
Visit Washington Park
If you have a car, there is paid parking in Washington Park and if you’re using the MAX, there’s a station right there. Washington Park is full of family friendly activities such as the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum (not a museum but a fun, interactive discovery center. I highly recommend it for young children), the World Forestry Center, the International Rose Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden (one of my favorite places but better for adults than children) and a playground. We’ve visited all of these over the years and all are worth a visit. Depending on how much time you want to spend here, Washington Park can be a full afternoon or spread over two days.
FYI: the Oregon Zoo offers reciprocity which means that if you’re a member at another zoo, you may receive free or discounted admission. You’ll need your zoo membership card and photo ID. Download the 2016 Reciprocity Chart here to see if your membership qualifies.
Download a PDF of the park map here.
Visit the Saturday Market
If you’re in Portland over a Saturday, visit the Saturday Market right next to the river. As a FYI, this also happens to be where the homeless population congregates which was very unsettling for my 11-year old (but which opened a healthy conversation about homelessness). The market has music, street performers, food, artisanal crafts and everything else that goes along with a vibrant local market.
Visit Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo Donuts
Right in that neighborhood is Stumptown Coffee Roasters on 3rd Avenue. I treated everyone to a beverage since we were woefully below our sugar quota for the day and then we strolled back to the market. If you’re hankering for the wildest donut in the West, get in line at Voodoo Donuts. Voodoo is CASH ONLY.
If you’re so inclined, get some photos at the iconic “Keep Portland Weird” sign which is right across the street.
Since we were in town in Fall, we swung by Bella Organic Farms for the Pumpkin Patch Festival on Sauvie Island for some mud-filled fun. This was surprisingly popular (and extremely crowded) and even Salt and Straw and Voodoo Donuts had food stalls there.
If you’re exploring the East Side which has an urban hippie vibe, hit up Never Coffee (named for Never Never Land) for one of their specialty signature drinks. (Be prepared to pay $6 for one…)
Gotta love the uniqueness of Portland. We parked next to a “Gratitude Tree”. I am grateful for free parking, food trucks and Portland coffee.
And speaking of food trucks, if you’re feeling adventurous and not looking to sit down in a restaurant, treat yourself to the food truck experience. Note that some trucks close up for winter due to the difficulty of dealing with the weather. The food carts are gathered into pods around the city with the largest concentration between Southwest Alder and Washington streets, from Southwest Ninth to Southwest Tenth avenues. Seating is limited to non-existent but there are parks nearby or you can eat while you stroll. With over 500 to choose from, they have what you’re craving. I even encountered a Viking-themed food truck. Ragnar approved.
You can find a map here and there’s even an app that you can download.
We wrapped up our family visit and drove to Multnomah Falls, about 30 minutes out of Portland. Sunday morning turned out to be a great time to visit the very popular and busy falls. The crowd was minimal and parking was ample. (A little public service announcement here, be safe and don’t take life risking selfies. I’ve heard of people taking stupid risks here. It’s slippery.) Multnomah Falls are in the Columbia River Gorge scenic area which is a testament to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. At 611 feet tall of cascading water, even the kids were impressed.
And with a last look at the falls, we said goodbye to Oregon. Keep it weird, Portland. We love you. Have you been to Portland? What do you recommend for kids versus adults?