We’re big fans of the Pacific Northwest. Living in this part of the United States, we’re blessed to have access to oceans, lakes, forests, mountains, and of course, some pretty cool cities (Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland). I have to admit, I’m pretty partial to Seattle, considering I live here, but lately, I’ve been starting to grow a liking to Portland.
We recently took a trip to this beautiful Oregon city, and had a wonderful time exploring all the amazing sites and experiences this city has to offer. Prior to visiting Portland, I reached out to Travel Portland, and they were kind enough to provide us with passes to many of the city attractions. We were grateful for this opportunity to get to know Portland, and are excited to share all of the fun and interesting things we did during our trip. If you have a few days to spend in Portland, here is my ultimate guide to exploring Portland with kids.
Commune with nature at Leach Botanical Garden
Our trip to Portland coincided with a conference that my husband was attending (the XOXO Festival, which took place in Portland in early September), so most of the exploration was done by my kids and me. However, we did get to do some things together as a family. Our first stop in Portland was a visit to the Leach Botanical Garden. The garden used to belong to John and Lilla Leach, but was opened to the public in 1983. It contains over 2,000 species of plants, and has over seventeen acres of land. We loved walking along the paths and talking about the different plants we saw. A visit to the garden is free, but contributions are always welcome.
Eat like a Viking at Viking Soul Food
After a morning hike at the botanical garden, our tummies were hungry for some food, so we headed out to one of Portland’s many food carts. In honor of my dad’s Norwegian heritage, I thought we would check out Viking Soul Food, located on Belmont Street. The menu highlights traditional Norwegian ingredients, served and wrapped in lefse, a flat tortilla-like bread made with potato and flour. I loved the flavors, and can’t wait to go back the next time I’m in Portland. Main dishes range from $5 to $8.50.
Find your zen at the Portland Japanese Garden
After lunch, and a restful nap for the kids in the car, we headed to the Portland Japanese Garden, located in the expansive Washington Park. The Japanese Garden is a carefully designed garden, following traditional methods of Japanese gardening, and influenced by Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophies. The garden is actually divided into five distinct gardens, and spans about 5.5 acres of land. Walking into the garden, you are immediately transported into a serene oasis of calm, and even my kids were mellow for the most part as we walked around the garden. If you visit with the kids, ask for one of their treasure hunt sheets, which has pictures of items around the garden that they’re supposed to find. This is a great way to keep your kids engaged, and exploring the garden. Admission to the Japanese Garden is $9.50 for adults, and $6.75 for kids aged 6-17.
Slurp up noodles at Boke Bowl
We had picked up some chopstick trainers for the kids at the Japanese Garden gift shop, and decided to put it to good use for dinner. So we headed over to Boke Bowl for a big bowl of ramen noodles. If you’re a fan of ramen, then Boke Bowl is a must for you and your family. They have kid-friendly noodle and rice bowls, and also kid-friendly chopsticks, so the kids can enjoy their ramen just like you! Entrees are between $10-$14, so although it’s not necessarily on the cheap side, you do get good value for your money. And the food is delicious!
Get your science on at OMSI
The next day, we decided to head out to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in the morning. The kids and I loved this place, and honestly, if you’re planning a visit, you should definitely plan to spend the whole day at OMSI. There are so many exhibits to see, and if you also purchase tickets to the submarine tour and planetarium or theater show, then you’ll have more than enough activities to fill your day. The exhibits are all geared towards kids, and are quite interactive and educational. Tickets for just the museum will cost $14 for adults, and $9.75 for youths. The submarine and planetarium/theater are extra.
Discover China at the Lan Su Chinese Garden
Our kids were exhausted after a trip to OMSI, so after a quick lunch at one of the food carts and a nap in the car, we headed over to the Lan Su Chinese Garden to spend a quiet afternoon. The Chinese Garden is not as big as the Japanese Garden – it only takes up one city block – but it was definitely a nice place to be for a few hours. Like the Japanese Garden, the kids were given a Family Discovery Guide, with pictures of items for them to spot. This helped keep the kids occupied while at the garden, and also gave us a chance to talk about the different things that were pictured. Admission to the Chinese Garden is $9.50 for adults, and $7 for students aged 6-18. Kids under 6 are free.
Say hello to the elephants at Oregon Zoo
My kids love animals, so no trip to a big city would be complete without a visit to their zoo. The next morning, we decided to check out the Oregon Zoo, and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of animals that were there. We saw giraffes, gazelles, gorillas, leopards, orangutans and of course, elephants. The Oregon Zoo has one of the best elephant exhibits I’ve seen, second, perhaps, to the San Diego Zoo. We loved watching these gentle giants, and learning all about them. To really get the most out of your zoo experience, plan to spend a big chunk of your day there. The zoo has plenty of places to eat, and although the prices are relatively high, it beats having to rush through the exhibits just so you can leave to go somewhere for lunch. Admission to the zoo costs $14.95 for adults aged 12-64, and $9.95 for youth aged 3-11. Kids 2 and younger are free. And also, between the months of October to February, admission is $5 cheaper.
Learn about the forest at the World Forestry Center
The Oregon Zoo is located in Washington Park, along with other attractions such as the Children’s Museum, the Japanese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden. Just across the parking lot from the zoo lies the World Forestry Center, which is where the kids and I spent our afternoon, after a morning of checking out animals. It’s a fun little place to learn about nature, with plenty of interactive exhibits. My kids especially loved the exhibit where they got to “visit” forests around the world on trains, boats, and safari vehicles. Tickets into the World Forestry Center are $7 for adults, and $5 for youth ages 3-18.
See Portland’s history at Pittock Mansion
Whenever I visit a city, I like learning a little bit about their history. So on our final day in Portland, I decided to take the kids to visit the Pittock Mansion. It’s a historic house, built in 1914, and furnished with items owned by the Pittock family who lived there, as well as antiques representing the style and tastes of that time period. Walking through the space, my daughter remarked on how beautiful the house was, and we all took a fancy to the funny looking showers that were in the bathrooms. Outside of the mansion is a gorgeous overlook to the city of Portland, as well as a hiking trail called the Wildwood Trail, that takes you into the adjacent Forest Park. Admission into the mansion is $10 for adults and $7 for youth aged 6-18. Kids under 6 are free.
Play like a kid at Rose Garden Children’s Park
After several days of learning and exploring in Portland, we thought it would be nice to spend the rest of our time playing at a park. So we headed back to Washington Park again, and hung out at the Rose Garden Children’s Park. This playground is essentially one giant play structure with so many cool things for the kids to play with and climb on. My daughter took a liking to the swirly slide, and my son loved running around and walking along the balance beams. As for me, I took that time to hang out at a park bench and have a well-deserved rest!
We absolutely loved our trip to Portland, and can’t wait to come back to the city again and do even more exploring. Portland really took us by surprise, and we just enjoyed the relaxed and laid back vibe of the city. If you’re looking for a fun place to kick back and relax, while still enjoying the perks of being in a city, then Portland’s the place for you.
Have you had a chance to visit Portland with your kids? What did you think? Share your favorite places to visit in the comments below!
Disclosure: Travel Portland provided my family and me with passes for the Japanese Garden, OMSI, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Oregon Zoo, World Forestry Center, and Pittock Mansion. However, the opinions expressed in this blog post are completely my own.