Welcome to Portland Oregon – one of the coolest and weirdest places to live in the US!
If you are planning your first visit to the City of Rose (Portland’s nickname), you might wonder how it feels to be there for the first time.
We felt the same 5 years ago when we’re looking through articles with titles like: “Best cities to raise a family”, “Best places to live”, etc. Portland held high positions on many of them, named one of the most eco-friendly, family-friendly, and bike-friendly US cities.
“Weird and cool” – Portland, Oregon
After multiple visits, I can tell you it’s all true and even more: Portland is eclectic, cozy, incredibly green with tons of recreational opportunities so easy to hit. You can be whoever you wanna be in Portland, with a rare chance to catch a sideways glance.
This post is for parents, who want to discover Portland, making sure that their kids will also have a great time. We always plan our trips around our plans, mixing in cool ideas that kids will be excited about.
Portland, Oregon: How to Make the Most out of Your First Visit
1. Best time to visit Portland
There is no “best time” to visit Portland. It’s all based on your desires, what you want to see and do. Summers are usually sunny, dry, and hot, while winters are mild with a rare chance of frost. The rainy season lasts from October till May, be prepared for gloomy, wet weather.
We prefer to explore new cities outdoors. Our second visit to Portland in September brought us much more joy than the first one at the beginning of December. In September, the days were longer, dry, and very sunny.
2. How to spoil your visit to Portland
Truth be told, Portland is a city where you’ll have to try really hard to spoil your visit there. It’s a beautiful, family-friendly place, full of all kinds of activities: lovely gardens, dozens of parks, museums, galleries, roasters, breweries, and great eateries where visitors with kids feel welcome.
Nevertheless, after our second trip, we learned a few things that I wish somebody told us before.
A. Only stick to “kids-will-love” places
B. Not going out of town
Oregon is home to multiple nature wonders, with some within just half an hour drive from Portland. It’s roughly like driving from one end of the city to another! Do take a drive through the spectacular Columbia River Gorge and visit at least a couple of waterfalls there. It’s very worth spending there from a couple of hours to a full day, if not longer:
Multnomah Falls is the tallest, most popular, and most crowded waterfall in the area. It is not the only one, though. There are more than ninety waterfalls. They are all different and many of them require little or no hiking and are easily accessible by car.
You just keep driving a couple of minutes from one place to another along the Gorge. Check for possible closures or wildfires here before you go.
Come early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the crowds if you plan to visit Multnomah. Watch kids closely while visiting Columbia Gorge: there are plenty of slippery places and some exposed cliffs.
We spent an entire day at the Gorge (we also made a tour at the Bonneville Lock & Dam), hiked several easy trails, and saw many completely different waterfalls.
Two hidden gems worth your time and effort: Horsetail Falls hike and Lower Oneonta Falls hike. We almost did this latter one, but in December the water was too cold to wade in to get to the waterfall. It will make an exceptional summer hike, though.
C. Underestimate the weather
If you are coming during the rainy season (October – May) you should be properly geared up. While most of the time it only drizzles, heavy rain can occur, sometimes unexpectedly.
D. Gear up properly for a rainy day in Portland, Oregon
Waterproof boots, waterproof jacket, umbrella, and sweater – you don’t need to carry all of that around, but it’s good to know you can pull it at any time you need. Electric shoe dryer takes up very little space but can save a day (it did for us and our 4 pairs of shoes).
The first and only time our son was whining about how cold he is, happened in Portland when all of his “waterproof” clothing was soaking wet in just half an hour.
3. Where to sleep in Portland (and how to spend a night at a former elementary school)
After returning back from the last trip, I found this gem I would love to try: McMenamins Kennedy School. It sounds weird but true: a hotel located in a former school! Add a heated pool, free theater admission, a bar, a restaurant, and all of this surrounded by “not your ordinary hotel” design. It seems like the price is worth the experience:
4. Where to eat in Portland Oregon. Kids-friendly Brewery
Portland can be your foodie destination. There are so many places to have a unique experience of any kind and diet, you’ll be surprised!
During our last visit, we felt like we had to visit a local brewery
despite being with kids and treat the adults with the craft beer Portland is so famous for:
We had a great experience at Hopworks Urban Brewery. Besides the good food and a huge beer selection, it was the most kid-friendly place we have ever visited. 3 playing areas, toys, huge magnetic chalkboards:
Laughing Planet is another worthy place to visit with little ones, especially with picky eaters, like one of our kids. Large varieties of kid-styled healthy meals, fast service, and reasonable prices. The place is very spacious and has tons of dinosaurs to play with :D.
Being in Portland and not trying local doughnuts is a crime! We don’t usually buy doughnuts, but in Portland, it’s hard to resist. They look like a small weird piece of art.
Nola is great for adults: texture and tastes are pretty unusual and melting in your mouth. Cajun Maple Bacon we liked more than anything else.
Inside Nola Doughnuts, Portland:
Voodoo Doughnut was great for kids: the dough tastes like regular doughnuts but for design and doughnut names the creator’s imagination went wild. These doughnuts are huge. One is more
5. 15 Things you should try while visiting Portland
Some of the places in the list below are not designed specifically for kids, but are family-friendly and were experienced (and enjoyed) by us and our 1-, 4- and 9-years-old kids.
- Have a ride! Rent an electric scooter or a bike. A fun, quick and cheap way to explore the city.
- Walk at least one of the multiple bridges.
- Tour a submarine.
- Stop and smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden. The roses bloom from April through October:
- Have a quiet moment at the Grotto – a beautiful Catholic outdoor sanctuary, surrounded by gardens. It sits on 62 acres of land on a hill and offers some exceptional views of the city.
- Buy a book (if you can limit yourself to just one =)) at the biggest independent bookstore in the world – Powell’s City of Books.
- Sip craft beer at a family-friendly brewery.
- Gobble a local doughnut.
- Catch a breeze at one of many gorgeous Columbia Gorge waterfalls.
- Hop on the Portland aerial tram.
- Visit the Oregon Zoo and/or Portland Children’s Museum.
- Play at Westmoreland Nature Playground. Besides the cool playground, there is an amazing water play section, a pond, and a nice boardwalk.
- Listen to local music at the Portland Saturday Market (don’t be confused, it works on Sundays too). It’s also a great place to ride an electrical scooter: all the way along the Willamette River and through multiple bridges.
- Relax and sip tea at the serene Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden.
- Play “I spy” at the Council Crest Park. How many volcanos can you spot on a clear, sunny day? (Answer: 5. Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson, and Mt Rainier.)
Must-see places in Portland Oregon on map
Thanks for reading and happy traveling!
Crater Lake in one day: Oregon’s one of its kind National Park
Best of Oregon in two days: dramatic coastline, beaches, etc. Oregon’s most visited coastal town: Cannon Beach