Portland with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

Portland with Kids: A Family Vacation


Because of its extensive public transit system, exciting local scene and emphasis on outdoor activities, Portland, Oregon is a decidedly family-friendly city. Families looking to strike a balance between keeping the kids entertained and providing the adults with a taste of Portland's history and culture will find plenty of things to do to keep everyone happy during a tour of the south waterfront area. Spend a day on the rails, in the air and on the water.
Here is our suggested itinerary for planning one of the best family vacations in Portland with kids.


Kick off your family vacation in Portland by fueling up with a kid-approved, sugar-filled breakfast at the original Voodoo Doughnut location (22 SW 3rd Ave., 503-241-4704). A Portland mainstay, Voodoo Doughnut is known for eccentric flavors like maple bacon and Tangfastic. Choose one of their cereal-topped doughnuts and pretend you're feeding your family a balanced morning meal. Starting at 95 cents per doughnut, Voodoo is a bit on the pricey side (for doughnuts) and only accepts cash. They are open 24 hours, seven days a week.

Take advantage of the sugar rush by walking to the Tri-Met MAX station at the corner of SW 5th Street and Oak Street. Purchase and validate an all-day riding pass at the self-service ticket vending machine. Passes are $4.75 for adults and are valid for all city buses, commuter rails, and streetcars. Children under 7 ride free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Board the green line to City Center/Portland State University. Get off at the PSU stop and transfer to the streetcar at 5th and Montgomery. Then, take the streetcar to Southwest Moody and Gibbs, where you will find the station for Portland's aerial tram ($4 round-trip, free for children under 6). The tram travels 22 miles per hour and climbs approximately 500 feet, so children can enjoy great views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and the Willamette River from the window. The tram operates Mon-Fri 5:30AM-9:30PM, Sat 9AM-5PM, Sun 1PM-5PM. Hours are subject to change, so please check before you visit.

Insider Tip: The tram has limited seating, so before riding, you may want to warn your kids that they will be standing. The tram does allow strollers and backpacks.

The ride is short -- just three minutes each way. At the top, you'll find observation balconies and area maps, so parents viewing Portland with kids can help them identify the city's bridges and mountain ranges. Extend the fun by visiting some of the attractions at the top of Marquam Hill, such as the sculpture garden on Kohler Pavilion's seventh floor.

After descending the hill on the aerial tram, take bus No. 35 from the Tram Tower Station to 6th and Washington. From the bus stop, walk south on 6th Avenue a short distance to reach Pioneer Courthouse Square, where lunch awaits your hungry brood.


Exploring Portland with kids is best done on a full stomach. Eat like a local by grabbing a bite from one of the food carts in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The number of gourmet food carts has exploded in Portland in recent years, with more than 400 currently in operation throughout the city. Some of the best have been written up in the New York Times, Sunset Magazine and Bon Appetit Magazine.

You won't find any gourmet carts at Pioneer Square, but you will find plenty of options for children. Honkin' Huge Burritos has only one menu item, so there are minimal decisions -- just cheese, beans, rice, guacamole, tomatoes, and lettuce rolled in a flour tortilla for $4.50. Philly's on the Phly and Jean's Hot Dogs in the Square offer additional kid-friendly meal choices.

Insider tip: The food carts are only open on weekdays at lunch time, and cash is the easiest form of payment.

Grab a seat on the steps of Pioneer Courthouse Square next to the fountain and enjoy a little people-watching while you eat. After lunch, explore the myriad of things to do in the square. If you arrive by noon, you will be able to see the famous Weather Machine in action. With accompanying musical fanfare, the Weather Machine displays one of three pictures representing the day's weather: a sun on clear days, a blue heron on cloudy days, and a dragon on stormy days. Children will also enjoy the echo chamber and the waterfall fountain. Older kids will have fun searching for some of the celebrity-named bricks in the square. (Parents can pick up a map at the visitor information center before challenging kids to find Sherlock Holmes and Elvis Presley bricks). During the summer, catch Noon Tunes, a free concert series held every Tuesday and Thursday.

After the kids have thoroughly explored the square, take a quick walk east on Morrison Street until you reach Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The park is a must-see on your Portland family vacation, and kids will want to pet the bronze beavers, ducks and sea lions (all native to Oregon) lounging on the sidewalk next to the courthouse. The Animals in Pools fountain was installed in 1986 and the "duck sitting in a spa" is a favorite of my children.

If you're in need of a break, spread out on the lawn once you reach the Eastside Esplanade. While you rest, you may be lucky enough to see the Hawthorne Bridge in action. The drawbridge, which is the oldest bridge in Portland and one of the oldest vertical-lift bridges still operating in the United States, is raised and lowered to allow safe passage to large ships, cars, cyclists and pedestrians. The park is open 5AM-midnight.

Next on your Portland family vacation itinerary is the Oregon Maritime Museum (Southwest Naito Parkway at Pine Street, 503-224-7724). Housed in a steam-powered tugboat, the museum features model ships and maritime memorabilia. The "Children's Corner" has a lot of nautical equipment that kids can touch and play with -- even a boat whistle to blow. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-17 and free for children under 6.

Insider tip: The museum has limited hours: 11AM – 4PM Wed - Sat, 12:30PM - 4:30PM Sun.


Head south through Waterfront Park until you reach the Salmon Street Springs fountain. This fountain, with a water display that varies from bubbling to misting to full spray, is a popular place for kids to frolic on warm days and is the perfect way to end a summer day in Portland. After the water dance, catch the MAX back to your hotel or stop in one of the nearby restaurants for a well-deserved sit-down dinner for the perfect end to your family vacation in Portland with kids.

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