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Portland, Oregon is a great place for a family-friendly vacation. It’s walkable, beautiful, and safe. From laser shows at the OMSI museum to polar bears at the Oregon Zoo, there are many attractions that the whole family will enjoy. Just check out our list of Things to Do in Portland Oregon
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
There are many activities in and along the river that are great for families. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, OMSI, has a wide variety of permanent and special exhibits for all ages. In their state-of-the-art 5-story OMNIMAX theatre, you can see everything from tornadoes to giant hippos.
Adults and kids over 3 can tour the U.S.S. Blueback Submarine. OMSI has laser shows, a planetarium, a motion simulator, and much more. There’s even a special Science Playground for children under 6, featuring puppet shows and a special Richard Scarry “Busytown” exhibit.
Departing from OMSI are the Willamette jetboats. In these, you can take a one or two-hour tour up and down the Willamette. You’ll see famous bridges, native birds, and historic shipyards. You may even get a little wet. Take your rain gear, suntan lotion, and a waterproof camera!
During the summer, you can explore the public beaches on Sauvie Island. Or you can hike through the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, a 12,000-acre preserve. If the kids are up for a walk, the 2.5-mile hike around Oak Island (actually a peninsula) is a lovely way to enjoy the atmosphere of Sauvie Island. The island also has a wide range of U-pick fields, where you can pick everything from blackberries to pumpkins.
Of course, you may not have enough room in your car or on the plane for a pumpkin. But there’s always room to enjoy a pint of freshly-picked strawberries or a handful of cherries while you relax on the beach in the afternoon.
Within Portland, there is a wide range of appealing neighborhoods, with everything from Sellwood’s antique shops to the historic district of Chinatown. If your kids are readers (or you just want to encourage them), stop in at Powell’s Books in the Pearl district.
Powell’s is the size of a city block, contains eight differently-colored rooms and a coffee shop, and requires a map to navigate it. New and used books intermingle on the shelves. There’s something here for everyone in the family, including a large children’s section for the kids.
While downtown, you’re in Fareless Square. That means you can ride the trolley in this area for free. On weekends there’s a special old-fashioned “Vintage Trolley.” If you’re coming from a town with little public transportation, the trolley will probably be a lot of fun – it is one of our favorite Things to Do in Portland Oregon!
You can also see many outdoor fountains in this area; some just for viewing, and some that the kids can run through on hot days. The Oregon Children’s Theatre also performs shows downtown that is educational and entertaining. Kids will get to see some of their favorite books and stories live on stage.
From downtown Portland, you can also hop on the trolley to ride up to Northwest’s Alphabet District. Shopaholic teens will certainly like the boutiques on 23rd street. It’s also full of pizza places and coffee shops, and fun desserts from gelato to crepes.
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Just southwest of 23rd street is Washington Park. It’s full of trails and gardens for hikers and flower lovers. Sweeping views of the skyline make this a great place to take pictures. Parents might enjoy sitting in the world-famous Rose Garden while the kids run around beneath them in the Rose Garden Children’s Park.
Some kids will also enjoy the walk through the Japanese Garden, with its carefully plotted maze of rocky paths, curving streams, and waterfalls.
During the summer, you can take a mini train from the Rose Garden up to the Oregon Zoo. In spring and fall, the train runs the “Zoo Loop” right around the zoo itself. The zoo has a large number of animal exhibits that are arranged by geography.
Kids will get to see everything from elephants to penguins to tree kangaroos. And just across from the zoo is the Portland Children’s Museum, with interactive exhibits designed for kids up to 10 years old.
Oaks Park Amusement Park
Other attractions, particularly of interest to families, include Oaks Park, and Amusement Park. This 100-year-old park features skating, old-fashioned carnival games, and lots of rides for all different ages. The North Clackamas Aquatic Park is small but has slides, a wave pool, and sand volleyball.
What list of Things to Do in Portland Oregon would be complete without a volcano? Sure, Mount Saint Helens is off in the distance, but Portland has its own volcano right in the heart of the city. It’s dormant now but is a location for many awesome activities. Besides being a great spot to walk the dog, on summer Wednesday evenings, Mount Tabor is where cyclists show their stuff.
Going at top speed, racers do anywhere from 6-15 laps up and down the volcano. If you aren’t that ambitious, Mount Tabor is also home to the Adult Soap Box Derby in August. There are very few rules–just build a human-powered racer and try to make it to the bottom the fastest.
Ride Like a Race Car
Or, rather, ride where the cars race. Portland International Raceway (PIR) is home to car and motorcycle races. However, in the summer and fall, slightly slower vehicles get to take the concourse. Every Monday night during the summer, various levels of cyclists race around the track competing for glory. Anyone is welcome and the organizers will place you in the proper class based on your racing experience.
If getting dirty is more your thing, areas near the concourse are turned to mud in the fall for Portland’s favorite craze: cyclocross. You can take lessons in the sport and then battle your way through the sludge with some of the best.
Finally, Portland is not without its share of celebrities. Beverly Cleary, the author of the Ramona Quimby books, grew up in Portland. You can visit the Beverly Cleary sculpture garden in Grant Park. Four blocks away you can spot the real Klickitat Street, where Ramona supposedly lived.
The creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening, also grew up in Portland. As you explore the town, keep an eye out for street signs with names like “Flanders St” and “Van Houten Ave.” Coincidence? Maybe. But kids will enjoy the game of spotting them all the same.
There are many more attractions in the surrounding areas as well, including many regional festivals and the scenic trip on the Mt. Hood Railroad. Plan your trip in advance and decide which attractions are “must-see” and which are backup plans or rainy day activities. Whatever you choose to do in Portland, it will be fun for the whole family!