I haven't heard or read much about whether Portland, Oregon, is a family-friendly city. But we decided to visit Portland with kids and realized that Portland is weird and kids are weird. It’s a match made in travel heaven!
During a recent summer break with our 3 and 5 year old kids, we contemplated several locations for a week-long family trip from Los Angeles. The contenders were Hawaii, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland. We landed on Portland for several reasons: it’s a short flight from Los Angeles (and a great introductory flight for my daughter’s first plane ride), the hotels, flights and rental car are more affordable than other locations and there are lots of activities to keep us all entertained for a week.
In this comprehensive week-long family-friendly Portland itinerary, we'll guide you through our carefully curated selection of attractions and experiences which were fun for both children and adults in our family. You won’t find too many of the usual items on other travel guides because we generally like to avoid overly touristy activities and I hope you will learn about a new restaurant or experience to add to your Portland must-do list that you didn’t know about before.
A Week in Portland Itinerary
WHERE TO STAY: HAMPTON INN PEARL DISTRICT, the most family-friendly hotel in portland
After extensive research into the hotel options in Portland, we decided to stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites in the Pearl District and it was perfect for our family. The hotel is centrally located to many wonderful restaurants and coffee shops and across the street from World Foods which was always an easy stop for drinks, milk, and snacks. The staff were so friendly, welcoming and accommodating.
One of our favorite parts of staying at this hotel was the pool. There is a one-foot-deep shallow end with beach entry featuring a slide and splash toys plus a deeper end for older kids. We spent hours hanging out at this pool and would have stayed even longer if there were lounge chairs. Another great amenity is the coffee and tea bar right at the entrance where you can help yourself to beverages at all hours of the day.
The entrance is accessible by key card between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am so it felt extra safe. A complimentary breakfast buffet is also included and it is an impressive spread of potatoes, bacon, eggs, oatmeal station, DIY waffle bar and so much more.
Just a heads up that they charge $48 per night for valet with unlimited in and out privileges which is comparable to other parking options in the area. There are other overnight lots nearby for $12 a night but, not being a local and unfamiliar with how safe the surrounding areas were, I didn’t feel comfortable with this option.
The next time I'm in Portland with kids, I'd either stay at this hotel again or at a place on the Eastside because that's where the best restaurants are located.
Speaking of restaurants, let's get into this family-friendly Portland itinerary...
Day 1: Arrive, Check in, Eat and Explore
We took an 8 am - 10:20 am flight from Burbank Airport to PDX on a Saturday. By the time we deplaned, picked up our checked baggage and our rental car, it was time for lunch. The first meal we enjoyed was from Pine State Biscuit on Division Street.
The kids were napping so we got takeout but it would be great to eat here with kids as well. They have a large outdoor seating area and lots of families were enjoying the space when I picked up our food. I ordered a pulled pork biscuit sandwich for myself, a brisket sandwich for my husband, and fries and bourbon pecan bar to share. The food was craveworthy and I would love to visit again someday.
We arrived at the Hampton Inn a couple of hours before check-in and asked if they had a room available for us yet. Even though check-in is normally 3 pm, it never hurts to ask. We were able to get our room at 1 pm, take our bags up and settle in until dinner time.
Our first dinner in Portland was at Lechon, a South American-inspired restaurant on the waterfront. Parking was a breeze in the lot next door even though the Saturday market was still in full swing.
While Lechon is quite a fancy restaurant, it still felt family-friendly because they offer coloring books and kids menus. Of the many dishes we tried, our favorites were short rib baocitos, vermicelli dumplings, patatas bravas, and corn and queso fritters. We also ordered the choclo, lomo saltado and the farmer green salad but those were just fine.
While we waited for my husband to pay the check, the kids and I took a walk along the river at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The waterfront park is such an interesting place to people watch. In the 30-ish minutes that we were there, we saw families, artists sketching, roller skaters, people on drugs just sitting around, couples kissing, couples searching for buried treasure with metal detectors, bikers and skateboarders, lots of people laying in the grass, and a party boat that gave my daughter some ideas for her next birthday.
We stopped by Target on our way back to our hotel to stock up on essentials and spent the evening at the pool and unwinding before sleep.
Day 2: OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)
The second day of our Portland trip started with a light breakfast at our hotel. It was important to me to leave lots of time to rest because I have a tendency to over plan, pack in our days and end up feeling stressed and exhausted. If you have just a few days in Portland with kids, I would start here.
For lunch, we drove to Jojo's on Powell located in a food cart pod with several other vendors. There was a boba stand, taqueria, grilled cheese, barbecue and more--make sure to go hungry. What's great about going to a food cart pod with kids in Portland is that there is plenty of space for everyone to spread out, the vibe is casual and there is a food for every type of craving or palate.
With full tummies, we rolled ourselves seven minutes west to the OMSI, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. If you are visiting from over 90 miles away and are a member of a museum in your hometown, you should take advantage of the ASTC Travel Passport Program. We have a membership to Kidspace Museum in Pasadena and so far this year, we have been able to visit the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, San Francisco's Exploratorium and the OMSI for free (saving us $238).
The OMSI was incredibly interesting and highly engaging, even as an adult. I would actually consider this museum more geared for slightly older children (elementary and middle school age but there are activities for high schoolers as well). They have a room for younger kids, toddlers and infants with a water play area and jungle gym. The most fascinating exhibit in my opinion was the gestation display of a human baby which shows a real fetuses from the first weeks of conception until the due date. All of the fetuses died of natural causes and were preserved for the exhibit.
We spent three hours checking out the exhibits and could have spent even longer if we didn't have a movie to catch (and, of course, the museum closed at 5 pm). If you visit, check out OMSI's shows and movies (both the planetarium and the Empirical Theater). When we were there, they had a laser Elton John show that we were extremely tempted to watch but instead we chose the newest Spiderman movie. You can't beat a new release on an IMAX screen for only $7.50 per person!
For dinner, I walked across the street from our hotel to a grocery store called World Foods that, you guessed it, offers food from around the world. I felt like a kid in a candy store, especially in the chocolate aisle. I ended up spending way too much time and money here throughout the week but it was so worth it. On this particular night, I got chicken enchiladas from their prepared food section, hummus with pita chips and a bunch of local chocolates.
day 3: Chill Day Because it Rained
When you visit Portland, there is always a chance that even your best laid out plans will get rained on. In the event that it doesn't rain, use this day for a day trip to Astoria or drive through the Mt. Hood Fruit Loop especially if it's July and August.
We had the unfortunate luck, even in the middle of June, to have several very rainy days. On this day in particular, we started off with breakfast from Oyatsupan Bakers in Beaverton. This spot was one of my recommendations from my friend and Portland local, Celeste Noche, that we incorporated into our itinerary.
Pick up your tray, pop on what looks good and enjoy -- you can't go wrong with any of the options. I especially loved the bacon cheese epi baguette, the banana custard filled donut and the egg salad sandwich.
After Oyatsupan Bakery, I found an indoor playground called PlayDate PDX for the kids to let off some steam. The kids loved the play area and the grown ups loved drinking alcoholic beverage. While it was a nice refuge from the rain, I wouldn't recommend adding this to your itinerary. If we didn't have as many days in Portland, I would have regretted the hours we spent here.
Other ways to escape the rain in Portland include:
The day greatly improved in the evening when we decided to swing by Wailua Shave Ice right before closing. With two locations in the world, one on the island of Kauai and the other in Portland, we knew we had to stop by (especially since Celeste told us to). I am so glad we listened to her. The shaved ice itself was very fluffy and the flavors and toppings were light and not too sweet. We loved it so much, we decided to return later on in the week before leaving the city.
On our way back to our hotel room to decompress for a bit, we stopped by the Hello from Portland souvenir shop. They have lots of unique goods made locally. The kids and I picked out fun nail polish from Claws Out, a vegan, cruelty-free and non-toxic brand that donates to a different cause depending on the color. My son picked out the "Cat Lady" bright orange color (20% of profits donated to Pixie Project) and my daughter chose the rich purple hue called "F Cancer" which is self-explanatory. We all had a blast painting our nails while waiting out the rain.
We finally made it out to dinner at ¿Por Que No? Taqueria. It wasn't crowded on a Monday at 9 pm so we got the entire outdoor dining space to ourselves. If you're looking for authentic Mexican food in Portland, ¿Por Que No? is the real deal. The meats in the tacos were seasoned to perfection and very tender but the surprise for me was how much I loved the vegetarian flautas.
Day 4: Oregon Zoo
You won't find any sad animals or tiny enclosures at the Oregon Zoo. I didn't know what to expect from this visit and I almost skipped it because I thought, "Do we really need to see another zoo?" But my father-in-law's rave review swayed me in the right direction. And I'm so glad we decided to visit.
We ate breakfast at our hotel (but you can't go wrong at Fried Egg I'm in Love) and an early lunch at Eem Thai BBQ. If you come on a weekday at 11 am, you will likely get seated right away. Our meal here was wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the BBQ fried rice and coconut panna cotta with mango granita. Then off to the zoo we went!
The Oregon Zoo is different from any zoo I've ever been to. For starters, it's built into the forest with trails that you walk through to get to the animals. The enclosures for the animals are HUGE and the animals in the zoo's care look very happy. This was the first time I had seen a black bear in person and he looked so content and relaxed.
Because of the way this zoo is laid out with a single trail that leads to all the animals, it's very manageable for people of all ages. There's a vintage train with an entrance toward the end of the zoo that our family really enjoyed. I was also impressed with how much space the elephants had to roam around. The elephant area also had a wide open space with lots of greenery and amphitheater style seating for little ones to run around.
All in all, this was one of the more memorable days of our trip. If you have only one or two days in Portland, I would highly recommend adding the Oregon Zoo to your itinerary.
For dinner, we went to Hopworks Brewery, a family-friendly brewery in Portland. They have a play nook to keep kids occupied while parents enjoy fantastic food and beer. My husband and I shared a delicious poutine and bacon jam grilled cheese with tomato soup. The service is also incredibly friendly. It was a great end to a fun-filled day. Cheers!
Day 5: Hiking Day at the Columbia River Gorge
Before I jump into our day, I want to quickly note that you should adjust your day's plans based on the weather. In general, you should avoid hiking if it is actively raining or has rained in the last 24 hours. Trails can get muddy and slippery so please be cautious when hiking. Use your best judgment, don't drink and hike, and if you feel even remotely unsafe, please head back down.
If it is a clear day and you decide to make this your hiking day, let's get into it. We started the day with a mother-son walk to Abba Coffee Roasters. I was excited to try their Black Sesame Cold Foam Iced Latte. The first few sips were tasty until I realized that it was sweeter and had much less coffee than I like for my morning coffee. I managed to drink half of it before I aborted for plain liquid caffeine. Abba has many different flavors of coffee so I'd recommend you keep your personal preferences in mind when ordering. For some reason, I always think I'm a different person when I choose to try new things. I know I don't like my coffee with milk or sugar and yet, I continue to make decisions that contradict this sentiment every chance I get and continue to be surprised when I don't enjoy it. Don't be like me. Get coffee you know you'll like.
Anywhoooo. After our coffee excursion, we made our way to Multnomah Falls Lodge for brunch. I really enjoyed my hazelnut crusted French toast and my husband loved his Northwest Smoked Salmon Hash. If I could redo this day, knowing what I know now, I would have either gotten an earlier breakfast at Multnomah Falls Lodge and lunch at Sugarpine Drive-In or just an early lunch at Sugarpine Drive-In right when they open before heading to the waterfalls.
Either way, I had intended to spend more time hiking to work up an appetite for Sugarpine later in the day, which didn't end up happening. I regret not stopping by for one of their epic sundaes, but it's on my list for next time.
Ideally, after a few hours of hiking, you will have worked up an appetite. On our fifth day, we had one of our trip's best dinners at Magna Kusina. Immediately upon walking in, we felt welcomed like family. My husband and I ordered the lychee spritz-such a fun twist on the traditional aperol spritz with popping lychee boba. The bartender kindly made my kids their own non-alcoholic version with pineapple juice. They loved it!
Now onto the food, which I barely got to snap pictures of before my husband jumped in. The lumpia were light and flavorful, not greasy whatsoever. The crab noodles got devoured instantly. But the best dish of the meal in my opinion was the pancit bihon and the dessert which was a coconut banana pudding tart with some kind of jam and crispies on top. It was really such a special meal not only because of how delicious the food was but how friendly the staff was. They laughed with our kids, they chatted with us and the wonderful bartender gave us a shot of the ube grasshopper to end our meal. If I lived in Portland, I would return for dinner here in a heartbeat.
Day 6: Shopping and International Rose Test Garden
I keep going back and forth about whether a week is too long in Portland, just right or not enough time. For the type of vacation we wanted to have, aka not pack in our days too tight with activity, I'd say a week was a good amount for us. This also gave us the flexibility to adjust plans, take longer in some places or leave earlier to rest without feeling like we were missing out on something. Which brings me to day 6 which is really a made up day and not how life went in reality.
In an ideal world, we would have enjoyed an incredible breakfast at Screen Door Eastside then spent several hours perusing the nearby shops, specifically Banshee, Valley Studios and Lowell Shop. We would have fueled up at Soro Soro Coffee and Dessert then headed up to N. Mississippi Ave. to continue shopping some more at Black Wagon and Flutter. We would have eaten dinner at Lovely's Fifty Fifty. Then we would have gone to the International Rose Test Garden (because they are open until 10 pm in the summer surprisingly) to finish off the day.
This is what actually happened: we were able to squeeze in the International Rose Test Garden after our dinner on Day 5 because we had exerted virtually zero energy on hiking to see waterfalls. The kids LOVED the rose garden. There was lots of space for them to run around and my daughter is going through a flower obsession phase so she was right in her element. This was one of my favorite experiences in Portland because it was stunningly beautiful, not crowded, easy parking and very relaxing.
On Day 6, we started off with a mind-bogglingly delicious breakfast at Screen Door on the Eastside. We had fried okra, chicken and waffles and a veggie hash that I still dream about. The veggie hash changes with the seasons and mine was made of potatoes, carrots, peas, pickled onions on top of mint pea puree and topped with hazelnuts. I would never think to put these ingredients together for breakfast but it all worked so well.
The day started off with so much promise and quickly went downhill. We got stuck at a railroad crossing for 30 minutes waiting for a train to pass that was simply not moving. I maneuvered us around the train tracks and onto the freeway with hopes of visiting the Enchanted Forest amusement park. The freeway was moving at a snail's pace. An hour of being in the car later, we exited the freeway to use the restroom at the Target in Wilsonville. At this point it was 2 pm and we decided to give up on the Enchanted Forest mission and try again the next day.
Then we went shopping on NW 23rd Street where my daughter found a couple of dresses at Picnic, I got fancy salt at The Meadow and we all got some souvenirs at Budd + Finn. Next, we headed to the Rose Garden Children's Park to have the kids burn off some energy. For dinner, the kids and I got slices at Pizza Kat which was a decent quick and cheap option. My husband got takeout later from Farmhouse Kitchen Thai and said he enjoyed it but the food didn't wow him.
While we were able to turn this day around and make memories in the process, I wish I had planned better for this day. Definitely stick with my imagined itinerary if you want to have a better day than we did.
Day 7: Enchanted Forest
If you're traveling to Portland with kids, you must visit the Enchanted Forest! Located about an hour south of downtown Portland in Turner, OR, the Enchanted Forest is a super charming and quaint amusement park that is perfect for families. Because of its size and layout, it is a hundred times more manageable than Disneyland with the same feel-good vibes.
The Enchanted Forest is build along a single walkway that travels up into a wooded hill. The first half of the park features hand-built and painted scenes from well-known fairytales like Humpty Dumpty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, an elaborate mine you can walk through and the witch's candy house from Hansel and Gretel's house. By far the coolest section was Alice in Wonderland with a rabbit hole carved into a tree trunk that kids crawl into and a tunnel goes under the walkway and comes out in Wonderland.
Then there's the kiddie ride area with bumper boats, carousel, Ferris wheel, a train and bumper cars. If you want to go on rides, you need to buy ride tickets separately in addition to your main entrance. Ride tickets cost $1 each and you need 3-5 tickets per person per ride depending on the ride. There is also an area with shows throughout that day that's included with admission but we didn't get the timing right. After you pass the kiddie ride area, you arrive at the bigger rides, specifically a log ride, mountain bobsleds and the Challenge of Mondor. We went on the log ride as a family, got totally soaked and had a blast. Then my son and I went on the bobsleds while my husband and daughter did the Challenge of Mondor. The bobsleds could rival Matterhorn at Disneyland with how much air I was getting on some of those twists and drops. It was an amazing time overall.
If you are planning on adding the Enchanted Forest to your Portland itinerary and you like wine, make sure you schedule this day for a Friday or Saturday so you can go wine tasting after at Willamette Valley Vineyards. They have a full-service kitchen and it's family-friendly for those who want to go wine-tasting in Willamette Valley with kids. We had our fill of wines earlier in the week and decided to skip it to have Wailea Shave Ice one more time.
After shave ice, we headed to N. Mississippi Ave. for shopping and had Lovely's Fifty Fifty on this night. For a Friday night dinner, they had seating for four available, but we got it to-go to enjoy on our hotel's rooftop lounge. I'd say it was a pretty fantastic way to finish off our last full day in Portland.
Which of these days would you love to do the most? If you're planning a trip to Portland with kids, I'm happy to answer any questions!