Ready for the best. family. vacation. ever? Whatever your kids are into (science, animals, video games, the great outdoors), there are plenty of family-friendly sights and activities to keep the kids occupied and the whole family entertained. Explore some of our favorite family-friendly activities and events to do in Portland.
If Bill Nye “the Science Guy” were to design the world’s most fun-packed laboratory, odds are he’d look to OMSI for inspiration. Inside, hundreds of interactive displays, a motion simulator, a planetarium and an IMAX theater can fill an entire day. Sea-worthy adventurers can take the 45-minute tour on the USS Blueback, a full-sized submarine docked outside in the Willamette River. The tour includes kicking back on a tiny bunk, spying the Willamette River through a periscope, pushing buttons in the control room, and even touching a torpedo. Kids 12 and over who want to dive even deeper can attend a three-hour “tech tour” led by a submarine veteran on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.
Budding biologists flock to the World Forestry Center and the adjacent Oregon Zoo where 64 park-like acres (26 ha) boast natural enclosures that evoke everything from African savannahs to tropical rainforests. Kids can hop aboard the newly renovated and solar-powered Zoo Train, a steam locomotive that dates back to the 1950s.
Aspiring artists can view local and internationally renowned artists at the Portland Art Museum, where kids under 17 get in for free. The Portland Saturday Market is the go-to spot for creative crafts, handmade art and jewelry, and other one-of-a-kind finds. Book lovers could devote an entire week to exploring the block-size Powell’s City of Books, which augments its 1 million new and used books with offbeat local souvenirs and gifts.
Kids under the spell of the stage will delight in fantastical productions featuring acrobats, puppets and more in Portland’s vibrant theater scene. Experience family-friendly performances at The Judy, Oregon Children’s Theatre, and Imago Theatre.
On hot days head to Jamison Square in the Pearl District. Like a geyser, the fountain’s waterfalls stop, drain and cascade again. Order some homemade scoops at nearby Cool Moon Ice Cream to chill out even more.
Adventurous families can take to the air via Oregon Helicopters helicopter tours, or zoom up the Willamette River on a Willamette Jetboat tour. Families can also rent their own private electric boat with Portland Electric Boat Company (no experience necessary!). A visit to Kerr Bikes sends you on a beautiful cruise along riverfront bike paths with a four-seat “surrey” bike rental.
Reveling in vintage charm, Oaks Amusement Park America’s oldest continuously operating amusement park offers a variety of rides and amusements – including retro roller coasters, a Ferris wheel and even a roller-skating rink – and while it lacks the biggest thrill rides of, say, Six Flags, there’s a great deal to amuse younger children in particular for a whole afternoon. Ride bracelets make a day’s entertainment very affordable.
More Amusement and Water Parks
In downtown Portland, Glowing Greens is an indoor pirate-themed, black-light-filled mini-golf course. Playing the course takes approximately 45 minutes, but you can fill the rest of the day with axe throwing and an escape room on-site.
Gamers in the family will rejoice at the bounty of arcades and game shops in Portland. Avalon Theatre & Wunderland hosts a video arcade of nickel games and two small screens showing second-run movies. Quarterworld is split into adult- and kid-friendly sides, with 34 machines and 64 arcade games. With all-ages hours Ground Kontrol has vintage video games and pinball machines. Guardian Games is a massive game store that offers all kinds of games and game-related events, plus space to play. Red Castle Games hosts regular game gatherings and special events in addition to aisles and aisles of games for purchase.
Grab your goggles and floaties and head 20 minutes southeast of Portland to North Clackamas Aquatic Park. The water park features a 400,000-gallon wave swimming pool, three water slides, a 29-foot rock-climbing wall, a toddler splash zone, a six-lane lap pool and a 13-foot-deep diving well.
Shopping with the Whole Family
Malls and Shopping Centers
A trip to the mall can offer a little something for everyone in the family. Downtown Portland’s home for big-brand shopping, Pioneer Place, houses major brands like Tory Burch, J. Crew, H&M, Apple and more. In addition to more than 50 stores, the multi-block Portland shopping center has a large food court and a Regal Cinema. For shoppers looking to support local businesses and experience the independent spirit of Portland, the revival of this Northeast Portland shopping center might be of interest. Lloyd Center hosts around 60 local and national shops and restaurants, a 10-screen movie theater, and an indoor ice rink.
Crafty kids will love to stop into Collage, with three Portland locations in bustling shopping districts of Alberta Arts, Division and Sellwood, and fill up on art and craft supplies. Stocked with pens and paper from Europe and Japan and their own house line of paper, specialty stationer Little Otsu is a must-stop for kids (and adults) who like to stock their desks with beautiful things. For arts and craft supplies that won’t break the bank, check out Scrap PDX, which sells donated art, craft and creative supplies.
Whether you’re a parent looking for an educational game or a collector on the hunt for a vintage action figure, Portland’s toy stores deliver.
Portland offers a wide range of arcades, from family-friendly game rooms to dive bars and adults-only bar arcades.
When Portland's weather prevents kids from running around outside, families can choose from dozens of indoor activities.
Seasonal Family Fun
It doesn’t matter the time of year, Portland has fun-filled activities for kids all year long. Read on for our round-up of family events by season.
Fall Family Fun
Families can find fun outdoor activities in and around Portland every fall. As the summer sun wanes, falltime fun starts off with the Chapman Swift Watch in Northwest Portland, where families fill the schoolyard with picnics to watch as thousands of Vaux’s swifts funnel into a decommissioned chimney.
With breathtaking sights and waterfalls, an hour’s drive east from downtown Portland through the scenic Columbia River Gorge lands your family in the picture-perfect and delicious orchards of Hood River. Experience a slice of the Fruit Loop and meander through the orchards with views – on a clear day – of Mount Hood and Mount Adams while apple picking.
Closer to Portland, find pumpkin patches and corn mazes on Sauvie Island, which is a half-hour drive from downtown, to the annual costumed pumpkin boat race at the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta, a twenty-minute drive south of Portland in Tualatin, to more spooky events for Halloween.
Winter Family Fun
Though the weather outside may be frightful, winter in Portland still holds a lot of fun. Portlanders bundle up and celebrate the holidays in Portland with fun events that delight any age, like the Christmas Ships Parade. And when the rain is too heavy, head inside and check off your holiday shopping list while supporting local makers at Crafty Wonderland.
With only an hour and a half drive from Portland, bring the family to the mountains for fun in the snow, like skiing or tubing the slopes of Mount Hood. The historic Timberline Lodge accommodates families of adventurers of any skill level, from black diamond runs to the hot coco crowd in the lodge. Or, stick closer to the city and explore winter hikes and walks.
Every February the Winter Light Festival brings light to the wintry darkness with imaginative light displays that combine light and technology to create interactive experiences at many different locations in downtown and the Central Eastside.
Spring Family Fun
Follow the season of blooms from cherry blossoms at the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Waterfront Park from mid-March to mid-April, tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn the month of April, rhododendrons at Crystal Spring Rhododendron Garden in April-May, and irises at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens in Salem in May.
For those seeking the eccentric side of Portland, don’t miss the UFO Festival in McMinnville, just an hour southwest of downtown. Oregon’s annual celebration features days full of parades, costume contests, expert speakers and family fun.
Summer Family Fun
When the weather heats up, Portland’s public spaces overflow with summer fun and outdoor activities at some of the city’s most beloved venues, like Zoo Nights and McMenamins Edgefield’s Concerts on the Lawn.
With plenty of free family fun, the city’s Summer Free for All hosts movies, concerts and family-friendly events in the parks, or cool off at these Portland swimming holes. From July through September, Piano Push Play places beautifully decorated pianos throughout the city, with an invitation for any passerby to play. Another summer-long festival of events is Pedalpalooza, with plenty of kid-friendly rides on the calendar.
Get to know Portland’s unique neighborhoods with Portland Street Fairs. These events extend through the summer months, closing off the main street in each neighborhood so families can explore local vendors and food carts and watch kid-friendly performers.
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