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Portland is a vibrant city that is full of diversity with plenty of cool places to explore. If you’re planning a family trip to Oregon, spending a couple of days in Portland can be a great addition to your family itinerary. Not everything in Portland is kid-friendly and not all places in Portland are safe to visit, so use good judgment and practice caution as you travel to Portland with kids. Portland is the gateway to the Pacific Northwest and is a great jumping-off point for a road trip down the Oregon coast and up into Washington.
Is Portland Safe For Kids in 2021?
In the wake of the 2020 race riots, there is still a lot of backlash being felt all over Portland where the rioting and looting lasted a full year (into May of 2021). When we visited in June of 2021, probably 1 in 3 businesses in the downtown area had their windows boarded up and there is widespread homelessness and drug use. Every city block we saw in the downtown area had several tents where people experiencing homelessness lived. As we were walking through downtown Portland with our kids, we had a few people who were very clearly under the influence shout strange things out at them, which made the kids very uneasy.
This DOES NOT mean that Portland is not safe to visit with kids. Rather visit Portland knowing what it might be like, and enjoy the beautiful places in the city while you’re there. I recommend only staying a short time in the downtown area, and then spending more time in other parts of the city that have a safer feel to them.
Practices for safety in Downtown Portland:
- Talk to your kids about what is going on there. A visit to Portland is a great way to open up real discussions with kids about racial injustice, poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse. If kids know what is going on, they will know better what to expect.
- Don’t visit in the evenings or after dark, as this is when most of the rioting and looting have been happening.
- Don’t bring valuables. If you have valuables in your car, make sure they are hidden in the trunk.
- Maintain the buddy system at all times.
- Best things to do with kids in Downtown Portland
- Best Things To Do With Kids Along The Willamette River
- Fun Things To Do With Kids At Washington Park in Portland
- Best Outdoor Adventures With Kids in Portland
- Best Day Trips From Portland With Kids
- More Fun Things To Do In Portland With Kids
Best things to do with kids in Downtown Portland
Visit the Portland Saturday Market
The Portland Saturday Market is one of the most fun activities to do in Portland for families. It’s packed full of local vendors and artisans selling the things that they have made and the energy there is really fun. Our kids loved watching artists paint right in front of them, checking out all the homemade toys and especially the Food Trucks. Whether you like shopping to buy, or just to browse, you’ll love spending time at the Portland Saturday Market with kids. You’ll often find live music and street performers so it can be a fun place to hang out with kids on a Saturday in Portland. The Saturday Market is mostly under a large covered pavilion making it a great thing to do on a rainy day in Portland.
Eat at Voodoo Doughnut
Everyone told us that a trip to Portland wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Voodoo Donuts. Voodoo Doughnut has a bit of a cult following all throughout Oregon but their delicious donuts make a visit their absolutely worth it. It seems like this local Oregon donut shop is always busy with lines often reaching far out the door. When you take the kids to Voodoo Doughnuts, you’ll find traditional flavored donuts as well as a few quirky flavors like Capt’n Crunch, a bacon donut, and of course, a Voodoo Doll decorated donut. Donuts range from $1.50-$4 each.
Visit Powell’s Bookstore
Our family loves to read, so this is the highlight of our time in downtown Portland. Powell’s Bookstore is absolutely enormous, and is the world’s largest independent bookstore! I think that this bookstore has more books than many college libraries. It was seriously massive. The children’s section of this Portland bookstore was huge with row after row after row of beautiful and interesting books for kids. All of our kids got a little bit of spending money to use on this trip, and each of them spent all of it here at the bookstore. Not only can you find great books from local Portland and Oregon authors, but you can also find more rare and unique books than you’ll find in a traditional bookstore. He also loved that Powell’s Books carries both new and used books so we could get some books at a great bargain just because they were gently used.
Eat At Portland Food Trucks With Kids
Portland has a huge and vibrant food truck scene, which we absolutely love. Since we have a big family, it’s always a little bit hard to make everyone happy with just one place to eat, so we love finding parks where food trucks congregate. Portland has a huge variety of diverse food one their food trucks and our kids were delighted to find food trucks to get Middle Eastern, Greek, and Indian food all in one stop. When we were on our family trip to Portland, we found that there was the biggest selection of food trucks at the Portland Saturday Market.
Splash at Keller Fountain Park
Keller Fountain Park is a 1 acre park that’s filled with pools, fountains a little waterfalls for kids to splash and play around in. Designed to mimic the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, this is one of the most fun places to play in the water in downtown Portland. If you’re visiting Portland with kids during the summer, this is a must visit!
Enjoy Downtown Portland’s Street Art
Portland has a really great arts scene and the street art in downtown Portland is really impressive. We found this Portland Street Art Map really helpful when looking for street art near where we were already planning to be.
Portland Police Museum
Learning about our law enforcement is a great way to respect and support them. This free downtown Portland museum is great for kids to learn about police and how they protect and serve the community. This is a good free activity for kids in Portland ages 5-13.
Best Things To Do With Kids Along The Willamette River
Visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry OMSI
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is one of the best things to do with kids in Portland. The museum here is absolutely AMAZING and all of our kids had such a fantastic time here (with kids ages from 4-14, that says a lot). They have special exhibits that change occasionally, but we got to see one of the best dinosaur displays that I’ve ever found complete with animated/robotic dinosaurs. It was seriously amazing. The OMSI museum for kids in Portland had lots of other exhibits upstairs as well. Our kids loved learning about the body while we were there as well as earth and space science and a really great exhibit with live reptiles in it (my boys absolutely LOVED this exhibit). They also have a hands-on exhibit that’s really more of a science playground for younger kids to learn and explore, but it was closed during our visit to prevent the spread of germs.
NOTE: The OMSI is part of the ASTC Passport Program, so if you have a membership to another ASTC museum, you can get free admission here.
Take A Tour Of The Blueback Submarine
If you know someone that loves boats or history, then a visit to the Blueback Submarine is a must-do. This submarine is docked right outside of the OMSI in the Willamette River. Kids must be at least 3 years old and 36” tall to go on tours. If you don’t want to take a full tour of the Blueback, the dock that it’s on is a public dock and you are welcome to go down near the sub and view it from the outside. While you’re outside of the submarine, take a few minutes with the kids to enjoy the great views of the Willamette River. Osprey often build nests on the nearby bridge and it’s not uncommon to see bald eagles soaring above the river!
Willamette Jetboat Tours
If you’re looking for a wet and wild boat ride, you’ll want to take a ride with Willamette Jetboat Tours. The tours take you from OMSI up to Willamette Falls, while the drivers twist in figure 8’s and circles as they give you a wild ride full of fun on the Willamette River.
Play On the Beach
There are several different beach areas along the Willamette River that are perfect for taking a swim on a hot day, or just playing on the beach in cooler weather. Check out the Human Access Project for details on all the best Willamette River beaches with kids.
Fun Things To Do With Kids At Washington Park in Portland
Washington Park is a massive park that’s located west of Downtown Portland. It’s packed full of walking trails, playgrounds, gazebos, and lots of gardens, and even the Oregon zoo. This is one of the best places in Portland to spend an entire day with kids, and the park is lush, welcoming and such a wonderful place for families. Washington Park is the best place in Portland to have a picnic.
The Oregon Zoo is an iconic Portland stop that’s located right in Washington Park. The Zoo is best known for its herd of Asian elephants and its efforts to protect critically endangered California Condors. New this year, there’s a large Polar Bear exhibit that’s sure to impress your family. If you have kids who love animals, a visit to the Oregon Zoo is a fantastic idea.
Washington Park International Rose Test Gardens
The Rose Test Gardens in Portland were one of my personal favorite family-friendly stops in Portland. We went in mid-June, right when the roses were in full bloom. This whole garden dates back to World War 1 when roses from all over the world were gathered and planted in Portland to protect them from damage that may happen during the war. Since then, the gardens have been carefully cultivated and planned to create a beautiful display. The Portland Rose Test Gardens are really kid-friendly with wide-open spaces for kids to run and play, and even a few drinking fountains around the park for warmer days. We loved that our kids were welcome to smell the roses, and gently touch the plants to learn about the flowers. This is one of the best free things to do with kids in Portland.
Washington Park Playground
Washington Park has a large playground, right next to the international rose test gardens. This playground is really big, so even if there are lots of kids there, it never feels too crowded. There are also lots of picnic tables around the playground, as well as a covered pavilion (the old Elephant pavilion from when the zoo was in this part of the park) that is a great place to have a picnic in Portland. While the playground is large, it doesn’t have a lot of equipment for older kids and will be the most fun for kids ages 3-9.
World Forestry Center
What better place to teach kids all about forests and trees than right in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. The World Forestry Center is a great educational stop for kids in Portland that teaches them all about conservation, preservation, and the importance of trees in our lives.
Best Outdoor Adventures With Kids in Portland
Explore Forest Park
Forest Park is a 5,200 acre preserved area on the northeastern side of Portlands west hills that’s full of miles and miles of trails. It’s a great place to go for a hike near Portland with kids and has a good variety of short and longer hikes for kids. This is one of our top recommendations for escaping the heat in Portland in the summer. For a full map of Forest Park and it’s trails, click here.
Hike To A Waterfall In Columbia River Gorge
There’s no shortage of waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge and many of the hiking trails are really kid-friendly. Our favorite Portland area waterfall hike for kids is Wahclella Falls, which is only 2 miles roundtrip and follows a stream the entire way to a giant waterfall at the end of a canyon. We also really like the Fairy Falls hike since it’s well shaded and passes along several cascades, with a few fun bridges for kids to cross.
Make sure to read our full article on Best Short Waterfall Hikes For Kids In Columbia River Gorge if you plan on doing any waterfall hikes with the kids. While Multnomah Falls
is the most well known waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge, don’t overlook other nearby waterfalls that are much less crowded and perfect for a day hike from Portland with kids.
Go Biking Around Portland
If your kids like mountain biking, there are some of the best mountain bike trails in Oregon in the Portland Area. If you have kids who are beginning riders, there are several beginner dirt biking trails in Portland at Sandy River Delta, just east of town off of I-84. If you have kids who are more experienced mountain bikers, take the 45-minute drive out to the Sandy Ridge trail system for some of the best mountain biking with kids in Oregon. Here you’ll find a well-built-out trail system for mountain biking with everything from intermediate mountain bike trails, to advanced mountain biking trails. Our older kids love mountain biking and loved riding on these Oregon bike trails.
Stand Up Paddleboarding at Hagg Lake
If you’re looking for a great way to enjoy a summer day in Portland with kids, head to Hagg lake for a little bit of paddleboarding. Located just 25 miles outside of Portland, the lake has 2 boat launches, numerous picnic areas, and even 15 miles of hiking trails, so it’s the perfect lake to hang out at for the day. SUP’s can be rented from Scroggins Valley Outfitters for $34 for 2 hours.
Best Day Trips From Portland With Kids
Hood River is located about 45 minutes outside of Portland, but a day trip from Portland to this Oregon Fruit Loop is a must-do between July and October. The Fruit Loop is a driving route through the Hood River Valley where you can stop at lots of local farms to pick your own fresh fruits and vegetables as well as buy handmade goods like jams, jellies, bread, and even ice cream. Our kids loved the day that we spent at the Fruit Loop and we all consider this the best day trip from Portland with kids. On a clear day, you’ll get great views of Mt Hood from the fruit loop. If you’re wanting to visit a Portland farmers market, consider the fruit loop instead for a more personalized and immersive farm experience for kids.
Explore Columbia River Gorge
There are so many great things to do with kids in Columbia River Gorge. While hiking to a waterfall may be the most obvious, make sure to also go check out the dam and fish locks, explore the fish hatchery, and then head into Cascade Locks for ice cream and burgers.
Day Trip from Portland to the Oregon Coast with Kids
A day trip from Portland to the Oregon coast is a fun way to spend the day with kids. While many locals head towards to popular tourist town of Cannon Beach, we recommend you skip this busy beach town and head to nearby Ecola State Park or north to the quieter (though still well developed) town of Seaside. You can drive from Portland to the coast in about an hour and a half, so plan on doing this easy Portland day trip with kids.
Go Skiing On Mt Hood
Mt Hood is only about an hour outside of Portland and can be explored on skis for most of the year. If you love snow or winter, this is a must do activity with kids! Check our our skiing site for all of our best ski tips.
More Fun Things To Do In Portland With Kids
There really is no shortage of fun things to do in Portland with kids. If you’re still looking for ideas, here are some more kid-friendly Portland activities:
See A Play With A Portland Children’s Theater Group
There are several theater groups in Portland that cater to kids and families and teach kids to love the performing arts from a young age. Head here for a list of the local theater companies to see what’s being performed now!
Visit an Indoor Playground
With lots of wet and rainy weather, make sure to check out one of Portland’s indoor playgrounds for lots of ways to stay active even when the weather makes that difficult. PlayDate PDX is one of the best indoor playgrounds in Portland and is great for kids ages 12 and under.
Learn To Boulder at Portland Climbing Gym
Most kids are naturally good at climbing, so encourage their skills by visiting a kid friendly climbing gym in Portland. The Circuit is a bouldering specific gym that’s perfect for kids to get comfortable climbing without being too far off the ground.
Ride At An Indoor Skatepark
If you’re visiting Portland with teens or adventure loving kids, they’ll love testing out their skills at an indoor skatepark in Portland. Commonwealth Skate Park is a 4,500 square foot indoor skate park that was hand made, and is a blast for little groms. This is one of the top things to do in Portland with teens.
Whatever you decide to do when you visit Portland, you’ll find lots of fun things to do with kids in the city, even if the weather is rainy.