Portland may be best known for its beer, bicycling locals, and street food, but—as unlikely as it sounds—many of the city’s seemingly “grown-up” attractions can be geared towards kids with just a little tweaking.
Here’s the rundown on how to give hipster Portland a family-friendly spin:
Instead of Downtown Food Carts….
Don’t even try to juggle several plates of grub on a city street with kids in tow. Downtown food carts are fantastic, but limited seating means you’ll have to navigate busy streets to find a grassy picnic spot.
…Try Neighborhood Food Carts
Make this an excuse to explore Portland’s funky neighborhoods. The best choices for family-friendly food cart areas (called pods) are found in the hip Southeast or Northeast quadrants, where the vibe is more suburban.
Seek out pods that have plentiful seating and lots of space, such as Rose City Food Park (NE 52nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard), which has a play area, more than a dozen different carts to chose from (Picky eater? No problem!), and, oftentimes, live music and events.
Or, ditch the pods altogether and try the Grilled Cheese Grill, where an impressive array of take-offs on the ultimate childhood comfort food are served up from a school bus (in the Northeast location) or a double-decker bus (in the Southeast location).
Instead of City Biking…
Portland takes pride in its bike-friendly roadways. Cyclists here brave weather, traffic, and a tangle of streets to live green and get some exercise in the process, but it’s not the most advisable way to get from point A to point B with kids in tow for out-of-towners.
…Try Sunday Parkways
Enjoy biking without the hassles. On Sunday Parkways, which take place one weekend per month from May through September, the city closes down an entire neighborhood to car traffic, creating a safe space for cyclists.
Everyone from tots to teens and their grandparents hop on their bikes and pedal along routes that pass beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture and scenic sections of the Willamette River. Food vendors, bouncy castles, live music stages, climbing walls, and more fill neighborhood parks, providing plenty of chances to stop, play, and eat before biking some more.
- Tip: Rentals are available seven days a week at Waterfront Bikes.
Instead of Craft Breweries…
Nicknamed “Beervana,” Portland is said to have the most craft breweries per capita of any city in the United States. If you’re a beer enthusiast, this is a part of the city you do not want to miss.
…Just Go to Craft Breweries
Yes, bring the young ones. Many of Portland’s famed brew pubs offer a warm environment where it’s okay for kids to be noisy and a little unruly. The best among them have children’s menus and excellent alcohol-free options like craft root beers. Plus, you won’t be alone. Portlanders love bringing their brood out to eat and drink, and the kids love it, too. A few stand-out family-friendly options include the noisy-yet-inviting Laurelwood Brewing and Hopworks Urban Brewery, which comes complete with a play area and kid-friendly programming.
While not technically a brew pub, since it doesn’t produce beer on the premises, McMenamin’s Kennedy School—which features major draws like a movie theater and soaking pool—captures Portland’s weird style, and has lots of corners for curious kids to explore. Bonus: Burgers and well-loved tater tots appear alongside a menu that features a laundry list of tasty craft brews for parents.
Instead of Farm-to-Table Dining…
Upscale restaurants that take freshly harvested produce and serve it up in creative Pacific Northwestern style (hint: it usually involves wild mushrooms) are quintessential Portland. Of course these establishments are typically pricey and have a subdued ambiance that make them better candidates for date nights.
…Go to Sauvie Island
Skip the table and head straight to the farm. Sauvie Island, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Portland, offers 26,000 acres of bucolic, open-air beauty for kids and grown-ups alike.
The easiest one-stop destination on the island is Kruger’s Farm. Here you’ll find seasonal “U-pick” crops as well as family-friendly concerts in summer, hay rides through fall, and a selection of weekend food stands selling delicacies like roasted corn on the cob, artisanal sausages, and, yes, more craft beer.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in fall, the massive Corn Maze at the Pumpkin Patch at the south end of Sauvie Island is all about running around and getting lost in the tall walls of corn (parents included). Also on-site is a huge country-style pumpkin patch, farm store, a barn full of animals to visit, and a pyramid of hay to climb on.
Instead of Wandering Downtown…
Downtown Portland is where you’ll find the riverfront and historic Pioneer Courthouse Square—but also traffic, heaps of bars, and a thriving homeless population. Though there are parks interspersed quite liberally, this vital section of town can feel a little un-secure to some parents, even overwhelming.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
…Take a Portland Walking Tour
Instead of missing out on this area entirely, why not give the experience some structure by turning it into a fun and informative history lesson? Portland Walking Tours offers a selection of themed tours (best for ages nine and up) through downtown.
If it’s daytime, the Best of Portland tour shows off all the city has to offer. End the tour with a sugar rush at famed Voodoo Doughnut—with flavors like bacon-maple and Cap’n Crunch, there’s something for everyone. For older kids (or thrill-seeking littler ones), the Beyond the Bizarre ghost tours get everyone sleuthing around town at night with electromagnetic field detectors used by paranormal experts.
Instead of Watching Roller Derby…
Portland’s well-respected roller derby team, the Rose City Rollers, is composed of buff, tattooed women who regularly break bones and give each other black eyes. These are the types of locals the city is known for but, yes, it’s a little violent for the young ones.
…Go Roller Skating
For something softer, head to the old-fashioned roller rink at Oaks Park, where the wood floor, dining area, and faded skate rental counter are straight out of the 1950s. To travel even further into the time warp, show up on a Sunday afternoon when there’s live music to skate to via a Wurlitzer pipe organ at the rink’s center.
Celeste Brash is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Follow her story on Twitter @celbrash.