What can you do in 36 hours in an urban, green city like Portland with kids? Apparently a lot! Combining kid friendly activities such as a visit to the Children’s Museum with tours to the rose garden and Japanese garden, Portland Oregon has a lot to offer to families. It is also a great way to introduce kids to international foods by taking them on a culinary adventure around the world. That’s easy to do at the food carts in the city.
Top 4 Things to Do in Portland with Kids
Don’t let the popular slogan about Portland, “where young people go to retire,” from the hit comedy “Portlandia” give you the impression that this Oregon city is only for the hipster crowd. With a laid-back culture and a vibrant food scene, Portland is a great city to visit with family.
We spent about 36 hours in the city with our two year old. We had a hard time narrowing down the neighborhoods we wanted to explore and the restaurants we wanted to try. Here are our top four things to do in Portland with kids that adults will also enjoy.
1.Visit the International Rose Test Garden
Did you know that Portland is known as the City of Roses? We began to notice rose plants along the highway as soon as we approached the city. The climate in Portland, marked by warm, dry summers and wet winters, is ideal for growing roses.
Though there are many rose gardens through out the city, the International Rose Test Garden located in the Washington Park area is the one you should visit. The garden was started in 1917 on 20 miles of rose bordered streets. It was a joint effort between enthusiastic volunteers, parks department and the Rose Society. Now it extends to about 4.5 acres, with thousands of plants and hundreds of different varieties.
The garden is free to visit. It’s an ideal space for little kids to run about. Just be mindful of the thorns on the plants as the little ones maybe inclined to touch the beautiful flowers. April to October is the blooming season and we were treated to a garden in full bloom when we visited in July.
2.Visit the Portland Japanese Garden
The Portland Japanese Garden has been declared to be the most beautiful and authentic garden outside of Japan by the country’s former Ambassador to the United States. It is located the same area of Washington Park as the Rose Garden. So you can visit both places in one visit.
Since our son, Little D, enjoys being outside and we love the serene atmosphere of Japanese gardens, we took the 2 minute trolley to the garden nestled among the hills. Stepping in through the gates transported us to a tranquil haven. Even our usually energetic toddler felt calmed by the peaceful environment. It was an unusual to see him reflect upon seeing a “different kind of park.”
With a map in hand, we walked through the key features of the garden. Kids love the waterfall and pond where Koi fish could be seen swimming. Little D loved making his way across the meandering the Zig Zag Bridge looking out for fish. The authentic Moon Bridge hidden among lush green trees was one of my favorite sights.
You can also get a great view of Mount Hood and the sprawling city from the garden behind the tea house. Take your time to stroll through the garden and take in the design elements, such as stones inscribed with poetry and stones rising from a bed of sand.
3. Visit Portland Children’s Museum
Since we can never guarantee good weather, we always pick a few indoor activities when planning our itinerary. The variety of exhibits at the Children’s Museum made it one of our top picks for things to do in Portland.
From the moment we stepped in, Little D was fully engaged. The supermarket, garage and pet hospital were exhibits that helped little kids mimic their real world experiences. We had fun watching Little D go around with a little shopping cart picking items off a pretend grocery list.
The water play area was one of Little D’s favorite activities. The water table where he could build dams and waterways with plastic connectors and guide his boat unhindered was fun as well as educational. The spacious Clay Studio, where kids could do clay molding or other crafts along with their care givers, was very impressive. All the supplies were available in the room and a very friendly staff member was able to answer questions.
There was a lot to take in for just one visit. We visited the outside quickly to survey the children’s maze, campsite and sand play area. I also noticed kids taking a break by snuggling up at a cozy spot like the tree house for quiet reading or resting. Moms could nurse in a special dedicated area.
4. Explore the food carts
Not experiencing the Portland food carts is like going to Paris and not having a croissant or leaving New York without ever having tried its pizza. With over 600 food carts, the street food scene is an integral part of the city’s culture. Most of the food carts stay put in one place and form a group dubbed “the pod.”
Sampling the food from the downtown Alder pod area was a highlight for us. Walking through the carts was like taking a culinary world tour. Little D was excited to look at pictures of familiar foods as well as learn about their roots. Since we wanted to take our time with exploring, we started in the late morning, just before the lunch rush began.
We settled on a few different items including one dish from a cart that had its own dining area, a couple of tables on the sidewalk. Unless you can find seating take your food to go and find a near by park or bench. While typical street food deals with simply made food, these food carts offer gourmet dishes. I’m still relishing the bites of my Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich, a product of French colonization in the region.
The variety makes food carts great for giving kids options and with most entrees under $10, this is one of the most affordable meals we had during the trip. Little D was thrilled that he could have bratwurst as well as noodles two of his favorites in one meal.
What are other must do things in Portland with kids?