Portland for the Pint-Sized

Portlanders are known for keeping their kids in tow instead of opting for nannies or babysitters. It’s no surprise then that the city offers numerous places that appeal both to the young and the young-at-heart.

Corner of the building housing Powell's City of Books with the signpost affixed to the brick.
Powell’s City of Books features the largest children’s book section on the West Coast. Photo © Kimi Owens, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Young and old alike will find themselves wanting to touch, twirl, poke, and examine things around every corner of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (1945 SE Water Ave., 800/955-6674). You can ride the motion simulator, check out a flick in the incredible IMAX theater, tour a real U. S. Navy submarine, or visit the latest traveling exhibition. You can also find fun for all ages at Oaks Amusement Park (7805 SE Oaks Park Way, 503/233-5777). Ride the Scream-n-Eagle, take a spin around the old-school skating rink, or have a picnic along the banks of the Willamette River. The rink is open most days, and rides are operational on Saturday and Sunday noon–7 p.m. and during special events.

Of course, the Oregon Zoo (4001 SW Canyon Rd.) is a big draw for families, with its Asian elephants, adorable penguins, majestic polar bears, fascinating fruit bats, and a plethora of animals from all corners of the world. In fact, on any given day, there are 2,200 specimens representing 260 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. You can check out the daily keeper talks or ride the zoo train, which takes you around the zoo and shows off some of the pretty forested areas of Washington Park. Wintertime visitors can also check out ZooLights, when the zoo is transformed into a colorful wintry wonderland and hours are extended past dark.

A great day trip with the kids is the 20-minute drive out to Sauvie Island, where there are U-pick farms and wildlife areas to explore. A favorite in the fall is the Pumpkin Patch (503/621-3874), where kids can hop on a hayride out to the pumpkin patch. If you pick a pumpkin, you pay according to the size and weight, but otherwise, it’s free. The produce market is full of fresh fruits and vegetables (as well as pumpkin-carving kits, fall decor, and other goodies), and you can pick up some hot buttered corn and homemade cider at the concession stands. While you’re out there, visit the Maize, a truly mindboggling five-acre corn maze; and after dark, in October, the truly brave-hearted can traipse through the Haunted Field of Screams.

Portland Saturday Market (48 Naito Pkwy., 503/241-4188) has long been a favorite for kids, especially since it’s the place where elephant ears were invented. Portland’s Elephant Ears is one of many carts in the market’s food court, but this one is a particular favorite among the small set. The smell of those ginormous fried dough treats is hard to resist, especially when you can douse them in marionberries, apple butter, cinnamon and sugar, or whatever you like. Kids are also pretty fond of touring the merchant booths, as there are a number of vendors with things to touch, test-drive, or try on.

There are great stops for the little reader in your life. Powell’s City of Books (1005 W. Burnside, 503/228-4651) has a truly jaw-dropping kids’ room. In fact, it has been dubbed the “largest children’s book section on the West Coast.” There are tables and chairs for impromptu storytime, and a staff person is on hand to help you or your child find exactly what you are looking for. Plus, it has a fun merchandise section with irresistible craft items, T-shirts, and cool educational toys. On the east side of the river, you’ll find Green Bean Books (1600 NE Alberta St., 503/954-2354), which has a fantastic collection of books for young readers and soon-to-be-bibliophiles. It also has an amusing collection of old vending machines that now distribute things like fake mustaches, finger puppets, and little fuzzy friends.

Many Portland hotels feature kid-focused packages. Hotel Monaco (506 SW Washington, 888/207-2201), for instance, offers a “Mini DaVinci” deal with passes to the Portland Children’s Museum, milk and cookies, and even paint sets and canvasses for you to keep.

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