July 25, 2009

Portland, OR with kids

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 3:09 am

Some people have written to say they’re going to the Portland area with their children, so I thought I’d offer up a few things up to do. This vacation has worked fantastically with kids–there is so much to give you a little taste of adventure, beauty, or excitement, all on a preschool scale (and time table).

We went to the Rose Gardens. Not only are they fragrant and beautiful, but there’s a fountain in which your kids can get wet up to their elbows (or waists if they’re not listening particularly well that day) and an amphitheater where they can run, jump, and gather pebbles for a half hour or so.

Go to the street carts afterwards for lunch. Here we’re eating a Bosnian burek (a veggie pastry) with a pimento dipping sauce, and meatballs for the tamer tastes, but you can get practically any ethnic cuisine your kids desire, from dim sum to Polish sausage, and it will be the best of its kind, eaten outdoors on a motley collection of tables, each unique to its particular cart. Wash your meal down with one from a selection of unusual soda-juices, worth standing on line for even if you’re not buying food from that particular cart. Follow it all with some Two Tarts cookies, whether you eat at the Whole Bowl, which sells them out of jars, or not. Bathrooms can be found in the Governor Hotel building so a sudden “I need to peeee!” is not to be feared.

The science museum could keep you occupied for an hour or a day. Everything is hands-on and there’s even a real submarine to be toured (admission extra, as it is for the IMAX). Your kids can scramble onto berths and sit in the officers lounge to get a feel for what it might be like not to have their own toy-stuffed bedroom.

What I liked best about visiting the Pacific northwest was that we could do things that caused the adults in the group to gasp with wonder, all without totally blowing nap. This is Cannon Beach, and you can see this view with only a brief, child-friendly scramble up from the parking lot. The hour-and-a-half drive there or back is perfect for a car nap.

Then have lunch in town–we ate at Sweet Basil’s where everything is organic, locally sourced, that kind of thing, and delicious, but Cranky Sue’s, which is closed on Wednesdays, also looked wonderful–and don’t miss ice cream here at Osburne’s. Each flavor actually tastes like the ingredients it’s made from, and they do wonderful things like swathe a cake cone in the deepest, richest fudge I’ve ever had.

From town it’s only a short walk to the beach. The surf even in the ocean wasn’t rough the day we visited, but there’s also this fantastic trench where your kids can splash, paddle, and dig safely. Pails purchased cheap in town–you don’t have to lug one on the plane!

After the coast, take to the woods. Only a short drive out of Portland lies the Columbia River Gorge. If you’re from the East, you will scarcely recognize this geography, which consists of mountain-high single rocks, scaly with moss and ridged with trails along death defying dropoffs. But there’s no need to brave one of these with your toddler. The Elowah Falls trails is a relatively easy eight tenths of a mile of ups and downs (don’t be fooled by this shot–not difficult or dangerous at all)
at the end of which you will see…

If you’re in attentive-parenting mode, your kids can scramble around in the pools and fairly close to these spectacular falls. (We were told that rocks sometimes drop from overhead–and that overhead is pretty high, sort of like how a penny can kill ya if it drops from the Empire State Building). There’s a lovely bridge to picnic on and if anyone isn’t tired (ha) the hike continues on for several steep miles and past more falls.

If it’s time to stop motivating, pushing, and urging your kids to try the activities you want them to love as teens and adults, you might want to head over to the sprayground. For five bucks per car your kids (over five) can swim in a roped off patch of lake and younger tykes can get wet beneath a giant, spewing frog and in general look as happy as this.

If your troupe was up for the first hike, you might want to try something slightly tougher. The woods and mountains around Mt. Hood are breathtaking. There’s a mostly ambling trail along a rushing river amidst old growth forest. (That means trees way bigger in diameter than anything in the East, a fact which will go unnoticed by the kiddies since all trees are pretty big to them.)

And there’s even a trail on the snow-capped mountain itself that my three year old was able to do most of. It’s a mile and a half in and ends in a mountainside lake. Awe-inspiring for us Easterners to climb UP to water. The lake is swimmable–or splashable–if you don’t mind a muddy bottom (and what kid does?) The trail is remarkably easy for a peak region like this. And the views are beyond compare.

Really overtired kids can sneak a nap in anywhere, anytime…

After the hike, go see the historic WPA site, Timberline Lodge. They serve a lovely brunch if you want to build your day around that.

And your kids can throw a snowball in July.

Portland is famous for its gardens…even just strolling around the local streets (here we are in Southeast) will provide eye candy for those who love flowers.
We have friends in Seattle so we decided to head out on the under three hour drive. Apparently traffic can sometimes be gnarly but we made it through okay. Our friends were exceedingly gracious and generous hosts, AND have a practically matched set of kids, so it was fun central there.

Then we went up in the Space Needle (I didn’t say we were original) and visited the Children’s Museum, which I found to be one of the best of its kind. They have every kind of mock adult activity your child might want to play at, from living in a Japanese house to running a Mexican restaurant. My daughter stated that her heart was breaking when we had to leave, and the vehicle loving soul can drive everything from a firetruck to a city bus.

Blue C Sushi serves sushi and other Japanese delectables on a conveyor belt, which is just plain cool.

And the cupcakes at Trophy were both magnificent and delectable–a combo I’ve never found before, even in NYC.

All in all, this has been a spectacular trip, each one of these activities something I’d love to repeat. We’re leaving tomorrow and I feel nothing but sad. It helps to have uncles who are the best hosts, tourguides, and home-away-from-homes ever, of course. If you want any further info on this or other things Portland, please email me or comment on the blog! And have fun!


  1. Hi Jenny,

    A few years ago, the family and I did a similar vacation, and you’re right, it was great. We did the OMSI and the submarine, the Rose Garden, the trip through the Columbia River Gorge and Elowah Falls, Seattle and the Children’s Museum (although we didn’t go up the Space Needle).

    Thanks for sharing.

    I hope you made it to Powell’s Books!

    Comment by Alan Orloff — July 26, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Alan, how funny to have hit so much of the same stuff! Have you taken any other great trips more recently? Here’s a link to my brief post about Powell’s–sheer heaven!


    Comment by jenny — July 26, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  3. Love the science museum. And what cute kids! And cute hubby! Beautiful views. And I can’t believe there was SNOW!

    Comment by Savvy — July 26, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  4. 1. Now you’re making me want to go to Portland.
    2. Your kids are gorgeous. (My, your daughter looks so much like you, too!)
    3. Your husband is HOT.
    4. You’re gorgeous.
    5. I’m jealous!

    Comment by Judy — July 26, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  5. Hee hee, you guys are kind, but a) I do NOT look good in any of those shots and posted them only ’cause they really do tell the story of the place b) my husband–whom I do find pretty hot–is fuzzy in all of ‘em so I think you must mean the shoulder rider who is the kids’ uncle (my brother’s guy). He’s hot too, but let’s just say he would not find any of us so c) OK, yea, kids, thanks…

    And thanks for reading! Maybe we can all do a joint book tour west one day…

    Comment by jenny — July 26, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

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