The Portland area was a pleasant surprise. I could definitely see it becoming one of my favorite places, given more time to explore. Understated in the world of travel, yet probably the most visited city in Oregon, Portland offers plenty of family fun for big-city enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. To me, it felt a little bit like a mixture of San Francisco and Seattle, with a Pacific Northwest climate, numerous specialty coffee shops and a unique hip culture.
Start With Breakfast
When you’re in Portland, make sure to visit the Waffle Window. There are two locations in the city, but we went to the Hawthorne Boulevard window east of the Willamette River. We decided to park a few blocks away and walk and I’m so glad we did. Hawthorne is lined with cute shops that showcase the trendy nature of the neighborhood, like the Red Light Clothing Exchange, a funky store selling modern and vintage used clothing, and Jackpot Records, a music and collectible shop.
The Waffle Window is housed in the side of a red brick building. Wooden signs point you in the right direction and the menu is framed on the wall surrounded by planters filled with flowers. Under the red awning, place your order for one of the restaurant’s sweet or savory waffles. We were there in the morning, but we opted for sweet treats—a traditional pearl sugar waffle and a seasonal classic, Berry Bliss. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and whipped cream topped the perfectly-crisped waffle. The inside was fluffy without tasting doughy and kids especially will love the sugar crystals hidden inside. If you want something more savory, choose from selections like the Ham and Cheese Waffle or The Three B’s—bacon, brie and basil! They also make amazing blackberry basil lemonade.
A covered tent out back has picnic tables that keep little ones and parents alike cool and protected from the sun.
Exploring the City
East of downtown, Washington Park is filled with thrilling places for family adventures. This massive public space is filled with sprawling green lawns, colorful gardens (including a rose garden with a playground and a Japanese garden) and unique museums.
The Oregon Zoo lies within Washington Park, with exhibits dedicated to the African savanna, the Amazon rainforest, the Pacific Northwest and more. Kids will go gaga over elephants and lions, but it’s also exciting to see the animals that roam the Portland area like beavers, bald eagles and black bears.
Another great spot for kids is the Portland Children’s Museum, where little ones can explore their creativity and put themselves into adult situations. Kids can shop for food at a grocery store, create artwork out of clay, practice veterinary science at an animal hospital, perform in a theater, find their way through a hedge maze, explore light and shadows on the Twilight Trail and drive a bus or an ambulance.
To explore nature in the city, head to Hoyt Arboretum, a hilltop botanical garden with tons of hiking trails. An additional museum details the history of forestry in and near Portland.
For a different kind of adventure, find greenery below Portland’s downtown skyscrapers. The South Park Blocks is a fun mixture of city and nature, with a twelve-block park winding through city streets. It’s a wonderful spot for a stroll—take in the roses, the fountains and the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Our favorite part of this area was looking at the architecture. Some Victorian houses are located along the streets and an old church had beautiful stained glass windows; have kids pinpoint their favorite buildings during your walk. The statues were also fun—someone had tied a beautiful bouquet of balloons to Lincoln’s hand.
Head Out of Town
Right outside of Portland lies some of the most beautiful landscapes Oregon has to offer. A drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway is worth every second, especially considering how close it actually is to the city.
I am a waterfall fanatic so this was easily my favorite part of my trip to Portland. Reminiscent of Maui’s Road to Hana, the highway winds through endless greenery, breaking every so often for roadside waterfalls and hiking trails. Dappled light shines through the leaves to create a speckled glow on the roadway and the shady drive is relatively cool year-round.
The most famous waterfall along the highway is Multnomah Falls, which cascades over 600 feet over slippery rock. There are two drops, one of which falls from high above and the second of which tumbles down below a footbridge. You can view both drops from the lookout point, which is relatively close to the roadside, or you can hike up to the footbridge and stand over the falls. Just make sure the kids have non-slip shoes on and are prepared to get pretty wet from the spray.
While Multnomah Falls was beautiful, it was also crowded. It’s a tourist spot, with a day lodge near the road that features a restaurant and a gift shop. It’s definitely worth a stop, but I found that the kids were having much more fun over at Bridal Veil Falls. The short hike took us over wooden footbridges, up and down steep ridges and down by a stream that trickled over rocks and fallen branches. Kids were quick to run up the stairs toward a pool of water directly below the falls, where they were jumping off of large rocks into the cold water below.
If you’re looking to take a dip in a calm roadside pool, Horsetail Falls was shallow enough for little ones to get in—or at least stick their feet in.
When you’re back in Portland, one place you have to try is Bassotto Gelateria. It’s located in the northern part of the city near the airport. This hip gelato shop features ever-changing flavors of cool, delicious Italian ice cream. They also serve coffee and have a unique style, with clipboards featuring the café’s specials lining the walls. End the day with a tasty treat to keep your little ones happy after a playful day in Portland.