Cities in the States

Museums, zoo, biking — plenty to do in Portland, Ore.

The Portland Aerial Tram.

Last in a series highlighting cities to which you can fly nonstop from Boston.

This city of charming neighborhoods reflects the values of its hip young residents, especially its thriving community of active, outdoorsy, progressive families. It has more than 370 miles of bike paths and lanes, an easy-to-use light rail and streetcar system, preserved historic buildings and ones constructed from reclaimed materials, and a close connection to its green spaces and to all things quirky and weird.

Portland has 200 parks within city limits, including Mill Ends Park, which Guinness Records proclaimed the world’s smallest dedicated park at 24 inches in diameter (Forest Park ranks as the city’s largest at 5,156 acres).


Everything from the science museum to brewpubs to independently owned shops caters to kids, offering special play areas and nooks for little ones. And whether your children are tots or teens, you will find plenty to do. Here are some of our top picks:


8 a.m. Grab a breakfast bite at Mother’s Bistro (212 Southwest Stark St., 503-464-1122, www.mothersbistro.com, $3.95-$12.95; closed Mondays) in southwest Portland. If it’s a Saturday, put your name on the waiting list (it can take an hour) and head to the nearby Portland Saturday Market; you’ll get a text when your table opens. Ask to be seated in the colorful main dining room, which has a kids’ play area with Legos and blocks. You can admire all the mother-child photos and the brass and crystal chandeliers while waiting for your frittata and hash. Kids will love the cornflake-crusted French toast and the pancakes that come with ears, banana eyes, and chocolate chip noses and mouths.

9:30 a.m. Before making your first stop, get a picnic lunch from Elephants Delicatessen (115 Northwest 22d Ave., 503-299-6304, www.elephantsdeli.com, $6.95-$10.95), known for Mama Leone’s homemade soups, sandwiches, and pastries. Or come back later for the brick-oven pizza (try the fig and prosciutto) and the deli’s famous milkshakes.


10 a.m. Take the MAX light rail ($2.50 for any one-way trip) or your rental car to Washington Park, where you can spend an entire day exploring kid-friendly hiking trails, museums, exhibits, and playgrounds, all sizable enough to entertain without overwhelming little ones. Spend a good hour and a half at the Oregon Zoo (4001 Southwest Canyon Road, 503-226-1561, www.oregonzoo.org, strollers for rent, adults 12-64, $11.50, 2 and under free), where giraffes, elephants, lions, cheetahs, bald eagles, and polar and black bears delight kids of all ages. Daily parking $4-$6, depending on the season.

11:30 a.m. Next door, the Portland Children’s Museum (4015 Southwest Canyon Road, 503-223-6500, www.portlandcm.org) stokes imaginations with its hands-on Water Works exhibit (waterproof bib provided), face-painting area, clay station, theater, pet hospital, and grocery store where kids can load shopping carts with dairy products, baked goods, cereals, and other play items, and then “purchase” them at a kids’ cash register. Or they can pretend to order or cook food at a little cafe. The museum prides itself on being “the museum that doesn’t act like a museum,” since exhibits are so hands-on and engaging for curious little minds.

12:30 p.m. Enjoy a panino or vegan soup or create your own salad at The Counter @ the Museum, a small cafe. Or hop in your car and take your picnic lunch to the Rose Garden Children’s Park a few miles down the street on Sherwood Drive, where you’ll find a massive colorful playground structure with multiple levels, ramps, slides, swings, and a sand pit with an elephant statue that kids like to cover with sand. Eat at the picnic tables under the trees or at a covered pavilion that was once home to Rosy, the first elephant to move to Oregon in 1953.


2:30 p.m. Drive up the road to the Portland Japanese Garden (611 Southwest Kingston Ave., 503-223-1321, www.japanesegarden.com, $9.50 per person, 5 and under free), where you can climb the steps or hop a small shuttle up a steep hill to this peaceful oasis. Enjoy city views, and relax at the sand and stone gardens, by the koi pond, and under the cherry trees. Kids can track down the five-tiered pagoda, the haiku stone, and other objects during a self-guided treasure hunt.

6 p.m. After this action-packed day, enjoy quick, easy comfort food at the Grilled Cheese Grill (1027 Northeast Alberta St., 503-206-8959, $5.75-
$8.50) just across the river, where you can order hearty sandwiches on homemade bread from a food cart, and then eat while sitting on a repurposed school bus equipped with booth- and diner-style seating and decorated with old-time class photos on the tables and a crazy-colorful mural on the ceiling. Each table has Trivial Pursuit cards so mom and dad can test their memories while they wait. If you’re super hungry, go for The Cheesus, which comes with a burger in between two grilled cheese sandwiches.



Portland is home to 370 miles of paved bike trails and lanes.
Portland is home to 370 miles of paved bike trails and lanes. Kari Bodnarchuk for the boston globe/Kari Bodnarchuk

8 a.m. Broder Café (2508 Southeast Clinton St., 503-736-3333, www.broderpdx.com, $7-$12) may tempt you to move here. The cozy eatery, with its crisp, stylish decor, serves Scandinavian favorites, from lefse (Norwegian potato crepe) and pytt i panna (Swedish hash) to aebleskivers (Danish pancakes), which come with dipping sauces — lemon curd, lingonberry jam, applesauce, and maple syrup — and are a big hit with the kids. Attentive waiters keep the coffee with steamed milk flowing.

9:30 a.m. Head back to Waterfront Bicycles (10 Southwest Ash St., No. 100, 503-227-1719, www.waterfrontbikes.com, $6 an hour-$30 for 24 hours for kid trailer, $9 an hour- $40 for 24 hours for adult-size Fuji) and pick up a cruiser bike and, if you have younger kids, a Burley or Weehoo trailer, and spend the day pedaling to the following sites along the Waterfront Trail and beyond. You can even rent a pedal-less Strider for your little biker, if you’re planning a shorter ride.

10:30 a.m. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI, (1945 Southeast Water Ave., 800-955-6674, www.omsi.edu, closed Mondays unless school is out, adults $13, 3-13 $9.50, sub tour $5.75 per person) can keep kids of all ages entertained. It has a large-screen theater, planetarium, and a special area for children 6 and under called Science Playground, where little ones can put on a chipmunk outfit, learn what naturalists do, dig their toes in white sand, play with water, and watch balls shoot through air tunnels. Anyone 3 or older — and able enough to climb through a submarine doorway — can go for a guided tour of the USS Blueback, the US Navy’s last nonnuclear, fast-attack submarine, which is anchored on the river.


12:30 p.m. OMSI’s newly renovated Theory Eatery blends science and food and welcomes visitors into the kitchen. Overlooking the Willamette River, the cafe draws local families, and offers everything from beef sliders and quinoa to tuna melts with roasted garlic aioli and homemade bread.

1:15 p.m. Wander five minutes down the road (heading south) to the volunteer-run Oregon Rail Heritage Museum (2250 Southeast Water Ave., 503-233-1156, www.orhf.org, donations), where you’ll find a giant hangar housing three vintage steam locomotives, two of which are operational: the Southern Pacific No. 4449 and the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle No. 700. Visit Saturday and take a 45-minute ride on the Oregon Pacific Railroad hourly starting at 12:30 p.m. and ending with the 4:30 p.m. departure.

3:30 p.m. Collect your bike, pedal over the bike- and pedestrian-friendly Hawthorne Bridge, and head south, following a nonmotorized multiuse path and a street with a dedicated bike lane (Moody Street), as you make your way to the Portland Aerial Tram (3303 Southwest Bond Ave., 503-494-8283, www.gobytram.com, $4 round trip per person, 6 and under free). Hop aboard the Swiss-built tram and rise 500 hundred feet as you marvel at the city views. Stay on for the several-minute ride back down or wander around the lower level and see the small sculpture garden on the outside deck.

Hopworks Urban Brewery is one of Portland’s top brew pubs and a favorite among parents.
Hopworks Urban Brewery is one of Portland’s top brew pubs and a favorite among parents. Kari Bodnarchuk for the boston globe

5:30 p.m. Time for a pizza or burger and a microbrew at Hopworks Urban Brewery (2944 Southeast Powell Blvd., 503-232-4677, www.hopworksbeer.com, $16.75-$29.75 pizza, $9.50-$12.50 burger), a favorite among families, in part because it has three play areas with train tables, blackboards, books, and games. Check out the dozens of reclaimed bike frames that form a truss over the downstairs bar. Try the mouthwatering homemade beer pretzels with the warm beer cheese sauce for starters.


9 a.m. For the novelty of the experience, have breakfast at the ever-popular Slappy Cakes (4246 Southeast Belmont St., 503-477-4805, www.slappycakes.com, $6.50 per tube of batter, $1-$2 per topping), where you can cook your own pancakes on a hot griddle that’s built into your table. Choose your batter — buttermilk, whole grain, vegan/gluten-free, peanut butter, sweet potato, or chocolate — and select an assortment of toppings, such as chocolate chips, blueberries, shredded coconut, crispy bacon, or local goat cheese, and then start cooking. All batters, dips, jams, and sauces are made from scratch using fresh ingredients.

10:30 a.m. Drive about 2 miles north to the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children at Grant Park, where you’ll find playful life-size bronze statues of Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Henry’s dog Ribsy, all characters created by Cleary for her Ramona series of books.

Noon Head back to the city, park your car, and explore by streetcar.

1:30 p.m. Wander around Powell’s City of Books (1005 West Burnside St., 503-228-4651, www.powells.com) where you can lose yourself among the labyrinth of hallways and color-coded rooms in the world’s largest independent bookstore.

4 p.m. End your stay with a quintessential Bridgetown experience: a meal from one of the city’s 474 food carts. Try Mississippi Marketplace (4233 North Mississippi Ave., www.missmarketplace.com), where you’ll find everything from barbecue and ramen dishes to fusion food with an Oregon-Asian twist and — a top pick for kids — sweet and savory crepes.

Kari Bodnarchuk can be reached at travelwriter@karib.us.