Family Vacations to Portland, Oregon

Waterfront Portland, Oregon
Waterfront Portland (PhotoDisc)

Portland Highlights

  • See eagles, sea lions, and other animals at the Oregon Zoo.
  • Stroll through a flower-bedecked hillside at the International Rose Test Garden.
  • Splash, build, and play at the Portland Children's Museum.
  • Experience an earthquake and tour a real submarine at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
  • Enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon coastline.

Nicknamed the "City of Roses," Portland practically blooms with family-friendly attractions. Better yet, this urban outdoor playground provides easy access to Pacific Coast beaches 80 miles west as well as to the spectacular Northwest scenery of 11,240-foot Mount Hood, 65 miles east of Portland.

The city, bisected by the Willamette River, features a waterfront esplanade that's made for strolling and cycling. In Pioneer Courthouse Square, a popular spot in the heart of downtown, the Weather Machine, a 25-foot-tall mechanical sculpture, forecasts the weather at noon by rolling out a sun for clear days, a dragon for storms, and a blue heron for rain.

Plan to spend at least a day in Washington Park, home to the Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Children's Museum, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, and the Hoyt Arboretum and the Japanese Garden. The Great Northwest, a multi-habitat exhibit at the Oregon Zoo, presents wildlife found in the Cascade peaks to the Pacific coast. In Eagle Canyon, watch soaring eagles among the Douglas fir trees; at Steller Cove, catch sea lions and otters playing on rocks; and at the Cascade Canyon Trail, to be completed in 2006, look out for bobcats, American black bears, and cougars. Little kids will like petting the goats and other animals at the Trillium Creek Family Farm, an exhibit managed entirely by area teenagers.

To get from the zoo to the noted International Rose Test Garden, board the Washington Park and Zoo Railway, a fun way to reach the hillside rose garden. Once there, wander among the thousands of fragrant blossoms and enjoy the great views of the city. The peaceful Japanese Garden charms with a teahouse, and the Hoyt Arboretum, a living museum of trees, spreads out on 185 acres with 12 miles of shady trails. At the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, exhibits guide you through the canopy of a Brazilian rainforest and on a boat ride through China's temperate forests.

The Portland Children's Museum captivates tots to ten-year-olds with hands-on exhibits that let them splash and redirect water as well as lay sod and connect plumbing fixtures. At Baby's Garden, tots crawl over soft rocks, follow a glass river, and touch falling leaves.

The top-rated Oregon Museum of Science and Industry features five exhibit halls, eight hands-on science labs, and a real submarine outside, the USS Blueback. Along with touring the sub, kids can build bridges, experience a 5.6- and 6.8-magnitude earthquake, excavate fossils, and tackle hundreds of other fun tasks. At Animals as Architects kids uncover and explore the structures, homes, and habitats created by nature's critters.

Classic Pacific Northwest views are on tap with an easy day trip from Portland. About 30 miles east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge carves its way through the steep Cascade Mountains. Massive million-acre Mount Hood National Forest, just 20 miles east of Portland, has miles of hiking trails and even summer skiing (intermediates and experts only) at Timberline ski area.

Tip: The Portland Attractions Pass (, good for seven days, saves you money on admission fees at popular attractions like the Oregon Zoo and Portland Children's Museum.

Recommended Side Trips: Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, Astoria-to-Newport coastal stretch's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 11 Dec 2007 | Last Updated: 6 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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