Portland, Oregon is one of our favorite places to visit. Not only do some of our grandchildren reside here – there are loads of things to see and do. And EAT. Whether you’re looking for something historic, cultural, outdoorsy, nourishing or just plain quirky – you can find it in Portland and its suburbs. Here are a few of our favorite kid-friendly options:
- End of the Trail Museum
- Multnomah Falls
- Voo Doo Doughnut
- Powell’s City of Books
- Japanese Garden
- BONUS! International Rose Test Garden with FREE Rose Garden BINGO!
End of the Trail Museum
This pleasant surprise-of-a museum (officially End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive & Visitor Information Center) ends up on my all-time fave museum list! It was the perfect place to spend a rainy, Portland day with our son and grandchildren and kept the young ones thoroughly entertained! The outside of the museum lured us in immediately with what appears to be a giant skeleton of a covered wagon.
Upon entering the museum we were drawn to the many interactive exhibits geared to educate about the life and hardships of the emigrants on their primitive journey west. A museum docent provided a list of supplies required for the 2,200 mile trek. We all worked together calculating the weight of the items to determine just how much we could take and then we actually loaded a wagon with faux trunks, muslin bags and feed sacks! We explored a replica school room from that era, dressed up in pioneer attire, identified animal pelts like those that may have been encountered on the journey, and dipped candles that we took home as souvenirs.
There are things to explore on the grounds outside the museum as well. Luckily there was a break in the weather with the rain stopping long enough for us to head outdoors for some photos in the gardens and in front of the giant Oregon Trail map. It was especially meaningful to view the bigger-than-life actual route of the trail after not only reading and hearing about the history of the trail, but actually participating in activities designed to make us feel as if we were pioneers ourselves!
The museum campus also serves as an Oregon Welcome Center with a separate building that houses Oregon travel information , complimentary maps and brochures. Also in this building is a gift shop filled with pioneer-era toys, games and attire like bonnets and coon-skin caps. There are craft kits, jewelry, unique art, books and many more items that you can take home to help you remember the museum and fill you with the pioneer spirit! Contact Info: 1726 Washington St, Oregon City, OR 97045, 503 657-9336, www.historicoregoncity.org.
This startlingly beautiful waterfall is incredibly right next to I-84 about thirty miles east of Portland. It’s the kind of natural wonder that makes you gasp and what’s more, unlike most falls, it requires NO long or strenuous hike to witness its beauty! You can even catch glimpses of the upper Multnomah Falls simply driving on the interstate.
The real treat, however, is taking the exit, parking in the ample lot and walking the easy five minutes to the base of the falls. There you will be greeted by a visitor’s center with lots of natural and historical information about the area, as well as maps and trail info. The gorgeous lodge was completed in 1925 and contains actual stones found in the surrounding area. It not only houses the visitor’s center, but also a gift shop, restrooms and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and featuring regional entrees such as Northwest Wild Coho Salmon.
But the MAIN EVENT is the falls. They are unique in that they consist of two levels. An upper falls dropping 542 feet and a lower falls dropping another 69 feet. From the bottom, you look straight up to witness the water crest over the tip-top upper edge and begin its cascade downwards while a gentle mist settles over the area. And on the right kind of day, an occasional rainbow can be spied glinting in the dappled sunshine. If you’re like most visitors, though, it’s hard to settle for only this view and you need to see the beauty of the falls from the famous Benson Bridge.
The bridge, built in 1914 and named for lumber baron Simon Benson, who donated the land, is about a quarter of a mile or so up a meandering walkway. This extra bit of exertion is well worth it as the bridge provides a different and unique vantage point of the waterfall’s beauty. From here, try to spot the silvery wisp of light wafting its way down near the water.
Native American lore tells the story of how the Multnomah natives were overcome by disease. The only way to cure the disease was for the maiden daughter of a tribal chief to be thrown from the high cliffs above and into the falls. The chief was unwilling to sacrifice his daughter and the disease ran rampant. When the native princess discovered her lover had also become sick and was dying, she climbed to the cliffs and flung herself to the rocks below saving her people from further death and destruction. The legend describes the silvery stream that separates from the upper falls – an acknowledgement by the Great Spirit of the ultimate sacrifice for love.
If you still feel the need to climb higher to the top of the falls, be forewarned. The remaining mile to the top is very steep so plan your time (and rest stops) wisely. The trail is paved and your efforts will be rewarded with a viewing platform where you will find gorgeous views of the falls below and the surrounding Columbia River Gorge. Contact Info: 50000 E Historic Columbia River Highway, Bridal Veil, OR 97010, 503 695-2372, www.multnomahfallslodge.com.
2017 Eagle Fire Update: In September 2017 a fire ripped through the Columbia River Gorge destroying 48,000 acres and threatening the famous Multnomah Lodge. As of December, 2017, the Multnomah Lodge had just reopened but the trail up to Benson Bridge, and farther up to the top of the falls, was still closed to ensure the trails were safe and secure. According to the Forestry Service it could be as late as summer of 2018 before the trail is back open to the public. Until further notice there is no access to Multnomah Falls by way of the Historic Columbia River Highway, all visitors must enter via I-84 Exit #31.
Voo Doo Doughnut
You can only do anything, for only so long, before you eventually have to eat some food. So why not eat DOUGHNUTS!?! While other independent bakeries around the country have hopped on the quirky-designer-doughnut bandwagon, Voo Doo Doughnut in Portland is definitely the OG of indie doughnut shops.
Since 2003, Voo Doo has been cooking up raised and glazed treats for the masses with unusual toppings and funny names. So you’ve never had a doughnut topped with breakfast cereal? Well, Voo Doo is your huckleberry. Never dunked an Old Dirty Bastard in your coffee? Voo Doo can make that happen for you too.
There are two Voo Doo Doughnut locations in Portland, a Voo Doo food truck, as well as locations in Denver, Austin and Hollywood. Their slogan, “The Magic is in the Hole”, their signature pink boxes, along with their funky version of pastries first received national acclaim (and definitely hit my radar!) when the original downtown Portland locale was featured on the 2008 / Season 13 finale of The Amazing Race on CBS.
So the next time you’re in Portland, seek out a Voo Doo location and treat yourself to a Cap’n Crunch covered concoction called Oh Captain, My Captain – a Bacon Maple Bar (my personal favorite – it tastes like pancakes!) – a chocolate-covered human-shaped pastry with a pretzel through the heart (Voo Doo Doll) – or any of the scores of other yummy and cleverly named treats awaiting you behind the glass. Just be sure and bring cash – they don’t take credit cards.
So when in Portland … Eat DOUGHNUTS!!
Contact Info: 22 SW 3rd Ave., Portland, OR 97204, 503 241-4704, www.voodoodoughnut.com.
Powell’s City of Books
There are certain aromas that draw me in and take me to some fuzzy, unidentifiable place in the past. Aromas accompanying things like … newly sharpened pencils … opening a box of brand new crayons … and shelves of BOOKS. (Opening the drawer of a full card catalog can take me there too, but who even knows what that IS anymore or where to find one!?!) It certainly must take a highly evolved set of olfactory organs that are able to transport a person directly into a memory. But that is exactly what Powell’s Books does for me!
Located in the lovely Pearl District of downtown Portland (and, coincidentally enough, just around the corner and down the street from Voo Doo Doughnuts) is Powell’s City of Books. This mega bookstore is the sort that will absolutely suck up an entire day of a bibliophile’s life! But is that really such a BAD thing?
Opened in 1971 in a former car dealership, Powell’s has become the largest bookseller in the world with an inventory of both new and used books to the tune of around one million! The multi-floored store is a wonderful maze of twists, turns and staircases that lead you through “stories” (see what I did there? LOL) of themes and genres. Divided and categorized by nine colors, the various floors house not only new and used books, but also clever and unique souvenirs and an impressive “rare books” collection.
So spend an afternoon, (or an entire day!) at Powell’s City of Books. I guarantee they have something for everyone. And there are so many worse things you could be doing with your time! Contact Info: 1005 W. Burnside St., Portland, OR 97209, 503 228-4651, www.powells.com.
If spending time outdoors is more your style – don’t miss the Portland Japanese Garden located near downtown in the beautiful Washington Park. This lush park is the ideal place for a lovely stroll through serene garden settings while learning something about Japanese culture.
The gardens change seasonally and consist of several themed areas such as the Tea Garden, the Strolling Pond Garden, the Flat Garden, the Natural Garden and the Sand & Stone Garden. In addition, the cultural village offers daily demonstrations and performances featuring traditional Japanese art and education.
The gardens offer several pathways through fairytale-like settings that wind through shady trees and shrubbery, over stepping stones and around trickling fountains and statues – a truly magical and tranquil retreat.
In addition to the gardens, gift shops, souvenir kiosks, and café – the astounding views of Portland and Mount Hood make a visit to the Portland Japanese Gardens a truly wonderful experience. One that is successful in transporting you to a world far removed from the bustling city of Portland just steps away. Contact Info: 611 SW Kingston Ave., Portland, OR 97205, 503 223-1321, www.japanesegarden.org
BONUS! – International Rose Test Garden
Also located in Washington Park and just a few steps below the Japanese Garden is this special treat – the International Rose Test Garden! Since around 1919 this lovely garden has been inspiring visitors with row upon row, bush upon bush, and hedge upon hedge of gorgeous ROSES.
Developed as a test ground for new rose varieties, today the garden boasts some 8,000 bushes and more than 600 varieties of roses covering over four acres of land. The gardens are beautiful year round but the prime growing season is April to October with June being peak season.
The beauty of the gardens is stunning but the fragrance is unforgettable. It would be impossible to walk through this amazing place without bending over to inhale the blooms at least once. Go ahead … everybody is doing it!
And during your visit don’t forget to pay a visit to the Rose Garden Store where you’ll find plenty of rose-themed merchandise, books and postcards to commemorate your visit. Free daily tours are also available Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at 1:00 p.m. Just meet at the store about ten minutes before the hour.
FUN FACT!!! – If you DEADHEAD a rose (or any flower), you are plucking off the spent blooms to encourage continual blooming and a healthy plant.
Need a terrific way to make the gardens even more fun and interactive? How about a FREE Rose Garden Bingo game? Four entertaining themes will get everyone in on the act of identifying roses, finding their locations, and learning something along the way! Themes include Fun Food, Celebrity, Travel and Groovy Tunes. Answer key included. Just sign up to the right to receive our newsletter with travel news, tips and giveaways delivered directly to your email inbox. Be sure to type BINGO in the “Special Request” box and your Bingo Game will be sent over directly, all ready to download and print!
There are so many great things to see and do in Portland – I already have another post planned with FIVE more adventures! What are some of YOUR favorite things to do while visiting Portland? Let us know in the comment section below. And whatever you do – the next time you visit this great city – don’t forget to STOP and SMELL the ROSES!! Contact Info: 400 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205, 503 823-3636, www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/finder.