10 Ways to Keep it Weird in Portland with Kids

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This city in Oregon prides itself on being offbeat with its slogan, “Keep Portland weird.” Public pianos implore passersby to play them. Dogs wear sunglasses. Doughnuts come topped with bubble gum. Intrigued? Check out these 10 ways to keep it weird in Portland with kids.

Keep Portland weird ~ Portland with kids

This “Keep Portland weird” sign is located across the street from the original Voodoo Doughnut store (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. Eat weird Portland doughnuts.

Kick off your Portland explorations with some glazed fried doughy goodness. Most well-known are those peddled by Voodoo Doughnut. Their weirdest creation is the Voodoo Doll Doughnut, a raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly, topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake. The Voodoo Bubble Doughnut comes topped with vanilla frosting, bubble gum dust and a piece of bubble gum. There are also doughnuts covered with bacon, sugar cereals and more. These doughnuts are a child’s idea of paradise.

A selection of doughnuts from Portland's famous Voodoo Donuts ~ Portland with Kids

A selection of doughnuts from Portland’s famous Voodoo Donuts (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

According to the locals we encountered, though, if you’re looking for a more refined, grown-up, less weird treat, Blue Star Donuts is for you. These gourmet doughnuts are made from a classic French brioche recipe. Choose from such offerings as the Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Curd, and Dulce de Leche Hazelnut.

Both Voodoo Doughnut and Blue Star Donuts run shops in the Pearl District, so if your tummies can handle it, try both to compare!

Powell's City of Books ~ Portland with Kids

Powell’s City of Books is a hit for bookworms of all ages (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Peruse Powell’s Books for weird titles.

Book lovers rejoice at Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Sure you can buy books galore online via Amazon. But there’s something magical about wandering through the stacks here. There are five Powell’s locations throughout Portland, but travelers will want to visit the original location, Powell’s City of Books in the Pearl District. With over 1 million new and used books on display, you could spend hours here. I especially love the staff book reviews and recommendations posted throughout the store. Make a game of it to see which family member can find the weirdest book title in the store! And bring a big suitcase so the whole family can buy some books to bring home. My favorite find? Newcomer’s Handbook for Moving to and Living in Portland.

Washington Park Playground ~ Portland with Kids

You might have a hard time pulling kids away from Washington Park Playground (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Feel weird in Washington Park.

With 145 acres to explore, you’re sure to find activities to please the whole family at Washington Park. This park was designed by the Olmstead brothers, the landscape architects who designed New York’s Central Park.

Japanese Gardens in Washington Park ~ Portland with Kids

Japanese Gardens provide a tranquil space to escape the city (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

If you need a break from the cityscape, take a hike through the Hoyt Arboretum’s miles of nature trails. Kids will love the Washington Park Playground, which boasts Portland’s largest play structure. The Oregon Zoo, Portland Japanese Garden, and Portland Children’s Museum also call Washington Park home.

My favorite area of Washington Park was the International Rose Test Garden. Bursting with more than 400 varieties of roses, your nose and eyes will thank you for a visit to this aromatic and beautiful garden.

International Rose Test Garden ~ Portland with Kids

The aromatic and beautiful International Rose Test Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Portland hosts over 250 free summer events in its parks, and my family was lucky to stumble upon a concert in the Washington Park Amphitheater. This outdoor space features tiers of grassy space on which to spread a blanket and take in the tunes. The vibe was positively welcoming and weird, with little kids bopping alongside aging hippies and tattooed millennials. Check the City of Portland’s Parks and Recreation website for a calendar of upcoming events before your visit.

Free summer concert at the Washington Park Amphitheater ~ Portland with Kids

A free summer concert at the Washington Park Amphitheater (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Buy weird things at Portland Saturday Market.

I specifically planned my family’s Oregon vacation such that we would be in Portland on a Saturday morning so we could enjoy the city’s renowned open-air marketplace. Portland Saturday Market has been taking place for over 40 years in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood. It’s open from mid-March through Christmas Eve.

Portland Saturday Market crafts ~ Portland with Kids

Find fabulous and weird crafts at Portland Saturday Market, like these teacup and saucer bird feeders (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Expect booths aplenty offering up fresh flowers and produce, and fabulous weird crafts, like bird feeders made from antique tea cups and saucers. Street performers entertain the crowds with live music, magic shows and more. Of course there are food trucks selling up tasty eats, too. In summer, children keep cool in splash fountains. If you like to people-watch, this is THE place to be.

Portland Saturday Market ~ Portland with Kids

A man and his dog sport sunglasses at Portland Saturday Market (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Get a weird history lesson at Pittock Mansion.

For a quick history lesson in Portland with kids, spend an hour or two at Pittock Mansion. My kids actually chose to visit this grand old home when presented with a plethora of afternoon activities. They wanted to see a “real, live mansion!” Built in the early 1900s on one of the highest hills in Portland, the views of the city are super from here. The mansion once belonged to Henry Lewis Pittock, a Portland pioneer who is known for revitalizing the area’s Oregonian newspaper. The kids may not have the patience for the posted brief historical explanations. But they will dig getting a glimpse back at the weird way people lived over a century ago, as your children wander through the mansion’s 22 rooms, complete with period furniture.

Pittock Mansion ~ Portland with Kids

Pittock Mansion gives a glance into the history of Portland (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Make your legs feel wobbly and weird hiking Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls.

No visit to Portland with kids would be complete without seeing the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. What makes the Columbia River Gorge weird is that it includes such a wide variety of natural landscapes. You can find desert, a sea-level passage, alpine meadows and the largest concentration of waterfalls in North America. If you don’t have a rental car, sign up for a guided bus tour to reach this stretch of nature’s beauty.

Columbia River Gorge View ~ Portland with Kids

View of the Columbia River Gorge (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

At 617-feet-tall, Multnomah Falls is the most impressive waterfall in Oregon. If you’re traveling with older kids, hike to the top of the falls for a rainbow view. It’s a moderate 2.2-mile hike with plenty of switchbacks and views of the vast Columbia River Gorge. Be sure to grab a bottle of water for every hiker in the gift shop at the base before setting off. Even in summer, you’ll want to bring along a sweater since temperatures at the top of the falls can be much lower than those below. My 11-year-old whined a bit about her legs feeling weird and wobbly after our hike, but was proud to have made the journey.

Hiking makes kids (and parents!) hungry so be sure to pack a picnic, or do as we did and eat lunch at the Multnomah Falls Lodge.

Rainbow prize at the top of Multnomah Falls ~ Portland with Kids

Rainbow prize at the top of Multnomah Falls (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Taste weird flavors at Portland food carts.

When in Portland with kids, you simply must eat at the many food carts dotting the city. It can be hard to make every member of the family happy with a restaurant choice, but visiting a grouping of food carts gives everyone the choice to order what he or she craves. You can find food carts cooking up everything from barbecue, Cambodian cuisine and tacos, to vegan dishes, crepes and gluten-free baked goods.

Portland food cart ~ Portland with kids

This Portland food cart serves up vegan barbecue (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Mississippi Marketplace is home to several food carts plus a piano inscribed with the words, “Please play me.” What a marvelous way to top off lunch!

Mississippi Marketplace piano ~ Portland with Kids

A piano beckons to be played at Mississippi Marketplace (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Make weird pancakes at Slappy Cakes.

For a memorable and joyous meal, thrill the kids with breakfast at Slappy Cakes. At this innovative restaurant, diners play chef by squeezing pancake batter onto hot griddles right at the table. To make the most creative, weirdest pancake designs, be sure to order two different colored batters. Choices include buttermilk, chocolate, peanut butter, vegan/gluten-free and seasonal (like pumpkin spice). Fixings like chocolate chips and banana slices add to the fun…for an additional charge. Order traditional and weird breakfast choices from the menu, like Pork Belly Benedict and Avocado Toast. Plan to come on a weekday to avoid a long wait. (And even then, you may need to wait for a table!)

Slappy Cakes ~ Portland with Kids

My kids made a snowman-shaped pancake at Slappy Cakes (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Stay somewhere wonderfully weird in Portland with kids.

Why stay somewhere normal and boring, when you can spend the night somewhere unique? The suites, Willamette River views, and extra touches at Kimpton RiverPlace make this hotel special. Each evening there’s a hosted wine reception, and each morning there’s complimentary coffee and tea in the lobby. Kimpton loans out bicycles to guests to peddle along the river. Each night, there’s a different offering for guests, like s’mores in the courtyard on Tuesdays, a trail mix bar for hikers on Saturdays, and fly-fishing lessons on Fridays. They even offer free WiFi and temporary pet goldfish. (How weird is that?!)

Temporary pet goldfish at Kimpton RiverPlace ~ Portland with kids

Our temporary pet goldfish at Kimpton RiverPlace (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Breakfast isn’t included, but it sure is tasty at the on-site Three Degrees Restaurant. (May I suggest the Chilaquiles?) Twenty-four-hour room service is available, too. For variety, a handful of restaurants and shops are within walking distance along the waterfront.

Chilaquiles at Three Degrees Restaurant at Kimpton RiverPlace ~Portland with Kids

Tasty chilaquiles at Three Degrees Restaurant at Kimpton RiverPlace (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The decor is modern and chic, with a color palate drawn from nature. You can choose a Deluxe Room, or splurge on one of their divine suites. In the Executive Suite, kids can sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living area, while mom and dad bed down in a separate bedroom. Big families can book a one-bedroom or two-bedroom suite for even more space plus a kitchen when visiting Portland with kids.

Learn more about this hotel on TripAdvisor and Hotels.com.

View from Courtyard Executive Suite at Kimpton RiverPlace ~ Portland with Kids

View from our Courtyard Executive Suite at Kimpton RiverPlace (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Explore other weird things to do in Portland with kids.

My kids begged to visit Oaks Amusement Park for its rides, rollerskating rink, and miniature golf course. Located just a few miles from downtown Portland, and home to a Big Pink Slide, we’ll need to make time for this during out next visit.

Everywhere we went, Portlanders asked us if we’d been toe the OMSI yet. Apparently they’re very proud of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. One of the largest science museums in the country, I’m sure there’s plenty of weird science to be learned there. Although we weren’t able to squeeze everything in, we’ll be back to explore Portland further.

Enjoying Bridgetown with kids ~ 10 Ways to Keep Portland Weird with Kids (Photo credit: Whitney, Portland Flytographer)

Enjoying Bridgetown with kids (Photo credit: Whitney, Portland Flytographer)

Why I love all things weird in Portland

I want to move to Portland so badly that when I look at photos from my family’s summer trip, I get that hollow feeling of longing normally reserved for a broken heart. From the minute I stepped off the plane in Portland, I was smitten. Like finding the right spouse or wedding dress, you just know when you’ve found your soulmate destination. And for me, that place is Portland. I feel like a better me in this place. Wherever I go, I mold to my surroundings, adopting the energy of the people who live there. The people in Portland exude a mellow, happy vitality that I want more of.

A couple of years ago when my husband and I were contemplating where to move, Portland was on our short list. We had not, however, ever visited Oregon. So, a move to Phoenix, where I have family, seemed more prudent. Now that I’ve been to Portland, I can’t shake a yearning to move there and make this wonderful and weird place my home.

If you’re considering a trip to Oregon, you’ll want to read my tips for visiting Cannon Beach with kids and doing a farm stay at Leaping Lamb farm! The blend of beach, farm and city during our Oregon adventures made for a most memorable family vacation.

Have you ever longed to move somewhere after a vacation? Where? Or, do you have any questions or suggestions for visiting Portland with kids? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I paid a discounted media rate at the Kimpton RiverPlace and my family received complimentary entry to Pittock Mansion and the Japanese Gardens for purposes of this story. I paid full-price for everything else mentioned in this story. All opinions are mine. This story includes affiliate links. Your purchases help to keep TravelMamas.com a free resource for readers like you. 

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Travel is my passion and love travelling. I have taken trips with family, friends and solo. I like your blog and all your post. Waiting to see more from you.

  2. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    I absolutely love this! I’ve always thought that weird is cool. If we ever manage to get to Portland (which we want to do) THESE are all the first places we’ll hit.

  3. Catherine Sargent says

    Portland looks like a nice place to visit. I have never been, but I would love to go. I will have to make a stop at Voodoo Doughnut.

  4. Love this post. I am going to pin it as we hope to go there someday with the kids. A great slogan… a few years ago on a vacation our kids googled “weird museums in ____ then put in the town. This has continued on several vacations and so much fun to see what they find for us to do.

  5. My family has never been to Portland, it looks like it would be a lot of fun for kids and us adults. And those donuts look so yummy!

  6. This is such as great list of things to do. I would love to try the doughnuts send the pancakes. They look awesome!

  7. Lisa Joy Thompson says

    I’ve traveled all over the US and to a bunch of other countries, but I’ve never been to Portland. If the donuts weren’t enough to convince me to head that way the Slappy cakes and the public pianos would definitely do the trick! Looks like I have another destination to add to our list of places to visit.

  8. Portland looks like an incredible place to visit. We may have to go one day.

  9. Haha! It seems like Portland would be awesome for a family getaway. There is so much we’d want to see!

  10. I have heard that Portland is a great place to visit. We actually have friends there, so I may have to head that way sometime. I would love to visit Powell’s Books.

  11. Toni | BoulderLocavore.com says

    I would love to go to Portland right now! 😀 These sounds like a fun place to visit! Thank you for sharing! Adding this to our bucket list!

  12. Traveling with my family is one of my favorite things to do. Going to weird places is a plus! I’d love to make a few of these stops in Portland. My girls would go gaga over the donuts and I’d have a grand time at the Saturday market!

  13. Our Family World says

    I’m sure Portland is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve never been. I’m glad that your kids had fun there.

  14. Amanda Love says

    I love being weird with my kids, it’s awesome and fun and you’re going to feel like a kid again. I think it’s great that you’re doing this with your kids. All these activities are exciting.

  15. Melissa @ The Staten Island family says

    Ever since I started watching portlandia we have become obsessed with visiting and this post confirms everything I imagine a trip to Portland would entail! Looks fabulously weird and amazing!

  16. Ann Bacciaglia says

    These all look like fun things to do in Portland. I would love to go to the Portland Saturday Market and search for treasures.

  17. I really wouldn’t mind going to Portland. I’d love to see that garden and of course, sample those donuts! Plus it’s an area we haven’t been to yet, so we’re overdue to visit.

  18. Ora Lee Gurr says

    I thought it would be nice to live in Clearwater Beach, FL after visiting there. It was fun to read about all the fun things to do in Portland, OR, especially the events designed for kids.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Ora – I have never been to Clearwater Beach, FL. Will need to consider that one for a future family vacation!

  19. Lisa Favre says

    Portland is definitely a place I would like to visit! Those donuts look phenomenal… something that my family would definitely enjoy!

  20. Janell Poulette says

    I had no idea about all of these amazing places! I would love to visit here sometime, especially to try those donuts.

  21. My husband was in Portland last month & was sending pictures of Powell’s to the kids. Three stories of books! They were so impressed.

  22. Louise Bishop says

    This looks like it would be a SUPER fun place to visit. Those donuts have me craving one!

  23. Kita Bryant says

    What a fun place! I’ve never been to Portland and need to add it to my list after this!

  24. Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly says

    I have never visited Portland Oregon before, but this post is making me want to visit! I would skip the hike for the weird donuts! LOL 🙂

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