It rains in Portland. A lot. Portlanders say there is no bad weather, only bad gear. My advice – pack some good rain gear, ignore the constant rain (and sometimes hail) and go!
One of the few benefits of having two kids with different spring break schedules, is that we can do short trips in the US we wouldn’t otherwise do. Plus, I get one on one time on the road (where I am happiest), and my husband gets one on one time at home (where he is happiest). Everybody wins. This, being our last divided spring break (next year the kids are on the same school schedule), my younger teen was faced with a 2 week break so we decided to spend a long weekend in Portland, Oregon. Here are our best bets:
Our favorite way to get to know a new city it to start the trip with a bike tour. We get a great overview of the areas we want to explore further, plus a few insider tips from the guide! Pedal Bike Tours did a great Historic Downtown Tour and we learned a lot from our very informative guide, despite the cold and rain! It was a great touch at the end when they gave us a map marked with all of their favorite places.
After the tour ended we went across the street to Pine Street Market to warm up and fill our bellies with some of the delicious eats in this building – you can’t go wrong! All of the food is just terrific. Finish up with Portland’s famous Salt & Straw soft serve ice cream at Wiz Bang Bar.
Just a block away is the Tom McCall Waterfront Park so depending on the weather, maybe a stroll in the park and/or a boat tour on the Willamette is a good afternoon option. In the summer months, Portland Boat Tours does a private 10 bridge tour that looks fun. For a slightly more crowded (and more affordable) version, try Portland Spirit Cruises. If it isn’t summertime, or the weather isn’t cooperating (both were true for us), consider walking across the Hawthorne Bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, OMSI for a really fun few hours of interactive science for all ages. We spent a good three hours there after our bike tour. I loved the Robot Revolution exhibit (available until Sept, 2018) and my teen loved the Chemistry and Physics Labs.
While in the Southeast part of the city at the museum, don’t miss a walk to the Cartopia Food Pod not too far away (one of the many recommendations from Pedal Bike Tours). Considered the best food pod in the city, it has great food options plus a firepit to keep you warm and a tent with tables for rainy days (umm…all of them??).
Fuel your morning with Voodoo Doughnut – (22 SW Third Ave) Believe the hype, it’s worth the trip (cash only). Before we went, I kept reading that Blue Star Donuts had a shorter line and was just as good. Well, we had both and while Blue Star was good (duh, we are talking about donuts here!), Voodoo Doughnut is not to be missed – especially with teens. The flavors are much more kid friendly than the sophisticated flavors of Blue Star (think Oh Captain My Captain covered in Captain Crunch vs Blueberry Bourbon Basil). Pro tip: at least one person in your group MUST get their signature Voodoo doughnut (and a snap of the pink box, of course).
After snapping the obligatory social media photo in front of the Keep Portland Weird sign (across the street from Voodoo Doughnut), take the short walk two blocks north to the Lan Su Chinese Garden (239 NW Everett St.) in Chinatown. Lan Su was built by Chinese artisans from Suzhou, China and is one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. While in the gardens, consider a stop into the two story Tao of Tea House inside for a nice rose hip or geranium tea.
While in Chinatown, give your teen a little space where they can explore a cool little triangle of activities all within a block of one another.
- Floating World Comics at the corner of Couch and NW 4th) for not only comics, but YA graphic novels and vinyl.
- One block over (on NW Couch and NW 5th) they will find Compound Gallery. A great concept store that blends streetwear with pop culture and modern art.
- Right next door is Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade which is only open to minors until 5pm (and adults after 5pm) so check your watch before you tell the kids about it!
While they are busy getting their teen on, you can check out some of the cool coffee shops in the area like Deadstock Coffee or Floyds Coffee Shop.
When you have had your fill of Chinatown, make your way over toward the Pearl District by way of NW Davis. Enjoy the art installation of Don Corson’s Nepenthes. These giant solar structures of carnivorous plants were installed along this street in 2013 to draw tourists down the block towards Chinatown. Pro tip: At night they light up and look fantastic! Make a left on NW 10th street and spend some time in the mother of all book shops, Powell Books. Powell Books is like a bigger, more roomy version of The Strand in NYC. No matter what their interests, every teen could spend at least an hour in this amazing spot where the countless book filled rooms are organized by color. I usually head straight for the travel department! You probably won’t see your teen again until they are hungry which can be easily resolved at Sizzle Pie across the street for one of their inventive pizzas and some breadsticks. If pizza isn’t your thing (or if the rain has stopped for a few minutes), try hitting the food pod just a few blocks away on Alder between 9th and 10th. Our recs there include: The Grilled Cheese Grill, The Dump Truck, and Dinner Bell Barbecue. Or maybe you would want to schedule a Food Truck tour for the afternoon.
An afternoon wander through the South Park blocks, the heart of the city’s cultural life, will give you a good sense of this neighborhood. This lovely 12 block stroll runs along tree lined streets with an island in the center. It has lots of public art, and century old churches, and ends at the greenery of PSU (Portland State University). Since the kids hit their teens, we always check out the nearby universities when we travel. Call it research… Along the way, you will pass a concert hall, the historical society, a performing arts center, and the Portland Art museum. If the Laika animation exhibit is still showing there (until May 2018), don’t miss it. Your teen will love to see the inside scoop on the makings of movies like Coraline and The Box Trolls.
Other options to potentially work into your visit:
- If the weather allows, a hike through one of the 30 miles of trails in Forest Park is a great way to spend a few hours in the fresh Pacific Northwest air.
- Washington Park also has hiking trails but the highlight for us was the Oregon Zoo, where the elephants are the stars.
- About 30 miles outside of the city are the Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls. A wildfire last year (end of 2017) shut down a lot of the trails but the area is still beautiful and you can see Multnomah Falls practically from the side of the road.
Want to explore some of the “weird” in Portland?
- The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium on Thurman St in NW (not exactly catering to kids – make sure you have a strong stomach!) Then finish the tour with The Bug Eaters Delight Sundae
- Stark’s Vacuum Museum (hey, maybe they will get inspired!)
- Tour the Shanghai Tunnels (underground tunnels of Portland used to kidnap men and sell them to sea captains to work on their ships as slaves).
- Glowing Green PDX – an indoor blacklight, 18-hole, 3D mini golf course
- Any of the McMenamins establishments – especially the schoolhouse turned hotel on NE 33rd Ave
Want other food suggestions?
There is no shortage of good food in Portland. In fact, many people plan their whole trip to this city around food. So many of the great restaurants require advance planning and reservations which could be hard to do with teens sometimes. Here are some other options for excellent meals the whole family will enjoy.
- Mother’s Bistro & Bar on SW Stark & 2nd. (good home cooking)
- If you are up for a cab ride, check out Toro Bravo in NE or Pok Pok in NW. (must have the wings!)
- Kenny & Zuke’s Deli on SW Stark and 11th. (think Katz Deli in NYC)
- Lardo on SW Washington & 12th (delicious pork belly sandwiches)
- Bridgeport Brew Pub in the Pearl District (to tap the craft beer culture and decent food)
Need a place to stay?
- Check out All The Rooms Vacation Rentals for a comprehensive list of availability.