By STEVE FRENZL
Really now every getaway doesn’t have to be just for romance, does it? In fact, this one may well be to entertain the aftermath of romantic weekends you enjoyed a few years back. And now you’re looking for places to take the family.
Well, we found it and were here to tell you that Portland has plenty to please kids of all ages (yes, mom and dad, you will enjoy these outings, too). In fact, it must have been official “Family Week” during our Portland getaway because virtually every place we visited, hundreds of happy families were there enjoying the sights and excitement of this delightful city.
Safe, Close, Convenient, Affordable Family Fun
Ask Portland visitors (and we did) why they come here and their responses will be one of these:
“It’s safe here. We can be anywhere anytime and not have to worry.”
“Almost everything we want to do is so close usually just minutes away and the public transit system is easy to use and cheap, even free!”
“Portland’s half-size city blocks make it a perfect walking city. Its a very pedestrian-friendly place.”
“Eating out doesn’t cost an arm and leg in Portland. Even the best places are more affordable compared to other cities.”
“Portland’s got big-city excitement with small-town charm. We love coming here and experiencing both!”
“There are lots of good hotels here that are clean, comfortable and convenient to everything. And they don’t cost a weeks pay to stay.”
With so many things to see and do during a getaway to Portland, you could literally spend weeks sampling all the attractions here. So our recommendation: pick a few family-style favorites and enjoy them to the fullest. Based on our personal observations, these are very popular with most families.
Stretching across 320 acres of forested hillside on the western shoulder of the Willamette River is beautiful Washington Park. From the sense of deep wilderness you feel driving or walking through its wooded landscape, you’d never think its just minutes from downtown by car or public transit (on weekends we recommend taking the bus or MAX light rail to spare the angst of waiting for a spot in an overflowing parking lot). These are some of the attractions your family can enjoy together at the park. Admissions are charged.
OREGON ZOO: Its 64 acres of worldwide adventure travel! You won’t just see animals from the Pacific Northwest. You’ll swear you’re in Africa, the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Peruvian coastline, the Arctic, Borneo. And along the walkways you’ll come to appreciate why we humans are just another player on the stage spotlighting Earths many creatures. After a few minutes of animal observation, you’ll realize were less talented than many of the other runners, swimmers, singers, fliers and entertainers on the planet. Open every day at 9AM.
PORTLAND CHILDREN’S MUSEUM: Designed for kids from birth up to 10, it offers hands-on exhibits and lots of opportunities to let young imaginations run wild! Its a great place to show little kids there’s more to life than TV.
WORLD FORESTRY CENTER: You’ll never look at a tree the same way after visiting this fascinating “discovery museum.” Kids of all ages will enjoy the films, and interactive exhibits like virtual smoke-jumpers, harvester simulator,river raft adventure and many more. The curators really had fun putting this place together! Events and exhibits change regularly so check schedules often.
POWELLS CITY OF BOOKS: Believe it or not, one of Portland’s top three attractions is a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. Powells is the largest independent newsstand and bookstore IN THE WORLD! It covers a full city block four stories high and holds twice as many books as there are people in Portland proper! That’s over 1,000,000 volumes. The place is packed every day of the year so go see it and see why.
OREGON MUSEUM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY (OMSI): What an amazing place! Located in ultra-modern facilities on the east bank of the Willamette River, between the Ross Island and Hawthorne bridges, I believe you could stay here for days and not do everything. The “brain-teasers” alone are worth the price of admission, but many other offerings will tempt you including exhibit halls and science labs guaranteed to have you shaking your head in awe and amazement. Then theres the Omnimax Dome Theater, planetarium, a submarine tour (the last diesel-powered sub built by the US Navy), a science playground for kids 6 and under, plus a great gift store and café I wish every city had a museum like this one!
WILLAMETTE JET BOAT EXCURSIONS: Located on the dock behind OMSI is a boat ride like you’ve never had before. Frankly, its not for everybody; I wouldn’t take my five-year-old on this one. For those of us, however, with a steady stomach and waterproof clothes, these 1200 horsepower boats are worth hanging on to (literally). Famous “infamous” may be more accurate for their spinning, splashing stops which happen with regularity on a very entertaining 2-hour narrated cruise up and down the Willamette River, you’ll hear the history of the area between 5 mph trolling and 50 mph dashes and sudden surging stops. Whooaaa! At the turn-around point you’ll nudge up to Willamette Falls and swear it looks like Niagara of the Northwest. These boats are a blast we haven’t seen so many toothy grins on one place in a very long time. Seasonal schedules; reservations recommended.
Very Comfortable Accommodations
For families looking for affordable hotels, La Quinta Inns & Suites are an excellent choice and there are several in the Portland area. We stayed at La Quinta Portland NW on Highway 30, just a few minutes from the middle of the action, but many dollars less than most mid-town hotels. It has spacious guestrooms, a free breakfast room, year-around swimming pool, whirlpool spa/tub, and fitness room. However, what impressed us most about the hotel were two things: an especially friendly, helpful, courteous and conscientious staff. And maybe the most comfortable bed we ever slept in. The bed alone was worth leaving home for a few nights! Its wonderful to wake up refreshed, rejuvenated and rearing to take on the zoos, museums and river rides of the world. Like the ads say: “La Quinta means great beds in Spanish”or something like that.
A side bar: down the road a couple miles from our La Quinta is restaurant row (known locally as Nob Hill or 23rd Street) which must have two dozen eateries ranging from gourmet to fast food. And prices are surprisingly reasonableunlike so many other cities nowadays. We enjoyed large, tasty egg roll bowls at a classy Asian cafe and the total for two, including tip, was just $15.
Moving across town the next night, we happily discovered another family-affordable hotel that just has to be the best-kept secret in Portland. Its called University Place and is nestled on the south edge of the beautiful Portland State University campus on SW Lincoln Street. The location is just five minutes from downtown by car, or you can hop aboard the city’s Streetcar transit system just a block away and the price is right: FREE.
The hotel offers over 200 well appointed guestrooms and suites at affordable rates, yet with comfort and quality rivaling many of the upscale hotels just blocks away. A seasonal pool, fitness room, good restaurant and friendly staff add to its appeal. End a pleasant evening as we did at “LVs Uptown Jazz & Eats” (the new name for the hotel restaurant) and you’ll agree that this place is well worth your patronage. We enjoyed a tasty three-course dinner accompanied by an excellent live jazz combo. Next to our table was a foursome with the enraptured look of jazz lovers. During the musicians break I overheard one of the gentlemen exclaim to his friends: “This place is amazing. No cover, free parking, great music, and good food at low prices. We have to come back!” The whole experience is like that at University Place.
A couple other family-affordable hotels we recommend are located downtown, and while more upscale than La Quinta and University Place, they offer spacious family-style accommodations at rates significantly below other fine center-city hotels. One is the Residence Inn by Marriott Portland Downtown/River Place at 2115 SW River Parkway. Its an all-suite hotel with over 30 two-bedroom suites with full kitchens for families, an indoor pool, free daily breakfast (plus free Wednesday night dinner), free hi-speed internet, on-site laundry room, and on the public Streetcar line (also free).
The other hotel is – surprise – the Paramount Hotel at 808 SW Taylor St. You would expect its guestrooms to be extra spacious and very comfortable and of course they are. The surprise is: this boutique hotels rates are family-affordable. What also makes it a great choice for family getaways is its prime location. Its a quick, easy walk to all downtown attractions like the Fox 10 movie theater, a beautiful new city park, and Pioneer Courthouse Square. And just two blocks from MAX light rail and the nearest Streetcar stop for easy access to other great places, like Washington Park, the zoo, world forestry center and children’s museum.
Other Sightseeing Options
If you can sneak some time away from the kids, here are a few other places sure to please your eyes, nose and palette.
PITTOCK MANSION. Near Washington Park, it was the residence of Portlands newspaper magnate, Henry Pittock, and is now a splendid example of early 1900s architecture and period antiques. Completed in 1914, the elegant 22-room sandstone structure rests atop a 1000-foot mountain and commands spectacular views of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Range.
INTERNATIONAL ROSE TEST GARDEN. Located in Washington Park, its the oldest of 24 AARS public rose test gardens in America, and quite possibly the reason Portland is known as the “City of Roses.” This lovely five-acre hillside garden is adorned with the spectacular color and heady fragrance of 8000 rose bushes. The city’s best-known panoramic views are photographed from here overlooking downtown and magnificent Mt. Hood. Always open.
BRIDGEPORT ALE HOUSE. This is the popular brewpub for the oldest of Portland’s craft breweries among 34 brewers in the metro area (more than any other city on earth!). This 1880’s one-time hemp rope factory is located on SW Hawthorne on the trendy northwest side of the city. Each of the dozen beers they craft is a work of ol’ factory art, so try the “sampler” and taste/smell their surprising variations in flavor and character. Better stay for a tasty lunch, dinner and sweet treats, though, because 12 mini-beers will definitely get to you!
Portland skyline (photo courtesy POVA)