Museums • Books • Biking • Outdoors • Indoor Play • Kids' Museums • Arcade • Theater • Crafts • Secret Child Care
THE GOLD STANDARD: If you have (or just know) Portland kids, you’re probably well-versed in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s perennially excellent educational exhibits, IMAX movies, and hands-on labs. Coming this month: touring sensation Art of the Brick, billed as the world’s largest display of Lego art. Yes, that will be a hit.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: A mere whistle-stop away from OMSI, the Oregon Rail Heritage Center is an endearing combination of slick (its gleaming industrial-chic, hangar-style space opened in 2012) and gritty. Home to three vintage locomotives—and the highly committed subculture that cares for them—this place enshrines a past of brawnier technology. On Saturdays, the ORHC becomes an actual train depot, with the Oregon Pacific Railroad’s (very) short-haul route to Oaks Bottom and back ($5, cab rides for $10). If small mass-transit enthusiasts need more stimulation, a stroll across the train-tastic Tilikum Crossing can lead to a South Waterfront lunch.
THE GOLD STANDARD: It’s hard to beat the tiny tables and bundles of books on tap at Powell’s Rose Room, not to mention regular story times on its colored carpet.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: If you want to take it up a notch and foster philanthropic practice in your little ones, bring them to volunteer at Northeast’s Children’s Book Bank, which receives donated books and distributes them to children in need, through schools and kid-centered agencies. In family-friendly sessions, children age 6 and older can help clean and repair used books—erasing scribbles and taping tears—and get them ready for delivery.
THE GOLD STANDARD: The spring-and-summer rotation of car-free street routes at Sunday Parkways allows neighborhoods to take turns pretending to be Copenhagen. The rolling, all-day festivals never fail to restore faith in community—last year’s debut of the program’s Sellwood-Milwaukie route drew more than 10,000 riders.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: But let’s say your troupe includes some more, uh, ballistic characters. The Lumberyard beckons: an indoor-outdoor, all-year, all-day temple of cycling boom on NE 82nd Avenue, racked and stacked with ramp courses and jumps. Bring your own mountain- or BMX-style ride, or rent from the in-house fleet. Kids under 12 require parental supervision, but the pizza and beer in the pub overlooking the indoor course will make your time here better than tolerable—if, that is, you’re not ripping it up yourself.
THE GOLD STANDARD: Boasting what Travel Portland says is our city’s largest play structure—a platform of primary-color slides and ramps topped with a clock tower—the Washington Park playground (handily located near the Rose Test Garden and the Zoo Railway) is a sweet base for kid adventures.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: Designed as an inclusive space where play structures and activities are accessible to children and adults of all abilities, Harper’s Playground in North Portland’s Arbor Lodge Park is a quiet revolution—and a really good place to tucker out the kids whether they walk, roll, scramble, crawl, or just sit in the sand. The next Harper’s Playground, at Gateway Discovery Park, is slated to open in the fall, with another planned for Couch Park in Northwest.
THE GOLD STANDARD: What Portland parent has not whiled away high-decibel hours with a beer and some premasticated string cheese at PlayDate PDX? Three-story play structure? Check. Interactive dance floor? Check. Wine and beer plus working Wi-Fi? Check (and praise the Lord).
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: Go west, young family. Or east, or south, or north. The suburbs beckon with less-cramped spaces and less-punitive parking arrangements. Hillsboro’s Out of this World Pizza offers a bouncy maze and arcade in addition to a huge play tower and slides, plus a picky-eater-friendly buffet. Across the Columbia, play for free amid translucent tents, music-making devices, and letter-awareness games on the children’s level of the Vancouver Community Library.
THE GOLD STANDARD: Channel your child’s inner grocery shopper, rock star, explorer, builder, and artist all under one kid-centered roof at the Portland Children’s Museum. There’s still time for a final snowball fight at the Snow Globe, too, on-site through February 9.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: Behind a locked metal door on SE Grand, there’s a trove of vintage toys that nobody ever plays with. Knock, wait for admittance, and find yourself in three rooms full of playthings of children past. They’re all part of Kidd’s Toy Museum and the personal collection of Frank Kidd, who has amassed hundreds of lead soldiers, cast-iron money banks, wide-eyed Lenci dolls, horse-drawn police cars, toy pistols, red-faced Santas, cycling monkeys, drumming pandas, and Buddy Lee dolls, all presented in rows and rows of locked, glass-paned cabinets. It’s a history lesson told in toys: eerily static dolls and cars and train sets and miniature farm animals whose owners have long since moved on. There are many overtly racist and gendered playthings among the Toonerville trolleys and Raggedy Anns, a shocking reminder of how toys reflect their times, and a learning opportunity if you feel game.
THE GOLD STANDARD: SE Belmont Street’s Wunderland has it all, in bright neon with maximum volume: nickel games, movies, and reservable tables for parties and groups.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: Drive a few miles south to stretch out in the relative quietude of Wunderland’s lesser-known Milwaukie location: a bleep-blooping maze of claw cranes, herky-jerky old redemption games, and an immersive cabinet of Jurassic Park–themed dino carnage. Or ante up the extra coins and head to Hawthorne’s spacious new Quarterworld, which splits the difference between kid magnets—SkeeBall to Area 51—and grown-up lures like retro and rare arcade classics and vintage pinball, plus a full bar for self-medicating parents and a Tesla Coil in a Faraday cage, dubbed “Tessie,” that literally plays songs using frickin’ lightning bolts as musical notes (shows 4 and 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Sundays). The huge Beaverton outpost of local family dining standby Pietro’s Pizza is a pirate-themed bacchanal: black-light mini golf course, laser tag, and arcade games included. And, yes, you can scarf pizza inside a full-size wooden pirate ship in the middle of the dining room floor.
THE GOLD STANDARD: Portland boasts not one but two critically acclaimed children’s theater houses in Oregon Children’s Theater and Northwest Children’s Theatre. Both are known for colorful, entertaining productions of classics like Sleeping Beauty (currently on at NWCT, with bonus crazy bird puppets) and new stories like Fly Guy (now being staged as a musical by OCT).
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: For smaller-scale but often no less entertaining options, local puppeteer and singer Red Yarn can often be found on the intimate stages of the newly minted Fremont Theater, the Village Ballroom, and Mississippi Pizza, among other venues. He’s joined on the kid-show circuit by a veritable firmament of beloved local “kindie rock” stars such as Mr. Ben, Mo Phillips, and Tallulah’s Daddy.
THE GOLD STANDARD: The Pearl’s beloved urban beach at Jameson Square is the perfect downtown summer playground.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: We’d all love to spend our days splashing in fountains and lounging on sandstone blocks like baby sea lions. But Portland does not cooperate with our wants and needs. For the other nine months of the year, there is Punch Bowl Social—a cringingly lumber-bro-themed restaurant, bar, and game complex for adults atop Pioneer Place. Oddly enough, this is an awesome place to take kids. The circular space is ringed with semi-private bowling lanes, which double as family romper rooms. There’s Ping-Pong, karaoke, shuffleboard, Big Buck Hunter, and so many sweet, lemony happy hour drinks served in Ball jars. And since they don’t start checking IDs until 10 p.m., feel free to be a terrible parent and bowl another frame while little Liam and Olivia collapse on the cushy sofas. Still bored? There’s always Glowing Greens, downtown’s surprisingly under-the-radar Day-Glo, pirate-themed putt-putt course. The 18-hole course, deep in the bowels of the Hilton Executive Tower, is a mermaid’s fever dream—full of animated skeletons and schools of black-lit fish.
THE GOLD STANDARD: Mugs, butter dishes, boxes, and piggy banks all get a personal makeover at Mimosa Studios, where you pick out your blank ceramic canvas and paint it, and then the staff fires it to forever immortalize your kid’s 3-D juvenilia.
ALT-ENTERTAINMENT: A bright, tidy second-floor space on Multnomah Village’s main drag hides a major imagination kick-starter: DIY art operation Craft Factory. Drop in Thursdays through Saturdays, fork over $12 for any craft base (robots and crowns to birdhouses and Oregon state cutouts), gather materials from the bins of recycled scraps and mechanical gewgaws, and let your glittered, spangled, bejeweled, feathered, and bric-a-brac’d flag fly. Additional bases are $6, the glue guns are always at the ready, and when the little artistes have completed their masterpieces, the staff cleans up, not you. Spend that extra hour eating fluffy pancakes next door at Fat City Café instead of getting glitter out of all the nooks and crannies.
Secret Child Care
Where to drop your kids when you’ve run out of options
Potty-trained children can draw, dance, play house, or just watch a movie for up to an hour at Ikea’s Småland. Parents have to stay in the store, but that could mean sitting with free coffee (for Ikea Family cardholders) in the restaurant or testing out a few mattresses. Get there before the next growth spurt, though: only children between 38 and 54 inches are allowed. Many larger metro-area Fred Meyer stores sport a similar but smaller space, Freddy’s Playland, where preschool-age kids can hang for up to an hour while parents shop (or just sit on the sample patio furniture and meditate). Gyms often include child care to lure in energy-sapped parents, with LA Fitness boasting a Kids Klub where, for $10 a month, new members can deposit their small ones for up to two hours (or the length of a child-free bathroom break). Alternatively, a number of Portland’s exercise classes offer child care on site, like Barre3 (buy a child care package, and bend to your heart’s content), or Yoga Shala on North Williams, where for $5 you can drop your child at Shala Kids while you work on your savasana. For, like, ever.
Top Image: Courtesy Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock