Travel With Kids: Portland

Ah, Portland. Often talked-about. Always-adored. Every person I know who currently lives there raves about the beauty, the climate, and the bustling activity. Plus, there are quite a few people in my circle that previously lived in Portland (and loved it!) or pine to live there.

For all of these reasons and more, I was delighted to spend three days in the city with my family in early June.

To fully get a taste of city life, we stayed right in the heart of the city at Embassy Suites Portland Downtown. Originally the Mulnomah Hotel, the building was built in 1912, and has a long history in the area. The decor is grand and elegant. Entering the lobby is like stepping back into a time of top hats, ball gowns, and martini glasses. Even so, it's certainly not a stuffy environment! The hotel is infused with modern and splashy details, serving up just the right amount of urbanism. While it is clearly a top pick for business travelers and convention-goers, it's also an unbeatable option for families.

Embassy Suites in Portland


We stayed on floor 8, which gave us a great view of the city below. Our spacious two-room suite featured artsy decor, black leather coaches, and comfortable beds with sleek black headboards.

The Evening Reception was held underground in the Terraces Garden room - a classy setting. In true Embassy Suites style, alcoholic + nonalcoholic beverages were served on-the-house by friendly and knowledgable bartenders. There was even a make-your-own shirley temple station for the kids! Snacks included veggies + dip, chips + salsa, trail mix, and animal cookies (depending on the night).

I've always said that Embassy Suites offers the BEST complimentary breakfast of any hotel chain - and the Portland Downtown location did not disappoint. In addition to a well-organized buffet line with pancakes, bacon, sausage, and eggs, there was a cook-to-order station for omelets. Plus - pastries, oatmeal, cereal, coffee, teas, and a surprisingly tasty peach juice.

On the night we checked in, the streets were lined with people - saving spots for the Starlight Parade, a HUGE event in Downtown Portland that is part of the Portland Rose Festival. Featuring 100 glowing floats along a 2.25 mile route, the parade runs from 9-11pm. We had a fantastic view from our hotel room, but Tim took the older girls downstairs so they could experience the sights & sounds more fully. They were elated.

On the second day of our stay, we took the MAX light rail to Washington Park. The MAX was super easy to navigate and felt safe. There seemed to be a wide range of people traveling - businesspeople, tourists, students, etc.


At Washington Park, we enjoyed the magical Oregon Zoo with overhanging shrubbery and trees - plenty of shade to help counter the warmth of the sun on the summer day of our visit. The zoo is just the right size with a large number of exhibits - including fun "caves" with glass windows that allow you to get close to the animals. It's important to point out there are very few restaurants within Washington Park so be sure to plan around meal times, to look at menu options ahead of time, and/or to stash some snacks in your backpack. We were famished so we ended up picking up sandwiches + soup at Cascade Grill, which satiated our hunger but didn't offer an exemplary food experience.

leopards at Oregon Zoo

Polar Bear at Oregon Zoo

While in Washington Park, we also visited the Portland Japanese Garden, which was lovely...but very small and not particularly suited for small children. In hindsight, I wish we would have visited the International Rose Test Garden right next door (free admission year round!).

Portland Japanese Garden


One of my must-do's for Portland was to visit Powell's City of Books - the largest independent bookstore in the United States. In a stroke of good fortune, we found we could walk to the bookstore from our hotel. With three stories and a HUGE selection of used + new books, I could have gotten lost in the shelves for HOURS. A bookworm's paradise!


On our way back from the bookstore, we stopped in at one of Portland's Food Carts - a craze that is alive and well in the city. Many of the streets are lined with food trucks - with food from all over the world. We opted for two giant gyros for $5 each. Delicious! While in the city, we also sample the famed Voodoo Doughnut. Crazy amounts of toppings!

line at Voodoo Doughnut in Downtown Portland
line at Voodoo Doughnut in Downtown Portland


Downtown Portland is also a terrific spot for shopping. Neither Tim nor I are big shoppers (we tend to wear the same old shirts and save our pennies for travel experiences)...but I did notice that there were a number of our favorite stores (including Nordstrom Rack). All of the stores had inviting and upscale storefronts paired with bright and appealing interiors...with great prices and no sales tax, to boot!

Portland is worthy of its reputation. It's highly walkable, gorgeously green, and has a public transit system that is the envy of almost every other city in the USA. Plus, it has magical summers, tree-lined streets, a bike-friendly culture, and a notable dining scene. We all agreed that this would not be our last visit to the city.

ON OUR NEXT VISIT TO PORTLAND: Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, Mother's Bistro, Portland Aerial Tram, maybe The Grotto.

Have you ever been to Portland with kids? What travel tips would you add?

* Thanks to Travel Portland and Embassy Suites Portland Downtown for hosting us.

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12 comments on “Travel With Kids: Portland”

  1. Make your own Shirley Temple Bar...what?! I'm headed to Oregon in a few days with my family. I can't wait to try Voodoo Doughnuts (even though I'm usually gluten-free)!

  2. Wow,so fascinating,look the city ,
    the animal in the zoo,the beautiful scene ,
    what a pretty good trip.
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  3. We were there last week. Omsi is terrific and the rose garden, we did both last week. (We only have to pay for parking at OMSI as we have a membership at another science museum that has a reciprocal program). Fennigans toy store is fun too and if you venture out of portland: vista house and multnomah falls. We have been to the zoo too which we loved but haven't tried the children's museum.

    1. We were sad to miss OMSI. I had planned to go there on Monday, but later realized that it is closed on that day. Oops!

      Thanks for the recommendation for Finnegan's Toy Store! What is special/distinctive about it?

      Also - I just googled "Vista House." Wow! Incredible views!

  4. The Rose Garden in Portland is awesome, as is OMSI. I hope you do come back! We always stay with friends there. I also remember a children's museum in Portland from when I was a kid that was pretty cool.
    I need to take my kids to Powell's. We went there once sans kids and spent a couple hours just reminiscing about our childhood stories!
    Portland isn't my favorite city, but I have lots of memories there!

      1. Well, it might be in the top 10 for sure! I'm really not a city girl... I think I love Seattle because I consider it my home city. Victoria BC is pretty cool too. And other than passing through on various road trips I haven't spent much time in big cities. San Jose, Costa Rica is pretty cool though too. ;) Are you guys going to travel internationally at some point?

          1. Costa Rica is amazing! The Caribbean side is much more accessible to kids, the water is calmer. And it feels a bit more tropical. :)

            I went twice pre-kids. Once when I was 18 for a two week mission trip and then I loved it so much I went to a Capernwray school there for a semester when I was in college. Super awesome in so many ways!

  5. I am so jealous that you got to go to Powell's! Ever since I bought my used textbooks for college from there, I have wanted to go. Did you bring the girls or get to go by yourself?

    Those donuts look amazing!

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