The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Family Fun in Portland, Oregon

When I first moved to Portland with my husband and young children in 2014, I didn’t just have fear of missing out, I was actually missing out. I’d hear about events only after they happened, when new friends posted photos of all the fun they had at street fairs and at pop-ups and secret scavenger hunts. How did they know that the author of Dragons Love Tacos was coming to Green Bean Books and giving out free Chipotle samples? Better question — how could I be the one in the know?

Image courtesy the City of Portland.

Well, friends, this is the post I wish had been available to me when I was new to PDX. It’s part how-to, part love letter to this city that is responsible for the best childhood I could ever have imagined for my kids. It’s a truly lovely place to grow up, and we’re here to help you make the most of these long days and short years.

Follow the right folks on social media.

Social media isn’t just mindless scrolling — it’s actually really informative if you curate the accounts you follow. Obviously, family fun is what we do here at PDX Parent, so give us a follow on your favorite social media platform of choice: we’re on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, and we post about fun things to do daily.

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But don’t stop there! Also follow your local bookshop, indoor play space, favorite family farm, toy store, performing arts venue or kindie artist, you get the idea. Then you’ll be the first to know about fun events when they happen.

Sign up for e-newsletters.

I know, I know. You don’t want to clutter your inbox. But if you strategically sign up for newsletters, you’ll often get early access to events that sell out quickly (We’re looking at you, Topaz Farm and LEKA Playland). Our PDX Parent Wednesday newsletter includes picks for weekend fun, so you can plan the weekend on your weekday lunch break. Sign up here.

Check online event calendars.

Our Kids Calendar has been helping families find their fun for decades, and new events are added daily. We also update “This Weekend in PDX” every week, which highlights our top five picks from our popular calendar.

You can also search events on Facebook or other websites that offer a calendar. Set a reminder on your phone to check once a week, and you will easily stay up to date on fun happenings.

Budget for fun.

Every month we update a list of Free Things to Do in Portland (here are links to each month). It’s a great resource for free fun. You can also check out our roundups of playgrounds, splash pads, and kid-friendly hikes. These make great bucket lists and can keep you busy all year long! We also wrote the Ultimate Guide to Free Fun in Portland, to make it easy for you to give your kids a magical childhood without spending a dime.

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If you have it in the budget to splurge, you might consider a museum membership to a kid-friendly venue such as OMSI, or tickets to a local production. Maybe visit Oaks Amusement Park (it’s free to ride the train and carousel!) or the Oregon Zoo. The city also has beautiful gardens, including Lan Su Chinese Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden. If your kids are older, an escape room experience is way fun. These activities can add up quickly, so I usually like to ask for experience gifts like these on holidays and birthdays.

Make seasonal events a tradition.

Summer is full of street fairs and festivals, fall is a great time to visit a pumpkin patch, the holiday lights in winter are must-do, and spring is for photo ops in the tulips, cherry blossoms, and at waterfalls. Before you know it, you’ll have seasonal traditions your family looks forward to every year.

Know your capacity.

It’s easy to do too much, once you know about all the fun things that are happening. Think about how much bandwidth you have before you make plans; maybe one outing a week feels fun, maybe one a month is plenty.

It’s also helpful to decide what kind of fun you like. Do you prefer venues that are always available, such as art studios and fun restaurants? Or do you like catching those ephemeral, once-a-year happenings like the Stand-Up Paddleboard Witches’ Paddle around Halloween, and the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade in spring? If the former, you can be a little more laid back about your searching. If the latter, you’ll want to check for events more frequently so you don’t miss out.

Have fun.

I used to feel guilty that I never took my kids skiing, even though we can literally see mountains as we drive through our hometown. But the truth is, I hate skiing: the expense, the cold, all the layers, and the potential injuries. Then one day a friend of mine who grew up here, one of those moms I met in my early days who seemed to know all the secrets, said, “Oh, I never take my kids skiing. Totally not worth it.” And I realized I had forgotten the point of it all: to have fun. Okay, yes, I’m not taking my kids to ski, but I am taking them to a Harry Potter tea experience, and that definitely counts for something.

All this to say, there is no law that says your child must roller skate at Oaks Park or march in the Portland Rose Festival Junior Parade. Do what makes your family happy, and that’s enough.

Itching to get started? Check out our Ultimate Portland Bucket List: 101 Things to Do with Kids for a little adventure inspiration. And have fun out there!

Meg Asby
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