There’s no science and no secret to determining what makes our annual It List, no magic formula and certainly no interference from foreign powers. Our team of editors (with some help from our highly nonstatistically significant focus group of nine kids under the age of 9) is just looking for the people and places that will make you, dear reader, stop in your tracks and think, “Huh! The kids and I need to check that out!”
1. Get Your Kicks
Because the flyest shoe designers in town aren’t only at Nike HQ. Lots of kids in Portland have had their faces lavishly painted by the talented Celese Williams of Mystique’s Fancy Faces. But it’s her side hustle that we’re really digging. Last year on a whim, Williams hand-painted a pair of white Air Jordans as a first birthday gift for her boyfriend’s godson. Next came a custom glitter pair for her 9-year-old daughter, and a doughnut-adorned pair for her middle school nephew. Then, she put a pair of mint Oreo-themed Nikes up on Etsy, and they were gone in a matter of days. Hand-painting sneakers is a laborious process — Williams needs to remove the protective coating of the shoe, prime it, and then use a hair dryer on it between coats to dry the paint. And it doesn’t come cheap; her Etsy buyer shelled out a cool $250. But for a mini-me sneakerhead who wants some truly unique kicks, it just might be a perfect fit. Find her at etsy.com/shop/ArtbyCelese. — Julia Silverman
Because pianos come to life on the streets of Portland, all summer long. This summer, take your kids on the happiest and most musical scavenger hunt around, to find all of the pianos lovingly restored and vibrantly repainted by the public music enthusiasts at the nonprofit Piano Push Play, along with collaborators from all walks of life. There’s a kickoff concert to debut this season’s 10 new pianos on June 29 at the sculpture courtyard of the Portland Art Museum, featuring guest appearances by noted local musicians and a few lucky audience members alike. And come July 2, the pianos will scatter to new homes in parks and landmarks around the city. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram at @pianopushplay to map the locations. Then take the kids to go play Chopsticks and Heart and Soul at each and every one. If you miss a few, don’t fret. When summer’s over, the music doesn’t stop — the pianos are donated to local schools and community centers. — J.S.
3. Improv for Everyone
Because now more than ever, everyone needs a good laugh, and it’s even better when the whole family can do it together. Curious Comedy’s Sunday Funday family improv show gets everyone laughing, even the most skeptical kids and adults. Kids and improv may sound risky, but kids on stage are never disappointing. The performers keep it smart, while still on the level of even the youngest audience members. Kids get stage time but not too much, keeping a good mix of chaos and order, and creating a mix of proud parents and glowing kids. It’s fun and affordable, and you’ll laugh a whole lot — plus they sell popcorn and cookies, which feels like a triple win. — Amy Conway
Because the bedtime stories you won’t mind reading over and over and over again are illustrated by a Portlander. By the time your kids hit kindergarten, it can feel like you’ve read approximately 3 bajillion children’s books. Most are great. Some you hide in the back of the bookshelf. And then there are those magic few that have earned a hallowed place in your heart. You know — the book that you gently urge your children toward every night, or have dreams of wallpapering their room with. It’s partly the text, but mostly it’s the illustrations — they just speak to you. These are the kind of illustrations that Rilla Alexander achieves in her children’s books. The drawings are somehow whimsical, bold, nostalgic and modern all at once. Check out The Best Book in the World if you’re ready to acquiesce to the bedtime plea for “just one more!” with no regrets. Find her on Instagram at @rillaalexander. — Alison Wilkinson
Because our parks pay homage to the Northwest’s most famous (albeit never-spied) neighbor. Over in Washougal, Wash., plans are underway for a new nature play area with a showstopper centerpiece — a giant Sasquatch-ish sculpture (dubbed “Eegah” after a community vote — props for gender neutrality! Who says Sasquatch can’t be female?). Eegah will be tugging a massive climbing rope that leads to an enormous boulder, fondly known as “Erric the Erratic.” To reach Erric, kids can Rambo-it on the rope, or climb a turf embankment. Plans also call for a slide built into a nearby slope, willow tree tunnels and a musical section with a xylophone and drums. Construction of the new park along the waterfront starts in July; a grand opening is scheduled for mid-October. — J.S.
6. Jedi Yoga
Because Jedis use The Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. And Tiffany Chapman’s Wild Force Kids Yoga class at Elk Rock Wellness in Milwaukie will teach your Star Wars-obsessed kids all about self control and delivers a strong anti-bullying message to boot. During the hour-long yoga class series for kids, Chapman talks about “using The Force” to calm your body. “Star Wars is such a great story to use to talk about bullying,” says Chapman. “We talk about Darth Vader and how he got that way. We talk about his past and delve into how he could have made better choices to process his anger. Then the students practice some of those strategies.” And only once young Padawans have demonstrated that they have self-control do they get to (safely) duel with light sabers. Sign up for the next series of classes at elkrockwellness.com. 10560 Southeast Main St., Milwaukie. — Denise Castañon
7. New Kids’ Musicians on the Block
Because in a town that’s full of kindie music greats, it turns out we really do need another band! Think of Ants Ants Ants as the upbeat, optimistic, kid-music version of The Decemberists. The new group is a collaboration between local indie rockers and songwriters Johnny Clay of The Dimes and Dave Gulick of Derby. And their polished and playful new album, Why Why Why, captures moments from a picture-perfect childhood. Clay, who lives across the Columbia River in Vancouver, is the father of Emma, 5 and Annie, 8, and says he started Ants Ants Ants after getting inspired by classic episodes of Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock. Check out their summer concerts at The Hoedown at Zenger Farms Saturday, July 21, 4 pm-9 pm and The Not-So Secret Family Show at Secret Society Ballroom, Sunday, July 29, 4 pm. — D.C.
Because nerds need to eat. And this town is full of ’em, and their mini-mes. If you’re a Star Wars dad or a cosplay mom (or vice-versa) and you’ve haven’t found The Nerd Out on Southeast Belmont yet, time to tesseract over there. They’ve got a tasty kids menu that goes beyond the same-olds to include roasted chicken and salmon, and comes with a side of apples, veggies and a cookie. You’ll also find yummy choices and superhero-themed cocktails for adults. But really, the food is kind of beside the point; your kids will be spellbound by the decor, which includes rare collectibles, life-sized Star Wars figurines and comic book wallpaper. If you’re lucky, the kind and proudly geeky owner might bring over a box of comic books to keep your little wigglers occupied while they wait for their food. Keep an eye on their social media for info on special events, including costume contests every last Thursday and how-to-draw-your-own-comics classes for the kiddos. More info: thenerdoutpdx.com. 3308 SE Belmont St. — J.S.
Because it’s never too soon to start teaching our kids that “I’m not a feminist but…” makes no sense. Enter Portland-based Wildfang, and their line of Wild Feminist kids’ clothing. Get a simple black and white Wild Feminist onesie or tee for $28 and rest easy knowing your kid is going to grow up to rule the world. As an added bonus, a percentage of proceeds go to Everytown USA, a nonprofit that supports common-sense gun legislation. While you’re shopping around, be sure to pick up a Golden Girls or Ruth Bader-Ginsberg lapel pin because, yes, in fact you do need one. Find them online at wildfang.com. Or shop their bricks-and-mortar at 1230 SE Grand Ave.— A.W.
10. Next-Gen Parks Visionary
Because the guy in charge of planning for the next wave of urban green spaces can handle a double stroller one-handed. Jon Blasher, Metro’s new Director of Parks and Nature, grew up spending as much time outside as possible in Eugene and headed up the Portland office of the nonprofit PlayWorks before jumping to Metro last summer. In his new job, he’s focused on preserving habitat and making access to nature available for families from all backgrounds, while making sure that our region’s treasured spaces aren’t loved to death. In his spare time, he’s nudging his 2-year-old twins out of that stroller, to explore their Parkrose neighborhood and Metro-owned spaces like Blue Lake Park and the Smith and Bybee wetlands. Next up? Watch for two new nature play areas at Oxbow Park, expected to open by the end of 2018, and new access to the massive Willamette Falls in Oregon City, second in volume only to Niagara Falls in the United States, which has been off-limits to the public for decades. — J.S.
11. Makeover for a Classic
Because our most iconic spaces don’t rest on their laurels. Take OMSI, where the beloved ball room and design labs off of Turbine Hall closed down a few months back, to make way for a new center for innovative hands-on learning aimed at kids ages 5 to 9. When it opens this month, kids will be able to make rockin’ music in a massive, bespoke interactive sound sculpture, build the cities of tomorrow with a rotating series of manipulatives, and learn about air pressure and flow with a new-and-improved installation of Bernoulli’s blowers. Even the entryway is getting a fresh new look, with a towering LED light board that will greet visitors. In coming years, look for even more changes to the rest of Turbine Hall, too. — J.S.
12. Do-Gooding Gear Shop
Because if you loved hitting the outdoors before you had kids, that longing to hit the trail probably didn’t (completely) go away after you became a parent. Enter Bridge City Kid, a new store in St. Johns that carries everything you need for outdoor adventures with your little one in tow. And what’s even better is that they donate all their after-tax profit to nonprofits that protect the environment or help kids develop a love of the outdoors, such as The Surfrider Foundation and Rewild Portland. You’ll find solid gear picks like Vancouver-based Oaki rain suits, swimwear and rash guards, sun hats, sunglasses, and baby carriers. And the store hosts kindie musicians on Tuesdays at 11:30 am, too. Find out more at bridgecitykid.com. 8402 N Lombard. — D.C.
13. Two-clown Tea
Because somehow the teamakers at Chariteas in Sandy have captured the essence of goofy, lovable clowns Olive & Dingo in a tea. That’s right, they’ve concocted Olive & Dingo’s Color Changing Tea, a caffeine-free herbal blend made from butterfly pea flower, dried fruits and peach extract. Oh, and like Olive’s facepaint, it’s bright blue. And like one of Dingo’s switcheroo gags, it turns purple when lemon is added. “The idea of working with Olive & Dingo came up when our team sat down to talk about how we could make our teas more accessible to kids,” says Audrey Christman of Chariteas. “We knew they would be great at sharing tea with their audience and we have always loved how they’re creating such an inviting community for all kinds of kiddos in the Portland metro area.” Try it for yourself at chariteaspot.com. — D.C.
Because even though many Gorge trails are in recovery, we still have waterfalls to spare. Some of our favorite places will be off-limits this summer, as volunteers work hard to reopen many of the Columbia Gorge area trails that were closed by the disastrous Eagle Creek fire last summer. But waterfall lovers and their littles shouldn’t fret — there are still plenty of great options within an hour’s drive of the city. Our pick for an off-the-beaten path option is the Umbrella Falls-Sahallie Falls trail on the eastern flank of Mount Hood. Hikes there in July and August will yield tons of wildflowers, and heading in just 2 miles on an easy grade from the Elk Meadows trailhead off of Highway 35 gets you to graceful Umbrella Falls, where kids can play in the cool, shallow pool at the base of the falls. — J.S.
15. Lemonade for Days
Because there is a place where pink lemonade comes out of a fountain. Alderbrook Park, near the town of Brush Prairie, Wash., is a 63-acre members-only park, except on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 11 am-7 pm, when anyone can pay $10 per adult, $6 for kids 13 and under, and spend the day at their heated pool, paddling on their small lake or playing in their bouncy house playground. (Pro tip: It’s half-price after 4 pm). Did we mention the pink lemonade fountain? More info is at alderbrookparkevents.com. — J.S.
16. Mom and Pop Treat Shop
Because while the ice cream at 22 Below is cool and sweet, the real treat is watching the servers deftly spread your choice of flavors onto well below freezing discs of metal and roll them up. And one of those skillful ice cream rollers might be owner Kady Chen, who opened the southwest Portland store with her husband, Yao Zhang. “We realized that not everyone would be able to have the chance to experience the ice cream that we were able to experience when we were traveling abroad,” says Chen. “We wanted to bring back something new and exciting to the Oregon community.” In addition to managing another two locations in Eugene and Salem, the couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Annabel. They balance work and family by taking her to music and dance classes before the shop opens up and making a routine of singing her favorite songs to her before tucking her in at bedtime. “We try our best to run our shops smoothly and successfully by being there and working front end and back end, but most of the time 24 hours in a day is just not enough,” says Chen. More info at my22below.com. 1728 SW Jefferson St. — D.C.
Because soon you’ll be able to take kids of all abilities for a walk above the trees in outer southeast Portland. Part of the fun at the stately Leach Botanical Garden in Lents is getting lost — picking your way down the narrow, often muddy pathways, fording the stream, playing hide and seek in the upper meadow, and peeping in the windows of the old stone cottage. Coming in 2019, there will be a whole new way to explore the garden — an aerial tree walk, allowing for strollers and walkers and wheelchairs to get a close-up view of the dogwood blooms and rufous hummingbirds that populate the space. The 350-foot walkway will rise 30 feet above the ground; construction is set to begin in September of 2018 and the goal is for a “soft opening” in summer of 2019. “We want to make it possible for visitors young and old to be really immersed in the forest without necessarily being able to climb hills or run over rough paths,” says David Porter, the garden’s executive director. — J.S.
Because juggling a career with motherhood is tough enough, but when you’re a musician, with an irregular, time-consuming schedule, figuring out the right work-life balance can be even more daunting. In Laura Veirs’ new podcast, Midnight Lightning, she delves into the lives of working musicians who are also mothers. The Portland resident profiles guests like the prolific 80-something-year-old artist Carol Kaye, and local favorite China Forbes of Pink Martini. Veirs’ style is casual but probing, allowing the artists she interviews to open up to her, and to us, about everything from postpartum depression to trying to make it home for dinner. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what it’s like to play music for a living while raising a family from moms who have done both and lived to tell the tale. Tune in at midnightlightning.net. — A.W.
19. Activist’s Helper
Because civic engagement doesn’t have be put on hold just because you’ve got a toddler. After the 2016 election, Portland-area lawyer Rachel Sowray, a former D.C.-based Capitol Hill staffer, couldn’t stop thinking about the lines of people in other states waiting for hours on end, just to cast a vote. How were parents supposed to entertain kids while trying to do their civic duty, she wondered — her own demanding 4-year-old would never stand for it. So Sowray got together with friends and family members and founded Politisit, a nonprofit that will pay for your babysitter, via a PayPal reimbursement, so long as you can provide proof that you were engaged in the democratic process, maybe at a city council meeting, or at a meet-and-greet with your legislator. So far, she’s worked with nearly two dozen clients, including one who has been so motivated by civic engagement that she wants to run for office herself. Sowray is working with local advocacy groups to get the word out, and has been fielding calls from other states, including California, Washington and Colorado, about replicating her model. “If an obstacle to [civic] participation is money — well, we should be able to fix that,” she says. More info at politisit.org. — J.S.