In a city where — in seemingly a matter of months — a coffee shop can turn into a ceramics market, followed by a gelato pop-up, then a vintage arcade, it can be hard to keep track of all the latest attractions available for kiddos. Here’s a rundown of the hottest new places to bring your little ones in the Portland area. Let this bounty herald more great options in 2024.
It’s hard to believe that The Judy, Northwest Children’s Theater’s new downtown venue, opened in April. It’s already become a fixture of Portland’s youth arts scene, offering a vibrant mix of performances, theater classes and movies, plus special events including a family arts festival, a Halloween Ball, Diwali fun, and author readings for the Portland Books Festival. Don’t miss their fun take on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (read our review) and, on stage soon, Annie Jr.
With 14 different spaces, including a magical ball pit, a rainbow cave, and an otherworldly trampoline, Hopscotch is a joyful, one-of-a-kind experience for both kids and adults who want to feel like a kid again. And for those who expected it to be a temporary installation: rejoice; Hopscotch is a permanent attraction. Haven’t been there yet? Learn more about what makes it so special.
On a recent car trip, my daughter caught sight of some fallen trees and speculated that a giant was the culprit. She may have been onto something, as a massive Danish troll somehow found its way to Tualatin and can be spotted on the Nordic Northwest campus. Catch it during daylight hours any day of the week.
There are, in fact, two new giants in the Portland area. Hillsboro’s dazzling new fully-inclusive playground, Hidden Creek Park West, features an enormous forest creature named “Oro,” who doubles as a pretty incredible play structure complete with a slide and lots of places to explore, climb and hide. Beyond the friendly giant, you’ll find sand and water features, orb-like play structures, swinging benches and a game area. (Get a closer look.)
Vancouver also gained two new inclusive playgrounds this year — Esther Short Park and Chelsea Anderson Memorial Play Station at Marshall Community Park — both fabulously executed by the Harper’s Playground nonprofit organization.
This under-the-radar nature park, tucked away in Northeast Portland near the Columbia River, reopened in June after being closed for over a year for upgrades. It now boasts an ADA-accessible (and stroller-friendly) pathway, nature exploration spots, and new picnic areas and other amenities. Thankfully, it remains a peaceful respite and valuable wildlife haven.
There’s a new rec facility in town on Northeast 82nd, and it offers lots of opportunities for everyone in the family to get active. The venue’s prime attraction is pickleball, but there’s also disc golf, cornhole, ping-pong, bocce ball and an arcade. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, indulge in yummy family-friendly eats such as pizza, sausages, burgers and soft serve (adults will also find a solid drink menu).
It’s been a great year in Portland for family-friendly bookstores. Montavilla saw the opening of Linda Letra Bilingual Books, a well-curated Spanish-English bookstore in a colorful space serving families with Spanish-speaking kids and kids learning Spanish. Woodstock got Musical Monsters & Budding Bookworms, which offers not only a great selection of kids’ books but also super-engaging music classes. And the Buckman neighborhood welcomed Up Up Books, a cozy, eclectic bookshop with a small event space and an adorable kids section.
Food Cart Pods
The Portland area gained some standout food cart pods in 2023. The Heist has already become a neighborhood favorite in Woodstock, and families trying to satisfy a range of preferences have a lot to choose from. Lil’ America, a BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ focused food cart pod in inner Southeast, has some killer food options and a welcoming setting. Despite its name, the new Midtown Beer Garden (right in the heart of downtown) is family-friendly and offers a big selection of carts, a lively atmosphere and ample seating. And Hillsboro Downtown Station, the fancy new Westside pod, has something for everyone and a large indoor area.
As of this writing, the Portland Winter Ice Rink, located at the west end of the Morrison Bridge, isn’t open yet, but I’m hopeful the new seasonal rink and marketplace will become a yearly attraction downtown. Stay tuned for more details; it’s opening Dec. 16! Get tickets here.
- The Ultimate Portland Bucket List: 101 Things to Do with Kids - January 22, 2024
- Top New Kid-Friendly PDX Attractions of 2023 - December 31, 2023
- Portland Kids’ Storytimes - November 16, 2023