Photo Courtesy Renee Peters

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a special place. It was built in a nondescript section of Old Town Chinatown, but step through its gate and you’ll find yourself transported to a lush, tranquil sanctuary. The garden was designed to resemble a traditional 16th-century Chinese scholar’s estate by artisans from Suzhou, Portland’s sister city in China, and features impressive architecture and a rotating cast of plants.  In the summer, you’ll find gorgeous lotus, water lilies, gardenias and blossoming hibiscus, but each season offers something special. Every angle offers something new to admire, and as you explore the thoughtfully-designed grounds, you can’t help but feel that the garden is gently guiding you through it.

Now that I have a toddler who wants to examine everything, I like to let her do the guiding, and the Lan Su Chinese Garden is the perfect size for younger kids to explore fully. At one square block, you can see everything in about an hour. It  turned out to be just enough time for my daughter to progress through her three “I’m somewhere new” phases: wariness, curiosity and then playfulness.

She couldn’t get enough of the many corridors, pathways and bridges that snake through the grounds. And while the center of the garden features a stunning pond and offers countless vistas to pause and take in all the surprises — don’t miss the dragonfish presiding overhead — the perimeter of the grounds is divided into several smaller courtyards, so kids will delight in finding all of the tucked-away gems, including a fragrance garden, a rock-framed waterfall and changing art exhibits.  

The stars of the show for my daughter were undoubtedly the amiable koi fish, who were swimming between one of the pavilions and a bridge so we could get a multi-angled view of them. Before we left, we had to take a final lap around the area so my daughter could point them out one more time (Orange! White! Baby fish!) and blow them a kiss goodbye. 

Pro Tips

  • The garden offers a mobile-friendly scavenger hunt via their website. While I was there, I noticed a boy running around snapping photos and proudly showing his grandma his finds. Older kids may also enjoy the Dragonfish audio tour. Find them both here.
  • Free admission is available once a month on #OpenDoorWednesday. Reservations required.
  • There’s a wheelchair- and stroller-accessible pathway through the garden. The grounds are small enough, however, that I could leave the stroller at home and comfortably do a mix of carrying my toddler and letting her wander. 
  • Update: Masks are now required for all visitors, volunteers and staff. Every building I entered was open to the outside for ventilation.

Know Before You Go
The train station is just a couple blocks from the garden, which can make for some noisy interludes in an otherwise quiet setting. I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but my toddler is sensitive to loud sounds and scrambled into my arms whenever she heard an approaching train.

Details 
239 NW Everett Street — enter at the corner of 3rd and Everett
Open 10am-6pm (closed Wednesdays)
Admission is free for kids under 6, $9.95 for older kids/students, and $12.95 for adults

Renee Peters
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