By Meg Asby, Denise Castañon, Kate Hagan and Tiffany Hill
Vacations are nice, but sticking around the Portland area in the summer offers so many fun opportunities for families. It’s the perfect time of year to get outside and try out new and new-to-you parks, frozen treats, art exhibits and so much more. Here’s our curated list of fun ideas and places to try out during your family’s Portland summer staycation!
Immersed in Art
So there are no goats on Belmont anymore (scroll down to find them!), but Hopscotch, a new art, light, and sound experience, will open on June 9 on Belmont’s Goat Blocks. This family-friendly art installation will span 23,000 square feet of gallery space and show off experiential creations that explore the intersection of art and technology. During the 90-minute experience, guests might question their relationship with waste and nature, play with light and sound on a cosmic trampoline, and wander through an LED maze of lights.
Portland’s love of the arts and indie vibe drew Hopscotch co-founders Nicole Jensen and Hunter Inman to our city. (There’s also a Hopscotch in San Antonio, Texas.) “We were very selective about what city to go to next,” says Jensen. “We knew if we were going to expand, it had to be somewhere that shared our values and beliefs as a brand. Creativity is ingrained in Portland’s culture, it is a city of artists, makers, and entrepreneurs. It is proudly inclusive and celebrates individualism. We really fell in love with Portland, so much so, that my wife and I moved our family here.”
If you go: 1020 SE 10th Ave. Admission: adults: $24; students, seniors (65+), military, teachers, health care and first responder ID-holders: $20; children (ages 4-13): $15; children 3 and under are free. Minors under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
Splashing in the ’Burbs
The City of Tigard recently unveiled its first splash pad and interactive water feature at the newly opened Universal Plaza, an accessible community space also home to shared tables, porch swings, event spaces, food carts, and a bike and pedestrian boardwalk that connects to the Fanno Creek Trail. “Universal Plaza is a statement project,” says Tigard’s Community Development Director Kenny Asher. “It’s going to bring people together, which is what folks in Tigard want. Too many things lately are pulling people apart.” Universal Plaza is also the new home of the weekly Tigard Farmers Market that takes place on Sundays from 9 am-1:30 pm. In the second phase of construction, which has not yet been funded, Universal Plaza aims to gain a large architectural canopy for shade in the summer and shelter in the winter, along with an all-access community room.
If you go: 9100 Burnham St., Tigard
Merci Milo launched their Northeast Portland store after successfully opening a kids boutique in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Inspired by the owners’ daughter Milo, and her love of artisan and global toys, you’ll find many vintage-inspired toys as well as locally made favorites. (For this reason, the online store and local selection may vary.)Merci Milo packs a wide array of toys into a small area, yet still provides a large selection. Standout features include a significant selection of costumes for dress-up play and a diverse and inclusive selection of toy dolls. While toys are easily accessible to browsing young ones, strollers may be a tight fit while shopping.
If you go: Merci Milo is currently open every day (except Monday), 11 am-6 pm, but will close for staff lunch breaks around 1 pm. 2438 NE Broadway St.
Stick With It
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that kids are more likely to try new foods if those foods are on a stick. Enter Two Hands Corndogs, which recently opened in Hillsboro. The California-based chain marries the iconic state fair treat with Korean flavors; think a spicy corn dog rolled in Hot Cheeto dust. And you can customize your corn dog quite a bit. You have the choice of a cheese stick, beef frank, a combo of the two, or spicy beef frank. Pro tip: You can take a pass on added sauces or seasonings if you wish. Skip the American Classic Dog (my daughter’s was undercooked) and go straight for the Crispy Rice Dog or Two Hands Dog. (My spud-loving daughter had been looking forward to trying the Potato Dog, but they were out when we visited.) These two corn dogs are dipped in batter that’s more akin to pizza dough than the cornbread batter in American-style dogs. The truly crunchy Crispy Rice dog was a hit with both my son and daughter. My son was amazed that it was dipped in sugar. And, surprisingly, my kids devoured the spicy fries doused with Kimchi seasoning. Be sure to grab an uber-puckery lemonade slush that my kids gave a thumbs up to as well. Is this the healthiest place for lunch? Absolutely not. But we all had a really good time trying something new.
If you go: 2055 NW 185th Ave, Hillsboro
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
If you need a few more rainbows in your life, then the Happy Place, Hammer and Jacks toy store’s new play space, is the perfect fit. Crafted with sturdy natural woods and vibrant colorful add-ons — like clouds hanging from the ceiling and faux grass — this 750-square-foot indoor playground space is perfect for preschoolers, but both younger and older kiddos love it, too. The playspace is dotted with Pikler triangles, a slide and fort-style platforms. A unique and standout feature is the wavy rolling wall at the back where kids (or playful adults) can toss colorful and light-up balls along a track. The playspace capacity is 12 and on rainy days it can fill up fast. But the location can also be rented for private events. Pro tip: Outside food is welcome in the picnic table area nearby, and a bonus for working parents is the many wall plugs for laptops.
If you go: Attendance at the play space requires a signed waiver and a fee of $5 per kid upon entry. Play passes are available at $20 for 5 play sessions or $40 for 10.
Hit the Court
If your hearts are still broken over the closure of The Lumberyard bike park in Northeast Portland, there’s good news coming this summer! The People’s Courts is taking over the beloved space, making it even easier to find a place to play the trendiest of sports, pickleball. In addition to indoor and outdoor pickleball, families can also play ping-pong, cornhole and arcade games. There’s even a 9-hole disc golf putting course — think miniature golf, but with discs. With two restaurants offering exceptional local food and kid-friendly eats such as pizza and ice cream, families can stay all day long. Adults can even enjoy a cocktail while the kids play!
If you go: Sign up for the email list online to be the first to know when opening day arrives. 2700 NE 82nd Ave.
Pro Tip: While you wait for the opening of The People’s Courts, or if you live in the Clackamas area, RECS recreation center is another great spot for a family-friendly game of pickleball, 17015 SE 82nd Dr., Clackamas.
Cool, Cool, Cool
Kulfi is a South Asian dessert that’s created by simmering milk into more of a custard — instead of churning — before being frozen into a popsicle. You’ll find this cool treat at a shop with the eponymous name, Kulfi, which just opened its second location on North Williams and will frequent the King Farmers Market. Enjoy classic local flavors like marionberry cheesecake or rotating specials like the vegan Pride Pop featuring individually poured fruit and vegetables into colorful layers. In addition to popsicles, try a Falooda for a more textural adventure that combines kulfi, vermicelli noodles, basil seeds, jelly, sweet milk and nuts.
If you go: The new walk-up shop is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 2-9 pm. 5009 NE 15th Ave.
Can’t get enough frozen desserts? Ice Queen offers paletas, Mexican-style popsicles known for rich, creamy ingredients and fresh fruit. Ice Queen owner, Rebecca Smith, who identifies as Native and Chicana, creates icy treats that are plant-based and dairy-free. Standout flavors include Mangonada, a soy-based mango sherbert bar with locally made chamoy, with an optional chocolate dip, and the Bunny Munch, a carrot, orange, and ginger-themed popsicle with a water base. Kids will get a kick that it actually looks like a carrot with a green base and orange top. Pro tip: Ice Queen also delivers!
If you go: Store hours are from 3-9 pm Thursday through Monday, 2012 SE 11th Ave.
A New Adventure Awaits
Portland families were thrilled when artist Mike Bennett opened his immersive art installation Wonderwood: The Scourge of Castle Maplehold and a complementary cafe in the fall of 2022. This summer, families can continue the adventure at Wonderwood: The Rat King’s Bazaar of the Bizarre. The next chapter of the Wonderwood story, which opened in May, is set in the troubled town of Maplehold, where the Rat King has taken over the village and invited all his minions to join him. The Bazaar seamlessly weaves together original art, storytelling and live performances. And like a true bazaar, you’ll have the ability to purchase limited-edition Mike Bennett art while in the installation instead of at a traditional gift shop at the end. Every surprising creature and landscape you will encounter was hand-painted by Bennett and his team of collaborators.
If you go: The Rat King’s Bazaar of the Bizarre: 7410 N Chicago St. Open Thursday-Sunday, 10 am-6 pm. Admission is free. Wonderwood Springs Café: 8811 N. Lombard St. Open Monday-Sunday 8 am-8 pm.
Pro tip: Mike Bennett will bring a farm and flower stand pop-up experience with cartoon fruits and veggies and other unique surprises to the PDX Parent Family Festival on Saturday, June 24 from 10 am-2 pm at Topaz Farm!
Keep Portland Kid-Friendly
When I took my tween to visit the Belmont Goats in their new location in North Portland, I was afraid she had outgrown farm animals. To my delight, she was obsessed with Bambi, the loner goat who prefers to spend her time resting under a tree, distanced from the small herd angling for a brushing. Despite the goat’s introverted nature, Bambi loves humans, and my daughter spent a peaceful 15 minutes petting her and enjoying the quiet. I shouldn’t have doubted — kids never outgrow goats! I recommend wearing rain boots and watching where you step, but there’s a boot brushing station at the gate if you need it. The experience was so lovely I couldn’t believe it was free. According to their website, these animals are “goats of leisure,” not working goats.
If you go: 6631 N Syracuse St. Visiting hours are every Saturday and Sunday, from 11 am-2 pm, weather permitting. They are supported completely by donations, accepted online.
Silver Screen Delights
The Judy Kafoury Center for Youth Arts, known as “The Judy,” is the new home for Northwest Children’s Theater and also includes a redesigned movie theater showing second-run family favorites. (Perfect when you are looking for cool heat-wave activities.) Navigating from box office to cinema involves heading to the event basement down a grand staircase (or accessible elevator) and mirrors the childhood version of a fancy Broadway show in many ways. Lights, camera and action reveal a snack bar at the bottom of the stairs and a large theater space. Standout amenities are the purple bean bags beneath the viewing screen, in addition to regular cinema seating.Parents need neither stress about their wallets nor hungry tummies as the concession offerings include family-friendly options like $3 bags of cheddar popcorn or candies such as M&Ms, $5 pizza slices, and sodas for $4.
If you go: 1000 SW Broadway, Suite T-100. Tickets are $8 per person. The theater offers Friday Family Movie Nights, as well as weekend showings.
Family Fun, Vineyard-Style
14 Acres Winery, rebranded from Ridgefield, Washington’s former Three Brothers Winery in 2022, kept many of the same beloved family features and added a few more items. Not only is this winery open to fans of all ages, but the large and expansive yard truly gives a kiddo room to roam. The winery itself offers selections of both reds and whites as well as beer and non-alcoholic beverages.Order housemade pizza and appetizers and have a picnic in the grassy field. And we’ve never had anyone object to bringing snacks for the kids as needed. In winter, this winery has a large covered patio with multiple propane heaters and in summer the grass lawn features a multitude of concerts and performances.
If you go: 2411 NE 244th St. Ridgefield, WA
Playground Fun for All
Esther Short Park is the central community area of downtown Vancouver, Washington, and is filled with fun family events. The park is the weekend host to the Downtown Vancouver Farmers Market running March through October on Saturdays and Sundays. And once the summer season kicks off, the far side of the park is host to a streamlike water feature specifically designed for kids to splash in. Waterfalls pour over easily climbable boulders and are a favorite of local kids. Pro tip: In the summer, the water features are on daily, from dawn to dusk. But the standout feature of a family outing in this area is the long-awaited inclusive playground by Harper’s Playgrounds. This new play area, which opened in April, combines carefully crafted hills with highly accessible play features. Highlights include a double slide and a faux grass-covered play hill, a boulder scramble, climbing dome and zero entry “merry go all.”
If you go: Open daily from 5 am to 10 pm. W. 8th & Columbia, Vancouver, WA
Slurp ‘n’ Play
If your family is looking for a low-key game night, but don’t have the energy to visit a full-on arcade, then Toyshop Ramen is the place to go. This cute game room/noodle shop on Killingsworth is not only a fun spot to play a few rounds of pinball, but everyone can dig into house-made noodles immersed in piping hot ramen broth. Even better, there are vegan noodles and broth in addition to traditional pork- and beef-based bowls. The Zevi Kid’s Noodle Bowl is perfect for smaller appetites. Don’t overlook the starters, like the hand-dipped katsu corn dogs or the crunchy chicken karaage. And we could have eaten two of the lemon-curd taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped cake. After dinner, engage in some family game time at one of the nostalgic pinball machines (like Street Fighter and Baby Pac Man). Kids will also love the various Mario toys and Funko Pop vinyl collectables.
Pro tip: For grown-ups looking for a fun night out sans kids, Toyshop Ramen is open until 1 am Fridays and Saturdays. There’s even a lineup of DJs spinning in the corner those nights. Plus, the cocktails, all gamer-themed, are inventive and smooth.
If you go: 3000 NE Killingsworth St.
Food Cart Nirvana
My tween daughter is no stranger to food carts, and as we left Lil’ America in Southeast Portland, she said, “This is the best food cart pod, ever.” She meant the food — which was delicious — but I was delighted to support a pod that features exclusively BIPOC- and LGBTQIA+-owned carts. I’m from Texas, and the chicken quesadillas my daughter ordered at Los Plebes tasted like home. I ordered the Hainanese braised pork belly rice dish at Hawker Station, with a perfectly cooked, soft-boiled, soy sauce egg. My daughter loved the mildly flavored pork belly so much she stole my plate (I managed to eat that perfect egg before she took over, though). We ended the meal with a vegan dessert at Speed-O-Cappuccino, a cart owned by and honoring sex workers with donations from their daily specials. My daughter is obsessed with tamales, so we tried the strawberry and blackberry dessert tamal, and the fruit inside was the perfect blend of tart and sweet. The venue itself is beautiful, with a large mural and plenty of covered seating, with access to Fracture Brewing Taproom. Lil’ America regularly hosts special events, and I can’t wait to come back and check one out.
If you go: 1015 SE Stark St.
Play in the Street
Did you know you can apply to the City of Portland for a free block party permit that will temporarily close off your non-arterial street? And summer is the perfect time to plan a block party with your neighbors. If you had one of those memorable ’80s or ’90s childhoods in which the neighbor kids all played together all summer long, this is a great way to help foster that same experience for your own kids. The street must be classified as a “Local Service Traffic” roadway and intersections must remain open. The application takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and you’ll need to submit the application at least 15 business days before your event. Once it’s time for your block party, be sure to plan lots of fun activities for the kids: Sidewalk chalk paint, sprinklers or a water slide, or a collage craft table are a few ideas. And think of other games that can accommodate a large number of people: neighborhood dog show, freeze dance off, or a paper airplane contest. Pro tip: Be sure to talk to your neighbors before committing to a date to make sure the street closure won’t affect any events they already have planned.
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