Originally published May 23, 2016 but recently updated.
Living in Seattle, we are fortunate to be so close to both Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR. Both are amazing cities for families with toddlers and preschoolers. Plus, they are just a few hours drive from Seattle. See why Portland with toddlers is always a good idea.
Where to Stay in Portland with Toddlers
For the past two trips to Portland, Oregon, we have stayed at the same hotel. We’ve also traveled with the same family who also has a toddler. After researching online for our first trip, we decided to book a suite through the Inn at Northrup Station. The photos online showed a very vibrant, boutique hotel and that’s what we got when we arrived. We also like that we got free tickets for the nearby streetcar, which our transportation-obsessed toddlers loved! They also had quite an extensive breakfast set-up and we had a kitchen in our room.
As your kids get older, the jars of taffy and Starbursts will be a reason they want to return. Let’s be frank, it’s a reason I like to come back here!
Pine State Biscuits
We’ve been going to Pine State Biscuits for the past 8 years. There is always a line out the door. And for good reason. They make the yummiest biscuits topped with fresh fruit or savory breakfast sandwiches. This is a great place for dining in Portland with toddlers because you can order a side of biscuits with a variety of toppings. Plus, kids love the fried green tomatoes!
My friend had a brilliant idea: Buy a few extra biscuits and order a tub of gravy to go. Then, you have an easy dinner for when you return home!
The first meal we had was dinner at Apizza Scholls. Our friend from New York told us it’s the closest thing he’s found to New York pizza in the Pacific Northwest. It was absolutely delicious and the restaurant was very kid friendly. Our pizzas came out pretty quickly and they came by often to refill our water. They also take reservations, which is great for families! We were surprised how many restaurants didn’t take reservations, which is tricky when you are in Portland with toddlers. We will definitely be adding this place to our Portland food circuit.
This Japanese restaurant was a good fit for our toddlers because they love noodles, edamame, and fried chicken. They offered half portions of their curry dishes, which would be the perfect size for children. We like to order extra eggs in the ramen so we can share with the kids.
Portland Sweet Treats
Blue Star Donut
No trip to Portland with toddlers is complete without donuts. On both occasions, our friends arrived a few hours before us, so they grabbed donuts from Blue Star for us. They get one of almost everything, so we just cut them all in half. They were delicious and they still tasted great the next morning. I should know, I eat most of them for breakfast. The only strange one so far was Peanut Butter and Jelly, only because the jelly seemed to have hot peppers in it. My 2-year-old was not pleased.
Wailua Shave Ice
If you’re looking for a bit of the tropics mixed with Portland hipster, Wailua Shave Ice is the place to be. I may be a bit partial, since the company started on Kauai. It’s a bit hidden away in a building, so it’s like uncovering a secret shave ice spot. They offer a ton of flavors and the shave ice is easily shared with a toddler.
Nob Hill is a great place to stroll with or without the kids. My friend and I checked out Nob Hill while the toddlers were sleeping. I ended up getting chocolates at Moonstruck and cake and macarons at Papa Haydn. These sweet treats were enjoyed back in the hotel room. We also stopped in Child’s Play toy store, which had an excellent assortment of toys and activities for babies, toddlers, and children.
Portland Family Activities
Portland Children’s Museum
The Portland Children’s Museum was different than I expected. For starters, it wasn’t very colorful inside. I’m used to brightly colored walls and large artwork in children’s museums. The Portland Children’s Museum looks like a converted business, with stark walls and simple flooring. The vehicle room had a large table for trains (the tracks were loose, instead of screwed to the table), a ramp for cars and a simulated bus. It felt very bare and it was kind of confusing to find. But, the kids had fun playing with the cars and trains. They really enjoyed the grocery store area where they could put pretend food in baskets and check out at the cashier. My toddler also really enjoyed the water table area and I was impressed that they and lots of tall hand dryers there to dry off wet kids. We didn’t get a chance to explore the outside area.
Portland Night Market
My toddler devoured half a plate of yakisoba noodles, several dumplings, and lots of strawberry ice cream. I had some fried chicken steamed buns that were tasty. It was nice that we could get several things to share, especially when our toddler changes his mind about food frequently. The only downside was a lack of seating, so it was kind of tricky to feed our kids while eating ourselves and huddled under a tent to avoid the rain. But, it was a fun place for dinner! This would be a fun date night while packing a baby in a carrier.
Powell’s Used Books
Since we had promised the kids that we would ride a train, my friend and I grabbed the boys and rode the streetcar to Powell’s books. The ride was definitely a highlight for the boys and they wanted to keep riding it. In fact, they want to ride it every trip! The street car itself is a must-do in Portland with toddlers.
Powell’s has a nice selection of books celebrating different cultures. I found a couple of books about Chinese folk stories and plenty of books about construction vehicles. If you go, make sure to look at the price of every book of the title you’re interested in. They mix the used books in with the new books and sometimes you can score a great deal!
Next, we hit up the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). This is a legit museum! It reminded me a lot of Science World up in Vancouver, B.C. We weren’t sure how long the boys would last, so we decided to quickly look at a few of the exhibits. Then we headed to their Science Playground children’s play area. The play area was fantastic! They had a large, enclosed sand pit with lots of activities for kids. They also had a nice water table area, infant area, musical instruments, books, a discovery lab and more . My toddler spent the majority of time in the sand pit and then moved onto the vehicles and blocks. It would be easy to spend the whole day here. I love that they not only had 2 bathrooms inside the Science Playground, but they also had a nursing room. After a couple of hours at OMSI, the boys were starting to fade, so we grabbed a quick lunch and hit the road.
Westmoreland Park Nature Play Area
Something cool that we read about in this Red Tricycle article is the Westmoreland Park Nature Play Area. So, we made a point to stop there on our way out of Portland so our toddlers could run around before the drive home to Seattle. It’s such a cool playground! Everything is made of wood and kids are encouraged to use their imaginations. While we were there, our toddlers worked with older kids to build a fort. They also trekked up to the top of a wooden tower. They beamed with pride the whole time we were there. And they wore themselves out! Double win! If you are in Portland with toddlers, this is definitely worth a stop!
On our most recent trip to Portland, we spent some time at the Oregon Zoo. Let me tell you, it’s a fantastic zoo you can easily explore in a half day. Last summer, they re-opened their train that does a little ride perfect for families with babies and toddlers. Read my full recap of the Oregon Zoo here.
Other Pacific Northwest Destinations
Four Days in Vancouver, BC with a Toddler Itinerary
Vancouver’s Science World with Babies + Toddlers
Exploring Stanley Park in Vancouver with a Toddler
Semiahmoo Resort & Spa in Blaine, WA Review
San Juan Island Weekend Getaway with Kids
Weekend in Suncadia
How to Explore the Oregon Zoo in Portland with Preschoolers