A weekend in the heart of Portland, Oregon with kids

I didn’t actually get to spend the weekend in Portland with my children, so a family trip there is technically a Monday dream of mine. But I was lucky enough to visit recently without my kids in tow, which means I can back up any daydreams with research from my scouting expedition. And Portland, Oregon is without question worthy of consideration for a family vacation: It’s a small city with great food, loads of outdoor activities, and a famously friendly vibe.

The Saturday Market in Portland has lots of that kid will like to look at

Photo courtesy of kittybabylove on Flickr/Please click on photos to see full-size versions

If we visited between March and December, I’d definitely start our weekend at the Portland Saturday Market. My boys like nothing better than a breakfast of spring rolls or samosas, both of which are available (along with another favorite breakfast item: Ice cream). While we ate, we could explore the local crafts for sale at dozens of booths and watch glass blowing and street musicians.

The Oregon Maritime Museum is in a moored paddle steamboat on the Willamette River

The market offers easy access to both the Old Town and Chinatown areas of Portland and Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a large green space along the Willamette River right in the middle of the city. When we tired of the market, we’d head here to admire the industrial beauty of the river’s many drawbridges and visit the Oregon Maritime Museum, which is inside a steamboat that’s docked just a little ways up the river. If that wasn’t enough boat time for us, we could take a river cruise on the Portland Spirit or, if we were feeling even more adventurous, take a kayak tour with Portland Kayak at the RiverPlace Marina.

The bridges across the Willamette River in Portland are like sculpture

Another possibility for our Portland exploration would be to hop on bikes and start riding. Portland may be the most family-friendly bike city in the United States, with marked trails in many neighborhoods. McCall Waterfront Park would make a great place to start, offering a two-and-a-half mile loop that runs along each side of the river (and would give us a chance to cross two of those cool bridges). The Esplanade across the river from the Waterfront Park offers a 1200-foot floating walkway as well as lots of public art.

An inspirational staircase at Powell's

I could get lost for hours in the travel section at Powell's in Portland, Oregon

On Sunday morning after perhaps another walk along the river, we’d definitely head over to the aptly named Powell’s City of Books. I feel pretty certain that we could easily spend the better part of a morning in this gargantuan bookstore (although we’d definitely need to agree on a central meeting point, as this is a place to get lost in). We’d fall in love with the printed page all over again, but would need to come with a budget both in money and luggage space, as we will want to buy some books – we’re sure to find titles here you’ve never heard of or copies of used out-of-print books you didn’t know you had to have.

Coffee shops and restaurants line RiverPlace in Portland, Oregon

To stay near the Willamette River and the waterfront park, the market, and the maritime museum, we’d book at the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel, which offers great views and plenty of space for families, to say nothing of easy access to coffee shops and restaurants lining the river at the southern end of the waterfront park. Rent a spacious fireplace suite and we’d have plenty of room to stretch out, plus a fully equipped kitchen and a washer and dryer. But the real appeal is the view.

A view of the marina from the Kimpton Riverplace Hotel

Binoculars come standard in the Kimpton RiverPlace suites

Binoculars come standard, and we could use them to get a closer look at the practicing dragon boat teams, birds, or the numerous sculptural drawbridges spanning the river.

Fireplace suites at the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel have lots of room to spread out

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of Kimpton Hotels, which offer hosted wine hours every day, free hot chocolate and coffee in the morning, and have fun amenities for families like free bikes to borrow. Sign up for the loyalty program and get free wifi and newspapers delivered to your door daily.

You can feed your family with meals you prepare in the fully equipped kitchen at the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel

One caveat about this particular Kimpton is that the suites do not sport the kind of fun, interesting interior design that you may have come to expect if you’re familiar with the brand. If you’d prefer a more stylish room, ask to stay in one of the newly redecorated rooms in the main hotel building (the suites are in a separate building just next door that’s directly accessible from the river walk).  Note: I just learned from Kimpton that they plan to have all of the rooms in the hotel – including the suites – updated with a fresh new stylish look by the end of April, 2013.

My time in Portland was short, and since it was only the very beginning of March I didn’t get to sample food from the many carts that line its streets in the warmer months, kayak on the river, or check out the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, all of which would be on the agenda for a return visit. So maybe we need more than a weekend for a family visit to Portland. In any event, I know I’ll be dreaming of going back there until we do.

The RiverPlace Hotel offered me a discounted rate on a fireplace suite; all opinions about it and Portland are my own. You can always count on me to tell you when I’ve received something for a discount or for free.

Join the Conversation