If you’re raising kids in the Portland metro area, (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this, chances are you fit that demographic) you probably have your own personal best-of list, cooked up on the long days and short years of parenting. All the items on that list are colored by your own kids, of course — it could have been the best ice cream on the planet, but you won’t remember it that way if your kid was having a massive public meltdown while you were trying to order. Still, sometimes it all goes right. You find the perfect, uncrowded place to skip stones on a hot summer day or a balloon artist who makes your kid a remarkably lifelike light saber that lasts all week, a teacher who notices your son at the back of the room and draws him into the light, or a food cart that sells kid-friendly, healthy meals your kids will eat without complaint. We all have our personal favorites, but let’s face it — new ideas are always welcome. So here, alongside the results of our annual “Family Favorites” readers’ poll, we present a curated sample of little-known gems from our staff and our reporters. We hope you’ll add our favorites to your own family’s list.
Best acting coach (for the pint sized)
Best kidlit icon
Best lactation consultant
Best community organizer
Best yoga for moms-to-be
Best friend to working moms
Best place for a breather at the Children’s Museum
Best birds eye view
Best offbeat nonprofit
Best place to see America’s pastime, Oregon Style
Best hiking trail, urban edition
Best $5 train ride
Best way to bring out the inner road warriors in everyone
Best place to unleash your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder
Best alternative to Chuck E. Cheese
Best shop for blockheads
Best places to breastfeed in public
Best kid-friendly happy hour that won’t scare away your childless friends
Best place to get your splash on
Oh, so you think it’s easy trying to noodge 12 6-year-olds into learning their lines for a page-to-stage Fancy Nancy performance, to teach them the difference between stage left and stage right, showing them how to emote and speak to the back of the room, and what to do when someone, inevitably, forgets their lines? Think again. Chelsie Thomas only MAKES it looks easy. One of Oregon Children’s Theatre’s behind-the-scenes stalwarts, Thomas is coaxing the next generation of local actors forward, one line learned at a time. — Julia Silverman
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Who among us hasn’t driven past Klickitat Street and paid silent tribute to the now 96-year-old Beverly Cleary, the acknowledged grand dame of Oregon’s children’s literature? (And indeed, an American writer whose no nonsense prose recalls E.B. White and poet Elizabeth Bishop.) Monuments to Cleary are all over our fair city, from the bronze sculptures/fountains of Henry Huggins, Ribsy and Ramona at Grant Park to the homey children’s room at the Central Library downtown, which is named in her honor. She’s an American classic, and she’s all ours. — J.S.
In the 20 years or so that she’s spent running breastfeeding support groups in southeast Portland, lactation consultant Meg Stalnaker has seen it all, and then some. (Tongue-tie, nipple shields, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, elimination communication, cry-it-out — the list goes on.) She can diagnose what’s wrong with your baby’s latch and how to correct it, what to do if you’re not producing enough milk and where to donate if you’ve got more than your little one and your freezer can handle. She’s got a soft spot for working moms who are trying to make breastfeeding work. Best of all, she’s a realist who knows that as long as your baby is healthy, you’re doing it right. — J.S.
If you ask magician Tim Alexander, style is just as important as substance when it comes to entertaining children – that’s why he’s hung onto his old-fashioned top hat and coat. Alexander’s interactive show features a host of sleight of hand tricks and mesmerizing manipulations. And whether he’s levitating objects, unleashing a swarm of tissue butterflies or hosting a workshop for pint-sized magicians who leave with their own diploma and starter magic kit, this guy’s determined to awe. Alexander’s act, great for parties and group events alike, is suitable for ages 5 and up. — Erin Bernard
To reach teens and tweens, you’ve got to speak their language. Just ask Imani Muhammad, the unit director at the Blazer Boys and Girls Club, a former teacher, and the mastermind behind Portland’s annual Y.O.U.th (Youth Organized and United To Help) Summit. After a former student was killed in inner Northeast Portland in 2007, Muhammad became determined to help local kids caught up in cycles of poverty and violence. The Y.O.U.th Summit began as a panel discussion and has evolved into a weekend of interactive workshops, concerts and talent shows. As time passes, she’s seeing lasting changes take root: “We’re not going to save the world in a weekend at all, but we are going to plant the seed for someone else to change the world.” — E.B.
Forget the dull drills and humorless instructors of your youth. To master a musical instrument, says Cristina Marino, director of Cathedral Park Music in St. Johns, a child requires just three things: passion, practice and performance. Cathedral’s many offerings include piano, guitar, marimba, violin and voice lessons, plus choir, musical theater, acting/improv and movement classes. In addition to regular choir and ensemble shows, kids strut their stuff at twice-yearly scholarship benefit concerts. Whether her students ultimately blossom into Beethovens is beside the point for Marino: “The important thing is that they find growth within themselves through learning.” — E.B.
Pregnancy can feel like serious business, but there’s always room for a little humor, says Tiny Bench Yoga founder Sarah Robinette: “If we can lighten up and take it easy, our children will learn from our lightness.” Robinette, a trained psychologist, helps women connect with that lightness through Whole Birth Yoga, a blissed-out approach to preparing for labor, delivery and the postpartum months. Classes incorporate meditation, breathwork, and standing, seated and restorative shapes, with a focus on joint, tissue and muscle strengthening. To learn more, visit tinybench.com. — E.B.
Ever imagine a place where you could work, have your children cared for onsite and maybe grab a tasty lunch with other moms? Glaucia Martin-Porath has and she’s bringing that utopian vision to life with Women’s Plaza, a shared workspace that offers freelancers, remote workers and mamaprenuers daycare, catered meals, networking — even massage and yoga. “We should have a place were women can go to work, be close to their children and be supported,” says Martin-Porath. A native of Brazil, Martin-Porath is still working on securing the space, but is looking at a site in Northeast that’s freeway accessible. She’ll offer private offices and smaller cubicle-type spaces for rent. She expects to open Women’s Plaza by the end of 2015. Sign us up. — Denise Castañon
Finding The Garage open at the Portland Children’s Museum is like spotting a unicorn … frolicking in a pot of gold … at the end of a rainbow. But once you’re in, the room is a blessed respite from the lovable chaos of the play grocery store and the constant honking from the nearby Vroom Room. Inside, you’ll find options for open-ended and imaginative play with natural materials. In a place of nearly constant movement, it’s a chance to concentrate on the business of play. – J.S.
There’s nothing like baseball in the summer, and the Hillsboro Hops offer major league fun at minor league prices. Their facility, built in 2013, is compact — you are never far from the action — while maintaining the ambience of a “real” stadium. If your little sluggers don’t like to be confined to a seat, you’re in luck. There’s a big grassy area where kids can run and parents can still enjoy the baseball action. Between innings, kids will be entertained by the interactive audience-participation games. Special events throughout the season include giveaways and activities like fireworks and every Sunday, kids can run the bases after the game. And keep an eye out for Barley, the team mascot, roaming around. (Yep, the team is named after THAT kind of hops.) — Cathie Ericson
Maybe your knowledge of pinball is limited to knowing the lyrics to The Who’s classic song, or maybe you’re a pinball wizard. Wherever you fall on the pinball spectrum, you’re welcome at the Pinball Outreach Project’s new Northeast Portland headquarters, where kids 13 and under can play for free on the organization’s spiffed-up machines. You’ll want to play too, so buy some tokens — your donation benefits the group’s mission to bring the joy of pinball and arcade games to children in hospitals and schools up and down the West Coast. The line starts behind us. — J.S.
This adventure park, located on Hagg Lake in Gaston has obstacle courses and elements including wobbly bridges, tight ropes, climbing holds, balance beams and zip lines. Safety equipment, introductory lessons and knowledgeable guides are all provided by the park staff. Grown-ups can head approximately 25 feet higher into the tree canopy to tackle Tree to Tree’s six-level Extreme Adventure Course, and kids can have a blast in the Monkey Grove, where they use holds attached to the trees to climb like monkeys in the forest. There’s also the Adventure Village, an enclosed play area with obstacle elements for kids of all sizes and ages. Take note: There are course height requirements, portions of the park are occasionally closed due to rebuilding and reservations are required. More info here. — Carrie Uffindell
First things first: the “4T” stands for trail, tram, trolley and train. Park at the zoo and follow the signs to the trail. (Note: you will feel like you’re getting off course, because you zigzag near the entrance to Highway 26 but you are going the right way). The trail proceeds at a steady incline, all the way to OHSU and passing Council Crest, the highest point of the city. At OHSU, hitch a ride on the aerial tram down to the South Waterfront, where you can grab lunch (we like Little Big Burger and Lovejoy Bakers) or proceed directly to the trolley. That will take you through the heart of downtown and drop you near the library, where you’ll hop on the Max light rail train and head back to the zoo. Note: you can also do it in reverse, but it’s not as much fun to start with the train and trolley … and the tram is free on the way down. Click here for more info. — C.E.
Climb aboard vintage passenger cars and cabooses for this 45-minute roundtrip scenic train ride. A former interurban trolley route that connected East Portland with Sellwood, Oregon City, Milwaukie, and beyond, the 112-year-old line is now a family-owned-and-operated short-line freight railroad that offers $5 public train rides. Trains go clickety clacking east along the Willamette River and through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, pulled by a brightly-painted diesel locomotive. The train almost always includes an open air car and at least one caboose. Locomotive cab rides are available for an additional fee. The OPR passenger train runs every Saturday, year-round, from the Oregon Rail Heritage Center on SE Water Street near OMSI. Click here for more info. — C.U.
Best way to bring out the inner road warriors in everyone: Cycle Oregon’s family-friendly weekend ride.
Maybe you think that Cycle Oregon is just for the spandex-clad warriors that can be found barreling across Portland’s bridges on any given Sunday. Think again. The kind folks at Cycle Oregon, who support rural communities and bike advocacy all over the state, have designed a special weekend version just for families. This year it’s July 10-12, and explores the rolling farmlands of the Willamette Valley from a base at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. Load the kids into the tag-along or let bigger kids ride alone – shorter routes of just eight miles or so are perfect for short legs. Or, let them go to the onsite “bike camp” run by the Community Cycling Center. Need more convincing? Check out these handy tips for cycling with kids, by Cycle Oregon ride director Steve Schulz. – J.S.
- While I survived my childhood without a helmet, I make sure my kids are wearing theirs. Buy new ones from your local bike shop so you can learn how to fit it properly and keep it adjusted correctly as your child grows.
- Children generally are ready to ride balance bikes or tricycles at around age 2 and up. Don’t have a balance bike? Simply remove the pedals from a kid’s bike for a DIY approach. Visit a local park or school for safe, smooth surfaces. Teach stopping and turning and watch ‘em go!
- Once the kids get comfortable with balance, replace the bike or pedals. Sidewalks, parks and schools are great places to practice, away from the risk of cars where they learn and hone best practices for sharing the “road” safely. Be prepared for some spills. It’s part of the deal.
- Stress safety, including watching and listening for cars. Practice how to signal, stop and the importance of maintaining enough speed to ride without swerving but still going slow enough to retain control.
- Once you feel your kids are confident and demonstrating solid skills, take them on the road. At first, you might stick to neighborhood greenways, off-road bike paths or confidence-booster events like Sunday Parkways.
- Schedule a ride once a week with your child to fun places or to simply explore — or come along with us on Cycle Oregon’s Weekend Ride. Keep it really simple and keep it fun. And if your child’s enthusiasm for biking doesn’t match yours, then decide whether pushing through or backing off is the best course of action.
Just making your first batch of jam? Looking to expand your brood of backyard chickens? Portland Homestead Supply Co. can help. The store carries pretty much anything you could need to make and preserve the harvest – they’ve got food dehydrators, pressure canners, and mason jars in every shape and size. For the more seasoned, they also have yogurt cultures, charcuterie supplies, and a knowledgeable staff happy to help you break down the ins and outs of urban homesteading. The highlight of this store for those with kids are the two goats – Nilla and Bindi – who live behind the store and like to climb up on anything they can find. Older kids will also enjoy taking part in some of their hands-on classes, like candle and soap making. – Alison Wilkinson
For some of us, getting out of the house with a newborn is a matter of sanity — keeping it, that is. But when an infant (or toddler) might need a snack at a moment’s notice, that means breastfeeding sans Boppie and armchair. For BFing on the go, then, here are the metro area’s go-to latch-on spots.
- Sea lion cave at the Oregon Zoo: A place to sit, semi-darkness and a view of sea life doing somersaults.
- Tryon Creek State Park: Benches along winding paths overlook an old growth forest and mossy caverns.
- Nordstrom’s women’s lounge, downtown: A serene break from the mall with plenty of mirrors that prove just how little boob others actually see.
- Costco: Free samples and plush couches in view of giant TVs.
- Sniff Dog Hotel: An indoor dog park for Fido to run himself ragged and a menu of pastries (and caffeine, of course) at the café.
— Catherine Ryan Gregory
You may have heard of swap and plays — community co-ops with playspaces, clothing exchanges, classes and family events. The one in St. Johns is one of the city’s first (and the first to coin the name “swap and play”), founded in 2009 by North Portland resident Andrea “Dre” Davey. At nearly 4,000 square feet, including a massive community kitchen, indoor and outdoor play structures and a separate clothing-swap room, it’s also one of the largest, and, following a planned “grand reopening” this September, is on track to become the most organized, with plans for everything from separate literacy and dramatic-play rooms to a gated dining area stocked with restaurant-delivery menus, an indoor climbing dome, a “constructive arts” room stocked with loose parts, and a new moms’ support group. Click here for more info. — Kat Merck
For the ultimate “Dadurday” activity, head over to Bricks & Minifigs where everything is awesome. When my husband took our Duplo-loving toddler, it was hard to tell who exactly enjoyed the excursion more. My kid got to sift through bins of Lego people, make a “mama” fig complete with black ponytail, and double her Duplo collection in one fell swoop with two bags of used plastic bricks. And my husband got to gawk at all the old Lego sets he loved as a kid and see how much the pirate ship he built with his siblings is worth now. The store, which sells used and new Legos, was started in Battle Ground, Wash., and has franchised locations around the country including stores in Canby, Beaverton and Ridgefield, Wash. — D.C.
<h2>Best kid-friendly happy hour that won’t scare away your childless friends: Pause
We’ve all been there. “Let’s get a drink sometime!” your friend without kids says. Right away, your brain starts swirling with visions of pricey babysitters, breast-pumping schedules, skipped dinners and disrupted bedtime routines. Take a deep breath, and try Pause in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood. With its cushy booths and menu of housemade New American fare, it not only doesn’t scream “kid-friendly,” but feels kind of like the dive bars you used to frequent back before you passed out at 8 p.m. after one beer. It’s right next to the MAX, guaranteeing that train-loving tots will stay glued to the window and you might even be able to finish a sentence. Plus, there’s a sizable patio for summer days, and kids get free pasta with butter and cheese, which will keep little bottoms in little seats for at least as long as it takes you to finish that beer. – K.M.
This gem of a park is ideal no matter what the weather, but you’ll really love it in the summer. The interactive fountain has several components, including a pad of fountains that spray as kids scamper among them, and a feature where water cascades down tiered steps and dumps into a pool at the bottom. An updated playground includes two new structures with a number of different slide options and play areas and a 12-foot-long embankment slide. A large percentage of the new structure will be totally inclusive for use by people with physical and developmental disabilities. The two areas are not near each other, so make sure your kiddos know they can’t have free rein to run from the water features to the playground. Click here for info. – C.E.
For more water fun – check out our Water Fun guides here.