Portland: Family-Friendly Things to Do in The City of Roses (Part 1)

Steve was selected to speak at the Embedded Linux Conference in Portland, Oregon over my birthday week, so Trevor and I tagged along and spent our days exploring this incredible city and enjoying all of the educational activities it has to offer. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. 

We made the 10-hour drive to Portland on Saturday, March 10. Parking at our hotel was a ridiculous $47 per night, so we were very grateful to our friends Ron and Pam who not only allowed us to park at their house 9 miles from downtown, but took us out to dinner and then dropped us back at our hotel. Thanks, guys!! Everyone should have a Ron and Pam in their lives. They're seriously awesome. I met Ron when we were 17 and I hadn't seen him in person for over 25 years. Do you think we've changed much in 29 years?

I hope we don't go another 25+ years before we see each other again! As I've been getting older, I've been making more of an effort to reconnect with old friends. Say what you will about Facebook, but I love that it has brought people I care about back into my life. 

Steve's conference didn't start until Monday, so we spent all day Sunday the 11th seeing the attractions that most interested Steve. We started with the Urban Adventure Quest. It was fabulous, as always, and brought us to locations we might not otherwise have seen and gave us a great introduction to Portland. 


One of the clues took us to Oregon's Liberty Bell, one of the few we've encountered that is not located at the State Capitol. 

It took us 2:30:52 to finish the quest, but two dumb mistakes kept us off the first pages of the leaderboard. Drat! 

Our next destination was the Oregon Historical Society Museum. We weren't sure how much time we'd need to see everything, as we've had very mixed results with state historical museums. This was one of the best. We spent over three hours there and absolutely loved it! All three of us were riveted by the excellent exhibits and appreciated the detailed signage. 

We learned so much about the history of Oregon and its people. There were quite a few hands-on activities for kids, which we always appreciate. Here, Trevor and I are playing a game where we took on the role of a real-life Oregonian who faced discrimination and other struggles. 

Speaking of discrimination, we HIGHLY recommend the temporary exhibit called "Racing to Change: Oregon's Civil Rights Years." This exhibit will only be at the museum through June 24, so if you're at all local, be sure to go see it while you have the chance. 

One room was all about Portland's connection to roses. 

I could go on and on about all the neat things we saw. It was an excellent way to dive deeper into our 33rd state. Seriously - visit the Oregon Historical Society Museum. 

We had just enough time after visiting the museum to walk to Powell's Books for their free public tour. In case you're not familiar with Powell's, here's an introduction from their website:

Powell's Books is an independent bookseller serving Portland, Oregon, since 1971. We've grown to employ over 530 people across five Portland-area stores and Powells.com, and our book inventory exceeds two million volumes. In spite of our substantial size and reach, we remain grounded by our company's core values, which have guided us through the ups and downs of the bookselling industry. Each and every employee's love of books drives us forward. We have an especially intimate relationship with Portland — what other city in America can name a bookstore as its top attraction? We host over 500 author events a year, in addition to children's storytimes, writing workshops, game demonstrations, and book clubs. 

All 2,000,000+ books aren't at a single location, of course. Only (haha!) a million of them are housed at the flagship store we visited. 

What does a bookstore with a million books look like? Well, it's the largest bookstore in the world, covers an entire city block, has nine color-coded rooms, and has more than 3500 different sections. 

Powell's offers free guided tours on Sundays. Take the tour. Trust me. Rearrange your schedule, arrive early or stay late, no matter what it takes, take the tour. We learned so much and saw the store in a way that we never could have if we'd just been wandering around on our own. 

Monday, March 12 was my birthday. Steve's conference began bright and early, so Trevor and I headed off on our own. Our first destination? The Oregon Zoo. Portland's outstanding public transportation system made getting there quick, easy, and inexpensive. 

The MAX light rail took us right to the entrance of the zoo. Well, not quite. It took us several hundred feet UNDER the entrance to the zoo! 

I didn't photograph the elevator on the way up, but I did take a picture on our way back down at the end of the day. Next stop, 677 feet down!

So how was the Oregon Zoo? In a word, fantastic!

It was large (but not huge), spotless, and well-designed to lead guests from exhibit to exhibit. The signage was interesting and helpful. The whole place was beautiful. And I absolutely loved all the art. 

We really enjoyed watching the mountain goats. 

Hi, Hippo!

Trevor and I spent about 4 hours at the zoo and loved every minute. The Oregon Zoo is a definite must-see if you're in Portland. 

Just steps away from the Oregon Zoo is the World Forestry Center. It's a must-do as well.  

The center is full of interesting exhibits about Oregon's forests and how people and animals use the forest and forest products. 

There were lots of hands-on activities. Below, you can see Trevor hanging from a scale that is pulling down on the plank overhead. This board, which was on its side, did not move with Trevor's weight. The center board, laid flat, flexed quite a bit. The I-beam on the right was by far the strongest. It was an excellent way to show the importance of well-engineered designs in construction.

We played with wooden musical instruments...

... examined the grains of many different woods...

... learned about planting trees...

... counted growth rings and compared them to historical events...

... learned about forests and how people use forestry products around the world... 

... and much more. Definitely visit the World Forestry Center when you're in Portland!

Tomorrow I'll share more of our Portland adventures!


  1. I was hoping you’d to the Urban Adventure Qwest. Fynn and I did it when we went to Portland in the fall and I liked it a lot. The San Diego one wasn’t as good, but I tried one more time and really liked it.

  2. Wow!! What a beautiful city!!!! That book store!!!!! I was already salivating when Trevor blogged about it!! LOL!!! LOVING all the photos!! Looks like so much fun!!!!!


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