The best indoor events and activities for kids in Portland
by Maria D'Alessandro
If you're new to Portland or new to having young children you might be wondering how you will survive the long rainy season. (Personally I don't mind the winter, but that changed when I had my first daughter.) Luckily, Portland is a fun city to explore with kids, rain or shine. With libraries and community centers in almost every neighborhood, you're sure to find inexpensive regular programming to rely on during the winter months. Cafes and bars with great kids menus offer children's entertainment weekly. Gyms and indoor play spaces are another possibility for your active little ones. I hope you will enjoy my cheat-sheet of favorite places to visit with our baby and 3 year old on rainy days in Portland!
Library Story times
First, I'd recommend visiting your local library story time. Most libraries have story times throughout the week broken up into appropriate age groups. It sounds basic and not very exciting but we've had some great experiences at many of the libraries around town. Book Babies was my daughter's first experience seeing and playing with other babies and parents. She had many of her firsts (first sitting up, first crawling etc.) at the library. The novelty of new people, toys and songs is a real motivation for little ones. We also met most of our closest friends at story times. If you don't love the energy of the librarian at your local branch I'd highly recommend the Sellwood and Happy Valley branches. Lake Oswego and West Linn libraries also have great baby/toddler story times. Most libraries also have free special programming throughout the year including a sign language class for babies and toddlers.
Tip: Get there early to make sure you get in, many of the smaller libraries in Multnomah County are first come, first served.
Community Center Classes and Open Swim
Acquaint yourself with the Portland Parks and Recreation and North Clackamas Parks and Recreation websites. They are terrible websites, but the classes they offer are inexpensive, age appropriate, and a wonderful way for young families to make new friends.
Tip: If you have trouble getting the resident discount or if you miss the deadline to register online especially on the North Clackamas website call to register over the phone. The classes themselves can be hit or miss, but the teachers and other families are always lovely. One we've really enjoyed is the Music and Movement class at the Milwaukie Center (N Clackamas). Popular classes (especially swim lessons and summer camps) fill up as soon as registration opens, so mark your calendars for the date and time registration opens. It sounds crazy, but if you want a spot in the summer camp at Peninsula Park or Sellwood you have to be up at dawn to register as soon as it opens. Music as a Launchpad to Learning at the Community Music Center in SE Kenilworth neighborhood is the best music class for young children.
Check the calendar at Community Centers with indoor pools like Mt. Scott Community Center and North Clackamas Aquatic Center for Preschool swim times, and Family and Open Swim times. They will usually have a regular schedule for times that pool is only open for young children and their caregivers.
Tip: Many of the newer centers will have a family restroom for changing which younger babies and toddlers prefer to the locker rooms because the smaller restrooms tend to be warmer.
Gyms and Indoor Playgrounds
I'm going to be honest, I don't love indoor playgrounds. They can be loud and overwhelming. However, Portland does have a few nice ones. Playdate PDX on NW 17th is one you might try on a weekday (weekends can be crazy). The indoor play space at Hammer and Jacks toy store on SE Foster is a nice one, and the woman who owns the store is lovely. There's also The Children's Gym on NE Sandy which offers some of the best gymnastics classes.
The Circuit Bouldering Gyms (3 locations) offer areas for kids to climb. With proper guidance climbing can be an age appropriate challenge for kids about 3 and up. After a few times climbing at the gym I've noticed my introverted 3 year old is much more confident on playgrounds.
Tip: Call ahead to find out if there's a birthday party if you're planning to visit the kids area on a weekend because it can be overwhelming for little ones when crowded. Also, be sure to sign a waiver online for every person who will be in the gym (even babies) – it's much faster to fill out online than at the iPads in the gym.
If you like Yoga, there are a few studios that offer mommy and me or classes for kids. Here is the best I've found: Tiny Tots Yoga + Open Play at Yoga Shala.
Music Venues for Kids
Kids can dance and sing along to unique children's performers on weekday mornings at
- Know Thy Food cafe in SE Brooklyn neighborhood,
- Mississippi Pizza in N Portland
- Taborspace in NE Laurelhurst
- Hammer and Jacks on SE Foster
- Oregon Public House in NE
- The Village Ballroom in NE Portland
- The Children's Museum in Washington Park.
Science Center/Children's Museums
Consider asking the grandparents for a membership to OMSI or The Children's Museum, which both feature large indoor opportunities for learning through play.
An activity that appeals to my introverted daughter is visiting the therapy rabbits at Bunnies in Baskets on NE Alberta. You have to sign up online beforehand for their open bunny visits on Saturday afternoons and pay $5, but its a unique and wonderful experience to pet as many bunnies as you like and even hold a bunny.
Tip: Make sure to register online first, it can be crowded on rainy Saturdays.
If you're feeling adventurous and you're up for a drive, there's a fantastic indoor water park in McMinnville called Wings and Waves. (You can even slide out of a real Boeing aircraft.)
Tip: They have an area that is age appropriate for younger kids but because it's a little pricy I'd probably wait until kids are old enough to enjoy more of the slides.
And last but not least: Sign up with the Chinook book app on your phone – you pay about $15 a year and many of the indoor gyms and museums offer deals for free or discounted admission.
About the author:
Maria D'Alessandro is a fiction writer based in Portland. While caring for her young children she also enjoys rock climbing, exploring tide pools and eating burritos.