Portland’s weather is notorious: rain, lots of it, all winter long (and by ‘winter’ we mean October through June). Grown-ups cope with the gloom by holing up in pubs or coffee shops, but how do you keep the rest of the family entertained? When the clouds gather, try gathering your own family at these destinations for indoor fun.
The OMSI museum in Portland has everything from earth science labs to a planetarium. © Joshua Rainey / Shutterstock
Hit the museums
The first thing local parents are likely to mention when asked about rainy-day activities for kids is OMSI. A well-established favorite, this great science museum has five halls full of hands-on exhibits designed to make learning fun. Kids can join experts at work in eight different laboratories, from physics and chemistry to paleontology and design. There’s also a planetarium and an Omnimax theater. The museum regularly hosts events, and offers classes and activities for various age groups; check online for a schedule.
The Portland Children’s Museum is another popular choice. Kids can make mud pies in the play kitchen or learn to use various tools and materials to build anything from belt buckles to musical instruments. There’s a construction zone, a food market, a pet hospital, and an interactive exhibit about the properties of water. The schedule of programs varies day to day, but there’s nearly always something fun going on.
Children aged 17 and under get in free to the Portland Art Museum, where visitors can also arrange tours designed to appeal to specific age groups. There’s even a monthly program for parents of newborn babies (currently the first Thursday morning each month, but check ahead), with coffee and conversation included in the tour.
Interested in digging a little further into Oregon’s past? Spend a leisurely couple of hours in the Oregon Historical Society’s museum, with its well-presented exhibits on various aspects of the state’s history and development. Learn about the early Native American tribes who lived here, what life was like for pioneers on the Oregon Trail, and the costs and triumphs of Portland’s industrial growth. The museum hosts several interesting events each month, usually lectures that add context to the exhibits. There are also temporary exhibits on such topics as the reason behind Portland’s nickname ‘City of Roses,’ Oregon women throughout history, and the late-1940s flood that destroyed the town of Vanport.
For something a little more active, check out the Pinball Outreach Project, whose stated mission is 'to improve the lives of children by sharing the history and excitement of the game of pinball.' The project, which was started in 2012 as a way to bring pinball machines to kids in hospitals and nonprofits, now has a headquarters in Northeast Portland with about 10 machines of varying vintage. Kids age 13 and younger can play all the machines in the place free of charge when POP is open (hours change week to week but are always posted online). There’s a strong educational component, too: after they play, flipper fans can peek beneath the lid and learn about the engineering magic that powers the game.
On the subject of games, Avalon Theatre & Wunderland Games is another popular indoor-fun destination. Easily spotted by its vivid neon sign, the Avalon combines a second-run movie theater with a nickel arcade (think skeeball, air hockey and yet more pinball) where players win tickets they can cash in for prizes. As a bonus, it’s on very walkable Belmont Street, which is full of family-friendly places to eat.
Turn the kids loose – and maybe grab a beer while you’re at it – at the Lumberyard, an indoor bike park with an adjoining restaurant-bar overlooking the action. You can rent a bicycle, helmet and pads; pricing for track time is by the hour or day, but it’s free to spectate. The place is huge, and there are several different sections with varying levels of difficulty, from beginner to advanced.
A slightly more traditional play-indoors experience can be had at Playdate PDX, a three-story indoor playground with an attached café serving Stumptown coffee. There’s a dance floor, lots of different slides and tunnels, and plenty of things for kids to climb on.
Catch some air at the Lumberyard. © The Lumberyard
If you’re willing to brave a shopping mall, head to the ice-skating rink inside Lloyd Center Mall. This is not only a popular place to spend a winter day – it’s also famous for being one of the places where scandalized Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding learned to skate. Ice-skating lessons are available, and families get discounted rates on certain days; check online for the current schedule.
Swap out the ice skates for roller skates at Oaks Amusement Park, a charmingly retro skating rink that also has carnival rides, bumper cars, a vintage carousel, mini-golf and lots of arcade games.
The Multnomah County Library is a cozy place to find a new book. © Shutterstock
Curl up with a good read
Bookish kids shouldn’t feel left out here, either: Portland’s Multnomah County Library is one of the best public library systems in the region, and each neighborhood branch offers a full program of events and activities geared toward kids. You don’t need a library card to participate in most of them; just check the daily list of activities online. A rainy day is also an excellent reason to spend some time browsing in Powell’s Books and/or your favorite comic book shop.