Kids playing in Bill Naito Fountain in Old Town-Chinatown.

Welcome to summer, folks! We may have had to wait until the official day on the calendar this year for (some) sun and (a little bit of) warmth, but—fingers crossed, knock on wood, throw some salt over my shoulder—it looks like we’ve finally kicked off the season of carefree fun.

And who takes advantage of that better than our youngest people? School’s out, and the kiddos are running free. How to keep them entertained—and enjoy yourself at the same time? We’ve rounded up over 40 favorite local amusements that, whether you’ve got your own charges with you 24/7, have mini visitors on their way, or are just a big kid yourself, will entertain both grown-ups and children alike all summer long!


Tried 'n True

OMSI has all kinds of activities for kids. Photo courtesy of OMSI.

Sure, you may have been to these longtime favorites plenty of times before, but they’re such consistent fun that it’s no hardship to go back again and again—especially when there are new exhibits, events, and special free or discount days every month.

The Portland Children’s Museum in Arlington Heights is packed with hands-on learning opportunities including The Clay Studio, The Garage, Water Works, and the brand new Pet Hospital where animal lovers can take care of their furry friends in a quite realistic, though scaled-to-size, setting. Visit this Friday (and every first Friday of the month) for free from 4 ‘til 8 p.m. Practically next door, of course, is the Oregon Zoo, where dinosaurs are visiting in the Prehistoric Predators exhibit until Labor Day. Tickets are discounted to $4 every second Tuesday.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, head Downtown to the Portland Art Museum, which has amped up its special family events this summer. Sundays have always been reserved for families, with special tours geared to budding art appreciators, but the last Sunday in July and August will add storytime and art projects in the outdoor sculpture court. Also mark your calendar for the summer months’ fourth Fridays, which are free 5–8 p.m.; in particular, July 23 is dedicated to the kiddos, with danceable old timey music, comic drawing activities to honor the R. Crumb exhibit, and yummy treats from local food carts.

Meanwhile, across the river in Hosford-Abernethy, OMSI is the place for inventive discovery, especially now with a summer exhibit dedicated to Einstein’s life and work. And other perennial favorites to explore: a journey along the river on the old-fashion Willamette Shore Trolley, and journeys into make believe at library storytimes all over town.


Wet 'n Wild

Get wet and wild at the East Portland Aquatic Center.

Really, is there anything else kids want to do more during the hot months than splish and splash in the water? Portland is full of cooling options, from popular public fountains in the Pearl District (Jamison Square) and Downtown (Salmon Street Springs, Keller Fountain Park) to swimming pools at parks throughout the city.

To soak up the sun in the wide open, book it to the Creston Pool in Richmond, the Grant Pool in Grant Park, the Montavilla Pool in, well, Montavilla, the huge Peninsula Pool in Piedmont, or the Sellwood Pool (yep, in Sellwood-Moreland) which is complete with two slides, a play structure, and water sprays (actually, they’ve all got slides—fun!). Heading indoors during the summer might seem counterintuitive, but I don’t think the wild wee ones will be able to resist the current channels, slides, play areas, and something dubbed the Vortex at both the Mt. Scott Community Center in Mt. Scott-Arleta and the East Portland Community Center in Mill Park.

And did you know that just 20 minutes away is a 64-acre natural lake? Blue Lake Regional Park (technically in Fairview, but so very close to the Argay neighborhood) is a water wonderland, with a huge spray playground, swimming beach, fishing, and the best summer snacks on the weekends (sno-cones!), as well as other recreation options like archery, volleyball, and horseshoes. It’s like summer camp right in our backyard!


Flora 'n Fauna

Learn about nature on the Honeybee Hikes at Leach Botanical Garden.

In fact, there are many ways for future park rangers to get dirty in our great Northwest outdoors. Set your preschoolers loose to dig up bugs and collect leaves—with a trained naturalist turning every discovery into a learning opportunity—during Fridays’ Ladybug Nature Walks, at a different Portland park every week (also on Saturdays in July, 10 a.m., $3 for ages 2–5, adults free), while Wednesdays should find you and the little ones at Leach Botanical Garden in Pleasant Valley for educationally-themed Honeybee Hikes just for the 2–4-year-old set (10 a.m., $2 for kids, adults free).

Things get a little wilder in the huge wilderness areas within the city limits. Summer at Tryon Creek State Park, tucked next to Collins View, means Thursday morning Kids in Nature programs that teach children about wildlife with science lessons, stories, and hands-on projects; and Tuesday night Family Nature Camp with guided walks, sing-a-longs, and campfire treats. In Forest Park, the Audubon Society of Portland’s 150-acre Nature Sanctuary features four miles of trails where you can play I-Spy searching for newts and turtles in the pond and birds and owls in the evergreens.


Fun 'n Games

The Avalon Theatre and Arcade offer hours of entertainment.

There are two ways to expend all that pent-up youthful energy that could wreak havoc on your house over the next couple months: get active or get entertained. I’ll address the latter in just a bit, but first, let’s get moving! That’s exactly what The Playground Gym in the Lloyd District was built for—for kids to tumble on the matted play area, bounce on the cork dance floor, scale the climbing wall, and swing on the ropes. Though classes and open play times are more limited this summer because of their summer camps, you can still drop-in Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Friday afternoons for $8/child.

If you haven’t already spent the day pedaling around one of our neighborhood’s (temporarily) car-free streets during this year’s Sunday Parkways, well, what are you waiting for? There’s no better place in this bike-lovin’ city to start ‘em young on two wheels since vehicles are banned on the routes and replaced with food booths, live music and other fun activities. Next up: a 6-mile loop connecting Ed Benedict, Bloomington, and Lents Parks in East Portland on July 18. Southeast follows on August 15, and Northwest on September 26. More confident young riders should join the Bridge Pedal’s new Kids’ Pedal on August 8, a three-mile loop that crosses the Hawthorne and Steel Bridges; it’s a great intro to this iconic Portland summer event.

Of course, there’s always the good old-fashioned amusement at Sellwood-Moreland’s Oaks Park, where the kids will work out their restlessness darting from ride to ride, and the vintage video game frenzy at local arcades Ground Kontrol in Old Town-Chinatown and The Avalon in Sunnyside. Think gaming is lazy? See how tired those rowdy munchkins are after a pinball marathon or air hockey tournament.


Eats 'n Treats

Make your own pancakes at Slappy Cakes. Photo courtesy of Slappy Cakes.

Okay, let’s pause now in the middle of this funstravaganza to refuel. In fact, you should start your adventurous day with an equally adventurous breakfast—DIY pancakes on your very own in-table griddle. That’s the specialty at Slappy Cakes in Sunnyside(up). Choose your batter (buttermilk, buckwheat, vegan, seasonal varieties), squeeze all variety of shapes onto the griddle, add toppings if you like (bacon bits, chocolate, local berries), and stuff your cute little faces with your wacky flapjacks. Yum! (There are lots of other breakfast and lunch options on the menu as well.)

More great options for a family pitstop (i.e. where the grown-ups can actually enjoy a meal while the kiddos are preoccupied in the restaurant’s play area): Urban Grind Coffeehouse in Kerns, Old Wives’ Tales in Buckman, Open Space Café in Creston-Kenilworth, and Anna Bannanas in St. Johns.

Time for dessert? Yes, please! Let’s all agree that summer is the time to indulge, so treats are on the menu. After an afternoon splashing at Jamison Square in the Pearl District, take your dripping rascals for an ice cream cone across the street at Cool Moon, where the flavors range from classic to exotic (ginger chai, lychee sorbet), all handmade with natural and many local ingredients. Another sweet pairing: post-skeeball cupcakes at Saint Cupcake Deluxe right down the street from the Avalon.


Arts 'n Crafts

Make your own t-shirt at CHAP.

Those young imaginations are running wild with no school to keep them occupied, and it can be hard to keep up. But you can channel their creativity at places like the Children’s Healing Art Project in the Pearl District and The 100th Monkey Studio in Buckman. Their drop-in art sessions encourage kids to get messy and express themselves through a variety of media—paint, clay, beads, collage, found objects. Artsy Alberta Street also offers crafty options, like paint-your-own pottery at Mimosa Studios and No School Art School at the DIY Lounge.


Pretend 'n Play

Watch blockbusters at Movies in the Park.

Sure, there are plenty of family blockbusters to watch this summer, and we love the outdoor Movies in the Park (upcoming: Alvin and the Chipmunks on July 9, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on July 10). But it’s also a great time for children to get in on the entertainment themselves. Though plays at the Northwest Children’s Theater and Oregon Children’s Theatre are on hiatus for the season, they both offer summer camps for the drama queens and kings. Similarly, Tears of Joy Theatre starts its puppet camps this month, where kids will construct and perform with their own creations.

If the youngsters would rather sit back and enjoy a show, Ladybug Theater at the Smile Station in Sellwood-Moreland is a great place to start. Since it is geared especially at the youngest audience members, even two-year-olds are welcome to begin learning theater etiquette and appreciation. Hansel & Gretel with Baby Bear “Witch” begins later this month. The Mudeye Puppet Company also continues its popular Deepsy Diver show at area libraries at the end of July through August. And ComedySportz 4 Kidz (next show is July 18) is the perfect opportunity for your lil’ ham to improv with some of Portland’s best comedians.


Rock 'n Roll

Milagros is a great destination for kids.

In a city full of musicians, meanwhile, it’s not hard to find free music for the littlest ears (thus, probably creating a whole new generation of rock stars!). Lorna Miller’s Little Kids Jamboree has been a long-running favorite at Mississippi Pizza in Boise, thanks to the interactive nature of the show, with kids and parents grabbing the provided instruments to play along to her songs. Mr. Ben, with his cheerful sing-a-long folk tunes, and Mo Phillips, playing his hilarious rockin’ numbers, have also developed quite the kiddie following. Find Mr. Ben on Monday and Thursday mornings at Posies Café in Kenton and Tuesday mornings at Milagros Boutique in Concordia; Mo Phillips is at Posies on Friday mornings and Milagros on Thursday mornings (after July 15).

Of course, summer isn’t complete without a visit to the farm—Kruger’s Farm on Sauvie Island for summer concerts every Thursday. Your kids (and you) will leave behind the Summer of 2010 with childhood memories of sun-dappled hayrides, silly barnyard animals, and dancing in meadows to great Portland bands. Does it get any better?

Have a fun summer!

Mark Your Calendar

Now, if you’re not too tired after just reading all that, start looking forward to these classic summer events:

Sand in the City

July 16–18
Admire over 450 tons of sand turned into giant sculptures, plus face painting, zoo animals, OMSI displays and science exhibits.

Oregon State Fair
August 27–September 6
You know the drill—it’s a ton of fun! And yes, it’s not technically in Portland, but what’s summer without a state fair?

Portland Pirate Festival

September 18–19
The fifth year should be bigger than ever, so slip on that eye patch and let your little scallywags run amok.

Did I miss your favorite local family activity or event for the summer? Let us know in the comments—the more options for fun, the better!

Photos ©Neighborhood Notes, unless otherwise noted.